There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Ozark” Season 3, including the ending.]
Describing a movie or TV show as a parallel to our troubled times is already a cliché, but watching “Ozark” while bunkered down does crystalize the obsession around Netflix’s distressing drama. So, before digging into Season 3’s twists, toils, and tumultuous ending, it’s worth noting why the new episodes feel both distinct from and eerily similar to past seasons — besides that it’s simply better-made than Season 2. If you want to skip right into what happens in Season 3, head to the first bolded section.
At its core, “Ozark” is about two people who screwed up so badly there’s no coming back. The only solace they can find is temporary. Maybe it’s in the day-to-day grind, when they can distract themselves through work. Perhaps they only feel at ease when they’re lying — lying so convincingly they believe each other when they can’t believe themselves. Or maybe their only true peace comes during those fleeting moments when they’re able to confront the truth, which means focusing on one thing: saving their kids. From a broad social perspective, it’s easy to look at the pandemic in similar terms: America has screwed up pretty badly in handling the crisis, and history will be divided into before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. But right now, we’re still in the middle. We’re just trying to get through it, fiscally, emotionally, and for some, physically.
There is a future beyond the coronavirus, but there is no future for Marty and Wendy Byrde Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. Deep in their core, they know that. So seeing them scramble to stave off the inevitable is a twisted kind of entertainment in general, but one that can be oddly cathartic for our current state. People are using entertainment not as a means of escapism, but as a way to lean into the pandemic; they’re streaming “Contagion” and reading Ling Ma’s “Severance” as a way to engage with their anxieties. “Ozark” can serve a similar function, whether it’s marveling at two doomed souls stubbornly fighting for their lives, or spotting now-familiar instincts play out under different circumstances.
The Byrdes are trapped. There’s nowhere to run, and whenever they’re really scared, they retreat further into their home. Sound familiar? It sure did during one Season 3 scene, in Episode 6, when Marty is setting up a bed in the living room. As he pulls off the couch cushions and spreads out the sheets, Wendy nervously watches. Her apprehension grows with each fluffed pillow, and she tries to reason with him to just come sleep in their bedroom. She hasn’t forgiven him, but she is scared for him. Why?...
“Fighting for your life makes every other thing you ever did before seem extremely dull.”
This line is spoken by Wendy Byrde Laura Linney in the penultimate episode of Ozark’s third season, which hit Netflix on Friday. It’s a line that cuts to the core of what makes Wendy, her husband Marty Jason Bateman, and the show around them tick. In its first season, Ozark plunged viewers into the world of the Byrdes and their Missouri money-laundering operation. From the moment a Mexican drug lord knelt Marty down and put a gun to his head in the pilot episode, we’ve been watching him talk and scheme his way out of certain death.
Subsequent episodes and seasons have seen Wendy take on an increasingly prominent role within the criminal enterprise that is keeping her and Marty and their two kids alive for now. Ozark lost some momentum in its second season as its pace slowed, but the show is back with a vengeance now, doing what it does best: namely, putting the Byrdes at the center of a volatile situation where things keep spiraling further out of control. This season, the dark drama pops with bigger emotional fireworks, thanks in no small part to the arrival of Wendy’s bipolar brother, Ben Tom Pelphrey, who adds an unexpectedly moving human element to a show where characters regularly display an inhuman lack of empathy. Ben is the Fredo Corleone in this equation, ready to break his sibling’s heart and that of the viewer.
If you’re all caught up with your weekend Ozark binge, then let’s dive into the Lake of the Ozarks with spoilers.Casino Boat on the River Styx
In the age of antihero TV, Ozark originally started out as something of a white-collar Breaking Bad, built around a financial advisor instead of a chemistry teacher. Like Walter White’s meth business, Marty’s money-laundering operation was born out of desperation. As he began navigating his life of crime, he even picked up his own young, gender-swapped, Jessie Pinkman-like accomplice in the form of Ruth Langmore Julia Garner in an Emmy-winning role. Likewise, the show was hardly unique in its approach to federal agents—with the dysfunctional dead Roy and his occasionally extraneous subplot calling to mind that of Michael Shannon’s character in Boardwalk Empire. Marty and Wendy’s nascent status as a Machiavellian power couple also had a precedent on Netflix in House of Cards.
Three seasons in, Ozark has managed to outstay these comparisons to other prestige dramas and establish its own identity as a show about two people achieving a twisted kind of selfhood by continuously fighting for their lives, just as Wendy says. The third season finds Marty and Wendy at cross purposes, with Wendy acting unilaterally and Marty deliberately undermining her plan to expand the business into a...