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day permlink Monday, 27 May 2002

permlink Onions

Recent tasty bits from the Onion:

Pope Forgives Molested Children
Pope: "We must send a clear message to these hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of children whose sinful ways have tempted so many of the church's servants into lustful violation of their holy vows of celibacy. The church forgives them for their transgressions and looks upon them not with intolerance, but compassion."

Mother: "For months, I feared that my boy -- and the dozens of others who committed sinful acts with Father Halloran before he was moved to the safety of another parish to protect him from further temptation at their pre-pubescent hands -- was going to Hell for what he'd done ... It's the worst feeling a mother can know. But thanks to the forgiveness of the pope, my long nightmare is finally over. He was just a boy of 8 at the time. He didn't know any better. Thank you, your Holiness, for giving my poor little Timothy a second chance at redemption."
Factual Error Found On Internet

Star Wars Mania (Infographic)

U.S. Protests Mexi-Canadian Overpass
"If you're a Mexican who regularly commutes to Canada, or vice-versa, this is great. But what about all of us poor Americans caught in the middle?" said Dallas resident Tom Hitchner, one of an estimated 850,000 U.S. citizens forced to evacuate their homes to make room for concrete supports for the 1,600-mile, 18-lane overpass. "For Mexico and Canada to do this without any concern for all the Americans whose lives this affects, well, the arrogance is just unbelievable."

permlink Star Wars Episode II rant

On the Friday night of its release, we saw Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and: wow. Even though I expected it to be bad in spots, I still was hugely disappointed. Rating: 3 out of 10, or on a different scale, D+.

On the one hand, I know I'm not the target audience (kids) and I know that I'm coming at most films from a picky, seen-this-before sort of place. On the other, Lucas had plenty of time and plenty of money, so there's only so much special pleading that I'll grant for a major film from the mind and pen of a multi-millionaire. At the very least I expect the actors to have lines that aren't appallingly stupid (how much do scriptwriters cost?) and the plot to be at least superficially self-consistent or follow some discernable logic. Instead, what Lucas provides is a stream of visual and musical stimuli designed to make the audience ooh, ah, and cheer in the designated places when what's happening on the screen isn't even necessarily good for Our Heroes or for The Galaxy. We're clearly not meant to be using our brains during the film, just our senses.

I'm going to be pretty ad hoc about the organization and form of the rest of this because it's not worth trying to polish into an essay form. I will put all plot-spoiling items on the extended version of this post (click on the blue bits at the beginning or end of the post to reach that page).

In no particular order, I will at least start with a couple of good things before ripping into it:
  • Ewan McGregor is a fine Ben Kenobi. Through the whole movie, his scenes are the most watchable and make the most sense (or, more likely, he's better at making believable the random plot Lucas dumped in his lap).

  • The lightsaber battles are very well done and don't just repeat what we've seen in four other movies.

  • Various vistas and background business are quite good; for example, the three-d highway system on Coruscant is pretty convincing since they clearly animated each individual ship-speck to have its own motion pattern; you don't get the feeling you're watching a loop.

    (At the same time, anytime we the audience follow a ship around, it travels outside all those lanes. So who are the lanes for? Aha, all the non-special people.)

  • There was no Matrix 2 trailer. I had been led to believe there would be. Boo, AMC Hoffman Center!
Many spoilers inside...
  • Star Wars as Wayne's World: Apparently it's not enough to try to tell a riveting story, Lucas has to crack fourth-wall jokes while he's at it. Many of C3PO's lines (e.g. "what a drag", "I'm beside myself") were out of character and entirely too self-awarely punny; does C3PO's consciousness transcend time and space so he can wink at the audience he knows is there? And what's with with Kenobi saying "why do I get the feeling you'll be the death of me?" It's solely for the audience's brief ha-ha; strictly amateur-hour writing. Clearly the clip where Anakin turns to the camera, winks and says "Oh, yes. She will be mine." was left in the Unused Scenes folder on Lucas' G4.

  • Star Wars as Galaxy Quest and/or Chicken Run: I think the Conveyor Belt of Random Mechanical Doom was just put in the film so it could be later included in a video game. It's been done over and over again and contributed nothing to the plot. The damsel was put in distress though, so we were all clearly meant to react with worry. This is one of the problems with a prequel; we know she at least makes it to the birth of Luke and Leia, so this scene was just there to be waited out (and boy, was it long).

  • Star Wars as Coneheads: Spot the moment when Count Dooku was going to yell, "Now, you must narfle the garthok"; they must have dropped it at the last minute.

  • I liked Yoda much better as a puppet. As clever as their digital animators were, they didn't come close to the real, physical Yoda of V and VI. It was too smooth, too fake and therefore too distracting. (I know, a Yoda puppet whirling at high speed around a foe would be hard to pull off...)

