Eli Roth is a huge "Star Wars" fan. Last year, when I solicited opinions from contemporary filmmakers about "Star Wars" for a piece on the original film's 35th anniversary, the "Hostel" director submitted a series of "Star Wars" drawings from his childhood. Then, last month, we unearthed Roth's long forgotten (and quite vocally disappointed) review of "The Phantom Menace." So, yes, when I met Roth in his Manhattan hotel room to discuss his new film, "Aftershock," I had a feeling "Star Wars" would become a topic. I did not know I'd ask Roth (and he'd comply) to give his version of an "Episode VII" and give a detailed breakdown of the much maligned "Star Wars Holiday Special."
Roth's new film, "Aftershock" -- that he wrote and stars in (directing duties went to Nicolas Lopez) -- is about a group of club-hopping joy-seekers who experience the horrors of a Chilean earthquake and a subsequent prison escape of all the local criminals.
As I sat down with Roth, he noticed a sticker of Admiral Ackbar on my computer -- a character from "Return of the Jedi" who is least known for leading the Rebel Alliance assault on the second Death Star and best known for screaming "It's a trap." We'll pick up the conversation there. A conversation that would of course loop around to "Star Wars" -- after stops that include "A Cabin in the Woods" and "Scream."
[Eli Roth] You have Admiral Ackbar.
[Mike Ryan] I do have Admiral Ackbar.
I had a long discussion with ["Fanboys" director] Kyle Newman ... I said that Admiral Ackbar, whether Lucas intended it or not, is actually probably more quoted now than "May the force be with you."
"It's a trap."
"It's a trap!" It's become, if you meet a girl online and her in person looks very different from her profile photo, you go, "It's a trap!" And then people are like, "What happened?" And you're like, "It's a trap!" Like, it all went wrong. It's become a euphemism that everyone uses.
Right now I'm reading an advance copy of "The Making of Return of the Jedi." It was "Jedi" director, Richard Marquand, who picked out the design for Ackbar. He was given a choice and he wanted the one that looked like calamari man. I was surprised it was Marquand's decision.
Yeah, you didn't see a lot of calamari men in "Eye of the Needle." I think if there's one thing we could say about "Eye of the Needle," it's that there was not nearly enough calamari men. There was a serious lack of calamari men.
Marquand fascinates me. Lucas is around, obviously. Kershner just passed away in 2010. Marquand remains a mystery to me.
He died like right away.
He hasn't been around to talk about "Jedi."
Yeah, he never got to be part of that sort of like "Star Wars" obsession -- and how it grew and what it became. So, maybe if we all sing the song at the end of "Jedi," Marquand's spirit will appear. And he'll be in the room with us, just as a Force ghost, smiling.
The original end song, I presume?
Yeah, it's got to be the original.
In "Aftershock," it takes it's time getting to the horror.
Well, I wanted to build up the minor problems that each character experiences. The film is about moral choices and the decisions we make in times of crises. Is it for self-preservation? Or do you risk your own life to save your friend or to save a stranger? And what are the ramifications of that? We wanted to make the movie where, there you are, you're in the club, you're having fun ... whatever the problems are, now you have to find your best friend's hands or he's going to bleed to death. And that's what really happened. Talking to [director] Nicholas [Lopez], all he had to do was describe some of the events that he lived through and that other cast members lived through.
Was it ever a worry that it hit too close to home with the real Chilean earthquake?
No. Because we dramatized it. It's not that earthquake. It's an earthquake based on that. Also, there was a movie called "3:34" that came out, because that was the time the earthquake struck. It was the biggest piece of shit. People fucking hated it. They tried to be the "respectful" earthquake [movie]. So, his feeling was there's absolutely nothing more offensive than that piece of shit -- which was a terrible, terrible movie that nobody saw ... [Filming in Chile] was an amazing experience. It was such a revitalizing time for me. I hadn't had that much fun shooting since film school. And, you know, there is a new way of making movies. You can shoot a movie on a 5D [digital camera], and it looks like 35 [mm film]. All you need is the right lens, the right production design, a good photographer -- and that's a $2,500 camera body.
You mention "revitalized," you haven't directed a movie since "Hostel 2," which was 2007. Have you not felt vitalized?
Well, making a movie is a battle. And after "Hostel 2," I needed a break.
Did you think it would be this long of a break?
I never saw it as a break. I saw it as an evolution. And I felt that everything else that I was doing was working toward making me a better director. And I was directing things here and there like "Nation's Pride" or the "Hemlock Grove" pilot. But, I felt that having been through the Tarantino acting school [in 'Inglourious Basterds,"] Quentin said, "Now you can write great parts for yourself." And I had never done that. I had never pushed myself to write a part that I was going to play and this was a great opportunity to do that. I wanted to push myself as an actor. I wanted to have a leading role. And I thought it was a great part that would be in my zone that was very different than Donowitz and have a character that makes choices that might surprise the audience.
There have been quite a few "Hostel" copycats.
Have you seen any of these and thought that the violence was taken too far?
No. I mean, I've watched them and I think that if I ever think, "That crosses a line," or, "That's too far," I think it's either bad or silly or boring. There are certain movies that have come out and, again, I don't want to name them because it will seem like I'm trashing the director and I'm not. Like, I get what they're doing. But if it goes so far in the shocking that the movie stops becoming real, then I lose interest. And that, to me, is the worst crime that can happen.
If you don't care why a character is being killed ...
