Light & Magic

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With regards to special effects Industrial Light & Magic has been the cutting edge and industry standard since George Lucas founded it in 1975 to work on his film Star Wars (1977). Light & Magic (2022), Lawrence Kasdan’s six episode documentary series, is a tribute to all of the technological innovations and accomplishments that ILM brought to filmmaking. Kasdan began his career as a screenwriter for George Lucas which, on paper, makes him an ideal director to tackle this subject.

Anyone who has read any of the seemingly millions of books on George Lucas, Steven Spielberg or special effects will be going into Light & Magic possessing most of the knowledge that the film purveys. Kasdan hits all the major beats from the partnership of John Dykstra and Richard Edlund; the Genesis Planet sequence in Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan (1982); the founding of PIXAR; the first morphing (or Morfing) sequence in Willow (1988); the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992); Jurassic Park (1993); all the way to Disney’s The Mandalorian show. The focus is on the internal conflict between traditional special effects and digital special effects within the fx house. Of course the driving force behind all of this is George Lucas with his “faster, more intense” attitude.

The issue here is that, with but one or two exceptions, Light & Magic reads like a promotional reel for the company. Kasdan’s film aggrandizes his subject with praise and over looks many seminal details in the process. Perhaps the greatest omission is ILM’s acquisition by Disney. This oversight was likely intentional since the tenor of the piece is one of promotion and Disney doesn’t want to be seen as aggressively selling one of their greatest creative assets.

The strength of the piece is in the wealth of archival footage, most of which hasn’t been seen in some time, coupled with anecdote heavy contemporary interviews with all of the key players. Even if most of the historical information covered in Light & Magic is pretty familiar the sense of community and collaboration between generations of film artists is rarely conveyed and wholly essential to understanding the insider experience of ILM. Kasdan’s gift for directing actors becomes a gift for getting his subjects to open up emotionally and allowing viewers an unprecedented look into the insular world of ILM.

As someone who isn’t a Star Wars fanatic Light & Magic got to be somewhat tiresome at times. This wasn’t aided by the fact that George Lucas comes across in his interviews as an arrogant anti-aesthete. Kasdan romanticizes Lucas as a visionary of art and technology while the truth apparent in the facts and the testimony of Light & Magic reveals Lucas to be a capitalist opportunist with an eye for talent in others; a kind of corporate Andy Warhol.