It's a matter of public knowledge that George Lucas both created and damned the modern American "geek." He created it with Star Wars in 1977. He damned it with Star Wars in 1999.
While the crippling effect The Phantom Menace has had on global society cannot be understated, that's a story for another time. Today, I address a hypothetical.
What if Jim Henson had lived and George Lucas had died?
If Jim Henson Were Alive, He And Michael Bay Would Be Best Friends
Well, that's a biggie.
To begin, without George Lucas, CGI is very different. Spielberg, consumed by grief, devotes all his energy to Schindler's List in 1993, leaving Henson to direct Jurassic Park instead. Henson directs the film as a puppet-powered action-comedy. It does not fail, but it does not set the world on fire with its reduced CGI spectacle.
Schindler's List is even more brutal, sending Spielberg down a dour path.
With no CGI in Jurassic Park, and no Lucas, ILM is steered by Kathleen Kennedy and Henson. Twister is not made in 1996. Helen Hunt remains a TV star.
Empowered, Henson directs Waterworld in 1995. Kevin Costern's ego is overridden by Henson, with backing from Spielberg. The Postman is never made. The world is spared.
Without the advancements in CG technology brought about by Jurassic Park and Twister, James Cameron cannot secure funding for Titanic in 1997. Cameron will not resurface until Spider-Man enters production in 2000.
In 1997, The Lost World is not made, due to Jurassic Park not being a total hit. Furthermore, As Good As It Gets, the Jack Nicholson vehicle, is never made, with Helen Hunt not possessing the requisite box-office drawing-power, Twister now having never existed to launch her film career.
Jack Nicholson commits suicide.
Losing Titanic, The Lost World, As Good As It Gets, and Liar Liar (Jim Carrey having also committed suicide after The Mask was killed mid-production in 1996), Face/Off becomes the 10th highest grossing film of 1997. John Woo's career in America is cemented.
In 1998, Armageddon is made in a collaboration between Jim Henson and Michael Bay. Still using primarily models and puppets for effects, the two directors of spectacle grow close. Deep Impact, driven by CG, is not made in 1998, nor is Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, not from lack of budget, but from their inability to write a third act without ripping off Jurassic Park's velociraptors.
Spielberg makes Saving Private Ryan in 1998 and it is the same in this universe, including losing the Best Picture Academy Award to fucking Shakespeare In Love.
In 1999, the following films are not made:
- Star Wars - Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
- The Matrix
- The Mummy
- Disney's Tarzan
- Toy Story 2
Without Lucas's obsession with digital effects, Pixar never exists.
Elsehwere, The Matrix is reworked into a Ghost in the Shell movie under Jim Henson's supervision. It is written by the Wachowskis and directed by John Woo.
The year 2000 is somewhat unchanged. Bryan Singer's X-Men film is given an even larger budget, as Fox has built itself as the defacto studio for special effects. Fox is also emboldened by the superhero genre with the news that James Cameron's Spider-Man film, just entering development, is looking really good before its release in 2002.
In 2001, the following films are not made:
- Monsters, Inc.
- The Mummy Returns
- Jurassic Park III
- Pearl Harbor
With no Pixar, Shrek and its Dreamworks Animation bretheren do not exist.
However, Michael Bay and Jim Henson, great friends after their collaboration on Armageddon, co-direct their original film about a puppetry-powered elephant-like creature in post-apocalyptic earth. Its stinger ending reveals the film is connected to both Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. The Henson-Bay 'Verse is born.
The Lord of the Rings is released to decent success. While the budget for future films is reduced, they are released to some acclaim.
James Cameron's Spider-Man film is released in 2002. It is hailed as the turning point for CGI. 2002 is praised as "the year that changed movies."
The 9/11 terrorist attacks, while damaging, are overcome by clearer heads. The Matrix, Minority Report, and the Star Wars prequels, now having never existed, do not sour America's perspective on the world.
Sam Raimi, no longer director of Spider-Man, collaborates with James Cameron to make Terminator 3 in 2003. Instead of sucking, it's awesome.
The following 2003 films are not made:
- Finding Nemo
- Bruce Almighty
- The Matrix Reloaded
- The Matrix Revolutions
- Bad Boys II
The Hulk film, originally thought to be directed by Ang Lee, is still made, but it is directed instead by John Woo. Instead of sucking, it's awesome.
In 2004, Bay and Henson successfully co-direct the flailing Harry Potter franchise, with Prisoner of Azkaban. James Cameron continues his work with Spider-Man 2. Mel Gibson directs The Passion of the Christ, but nobody cares, thanks to the Star Wars prequels never existing, and American not morally collapsing into itself.
In 2005, Spielberg returns to direct War of the Worlds. It's the same. Something is clearly wrong with Spielberg.
Batman Begins is directed by Sam Raimi, with a screenplay by Darren Aronofsky. It's awesome, but only a moderate success at the box office. King Kong is not made, Peter Jackson not having won an Oscar for Return of the King.
Quentin Tarantino directs Fantastic Four in 2005, which turns out quite well.
By 2006, JJ Adrams is directing the new Superman Returns movie under Sam Raimi's supervision at Warner Bros., freeing Bryan Singer to end his X-Men trilogy with The Last Stand.
No longer directing X-Men 3, Brett Ratner directs Mission: Impossible III, torpedoing Tom Cruise's career entirely.
With Jack Nicholson having committed suicide in 1996, The Departed is found lacking, and Scorcese remains without an Academy Award.
The top grossing film of 2007 is Michael Bay and Jim Henson's Transformers. It is spectacular. James Cameron abandons the Spider-Man franchise to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, killing the franchise dead.
Peter Jackson directs The Golden Compass to huge acclaim, sparking the beginning of the His Dark Materials trilogy.
In 2008, the following films are not made:
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- Kung Fu Panda
- Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
- Iron Man
Steven Spielberg saves some face by directing Prince Caspian as a favor to Disney. Things are looking up, his grieving of George Lucas beginning its resolution.
The Dark Knight is this time directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Sam Raimi. It's weird, but still good.
Christopher Nolan casts Heath Ledger in Wanted. It's also weird, but a vast improvement.
James Cameron does not make Avatar in 2008. Without Avatar to placate them, China nukes America.
If George Lucas had died in 1990, and Jim Henson had lived, China would have nuked America in 2008.