The twenty seven thousandth review

Nearly every person with a weblog will mention Attack of the Clones at least once in their weblog this month. Count me in. Perhaps someday we'll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, but the fact was that my Thursday started at 5 in the morning as I woke up and left to wait in line to hold a spot for my team from work at Cinerama for an 8am showing, and my Thursday ended as I sat in Cinerama yet again, about halfway through the 10:45pm showing.
If you haven't seen the film and don't want to read any spoilers, then this entry ends here for you.
Attack of the Clones reveals what we've all perhaps known for some time, which is that George Lucas is skilled at pointing the way for new technology in cinema and fundamentally a poor storyteller. All the dramatic highlights of Episodes I and II result from the audience's knowledge of Episodes IV through VI and not from anything on the screen itself. Which is okay for George Lucas: he did have a lot to do with those three films and he deserves whatever is coming to him.
The fundamental flaws in Episode II include an overly complex storyline, terrible acting (especially in the unconvincing central love story), and the disappearance of the sense of humor which was present in Episodes IV through VI which let the audience know that they were supposed to be having fun.
Lucas has never been a great director of actors. Unlike someone like Tarantino, who seems to always get the best out of his actors, Lucas shows no interest in the potential of acting as a discipline. His actors are props in the digital universe he is much more preoccupied with.
Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen are better actors than this as evidenced by their other film work. Their love story is unwatchable. The only reason they hook up is that they have to or Luke and Leia will never be born and the later films will never occur. At least, that's the only reason I could spot. They have no chemistry together on screen, reading their lines as if they were in a David Mamet film, except with bad dialogue.
Some samples:
"I hate sand. It's coarse, and rough, and gets everywhere. Unlike you. You're soft, and smooth," says Anakin, as he runs his finger lightly up the bared back of Senator Amidala.
"Tell me you're suffering as much as I am," begs Anakin of Amidala, and someone in the audience shouted "We are!"
When Amidala says to Anakin, "I you" before they are sent in to the arena to be eaten by strange monsters, Anakin does a double take. "You love me?" he asks. I had to admit, I understood his surprise. Nothing in her acting would have convinced me she cared one bit about him. What's worse, it evokes wistful memories of that fantastic moment in Empire Strikes Back when Leia says to Han Solo, just before he is submerged in they cryogenic freezing chamber, "I love you."
Han Solo replies, "I know." It's a wonderful scene because everyone in the audience knows it as well.
Some critics theorize that the bad acting is a result of having to shoot most scenes in front of blue or green screens. Perhaps there is some merit to that theory, but it can't be the sole reason. Actors are constantly shooting scenes in obviously phony settings. That's why they call it acting. Ironically, or not, considering Lucas' interests, the best performance is given by Yoda, a completely digital actor.
Yes, there was bad acting in the other four Star Wars films, but Episode II plumbs new depths.
What's worse is that the first two storylines (The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones) are needlessly complex and drag along painfully until those scenes in which someone draws a lightsaber and starts kicking some ass. In that way these episodes are not unlike some of the poor martial arts films coming out of Asia, those which should be seen on DVD so that the viewer can simply jump to the fight scenes.
Episode II's plot intends to draw its suspense from a mysterious separatist movement and suspected treason amidst the Senate. Political stories can be fascinating, but only when the central conflict is clear enough so that the political machinations around the edges stand out. We're supposed to believe that Senator Palpatine, who is Darth Sidious, asked Count Dooku (or Tyrannus)10 years prior to order the creation of a clone army which would later gets approved for use by the Senate after Dooku leads a Separatist revolt with the aid of the Trade Federation (those strange bug-eyed creatures with the ethnic accents) and after Chancellor Palpatine gets voted emergency powers by the Senate after Jar Jar Binks gives what I guess is intended to be a rousing speech to the Senate. This clone army is built from the DNA of a bounty hunter named Jango Fett--it's never explained why he was chosen.
Odd that neither side has an army. What happens to the military in whatever day and age these films are supposed to take place in? Why do have to build robot or clone armies? There are probably answers to these and other questions, but they're the type of questions no one had to ask in the original trilogy. No young kid will have any idea what the storyline of this film is. It took me two viewings just to get all the details straight in my head. Clarity of plot is a good thing, and it can be had in plots both simple and complex.
The storyline of the original trilogy was clear. There were the good guys, the rebels, and they were being chased all over the galaxy by the bad guys, represented by Vader, stormtroopers, and vaguely Nazi-esque generals. Luke was trying to become a Jedi Knight with the help of Obi-Wan and Yoda. The bad guys keep trying to build Death Stars. Han Solo joins the rebels and wins the heart of Leia in a Gable-esque manner.
It's not even entirely clear who is on the side of right in Episodes I and II. Some argue that it appears that the Empire is actually in the right, and it's not a stretch to accept that argument.
Having said that, Episode II reveals glimpses of potential that the remaining film to be shot could be, if not a great film, at least the type of grand entertainment which we hope for from our best summer blockbusters. It is clearly superior to A Phantom Menace.
Unlike those in A Phantom Menace, the digital landscapes and cities in Attack of the Clones are beautiful and realistic. When I say realistic, I don't mean that they are photo-realistic. It is a particular brand of digital realism which is something entirely new and intriguing. It's still clear at times that actors are standing against green screens--you can see the unnatural delineation between the outline of the actors and the surrounding environment. But the buildings and ships and rooms themselves are beautiful and articulated, unlike those in A Phantom Menace which looked like watercolors. The long money shots that establish each setting--the gliding pan over the turbulent seas of Kamino, the city spires poking through the clouds of Coruscant in the movie's opening shots, the plunging urban chasms of Coruscant at night during the speeder chase, the enormous cathedral which Windu, Yoda and Obi-Wan stroll through, the wide open landscapes and waterfalls of Naboo--these are places I'd like to visit.
This may be a result of the digital projection system, in which case I understand why Lucas would wish that his film be shown digitally throughout the world. I have yet to see Episode II on film, and I'm not sure I wish to. Unfortunately, most films are still shot primarily on film (the special 24p HD digital camcorders with Panavision lenses designed by Sony for Lucas cost $100K each, and digital projection systems for theaters cost at least that much, so the economic equation doesn't work in favor of mass adoption) and for those movies digital projection may not offer nearly the same step up in sharpness.
John Williams devises a memorable new central theme for his score, something lacking in the score for Episode I. The soundtrack itself gives the viewers all sorts of musical cues rooted in the themes for Episode IV through VI. When Anakin loses his temper, we hear strains of Vader's imperial march.
Yoda's lightsaber scene with Dooku is the type of campy yet momentous scene which gave the original trilogy the feel of grand space opera. When Yoda pulls aside his robe and his lightsaber leaps into his right hand, the crowd cheers, giddy with anticipation to see something they haven't seen before in the trilogy. Sure, it's borderline ridiculous to see Yoda doing somersaults like the Chinese monkey king, but anyone who feels that way probably shouldn't be forking over cash to watch any of the Star Wars movies.
Episode II made an estimated $86.2 million this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and $116.3 million since opening day. A common lament among critics when reviewing films like Episode II is that no matter what they write, the film will do good box office. Any such critic clearly doesn't take their job seriously enough.
Anyway, that's my $10. Oh wait, I saw it twice. That's my $20. Oh wait, I had to pay service charges. That's my $21.
P.S.: For those who may go see the film in the future and want to go on a visual easter egg hunt, here are some to look for courtesy of Zentertainment...

  • When Anakin and Padm