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Old 08-28-2008, 11:20 AM   #1
spidey_99
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Isn't Lucas using the term MacGuffin wrong?

I see it all in the press, especially when he speaks about Crystal Skull.

It's kind of a pointless vocabulary debate but perhaps it also speaks to him as a creator. And these days- not to start a debate, I respect not all agree- I think of Lucas as the weakest link in Indy's creative chain.

But so, according to Wiki a MacGuffin is a plot device that- really- doesn't mean anything important and only serves to push the plot along.

Seems like the correct definition given that Hitchcock made the term known and his examples (jewels for a theif, secret papers for spies) are pretty generic and irrelevant to the engine that movies the story forward.

But if that definition is correct then:

a- is Lucas correct that things like the ARK, THE GRAIL, THE SKULL, THE ROCKS are Macguffins? I mean, in Crusade, when Brody- I think- says something like, 'the quest for the grail is the quest for the divine in all of us' and in Raiders, Indy starts off as a guy who does not believe in 'a lot of superstitious hocus pocus' but in the end- thru the Ark- he comes to believe. To me, these treasures are really more integrated in to the subtext of the story and thus, make the movies richer. These treasures are much more than jewels and secret papers,yes?

b- Perhaps Lucas really does not even get the subtext of the movies he produces and that is why his contributions seem- to me- so poor. I read a great article with Koepp- screenwriter of Skull- where it was clear he felt Lucas' contributions to the writing process were useless at best and damaging to the story at worst.

c- Lastly, if indeed the Macguffin is generic and pointless- as per the definition- then why does Lucas use this as the reason it's so hard to come up with one each time? And to that point, is it really? I mean, it just doesn't seem that hard. The books do it all the time, the games do it all the time. And sure, Lucas came up with the Ark (was that him or Kauffman) and the Grail...those were homeruns. But it's not like the rocks and the skull were inspired...so he's either disappointed in those choices and doesn't want to mess up again by picking a silly- to me- treasure, or he feels those treasures were just as inspired.

Ah well- not to bash Lucas. He's done a lot for geeks like me and I love Indy. But every time I hear him talk about MacGuffins, I get confused.

Spidey 'good-day'
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Old 08-28-2008, 11:36 AM   #2
TheIndyOpinion
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Nice post, spidey, and I agree with most of what you said.

I've been asking for a while now, and I know others on the board have as well, why does Lucas make such a big deal out of the "Macguffin?" We're going to love an Indiana Jones movie if it has good action and a good screenplay even if Indy is just searching for a used car. If the story gives good motivation and we can see that Indy is truly determined to keep fighting, it doesn't make much difference what he is fighting for.

I don't know if Lucas overemphasizes the importance of the relics in these movies to make his contribution seem more valuable and draw attention to himself or if he really believes that the most crucial part of an Indiana Jones movie is the Macguffin, but I would definitely say that either way too much emphasis is put on it.
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Old 08-28-2008, 01:52 PM   #3
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Lucas uses the Macguffin more liberally I think. For instance, the “Death Star Plans” in Star Wars ANH are closer to the Hitchcock’s interpretation of the Macguffin than say the “Ark of the Covenant” in Raiders of the Lost Ark – but they both work superbly within the context of the movie do they not???

Also – I think that Lucas’ use of the Macguffin is usually fundamental to the quality of the movie. Of all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, I’d say that ANH, Raiders and Last Crusade contain the most simple, but interesting Macguffin’s… and IMHO, they are the 3 best movies from both franchises (in terms of both action and plotting). Whereas, TOD (IMHO) has the weakest Macguffin, and consequently seems very fragmented (plot wise).

So in summary… successful Macguffins usually make for successful plotting/action within this type of genre movie. In essence they may be simple, but everything else hangs from them... so they have to be good/believable.
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Old 08-30-2008, 11:03 AM   #4
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That gives me an idea, robisindy! Indiana Jones and the Search for the Secondhand Ford...!
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Old 08-30-2008, 11:12 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Uki
That gives me an idea, robisindy! Indiana Jones and the Search for the Secondhand Ford...!

