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Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones (2002)

Yesterday we experienced a session of "Star Wars Episode II - Attack Of The Clones" in a theater offering the magic of Digital Projection (complete with DLP logo).

An alternative title for this post might be, "You're not in Guatamala now, Dr Ropata". (for the curious, here.)

Warning: If you don't want to know "secrets" of the plot, do not read on.

Thoughts on the movie:

OK, I'm a fan of Star Wars since my Dad took me and my best buddy Paul to see the first one in 1977. I was 12. Now I'm 36 and yet I - along with my geek brethren - somehow still expect the same thrill and excitement? Rationally, we know it can't happen, but three years ago, we clutched a kernel of irrational hope and anticipation, only to have it cruelly crushed to dust by Episode I (which went on to thrill and excite 12 year old geeks everywhere).

OK, Ep.1 wasn't that evil. But it didn't have the same magic, and there was much that my adult mind found objectionable. And yet now, in 2002, almost paradoxically the disappointments of Episode I have fanned the fires of anticipation for Episode II, such that I found myself in a queue of geeks saying things like, "It's got to be good. He will have learned from his mistakes. He will have listened to the fans..." etc.  Inevitably, I felt we were setting ourselves up for disappointment once again.

At this point, we entered the theater and after bemoaning the fact that we seem to be doomed to sitting behind someone eating Taco Bell or the obligatory screaming baby or cellphone, some comments about the actual digital projection experience should be noted, but I've saved these for later. For now, on with the review:

Possibly the biggest problem with Ep.2 is that its basic plot is identical to that of Ep.1. Don't believe me? Try this:

The film is about Senator Palpatine's quest to control the Galactic Senate by his manufacture of an apparent threat to the Republic (a "phantom menace" if you will). Oh, and the Jedi have to protect Senator Amidala and end up on Tatooine, among other places.

It could describe either movie.

So what sets Ep.2 apart? Well, first, there's the great computer generated (CG) sets. So much CG, in fact, that parts of it looked a lot like the Final Fantasy movie, which was entirely CG and did remarkably at the box office (it tanked.) Lesson not learned: Special Effects alone do not guarantee box office success.

What does guarantee success is heritage: Ep.2 is a STAR WARS movie. It's not going to lose money. But given that heritage, it ought to more enjoyable, I think. Little things would have helped: some snappy dialog; a secret revealed, something like that.

Lucas can not write dialogue, and some of the storyline was just embarassing. If he had just given his one paragraph plot synopsis to a decent writer and let them do what they do best... it would *have* to have yielded a better screenplay. But no... we get a predictable, turgid mess. With lots of eye candy.

There was a minimal presence of Jar Jar, the irritating CG character from Ep.I, thank goodness, but unfortunately the whoopee cushion moments were still there, only this time featuring the embarassing antics of: C3PO and R2-D2! They're so funny. Yuk yuk.

Anakin's mother provides a pivotal character development moment, which began promisingly, yet I think it was an opportunity wasted. We could have obtained real insight, we might have learned some real secret (like, who was Anakin's father? I'm not buying the virgin birth story from Ep.1). No, it was just, "Argh you savages have killed my mother, I must now turn evil and kill you all."

The characters were all very flat and one-dimensional, more so than the lush three-dimensional computer generated landscapes. Ewan McGregor is an exception, and he almost manages to channel the swashbucking heros of the past except he cannot escape the net of corny dialog like "Patience, my young padawan!". Christopher Lee, playing the evil (or is he?) bad guy, could make the corniest dialog sound good, and indeed he does.

In the Jango Fett/Temuera Morrison combo, Lucas had a character (and importantly, an actor) capable of filling the charisma void left by the absence of a Han Solo/Harrison Ford in this prequel trilogy. I say "had" because although Tem's scenes are wonderful, there aren't enough of them, and Fett senior gets killed off far too quickly for my tastes. (I'm not saying this because he's a New Zealander; I'm saying it because he's a dam' good actor.)

CGI FX are great. Yoda is undoubtedly the star of this film. If Frank Oz doesn't get a best supporting actor nomination, then there ain't no justice in the world (and we know there isn't, so I'm not holding my breath. Neither is Yoda).

Thoughts on Digital Projection:

Those green MPAA ratings slides never looked so good.

What's good about digital projection: Crisp images, no scratches or blemishes on the "film", no "cigarette burn" marks to indicate change of reel, a very stable image.

What's not so good: You can see "jaggies" on high-contrast text like subtitles (I guess the resolution isn't quite there yet); a tendancy towards intense, oversaturated colors; and possibly soundtrack synching problems (although this might be due to post-production dialog replacement, or "looping").