  • The opening crawl text was filled with brand new information referencing groups we've never met as though we should know all about them already; bad start right there. Do we ever find out why the separatists want to separate? And why shouldn't they? Did we ever find out what exactly their problem is? (States' rights? A split in the Church?) Couldn't the Federation just forego Jedi protection and let them concentrate on protecting the remainder? And where was Dooku the rebel leader last time? Did I miss Episode 1.5?

  • What's so self-evidently special about the senator from Naboo versus the other senators? Why is Amidala (or her replacement Jar-Jar) the "only one" who could propose giving special powers to Palpatine? Isn't this a Senate? Couldn't it have been the Wookies or the ETs? The other senators clapped after Jar Jar submitted the proposal; were they all incapable of doing the same thing? Were their mouths taped shut? Maybe there's an answer in the novelization, but it wasn't on the screen.

  • Continuity puzzle: Kenobi & Qui-Gon defied Yoda &c.'s wishes in Episode 1 and trained Anakin. In Episode 2, Yoda &c. overrule Kenobi and say that Anakin's perfectly suited for guarding the ex-Queen on his own and Kenobi shouldn't be such a silly goose. Huh?

  • The whole Mom business was contrived in every respect. Hmm: Ani spends the whole movie oblivious to everything but Queen Pocket Tee, except when he decides that he has a dream so bad he has to hijack the plot right now, endanger his charge, and give Tatooine its cameo. Of course he arrives just in time to watch Mom die and get mass-murderously mad about it. Hey Ani, a more useful Jedi-clairvoyant dream would be one that prompted you to get there with enough time to do something more than just say hello, goodbye.

  • Where in the toy line is the Creepy Stalker Anakin doll? Lucky for him he was the only eligible guy anywhere near Amidala; that seems to be the only reason she could have picked him, unless it was all a Jedi Mind Trick (which is my current theory). Otherwise, the lesson to be learned from Star Wars is that you just have to focus on the girl you think you are meant for, tell her you've been thinking about her every day for years, and poof! she will love you back. I guess it's a great fantasy for the teen geeks in the crowd, but it's wholly unbelievable for me. Every time they cut back to Padme & Anakin, I groaned (as quietly as I could manage).

  • Think about Kenobi's initial meeting with the cloners from their perspective: wouldn't it be awfully damn odd that a Jedi would visit the planet and yet be so thoroughly ignorant of what they did there? Only half of his answers were smooth or ambiguous; the rest betrayed utter cluelessness about what their deal was. How stupid are the cloners, anyway? Or are they simply not capable of suspicion?
Oh, I could go on (How can Yoda magically know they're at the start of a Clone War but not know that Palpatine is a slimy SOB? Why did the film cue people to coo and clap at the end wedding when it's a Bad Thing? Why don't we get to see any Jedi reactions to it? That would have been interesting), but I've spent way more time on this than it was worth. Feel free to disagree with me below, but don't try to argue that the movie was BOTH: A) a romp just meant to be enjoyed and not thought so hard about and B) a sophisticated plot-driven movie that needs to be examined over multiple viewings to fully appreciate. Those are incompatible statements; pick one (if any).

I suspect the novelization is much more coherent and contains much of the missing information; however, we paid our twenty-five bucks plus for tickets and refreshments for these lamely-strung-together sights and sounds, and frankly I didn't expect to have to shell out more to get a halfway decent story.

Share your annoyances, or tell me what I should have appreciated more! permlink     8 comment(s)  
Worthy of note: Leper Messiah on Episode II
      ...posted by Steve on May 27, 2002 3:08 AM
Lucas should stick to producing (and maybe directing, if he actually practices. He was really rusty.). Remember that the best-written Star Wars script (Empire Strikes Back) was actually penned by Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan. Kasdan also helped on "Jedi", but Lucas did most of the work on that one. It shows, too.
      ...posted by Neil on May 28, 2002 2:13 AM
Why don't we get to see any Jedi reactions to it? Wasn't it a secret wedding? Good comments!
      ...posted by Lilly on May 28, 2002 3:59 AM
Oh, the promise...

