Friday, 23 December 2016

Tarkin it to the limit

This year has brought disbelief in many ways - but I never thought we’d reach Christmas 2016 with Peter Cushing trending on social media.

Seasons greetings, and apologies to anyone who actually does look in on this blog. I have been criminally neglectful of poor Phasmatodea, (3 years old this past October) in recent months.
Apart from ever-increasing work commitments (which is never an excuse) I have been commissioned to write a book.  Or more accurately, write, research, design, illustrate and lay out a book, which is obviously going to absorb my spare time until delivery date mid-next year.

I will post about it in more detail later, but in many ways it’s a culmination of what keeping this blog has prepared me for - trying to find new ways to discuss and analyse genre films which I’m passionate about. For now, I’ll simply state that the subject ties-in peripherally with the main topic of this entry. Let’s just say it’s going to be 'Hammer Time'...

Now back to this post. Since the ‘House of Mouse’’s acquisition of Star Wars in 2012 we’ve been promised a visit to a galaxy far, far away every year. And this December we got a ‘side-ways’ addition to the saga which I have to confess I never had high hopes for.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s trailers seemed to offer a collection of cold and unappealing characters, and Director Gareth Edward’s last big budget film, Godzilla, actually made me think more fondly of the 1998 Roland Emmerich version.

I reluctantly predicted Rogue One would be an unsuccessful experiment in offering something new, outside the main Star Wars storyline., News of extensive studio-instigated reshoots made me think this might even damage the brand more than the prequels did.
The one thing which did keep my interest was the possibility of seeing one of my favourite characters, and actors, return to the screen - the late Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin.

"...and I want proper images, instead of these screen caps, released immediately!"
Although initial, and to me very exciting, talk of a computer generated Peter Cushing seemed to go quiet, I kept hoping. Given the film’s setting immediately prior to Star Wars episode 4: A New Hope, I couldn’t see how Tarkin couldn’t be at least referenced. I cautiously expected that we might see a cutaway shot, (maybe manipulated unused footage from 1977), and perhaps a significant sound-alike line delivered. Glimpsed on a view screen or as a flickering hologram, something like that. Then no matter how bad the film was, I’d be happy.
The one thing I had never expected was that Tarkin would get more screen time and lines in Rogue One than when Cushing was alive…

The character has been posthumously represented for many years...
I’d never gone to a Star Wars film with low expectations before, and I left with my face aching from continuously grinning like a loon through most of the final hour. Let’s be clear, the first half is a little turgid and choppy, but the second is sheer TIE Fighter fuel. In its final act Rogue One felt to me like the most 'Star Wars-y' film since 1977, and unlike last year’s the The Force Awakens, the audience applauded at the end.

As far as Tarkin is concerned, it seems that those in the audience not in the know either don’t notice or wonder why this character was computer generated, while OCD Star Wars nerds either applaud the technical advancement or moan about video game rendering. And although some Cushing fans question the morality of digital resurrection, most seem rapturous over this respectful interpretation.

(Left to right) Tarkin from the Rebels animated series, Guy Henry, Tarkin from Rogue One and Peter Cushing from Star Wars: A New Hope.
My own expectations for the appearance of Tarkin were tempered - I knew it could never be perfect. Cushing was a tall man for his times but the actor who performed the role and wore later ‘wore’ the pixels; Guy Henry, is a good 3-4 inches taller. Cushing was also a master of ‘eye acting’, knowing how to use available light to make his pale blue gaze steely or compassionate where required - whereas in Rogue One the environment dictates that the Grand Moff’s eyes are more often in shadow.
But the biggest adjustment for me was not the visual, but the audio - because nobody else sounds like Peter Cushing.

It’s been said that in casting he and Alec Guinness in Star Wars, George Lucas inadvertently brought the best diction in the acting profession to his galaxy far, far away.  
Peter Cushing overcame a serious dental issue and his south counties accent to develop a cut glass voice which somehow found more syllables in words than anyone else suspected ever existed, decisively clipping them only after every vowel and consonant had been properly honoured. And he could roll those r-r-r-rs like no-one else not from Scotland can.
That being said, Tarkin’s most famous line, (beautifully honoured in Rogue One) urbanely draws the first word out without finishing it: “You may fa-h-h when ready.”
As far as Henry’s delivery is concerned, in fairness perhaps a slavish impersonation of Cushing would only sound like mimicry rather than a performance.

Wayne Pygram's makeup as a younger Tarkin in the closing moments of
Revenge of the Sith, (2005), was best seen from a distance.
Personally, I am delighted with the result and find it mind-boggling that when a digital recreation was finally attempted as a significant and sustained performance in a major film, it was done so with my favourite actor.

Last years The Force Awakens felt like an early Christmas present, But the last act of Rogue One makes you feel like a Star Wars fan finding everything you’ve ever wanted under the tree.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

"I cast him the first moment I met him.
There was no doubt in my mind that Peter Cushing was perfect for the role of the
sinister Grand Moff Tarkin... he was not only a very talented actor, but he even
looked the role – exactly what I imagined Tarkin to be."

George Lucas