Thomas Sutcliffe: Here's hoping for a very special effect

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The Independent Online

And what's really interesting about this is not that he's done it - fanfilm directors are a dime a dozen - but that the end result is all but indistinguishable from the original. The light-sabres give off the same sub-station hum, the cityscapes crawl with the same futuristic bustle and the planets roll past each other with the same epic sweep, like a giant orrery. So narcoleptically faithful is the film's imitation, in fact, that I lost interest in Revelations about seven minutes in - though not before grasping its biggest disclosure, which is that this particular gap between amateur and professional has closed with dizzying speed.

Most fan films are conspicuously amateurish - though they can be fun if you like that kind of thing. In Anakin Dynamite, for example, a high-school auteur has created a short nerd-rewrite of Lucas's epic. And in a genuinely captivating film called Walk in a Bamboo Bush someone called Tetsuro Saiki has recreated the combat scenes from the first Star Wars movie using black and white Japanese textile patterns (it's hard to describe, but it's worth checking out on atomfilms.com).

But you'd never mistake either for the real thing - they're playful and allusive and affectionate, a kind of QuickTime fan-letter. Revelations is more like a stalker turning up on your doorstep, having had facial reconstruction so that he looks exactly like you. And the fact that he can do it at all suggests that Hobbywood isn't that far behind Hollywood.

It isn't just in film that computers are beginning to erode the industry monopoly on professional finish. The BBC News website is running an intriguing short series it calls Digital Citizens - looking at a range of grassroots cultural production, from photoblogging to podcasting (people who make their own radio programmes and distribute them by download). It recently covered the case of an Indian musician who had funded his first album by selling shares in his future earnings on e-Bay - a kind of home-made Bowie bond for gamblers. Astonishingly he got three optimistic backers to pony up £3,000 each for his piano-bar noodlings - and though I doubt that he will trouble the collective consciousness again, he has surely shown the way to other wannabees.

His website is indistinguishable from those promoting established stars. The internet and various software programmes are nibbling away at the privilege of the gatekeepers. And some of the stuff that gets through is interesting. Earlier this year Jonathan Caouette's film Tarnation had a conventional movie distribution - even though the film had been put together using Apple's iMovie software.

And the business world is always ready to exploit the novel kind of organisms that emerge from the hot puddle of the internet. If you want to give yourself a kick then Google the words "The Wrong Bananas" and look at Joel Veitch's plangent animation, in which two baby orang-utans sing about their problems with unfamiliar fruit. But don't expect it to look fresh, since the klutzy animation style has been plundered for adverts and title sequences.

Received opinion seems to be that life will be transformed without gatekeepers - that what the technology is doing is releasing the cap on a vast reservoir of thwarted invention. Sadly it doesn't take very long to discover that 99 per cent of the vanity projects and weekend publishing online are weak. There are some prodigies of derivative effort but a lot of what you see is lame, and almost immediately flamed by internet critics who are more savage than old-technology reviewers. Mediocrity has found a lot of new ways to express itself - but, since almost all of us are mediocre, this is likely to be a popular development.

It raises another tantalising possibility. If anyone can do the flashy stuff - the multilayered studio mix and CGI sequences - then the profitable demarcation between professional and amateur will have to be marked by something software can't emulate; unprecedented thought and inimitable flair. If anybody can be George Lucas then George Lucas might have to reinvent himself - and that's long overdue.

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