For Star Wars Day, watch the forgotten masterpiece it helped kill

Roy Scheider gets dirty in William Friedkin's 1977 thriller "Sorcerer," newly out on Blu-ray. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Roy Scheider gets dirty in William Friedkin’s 1977 thriller “Sorcerer,” newly out on Blu-ray.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Today is Star Wars Day, which lands on the fourth of May, so people can say “May the fourth be with you!” rather than on the 25th of May, when it was actually released. We won’t begrudge its countless followers their frothing passion for the film. The push-back against its undying mega-popularity is almost as wearying as those who live as though there were no other cinematic achievements. We were “Stars Wars” kids once too, and we still enjoy it beyond mere nostalgia, even if the sequels (if not prequels) are tighter, more ambitious and more recognizably human (or “space-human”). But if you’d like, at least try to expand your “Star Wars” knowledge. Last year, we kicked in the loose holiday by talking about a pretty obscure piece of “Star Wars” trivia buried as an Easter Egg on the door to Princess Leia’s cell — one that points to George Lucas’ early jones for experimental cinema. (Not that he no longer digs the avant-garde — which he does — but that his early work, up to and including his debut feature “THX-1138,” was far more out-there.)

You may also ring in the day by getting your mitts on the brand new Blu-ray of a film that “Star Wars” is often accused of — somewhat unfairly — killing. That is William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer.” It had the misfortune of not only opening just under a month after “Star Wars,” but of being, in many ways, the anti-”Star Wars.” Where Lucas’ science-fiction fantasy was a fun (if certainly not un-grim) adventure where [spoiler, we guess] the good guys won (for the moment), Friedkin’s film is arguably the bleakest film to come out of the already very downer auteur-driven Hollywood cinema of the 1970s. “Sorcerer” had no heroes; it didn’t even have anti-heroes. It was about low-level criminals (including Roy Scheider, hot off of “Jaws”), who’ve failed so spectacularly in their grimy careers that they’ve been driven to one of the armpits of the world. Hoping to escape a purgatory of shared cohabitation, sweat stains and warm beer, they agree to a suicide mission: drive highly-combustible nitroglycerin across 200 miles of jungle terrain. (It was a loose remake of the 1953 French thriller “The Wages of Fear,” one of the goosebumpiest films ever made.) Following up two smashes — “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” — Friedkin doubled-, quadrupled-down on the trends towards grim realism that was in vogue at the time — but did so when people had finally grown sick of them, desiring the popcorn fluff that persists, at least in part, today. With a budget almost twice that of “Star Wars,” it tanked, critically and commercially, and was credited, along with Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” with slaying director-driven movies in America. (This isn’t 100% accurate, but, you know, print the legend.) Predictably, it’s an excellent film, one we considered at length here last week. And its influence can be, finally, at least by osmosis, felt today. Modern blockbusters, from superhero movies to YA dystopia, are a little more “Sorcerer” than “Star Wars.” Batman isn’t a bright-colored do-gooder, but a deeply troubled vigilante who sometimes causes more terror than he stops. In this climate, not even a new “Godzilla” entry can be a campy time-killer, but a brooding, realistic look at what life would be like if we were all attacked by giant monsters. (Then again, most Marvel films keep things relatively light, even when they’re having outside forces laying waste to Manhattan.) We won’t besmirch anyone the desire to celebrate Chewie et al. (although it’s hard to think of a film less in need of its own “day”). But if you’re in a rotten mood, the kind that can only be saved by some rotgut whiskey, perhaps you should reach for “Sorcerer.” It doesn’t have to be today. In fact, perhaps we can make one day in the year “Sorcerer Day.” Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

Movies

Shia LaBeouf disorderly conduct case pushed to September

A judge on Thursday adjourned until September the disorderly conduct and harassment case against actor Shia LaBeouf, who was charged with disturbing a Broadway theater…

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

NBA

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.