dir: George Lucas
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See, I had misgivings when I heard the title last year. Scratch that, I had misgivings when I heard Lucas was going to direct prequels to his smash hit merchandising empire in the first place. You'd think the man could just stay home and throw some money around with the kids, set fire to massive Cuban cigars with $5000 bills, race homeless people on a deadly indoor obstacle course, purchase small third world countries where for his amusement he can watch or physically take part as people's arses are branded with the Lucasfilm logo, or make them build pyramids in his honour. In that case, surely it is Georgie Porgie's love of creating quality films to be remembered throughout the ages that keeps him coming back to the trough for more. Surely.
I've had the opportunity to watch the film twice over the last couple of weeks, and I have to say that the second viewing was significantly less enjoyable than the first. Such a detail certainly indicates to me at least that the film's quality is no where near as high as several relieved reviewers would have you believe.
If I'd written the review after the first viewing, I possibly might have had more positive things to say. As it is, the film's flaws were magnified with a subsequent viewing, for which the rest of you who loved it are now going to have to suffer.
In a way, I feel that many members of the audience for this film have, through a feeling of sheer relief, enjoyed this film far more than they had any right to. In a way, because they were desperately hoping that it was "better" that Phantom Menace they have heaped praise on this debacle because it superficially lacks
the structural and conceptual problems that many believe afflicted Ep I. Of course I don't expect anyone who loved the film to agree with me :)
Ultimately, a lack of Jar Jar a better film does not make. I shall say right now that in my opinion though on some scores the film is "better", it is in fact not that superior to Phantom Menace, not by a long shot, though it is possibly more enjoyable due to the greater number of action sequences.
I am still in two minds about the actor pretending to portray Anakin Skywalker. I have a gut feeling that Hayden Christensen may be a reasonable actor in something else, anything else, but here he managed to be unlikable, whiny and quite ludicrous. At least he got one out of three right, but apart from that he
is the perfect teenager ego substitute. There was something so significantly off about his performances, especially in the parts when he's supposed to be emoting to another human being (mostly Padme), that I couldn't work out how Lucas was making sure the actor wouldn't act believably, until I guessed that he'd
had a lacky attach electrodes to Anakin's genitals, with the constant threat looming above (or below, more accurately) the poor dear constantly if he slipped up for a second and acted genuinely.
In a sense, I guess his dysfunctional relationship with Obi Wan, his surly intonations and his whining are believable as the behaviour of a teenager as viewed by an adult, but if Glucas's intention is to give kids stories and action to delight them unceasingly for the next sixty years of their lives, why would he want that main character to be so unlikable and to be fairly dopey to boot? Perhaps there is a certain dramatic logic to what the film is trying to do with Anakin, but I can't see it yet. I feel, perhaps optimistically that the fault lies with Lucas' direction, as it always has. The man, I am virtually certain, wishes he could make these films without actors entirely. They certainly seem to complicate the dramatic sequences for him, the pesky brutes. Imagine if you will, a perfect Star Wars film where there is nothing but Jar Jars, robot armies, clone armies
and generic alien creatures flitting about for the 2 1/2 hour duration, without the need to have people speak. Now add a lightsabre fight or two, and you've got a money-making formula that writes itself.
The emotional / dramatic / human elements of the story are mostly facile, so laughable that despite my best attempts to care about the plot I found myself wishing that talking characters would just shut the fuck up so that we could get to another multi-million dollar CGI sequence.
You'd think that Obi Wan (Ewan MacGregor) would come and shine through, and he does. Except for the fact that practically every scene he has with Anakin has him behaving like a nagging, over-bearing, unsupportive, narky arsehole. It establishes their relationship as being less mentor / apprentice and more dom / sub, though I do admit that it sort of makes sense that it would be so, in that we can see that one of the multitude of reasons why Anakin might turn to the dark side is because of his combative / unfulfilling relationship with his master. Obi Wan is a poor teacher, yet (the character perhaps) mellows out with old
age, realises the error of his ways and is more supportive to Luke Skywalker a few decades down the track. The relationship in the 1st film between Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan was more believable, more vital.
Natalie Portman is merely a prop upon which to place clothing. Her acting is mostly as sonambulant as Anakin's, though she does look good in that leather corset. She comes out of it with some dignity because she doesn't have to say lines of dialogue as poorly written and badly expressed as Anakin.
She is mostly a damsel in distress in the film, though she is supposedly "ballsy" towards the end of the film by standing in the middle of an arena full of robots shooting a blaster. Right. Her scene rolling around in the grass with Anakin, with seventeen waterfalls cascading in the distance, and giant grazing ticks around them ranks as the second worst scene in the entire picture. Luckily for our two young actors, they get to 'shine'
later on in the worst scene of all, where Anakin is forced to say "I wish that I could wish these feelings away" and the glorious "I'm haunted by the kiss you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask..." There's not an actor alive that could have salvaged that dialogue, I'm sure of it.