It's like, yeah, you want to do all of this stuff. You're going to do things to children -- it's fine if that's the movie that you're going to make. I know it's all fake.
It sound like you're talking about "A Serbian Film."
Whatever film it is. But, whatever thing that you're going to have happen, if the characters stop behaving logically -- I've noticed that in a lot of these movies. Even in "Martyrs," what, they had a whole torture factory under their sofa and the kids never looked in the sofa? What? And why don't they leave the house? Just basic questions of humans behaving. And I love Pascal [Laugier], the director of "Martyrs," and I joke about it all of the time. And in "Martyrs," I thought the performances were amazing. And, again, I don't want it to make it look like I'm trashing the movie -- but, whenever a character stops behaving from a place of logic and starts doing something for the sake of giving an excuse for the movie to do some crazy kill, that's when I check out. I go, "you lost me." It's lazy. It's lazy writing.
Does a movie like "The Cabin in the Woods" change the game at all? A movie that deconstructs character behavior in horror movies?
I really enjoyed "The Cabin in the Woods." And I got to talk to Joss Whedon about it because that was the closest -- it was the "Cabin Fever" production design. It was like he shot on the same cabin that I shot at! And, look, "Cabin Fever" was very much a deconstruction of "Evil Dead." So, it's killing people out of order and all of that kind of stuff. And I really thought "The Cabin in the Woods" is fantastic, but that movie is like an anomaly -- that movie is its own thing. The movie is a deconstruction of horror movies, that's what that movie is. You can learn about horror movies in a class -- and the different ways to kill -- they took that and made it as if it was a society of people that put people through crazy things. It was hilarious and fun, but that's not an actual scary movie. It's a fun deconstruction of horror movies.
But don't horror movies have to be more careful now not to fall into the tropes that "The Cabin in the Woods" deconstructs?
It doesn't matter. "Scream" did it. Remember "Scream"? You had to have movies after "Scream" because they talked about the rules of horror. And that was '80s horror. You can't have this, "OK, I'm the virgin, I'm going to die." "Scream" was a very, very self conscious deconstruction of the horror movie. And I loved it; it was refreshing. It was the first time you had character that had seen other horror movies, so you could really relate to those characters. So, I think every once in awhile there comes a movie that talks about the cliches because you need enough types of cliches to build up before you can deconstruct them. And it's great when it's smart and good and I think that "Scream" and "The Cabin in the Woods" were terrific, terrific movies that horror fans love. But, I also think that, whether or not those movies existed, you still have to find ways. Whether if people are conscious of those rules or not, you have to find ways to up the ante.
So, you're a big "Star Wars" fan. Let's say that Eli Roth got to make Episode VII, what would you do?
You're talking to the guy who would have an entire movie about Lobot. I mean it. I literally would find my favorite character as a kid that I obsessed over ...
So, Lobot would be back.
I mean, first of all, you're never going to top Patton Oswalt's rant.
Right. But his included The Avengers and The X-Men. What would you actually do?
My Episode VII, I mean, I would honestly bring back -- I would find my favorite obscure characters. I would find R5-D4, I would find Hammerhead. I would have Bossk! I would have a whole storyline based around Bossk.
Bounty hunter-wise, most people want Boba Fett back. Bossk seems like a more untapped resource.
I love Boba Fett. But we've had a lot of Boba Fett. We've had Jango Fett. If you really, really want Boba Fett, then watch the "Star Wars Holiday Special." Go dig it up on YouTube.
The Boba Fett cartoon is great.
There's a 22-minute animated act about Boba Fett.
It's the best part of the special.
It really is. That and the Life Day song by Diahann Carroll, as well.
Are you an Itchy or a Lumpy fan?
Lumpy. For sure. You know, the great thing about the "Star Wars Holiday Special:" I was young enough to have watched it, but I couldn't really remember it, so I don't know if I had dreamed it. I had these images in my head of like other Wookiees and not really understanding where they came from. I was like, "Did I hallucinate or was I so wishing there was more 'Star Wars' that I dreamed up this whole world about Life Day and Princess Leia?" And then I finally, of course, got one of those convention VHS tapes and spent $100 on it.
And immediately regretted paying $100.
Yeah, but it satisfied this urge from childhood of wishing or wondering whether or not I hallucinated the "Star Wars Holiday Special."
So Lumpy and Itchy would not be in Episode VII?
I would not have Lumpy and Itchy. I would have Bossk, Ackbar -- we'd have Admiral Ackbar in a trap. I would have a very strict puppet only rule. Puppets first -- try it with a puppet. If you absolutely can't make it work, then go to CG. And the more Hammerhead and Greedo and Sy Snootles, the better. I would love if they became friends and went on wacky adventures together. But Bossk is the one I was most obsessed with.
Would Han, Luke and Leia be main characters or background characters?
No, I think they would be background characters. And there would have to be a Life Day reference.
Han and Chewie are on their way back for another Life Day.
Yeah, they're trying to race home for Malla and and Lumpy. I'll have Harvey Korman, Diahann Carrol -- maybe but puppet Lambchop in there.
I'd want to get every '70s person that was in the "Star Wars Holiday Special" Life Day just getting blown up on a planet. It starts on Life Day and the whole Wookiee planet blows up.
I like it.
I would start Twitter feeds for all of them. I'd have a Twitter feed for Bossk. And in his hashtag on everything he writes, "#likeabossk." And that's one of the 10,000 reasons why I'm not directing Episode VII.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
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