Casualties of the Clone War

03-Sep-08 11:00 AM by
Filed under Star Wars; 2 comments.

A new Star Wars movie used to be a thrice-in-a-generation event. This summer's The Clone Wars has broken that tradition, and no one seems too happy about it. With only a 20% rating on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes. It continues a trend of anti-Star Wars sentiment that began in 1999 when young Anakin Skywalker first debuted as a podracing slave who, with a battle cry of "Yahoo!", miraculously saved the day.

I've not seen George Lucas' new animated entry into this storied series, but I do wish to take exception with those who suggest it's the fourth consecutive instance of the distant galaxy's creator flushing the franchise down the drain. Sure, the bar was set high, with Episodes IV and V earning an average rating of 96%, again on Rotten Tomatoes. But Return of the Jedi sunk to 74%, which provides good company for the three prequels, which garnered 63%, 66%, and 79%, respectively.

Even without comparing the prequels to their older siblings, there's still much to like. I won't dispute the obvious, like Jar-Jar's presence making light of a trilogy that, by its very subject matter, should be dark. But too often, the hate that is harped on these brilliant examples of all that is wrong with Star Wars overpowers the moments that truly shine.

Take Attack of the Clones which ends with a battle that's worth the previous two hours. Before then, we'd only ever known the galaxy's oldest Jedi as a shriveled Muppet on his death bed. Here, we learn Yoda is a force (no pun intended) to be reckoned with on so many levels.

That is one of only several jaw-dropping lightsaber battles to grace the trilogy. Whereas Jedi were scarce in the original films, Episodes I-III brought them out en masse. The Phantom Menace gave us the excellent music and choreography of "Duel of the Fates". Not only was the battle set to a song I always wished to be in the choir for, but it was the first battle against a prequel-exclusive Sith lord — and one equipped with a heretofore-unknown variation on the light saber! Now that's how to kick it up a notch.

Revenge of the Sith

Remember this? I thought so.

Compared to that single struggle, Revenge of the Sith was a smorgasbord of skirmishes, with at least five lightsaber battles among the greatest heroes and villains of the entire six-episode epic. In the prequel's conclusion, not only had Anakin Skywalker grown up, but so had Hayden Christensen, with a portrayal of young Vader that was less whiny and more ambitious than we'd previously seen. It makes his perfect manipulation at the hands of Darth Sidious all the more painful to watch. Watching Revenge of the Sith was like watching Titanic: a tragedy that you knew couldn't be averted, but you hoped would nonetheless be derailed and fail to play out. I took me days to realize the extent of Palpatine's machinations, and at least a week to recover from my depression over his success. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who laughed, saying he'd never considered the possibility that someone could be depressed over a movie. But taken in the larger context of what these three movies did to the Star Wars universe and the stage they set for Episodes IV-VI, I can conceive of no other response. To this day, I can't bring myself to endure that experience again.

We've already commemorated the impact made by the original trilogy's simple yet stellar tale of good vs. evil. The prequels are more complex, in where they were coming from, where they had to get to, and audience reception and interpretation. I submit that among those variables are many kernels of quality. Another site offers 11 concrete reasons for that supposition; I encourage you to rewatch the films and come up with your own.

(Hat tip to TheForce.net)

Hung Ogre

30-May-07 4:40 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I made my first trip to a "regular" (non-drive-in, non-IMAX) theater this weekend to see Shrek the Third. I'd seen each of the first two films only once (in English, anyway — don't ask) and was surprised at how well the second movie lived up to the standard of its predecessor. I thought the balance of kiddie and adult humor that creatively employed a variety of pop culture references created an attractive package for all audiences.

I guess Dreamworks was pushing their luck hoping for a three-peat. Oddly, I had exactly the opposite interpretation as David Ansen, who wrote, "It's a movie at war with itself: a kiddie movie that doesn't really want to be one." Though there were more than enough laughable moments for me to call this an enjoyable film, I felt it fell short of the Shrek and Shrek 2 by lacking a certain sophistication to its humor and a significance to its plot elements. For examples: in Shrek 2, Puss in Boots was introduced as a major character, and the connection between Prince Charming and the fairy godmother was developed slowly and naturally. In Shrek the Third, the character Merlin is almost trivial, as is the swapping of Puss and Donkey's bodies. And we get the gist of the plot far too soon, leaving no surprises for later.

But regardless of any story quibbles, Shrek the Third is a visual triumph. I've previously commented that CGI has become so commonplace that it's no longer a gimmick. That's not to say its quality is on par with hand-drawn animation; the two styles are distinctly unique, and I lament that the latter is falling by the wayside. But the level of detail possible in CGI is simply astounding. There were times I was marvelling not necessarily at the main action, but at Artie's hair, or Rapunzel's eyes. These minor elements don't add to the story, but they do make the the land of Far, Far Away seem not so distant.

Overall, an enjoyable film when taken on its own. Maybe films just don't stand up well to unplanned trilogies, as was the case with X-Men 3 and Terminator 3, both which fell far short of their earlier entries. Even earlier this month was Spider-Man 3, which was good but not great (though I hear Pirates 3 is better than its immediate predecessor). Leave it to Hollywood to try giving us too much of a good thing…

Nonetheless, if three films still isn't enough for you, fear not: our heroic party will be returning in a variety of formats. Look for the fourth film (possibly a prequel) in 2010 alongside a Puss spinoff, The Story of an Ogre Killer. And more immediately, the holiday special Shrek the Halls will be on TV this calendar year. You will believe donkeys can fly!