Some critics have praised Glucas for amping up the forbidden romance aspect with these 'star-crossed lovers'. I just wish he hadn't asked a retarded twelve year old girl to help him write it, just to give it that extra level of believability that he was looking for. It doesn't work, even though we know it has to work, I just never bought for a moment that any of the actors involved cared any more for each other than they did for the heated leather seats in their cars waiting in the parking lot.
Oh well, we can bitch about the acting all we want, but again we have to remind ourselves that these are Star Wars films, and thus are exempt from the same necessities as other 'adventure' films, or any other films for that matter. Also, Anakin's hairstyle really annoyed the shit out of me.
Yes, yes, the effects is the only reason people go to watch these films. Right. That's why people people still love New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Last Crusade, Jaws, Aliens and a plethora of other films, the more recent of which I'll mention later. It's just the effects you see. Yes, the story is meaningless, unimportant, isn't it?
All the same, the effects budget is incredible. The movie opens on Coruscant which does look incredible, expansive and expensive. The action sequences are competently done, and look great, and manage to advance the story. Of course, they are utterly insane and unbelievable, but this early on in the piece your willing suspension of disbelief is still strong, unlike the fucking Force which seems to be waning, especially in consideration of these films.
The effects looked great in the theatres I watched the film in, although I did notice some bizarre green (?) splotches that seemed to flicker for a second in particular scenes, and it occured both times I saw it in completely different cinemas. It's a mystery.
Speaking of which, the B story (the A story being the lead up to the hot and sweaty fucking we know is meant to occur between our two young leads, who generate about as much heat or chemistry as my geriatric parents) comes off better in comparison, perhaps due to less idiotic dialogue. In fact had there been a judicious excision of Anakin / Amidala scenes in the way that Jar Jar's role had been drastically reduced, perhaps it would have improved the film immeasurably.
Hmm. As far as investigations go, Obi Wan's attempt to track down an assassin who attempted to off Senator Amidala ranks up there in terms of complexity with the mysteries investigated by Enid Blyton's Famous Five, except here the poor dear has to do it on his lonesome. Still, he ambles from place to place having mysteries unfold before him with no prompting required, until he finally crosses paths with Jango Fett (Temeura Morrison, legendary Maori actor) who is certainly a bad motherfucker. Alas his time in the film is all too painfully short, in the way that Darth Maul was basically a cameo role until the end of Phantom Penis, sorry, Menace. He and his stunt double are decent enough, and the fight on the landing pad on Kamino between Obi Wan, Jango and Boba in Slave 1 is decent enough, where Jango goes through the full range of accessories that his wonderful suit of armour has to offer. I liked it, and the rain really enhanced the nature of the scene.
Another part of the film that I enjoyed involved Obi Wan trailing Jango to Isengard, where a former ally of the Jedi Council has set up camp. He is Saruman, played by the venerable Christopher Lee, and is creating an army of orcs for the dark lord Darth Sidious. Obi Wan is taken prisoner and must escape using his wits.
Oh wait, I think I might have fucked that up. I really liked the bit where Gandalf goes to Geonosis, and finds a former ally of the White Council who has set up camp. He is Count Dooku, played by the venerable Christopher Lee, and is creating an army of robots for the dark lord Sauron. Gandalf is taken prisoner and
must escape using his wits and lightsabre.
Wait, oh, I just can't get this straight in my head :).
Christopher Lee is decent enough as Count Dooku (Darth Tyrannus), and looks fantastic in the (thankfully) dying minutes of the film whilst fighting it out with three different Jedi. As the man is 80 years of age, it is okay to acknowledge that perhaps he wasn't really doing any of the choreography in most of those
scenes :) In places it was fairly obvious to me that Lee's face had been digitally superimposed onto another stunt dude. Regardless, it works well, except his duel with Anakin was poorly done. The vast proportion of it occurs in darkness, with just images of the two fighters waving lightsabres in vague directions and the sound of contact. It is certainly not on a par with the duel in Empire or even Phantom.
However, a certain little green dude getting in on the action (for all of thirty seconds) was just fucking fantastic. Cheesy it may have been, but it just worked superbly and lifted the energy levels several notches higher after the lacklustre robotfest towards the end of the film. Count Dooku, despite possessing a stupid name, is a bad motherfucker, and I'm glad he'll be in the next one as well. I really liked his somewhat
different lightsabre and style as well, it was a nice touch.