Not bad, Uki. Not bad at all.
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Old 08-30-2008, 11:18 AM   #6
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He and Mutt set out one Sunday morning to buy Mutt's first car...adventure ensues!
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Old 08-30-2008, 02:50 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Uki
He and Mutt set out one Sunday morning to buy Mutt's first car...adventure ensues!
Done...

http://es.youtube.com/watch?v=rHHxbvlD-4s
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Old 08-30-2008, 02:56 PM   #8
Niteshade007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darth Vile
Lucas uses the Macguffin more liberally I think. For instance, the “Death Star Plans” in Star Wars ANH are closer to the Hitchcock’s interpretation of the Macguffin than say the “Ark of the Covenant” in Raiders of the Lost Ark – but they both work superbly within the context of the movie do they not???

Also – I think that Lucas’ use of the Macguffin is usually fundamental to the quality of the movie. Of all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, I’d say that ANH, Raiders and Last Crusade contain the most simple, but interesting Macguffin’s… and IMHO, they are the 3 best movies from both franchises (in terms of both action and plotting). Whereas, TOD (IMHO) has the weakest Macguffin, and consequently seems very fragmented (plot wise).

So in summary… successful Macguffins usually make for successful plotting/action within this type of genre movie. In essence they may be simple, but everything else hangs from them... so they have to be good/believable.

I agree, actually. The Death Star plans are probably the closest thing you mentioned to Hitchcock's definition. Take for instance North by Northwest. What it is that James Marsden has isn't that important (apparently it's microfilm, which we don't find out until maybe 15 minutes before the ending). What is important is that it moves the plot along. How they get it isn't important either. That's why the Death Star plans work better as a Hitchcock definition.

However, I wouldn't say Lucas was using the term incorrectly. He's just applying it to an item that is explained more than "government secrets." In some way, the sankara stones actually are closer to the Hitchcock definition as well, since we don't really know what it is that they do (plus they throw in that random glowing diamond thing to keep it interesting, I suppose.)
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Old 08-30-2008, 04:56 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Niteshade007
I agree, actually. The Death Star plans are probably the closest thing you mentioned to Hitchcock's definition. Take for instance North by Northwest. What it is that James Marsden has isn't that important (apparently it's microfilm, which we don't find out until maybe 15 minutes before the ending). What is important is that it moves the plot along. How they get it isn't important either. That's why the Death Star plans work better as a Hitchcock definition.

However, I wouldn't say Lucas was using the term incorrectly. He's just applying it to an item that is explained more than "government secrets." In some way, the sankara stones actually are closer to the Hitchcock definition as well, since we don't really know what it is that they do (plus they throw in that random glowing diamond thing to keep it interesting, I suppose.)

Also interesting to note that the Macguffin in LC is actually the Grail Diary and not the Grail itself... and in Raiders, the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra takes on the mantle of a Macguffin until the Ark is boxed up. Lucas clearly stretches the definition... but it seems to work for the most part.
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Old 12-08-2011, 03:54 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spidey_99
Isn't Lucas using the term MacGuffin wrong?
YES! George is misusing the term and (because of this) has spawned a whole new generation of misuse by fans, movie critics, internet bloggers & whatnot...Because of him, the POPULAR definition of a "McGuffin" has changed.

Here at The Raven, the UBIQUITOUS appearance of, "MacGuffin", began with the release of "Crystal Skull".

ADD the term, "McGuffin", to the list of other, trendy, misused words...along with:

- cameo
- reveal
- epic
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Old 12-08-2011, 03:59 PM   #11
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I always thought it meant the device to drive the plot forward or the device that the plot is centered around, such as the Ark or the Grail. Hell, maybe I've been wrong all these years.
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Old 12-08-2011, 04:36 PM   #12
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I would have thought that LC was the film that really stretched the term "MacGuffin". Whether you consider the diary or the Grail itself to be the MacGuffin, the quest in that film is such a personal story (it's about the search for the connection between father and son) and the Grail quest such a well-known one that it can't really be seen as a MacGuffin.

ToD, certainly. KotCS absolutely - especially considering all the discussions we've had about what the skull can actually do, whether it's sentient etc etc. The skull could have easily been switched for any other artifact that sent them on a similar chase.