I had no trouble avoiding cheering at the end of the movie, since I thought it was a pretty dark ending. Still, there's promise that things could still get interesting if certain turns occur in the next movie. For example, almost without exception, ugly characters in Star Wars are evil. Who's the exception? Yoda. Or maybe not? He seemed to be doing a lot of "being at the right place at the right time," and while you could explain it by saying it's inconsistency in the script, suppose it isn't? We really need an episode 0 at this point, because there's backstory about Yoda, Count Dooku, Palpatine, and other stuff we are missing, and it apparently predates episode I. (I don't have much trouble with Amidala being the "only one" who can propose Palpatine for extraordinary powers since she's probably the person who knows him best, plus the most accessible senator; besides, Palpatine probably knew that Jar Jar would jump at the chance to do something important without thinking too hard about it.) There's something funny about the whole "Sith are always in pairs" thing, and there's lots of foreshadowing here...when did Sidius take Dooku on as an apprentice? It appears to have been a long-standing relationship, but how, then, could Maul have been Sidius' apprentice? Also, it looks frighteningly like Dooku is really trying to recruit Kenobi at one point -- coup, anyone? Not to mention that in Ep 6, Vader clearly tries to recruit Luke to overthrow Sidius. Again, it's possible that this is just inconsistency, but I think it's more likely that Mr. Lucas just can't fit his whole imagination in a 2.5 hour movie. I find it interesting that characters who have only seconds of screen time often have names and histories (as we find out from the peripheral marketing materials, and the bulging credits). Maybe there's more going on than we get to know about, and if so, I'm hoping to find out about all that stuff, because it makes for a very interesting story. I had my thinking cap on hard while watching this one, and it gave me more to think about than any ep since Ep 5, and maybe more than ep 5 did.

      ...posted by pete on May 28, 2002 11:21 AM
I picked up the AotC novel, and it does fill in some of the stuff that you were wondering about. R.A. Salvatore wrote it from various scripts, I assume a lot of this got cut from the movie for time. * Why is it a big deal that Amidala propose giving emergency powers? She's one of the leading bigwigs fighting AGAINST an army of the Republic being created and them starting a war against the separatists. Hence why it's important originally that she get to vote. Politically they figured that if Amidala of all people gives her OK to the army, it'll sway other people on her side into it. * Why was Anakin allowed to be around Padme? In the book Obi-Wan figures out that the Jedi Council has designed this as a test for Anakin. They are aware of his feelings for her and have set this up to see if he's more loyal to her or the Jedi. Obviously, he failed this one big time. The Jedi aren't supposed to know about the marriage by the end of the movie, but I assume they'll be pissed in #3. They never did explain why there are separatists, though. I still want to know that one. Maybe because there isnt't really a reason- the Darths are mainly just picking a fight so as to tear the Republic apart. The business interests in the film seem to be the only ones who are really wanting a split for their own benefit.
      ...posted by Jennifer on May 28, 2002 1:30 PM
The big battle at the end was marred for me by one BIG THING: I simply could not bring myself to root for the storm troopers. I understand that they are fighting for the Republic, not the Empire, blah, blah, blah, but I needed a bit more backstory or build up of some sort. I kept hoping they'd get killed, and then thinking "Oh wait, they're the calvary. They're the good guys." By the time I had myself convinced of that, the battle was over.
      ...posted by Katxena on May 28, 2002 2:25 PM
The big battle is supposed to be marred for you -- you know where the story goes. They're not the good guys. And having Yoda in command of the Imperial Troops is very disturbing for anyone who believes in Yoda as a pure good guy -- he knows how dangerous the clone army is, according to his earlier dialog in the movie, but he seems pretty comfortable having made that compromise.. The end of the movie was very dark and troubling from the moment the Troops arrived, and there was nothing to cheer about in any of it. It was a deft manipulation of emotions.

I thought it was pretty cool.

      ...posted by pete on May 29, 2002 2:24 PM
Well...I have mixed feelings about both the movie, and the issues you raise about it.

Every question you asked, I felt that I could answer pretty easily--not necessarily with a canonical answer that is clearly correct, but with something that feels intuitive to me based on the movie I saw. But your point, presumably, is that you wanted the *movie* to do that; you don't think the storytelling was up to par. And, sure, I can see that.

Well, no, I can't leave it quite at that...for example, I'm pretty sure that in ep 1, and briefly mentioned again in ep 2, Yoda has explained that they are "blind" (in the sense of the Force) to the doings of the Sith. And if I remember correctly, Anakin was saying pretty early on in ep 2 about having bad dreams about his mother. He was under Kenobi's control at the time, who was dismissive about the matter.

That reminds me...anyone have thoughts about whether Yoda was right in ep 5 to try and dissuade Luke from leaving his training to go rescue his friends? Was Luke right to disregard Yoda and go anyway? Did Yoda truly want Luke to not go, or was there some higher game at play? These questions have been bugging me for years now...

Oh, right--ep 2. I think it was decent. A bit of a yawner. More enjoyable (more adult?) than ep 1, perhaps. I don't think it could stand on its own without eps 4-6, but as a prequel filling in some backstory, I think that it was worth making, and worth my watching.

Yes, with the resources available it could have been a lot better. I'm not sure why it wasn't. You mentioned that maybe there weren't enough script writers/editors...I keep in mind, though, that too many writers can spoil the script as well.

      ...posted by Randolph Penn on June 2, 2002 10:50 PM
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