It's the little details that the Star Wars geeks get fixated on. Moments or images only seconds long, characters with the merest screen time that cause entire cults to be built up around them. Dooku's lightsabre, the double lightsabre technique, Qui Gon Jinn's voice screaming "Anakin, no!" as Yoda perceives Anakin's massacre of the sand people, female Jedis fighting, Samuel L Jackson getting to be a bad motherfucker and talking as if he's in a blaxploitation film, the Death Star plans conceived of by the Geonosians and taken by Dooku,the waning of the Force amongst the Jedi, Owen and Beru Lars, the fact
that Boba was an unaltered clone of Jango as opposed to all the other stormtroopers (thinking of all the stormtroopers in the future films as being Temeura Morrison with a New Zealand accent is quite funny), these are all interesting little details that people desperately wish meant something more. In some ways Glucas
is a bigger tease than Amidala.
Speaking of which, I don't want to leave out one of my favourite bits of ridiculousness. When Amidala and Anakin decide to travel to Geonosis in order to save Obi Wan, she dons a white bodysuit, though with all the money that Glucas has, you'd have thought that he could afford to get the poor lass a bra. I'm assuming
it was a very cold day on set. Anyway, later on as she battles a big furry monster (no, it's not a euphemism) this creature slashes her across the back with its claws. Amazingly, not only is she okay, but the top part of her outfit has miraculously transformed into a halter top just to show off those ripped abs. That CGI creature should be working as a tailor, I tells ya. You're a genius, George, don't let anyone tell you different.
Supreme Chancellor Hitl-, um, Palpatine or the actor looks sicker with each scene. I assume that it's make-up trying to show that the more evil the guy gets, the worse he looks, but I do worry, you know. Heaven forbid that anything should happen to Christopher Lee or Ian McDiarmid before their commitment to this
masterpiece should end! His scheming persists and expands, and unlike many other viewers, I'd rather watch the political stuff than the moochy smoochy crap by incompetently directed actors any day.
The grand plan that Palpatine has being laying the foundation for over decades is coming together. It was quite edifying to see the conceptual scale upon which Palapatine's intergalactic hatred is taking shape. I sincerely hope that in the third film we find out what makes Palpatine tick, in terms of how and why
he decided to change teams and become one with the Dark Side. At least he's interesting. His screen time is about as extensive as that of Jar Jar Bink's. And you have to wonder whether it is an admission on Glucas' part that he may have miscalculated the level of pants wetting joy that Jar Jar would be responsible for
in conceiving of the character, though I'm sure his bloated ego will never admit to it openly.
The level of expectation was substantially lower this time. There wasn't as great a time difference or expanse of expectation as with Phantom Menace. Many people had their expectations so convincingly lowered by the first one that they simply hoped it was at least a bit better, and now they find themselves shouting
quote whore statements like "Lucas is Back!", "He may have lost it with PM, but AoTC delivers!!" or the even better damning with faint praise "It's better than PM."
Truth is, in my anything but humble opinion, it's pretty much the same as PM. It has better pacing, more action, more engaging action, even more technologically advanced effects, model work and CGI. But it has even worse acting, making the flatness of PM almost desirable, and suffers from the same hollowness at its
core. The final big combat at the end between the Jedi and the robot armies should be a bright spot, but for fuck's sake, they're just robots! They're not even that menacing, regardless of whether they can kill you or not. A blender can kill you if used incorrectly. A pretzel swallowed by anyone but a trained professional (as proved by the current US president) can be dangerous. That doesn't make pretzels or blenders menacing or
capable of quality action / drama.
Perhaps we can look forward to a final combat in the third film whereby legions of Gungans, Ewoks, Robots, Jehovah's Witnesses and storm troopers battle it out to the death for the fate of the universe. Nice and bloodless. It should be rivetting.
Still, people should know what to expect from Glucas by now, I certainly have had my expectations lowered even more. Again, this film and PM trail behind episodes 4 & 5, but are on a par with 6. The dialogue wasn't always brilliant in the first three films, but it sure as hell managed not to be embarrassingly bad.
To those that say that people are wrong to harshly criticise this film because its just supposed to be popcorn fun, no-brains, lots of action, I say poppycock and balderdash. Big budgets and large numbers of effects shots do not mean the script has to suffer. If anything, this year alone, Spider-Man and moreso
Fellowship of the Ring have proved that a film can have a massive budget, be technically amazing, pack an emotional punch and most importantly of all, tell a great story. Sam Raimi and Peter
Jackson stand head and shoulders above Lucas in terms of delivering the goods, and it matter not one whit how much the films have earned. I know which films I'll be looking forward to over the next few years.
6 times that wretched dialogue made me want to pull my earsoff through my nose out of 10
"One day, I will become the greatest Jedi EVER" - sure you will, Attack of the Clones