Don’t ever say it’s just a film! It’s not just a film!” So rages one super-size fanboy in the documentary “The People vs. George Lucas,” which delves into “Star Wars,” its huge impact on popular culture and the rabid fans it has spawned like so many clone troopers from a Kamino lab. Beyond the movies themselves, this is a fantastically revealing look at the relationship between a creator and his audience, and hardcore fanboy subculture in general.
Who knew that there were such things as “nerdlebrities” or nerdcore hip-hop? Who knew that people cared — red-in-the-face and close to having an aneurysm cared — that Han Solo no longer shoots Greedo first in the restored version of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope”? Who knew that the French critics actually liked Jar-Jar Binks?
The documentary, by Alexandre O. Philippe, traces the “Star Wars” phenomenon, with a heavy emphasis on fan fiction and DIY films and the fans’ sense of ownership of the works. The meat of the film comes when we get to the 1999 release of the “Star Wars” prequel “The Phantom Menace,” which led to a schism between director and fans on a par with that of Martin Luther and the Pope.
While some fans were just disappointed with the direction in which Lucas took the series — the idiotic hijinks of Jar-Jar, and also changes such as the Force becoming less a metaphysical concept and more of a genetic one — others seem to have taken the film as a personal insult; “George Lucas raped my childhood” is typical of the over-the-top rhetoric one can glimpse on Internet forums.
“The People vs. George Lucas” skirts around it, but never quite settles on the obvious point: While the fanboys rant about how they were “betrayed” by Lucas, this seems more like an inchoate rage at the fact they had to grow up. It’s debatable whether “Star Wars” got any more juvenile in the prequels; just recall the cuddly Ewoks from “Return of the Jedi,” which were soon spun off into a Saturday morning cartoon. What’s more likely is that most things loved as a preteen will necessarily look childish, silly even, some 20 years later. That’s why the fanboys adore “The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan, who has taken their immature comic-book fantasies and tarted them up with adult moral complexity and violence — something Lucas refused to do.
Much of director Werner Herzog’s career has also been spent in portraits of obsessives, although generally not the type who collect action figures. There’s the maniacally driven conquistador looking for El Dorado in “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” the opera lover who manages to haul a massive riverboat over the Andes in “Fitzcarraldo” (a feat which the director himself managed in a pre-CGI era), and the animal-lover who lives amid bears (and gets himself eaten by one) in “Grizzly Man,” to name a few — and there’s surely a bit of the director himself in them.
While so many filmmakers, Lucas among them, seek to take us to worlds beyond our imagination, Herzog finds one such place on good old planet Earth. His documentary film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” looks at mankind’s earliest known artworks, cave paintings from roughly 32,000 years ago. The Chauvet Pont-d’Arc Cave paintings were discovered in 1994 in a hidden passage into some limestone cliffs along the Ardeche river in southern France; access has since been restricted solely to a few paleontologists. Herzog managed to get his crew inside, though, and to shoot the caves using 3-D cameras. It’s an immersive, one-of-a-kind experience, and Herzog gives us plenty of time to admire the remarkably well-preserved paintings and the murky underground landscape.
It’s sometimes a mistake to overly categorize directors, especially those as eclectic as Herzog, but even in a straighter documentary format like this, we see his fondness for people who know what they love and devote themselves to it, such as the “experimental archaeologist” with a mad glint in his eye as he demonstrates prehistoric spear-throwing techniques. Herzog being Herzog, the film shifts and feints in various directions, finally ending up on a group of albino alligators in a nearby aquarium.
Much has been made of this being the first 3-D documentary, but it still suffers slightly from that strange popup-book sort of exaggerated depth that mars damn near all films created with this technology. Sadder still, Herzog’s narration has been dubbed into Japanese, his idiosyncratic style and opinionated tone replaced by a very staid and dull NHK-style voiceover by Jo Odagiri.