But surely the fact that Lucas comes up with the MacGuffin FIRST suggests that he's not approaching it in the same way as Hitchcock and his writers did. In Hitchcock's case the MacGuffin always seemed to be an afterthought.
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Old 12-08-2011, 06:03 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoo
YES! George is misusing the term and (because of this) has spawned a whole new generation of misuse by fans, movie critics, internet bloggers & whatnot...Because of him, the POPULAR definition of a "McGuffin" has changed.

Here at The Raven, the UBIQUITOUS appearance of, "MacGuffin", began with the release of "Crystal Skull".

Can you elaborate on where exactly your complaint with his usage lies, so we can actually, y'know, have a conversation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoo
- reveal

And here I'm not sure to what you're referring.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Toht's Arm
ToD, certainly. KotCS absolutely - especially considering all the discussions we've had about what the skull can actually do, whether it's sentient etc etc. The skull could have easily been switched for any other artifact that sent them on a similar chase.

That's absurd. So much of the film is tied to questions of knowledge and mind control that it could not have been something other than a semi-sentient skull.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Toht's Arm
But surely the fact that Lucas comes up with the MacGuffin FIRST suggests that he's not approaching it in the same way as Hitchcock and his writers did. In Hitchcock's case the MacGuffin always seemed to be an afterthought.

Indeed. But I don't see why we can't speak of strict Hitchcockian MacGuffins such as the microfilm in North by Northwest, the Lucasian MacGuffins in the four Indy films that go some way towards carrying the themes of the film (although the Ark less than the others), and things in-between, such as the Maltese Falcon, which, with it's final line ("the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of") offers a gloss on the concept before the term even became popular. It's downright silly to suggest we stop using the term in the Lucasian framing just because it doesn't fit in with the original usage.
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Old 12-08-2011, 07:09 PM   #14
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I'm gonna have to chime in here...
In film school (actually Spielberg's alma mater) the MacGuffin was taught to us as the object, person or thing that everyone is after, THUS it drives the story forward. In Pulp Fiction it was the briefcase. You didn't know what the hell was in it, but it didn't matter. In Star Wars it was R2-D2, or as it was more specifically pointed out already the "stolen plans". There is no contradiction between Lucas or Hitchcock. It doesn't matter if you know what it is or if it remains unknown. The point is, everyone is after it, so it invariably drives the story forward. I don't see the contradiction.

By the way Wikipedia is for the birds!
(Get it? Hitchcock reference)
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Old 12-08-2011, 08:14 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoo
ADD the term, "McGuffin", to the list of other, trendy, misused words...along with:

- cameo
- reveal
- epic

- Nazi
- Indy Fan
Quote:
Originally Posted by Von Stalhein
- orgasmic scream
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Old 12-08-2011, 08:30 PM   #16
Attila the Professor
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rocket Surgeon
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoo
ADD the term, "McGuffin", to the list of other, trendy, misused words...along with:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Von Stalhein
- orgasmic scream

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks this.
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Old 12-08-2011, 09:53 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Attila the Professor
That's absurd. So much of the film is tied to questions of knowledge and mind control that it could not have been something other than a semi-sentient skull.

When I think of mind control I don't instantly think of a "sentient skull". I agree that the film's themes of mind control versus individualism were quite clear throughout the film, but I don't see why it couldn't have been another pseudoarchaeological artifact. I'm not criticising the choice Lucas et al made; I just think the skull was interchangeable.
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Old 12-08-2011, 10:57 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Toht's Arm
When I think of mind control I don't instantly think of a "sentient skull". I agree that the film's themes of mind control versus individualism were quite clear throughout the film, but I don't see why it couldn't have been another pseudoarchaeological artifact. I'm not criticising the choice Lucas et al made; I just think the skull was interchangeable.

Okay, there would have been some percentage of all possible artifacts that might have also been suitable for this film, but I would still argue that the Crystal Skull stands, with the Grail either standing alongside or just behind, as the artifact most integral to the film's thematic preoccupations and the filmmaker's geographic and cultural desires.
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Old 12-08-2011, 11:58 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Attila the Professor
Glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks this.

+2!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Attila the Professor
Indeed. But I don't see why we can't speak of strict Hitchcockian MacGuffins such as the microfilm in North by Northwest, the Lucasian MacGuffins in the four Indy films that go some way towards carrying the themes of the film (although the Ark less than the others), and things in-between, such as the Maltese Falcon, which, with it's final line ("the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of") offers a gloss on the concept before the term even became popular. It's downright silly to suggest we stop using the term in the Lucasian framing just because it doesn't fit in with the original usage.

