Monday, June 13, 2005

"Star Wars" and NERRRDDS, again

Well, I said I’d talk about all of the damn "Star Wars" movies, so in the interest of completeness, I’ve still got Episodes I and II to go before seeing and reviewing "Revenge of the Sith." Now, the way I feel would be most appropriate for reviewing these atrocities, especially in light of my long-winded entries on the original trilogy, would be thus:

-The Phantom Menace-


-Attack of the Clones-

Sucks worse.

But that's a little too brief. However, because of how much I disliked these movies, I’m still keeping things much shorter than I did for the original trilogy. And I’m sure we’re all happy about that.

-The Phantom Menace-

Probably the most disappointed I’ve ever been while leaving a theater. Just a colossal misfire on just about every front imaginable. After seeing this movie, I instantly remembered that it was the first movie Lucas had directed since the original Star Wars - not the trilogy, but the first movie - and I figured that we had an obvious reason why. He just wasn’t very good at it. Too talky, too obvious (that fucking "pod race" had "video game opportunity" written all over it), too ... well, just too stupid. I mean, I know that even the original Star Wars movies were basically kids flicks, but those seemed to be aimed more at hyperactive 13- and 14-year olds, not the 6- and 7-year olds who seem to be the primary audience for Phantom. Plus, I may be the only one who feels this way, but I find the fact that every single damn thing in these movies is obviously computer-generated to be quite distracting. These computer drawings are not actors, and not only do they not behave and respond as well as actors do, but a significant amount of the time they don’t even look particularly real.

The casting is uniformly pretty brilliant - I love Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, even though neither is given anything particularly interesting to do. And casting Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson was a further startlingly salient effort at making the Star Wars saga more palatable to today’s audiences (although it must be said: any time Samuel L. is involved, and he’s NOT saying "motherfucker" at some point in your flick, it’s just a wasted opportunity. Warrants mentioning). The problem, as is the case with both Episode I and Episode II, is that the actors are hamstrung by extraordinarily stupid and tedious dialogue. Lucas has often admitted that he’s much more concerned with the visuals in his movies than the dialogue, and quite frankly, he didn’t need to tell us. It’s incredibly obvious. Ugh, I’m getting to the point where I’m about to start talking about the laughably misguided character Jar Jar Binks, and what hasn’t been said about that catastrophe? So I’m just going to stop now. Except to say that I strongly suspect that Natalie Portman spent this entire movie trying to talk like a robot. Like Nicole Kidman in that old SNL skit where she’s a little kid on a playground with Mike Myers: "I am talking like a robot. This is how a robot talks, and I am talking like a robot." It would be funny, if it weren’t so ... no, it was funny.

Final rating: 2 out of 5

-Attack of the Clones-

Jesus, where do I start? This movie was actually, literally difficult for me to sit through. This is probably the most dialogue-heavy of the "prequels," and, considering what I said earlier about Lucas’s ability to write quality text ... well, the number of times I cringed due to hilariously awful dialogue was roughly proportional to the number of times I checked the clock to see if the damn thing was almost over. Which was A LOT.

Even the action scenes seem perfunctory, like they’re just ambling along with no real purpose, no end to justify the shooting and cutting and blowing up. Lucas’s "hey, look at this"-itis is obviously in full bloom. Pretty CGI portraits may do the trick for some people, but I, for one, just don’t care. Give me something in your story to care about - I don’t get a huge kick out of "oohing" and "ahhing" special effects. Plus, as I said before, a lot of the time, the stuff looks fake anyways. Unfortunately, this movie has little going for it other than the visuals. McGregor acquits himself well again, but again, Portman seems lost in a sea of painful dialogue. Newcomer Hayden Christenson, playing a teenaged Anakin, is just brutal in this film. I like the guy, and he was great in "Shattered Glass," but here, he’s so bad that almost every time he opens his mouth it’s a cringeworthy moment. Christopher Lee -- who is ALWAYS awesome -- adds a little bit of a sinister edge as Count Dooku (the dumbest name in a film series chock full of idiotic monikers), but I mean, he’s like 85 years old. His lightsaber duels are an awkward amalgam of closeups of Lee’s face and long shots with an obvious stunt double. But hey, I’m nitpicking, so I’ll move on to some bigger problems I have.

My biggest problem with the "prequels" has been Lucas’s lack of adherence to the internal logic he has set up for the series. I can handle leaps of faith and suspension of disbelief - it’s when movies are untrue to their own rules and conditions that I get upset. For instance, one of my favorite movies of the last few years was "The Ring," which scared the holy living hell out of me. Notice that I have completely bought into the fact, inside the universe of this movie, that a little girl can come out of TVs and kill you for watching a videotape. But the thing is, among the myriad other problems with the gawd-awful sequel, I was severely annoyed by the fact that, all of a sudden in the second film, the little girl had the ability to friggin’ possess people! Why the fuck wasn’t she doing it in the first movie? They just added something because they thought it would be cool, with no regard for the "rules" that were set up by the first movie. I find that Lucas does this in his "prequels," and it drives me insane. Of course, I’m the type of person who lets small things like these infuriate me, but you all knew that already. That’s just the way I am. What types of things drive me nuts? Well, advancing computer animation techniques have allowed Lucas to put into the "prequels" many more detailed and varied technological gizmos inhabiting the Star Wars world. The thing is, the original trilogy was heavy on natural settings and creatures. What I’m trying to say is, because his second trilogy is supposedly happening before the original three movies, the technology IN the Star Wars universe seems much more advanced in the past than it is in the future. For instance, if they have the technology to make an entire goddamn army out of droids in "Phantom" and "Clones," then why the hell not use them 30-some-odd years later, or whenever the hell the original trilogy takes place? And yes, it drives me crazy that he’s turned Yoda into this whirling dervish of a warrior, when in the first trilogy you get the sense that he’s this very wise, very powerful, yet almost completely decrepit, Jedi master. So, we know that Yoda is about 900 years old in Jedi. We can estimate that the events that happen in Clones took place about 25-35 years before the events of Jedi. So, Yoda is apparently a Tazmanian Devil-like fighting wiz at the age of 870, but gosh, it’s those last 30 years that kill you, and he’s become a frail little goblin all of a sudden by Empire and Jedi. This is just one example of Lucas and company deciding to go with "what looks cool" instead of "what makes sense." That’s what I’m talking about. Am I strange and unusual for feeling this way? Probably. But hey, I’m used to being strange and unusual.

(By the way, here is a fantastic IMDb post that talks about Lucas going back and changing the original trilogy. He presents great arguments "for" and "against"... and then he blows the "for" arguments out of the water. Worth a read, for the thought and effort put into it.)

Final rating: 1 1/2 out of 5


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