Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Quick Take: Star Wars Radio Play - Just Watch It

If you haven’t watched it yet, then for the next hour and a half you’ve got something to do, kid.

At the Emerald City Comic-con on March 31st 2012, there was a gathering of some of the greatest voice actors of our generation. Introduced one by one, they proceeded to sit in a row in front of an ecstatic crowd, each with a shortened script of the first Star Wars trilogy laid out in front of them, and they read it. Not as themselves of course, but as Zoidberg, Christopher Walken, Yakko, Raven, Batman, Bender, Brain and a whole host of other characters that these gods-among-men are able to produce in a moment’s notice.

Who are these gods, you say? They are known as Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Kevin Conroy. My friends, these are the ingredients to one of the funniest performances I have seen in a long, long time.

The best parts aren’t even when the voices the actors perform don’t match the script characters (such as when Bubbles voices Darth Vader right out of the gate). It’s when the actors are riffing, making each other laugh, bringing back favorite phrases from childhood memories – NARF! – or just screwing up the lines. When they go beyond the script, they show the reason they’re the best in the business. It’s 80 minutes of pure, laid back hilarity.

What’s so fascinating about voice actors is their ability to transform into beloved characters instantaneously. Rob Paulsen positions his jaw differently and he becomes Pinky. Jon DiMaggio throws his head back and he is Tracy Morgan. Maurice LaMarche jerks around and physically overacts to he becomes Calculon.

There are very few live actors, and they are most often impersonators, who can change into character and have the audience really believe the transformation. Even if they can achieve it, there is something lost in the performance. They are older, or too fat, or too thin, or what have you. When Billy West voices Stimpy, his pitch and clarity is absolutely perfect. You wouldn’t know that even a day has gone by since the show ended.

But if it isn’t for the laughs, watch this reading simply for a brilliant, albeit rare demonstration of what cartoon lovers always want: actually seeing voice actors perform. Too often is the face behind the voice left in the dark. We only get short featurettes on DVDs showing actors in a sound booth, or a grainy video online of an actor doing a line or two. This video is clear, and best of all, its long.

Granted, perhaps there is a reason we shouldn’t see the actors themselves that much. If we did it would start to ruin the illusion of the cartoon. But don’t listen to that now. Watch this video and just enjoy it.





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