Sorry Stewie, but I agree with the Professor.

At the very least we're discussing Lucas' movies using his own terminology. He knows what he means when he says "McGuffin", and if we'd previously followed the Hitchcock definition, we'd soon get to know that Lucas is referring to the artifacts as the plot devices the key players are chasing after.

It isn't a word, like Spielberg's "genre", that has a long established meaning beyond the world of make-believe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Attila the Professor
Okay, there would have been some percentage of all possible artifacts that might have also been suitable for this film, but I would still argue that the Crystal Skull stands, with the Grail either standing alongside or just behind, as the artifact most integral to the film's thematic preoccupations and the filmmaker's geographic and cultural desires.

Once found the Skull becomes symbolic of the race to find Akator, though the Skull itself is still actively driving the plot forwards through communication, and what may be its natural magnetic properties.
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Old 12-09-2011, 08:42 AM   #20
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It's a made up word.

Hell, I've heard a girl's sweater meat called McGuffins...which sort of plays into the whole theme of objective/pursuit.
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Old 12-09-2011, 10:49 AM   #21
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The word is only used once during the 1978 Story Conference, and it's George employing it in the Hitchcock sense:

Quote:
GEORGE LUCAS : ...essentially he ends up in Cairo or some exotic middle-east area, which is where most of it takes place...He's given the name of a man who knows about the situation, an agent. He goes into this very sleazy Casablanca type club and makes contact with this agent. The agent is a girl...he's trying to get information from this girl. Finally she gives it to him, about where the Germans are. We had thought of giving him another piece of information, a MacGuffin, that he could take with him to try to analyze.
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Old 12-10-2011, 08:45 AM   #22
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What if it's the article before the word that's making all the difference? *A* MacGuffin is the generic item, in true Hitchcockian sense. *The* MacGuffin instead is the main prize, the lost treasure the whole film revolves around.

There. A simple enough distinction. And even if it isn't so... go make it so. It's the Internet, guys. This place is a meme mill, if you feel something's amiss, start using the form you think is correct and see what comes of it.
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Old 06-14-2012, 01:45 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Me
ADD the term, "McGuffin", to the list of other, trendy, misused words...along with:

- cameo
- reveal
- epic
Time to add another word to the list of misused terms: "Franchise". Many folks refer to the Indiana Jones film series as a 'franchise'. If these people knew what the word actually meant, they wouldn't/shouldn't be using it to describe the Indy movies.

Please get this straight, chumps:
Indiana Jones films are NOT a franchise!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Attila the Professor
And here I'm not sure to what you're referring.
I'm referring to folks (including Spielberg) who say, "the reveal". It should be "the revelation", therefore, I would like to know: when & why did the word, "reveal", get changed from a verb into a noun? (I know that languages change over time but I hate to see them dumbed down.)
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Old 06-14-2012, 02:23 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Stoo
Time to add another word to the list of misused terms: "Franchise". Many folks refer to the Indiana Jones film series as a 'franchise'. If these people knew what the word actually meant, they wouldn't/shouldn't be using it to describe the Indy movies.

Please get this straight, chumps:
Indiana Jones films are NOT a franchise!

Makes Indy sound like a hamburger stand. With Lucas retiring from the big stuff franchising Indy could be music to stomach. (Somebody else will then be responsible for any allegations of food posioning).
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Old 06-14-2012, 05:05 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoo
Time to add another word to the list of misused terms: "Franchise". Many folks refer to the Indiana Jones film series as a 'franchise'. If these people knew what the word actually meant, they wouldn't/shouldn't be using it to describe the Indy movies.

Please get this straight, chumps:
Indiana Jones films are NOT a franchise!

The word "franchise" has taken on an additional, specialized definition over time, as used in the film industry.

It's accurate now.

As you say, words and definitions change over time. Specialized communities adopt and adapt words for their own use.

I suspect "franchise" was first used in Hollywood in a slightly tongue in cheek way. But now it's acceptable and has a very specific, widely-used definition in that community.

The word had multiple uses and definitions already. A franchise to vote is quite different than your local McDonald's.

I'm afraid you'll have to let this one go.
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