June 02, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Spoiler Alert. Bypass if you don't want to know a few details...

Daughter #1 and I went to see Revenge of the Sith last night. I wanted to enjoy it. Really, I did. Alas, while I don't want to rain on the parade of enjoyment that so many have, or perhaps more properly, want to have for this film, it is my considered opinion that ROTS is bad. Ishtar bad. Gigli bad. Perhaps the worst film I have seen in ten years. I guess I better explain why.

Oh, the CGI is visually stunning and the rather complex choreography of the battle scenes is intellectually stimulating, but in a way that does nothing but distract from the actual plot -- when you can find a plot. I can appreciate the intellectual and technical achievment of the thousands upon thousands of airships in what appears to be conventional rush hour traffic the first dozen or so times I see it. After that it gets kind of tiresome to have to watch another fifteen second silent interlude that serves no apparent purpose other than to allow the boys at Industrial Light and Magic show us once again just how technically proficient they are with their toys.

About twenty minutes into the movie my suspension of disbelief started to fade and I mentally began to point out the silliness and impossible physics of what I was watching. Fortunately, I was able to suppress that phase rather quickly, as it wasn't much of a challenge, and I returned to trying to enjoy the movie.

John Williams ponderous score adds nothing and seemed annoying to me during the frequent dialogueless interludes.

Many others have already noted the laughable dialogue in the scenes between Anakin and Padme, but it seems to me that the problem is universal. Hmm..., when Mr. Lucas draws callowly transparent analogies to President Bush and the Liberation of Iraq using Senator Palpatine and the suppression of the Separatist Revolt as a threat to the Senate (and House?), the Republic, and (gasp!) democracy, and when he justifies the Jedi Council killing Senator Palpatine for expediency since he cannot be brought to justice through the usual means and he is far too dangerous to be allowed to live, well, what exactly is Mr. Lucas saying here? And I've seen Mr. Lucas encourage these Iraq allusions on the Charlie Rose show, so I'm not making this up out of a hypersensitivity to illiberal silliness. Moving on...

For a "chosen one", Anakin Skywalker is remarkably dense. If none of the Jedi Masters could sense this, shouldn't Obi Wan have figured it out after spending years with him? Trusting your fate to the hands of someone with the intellectual, emotional, and political sophistication of a 13-year old, no matter how strong the force is in him, would seem to be counterintuitive for those so saturated with midichlorians. FWIW, I found Anakin's conversion entirely unconvincing and his flippantly casual willingness to believe the ends justify the means when it comes to working for the dark side somewhat incongruent, especially since he claimed to find that concept so repulsive when he imagined it practiced by the Jedi.

Too bad General Grievous didn't have that Jedi mind trick in his younger days to shoo away the sleazy death stick vendors. If he had had it, then perhaps we could have been spared a commanding robot with a hacking cough. GG's demise reminded me of the rather anticlimactic ending to Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. There is very little new under the multiple suns.

And can we please dispense with the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon/Matrix/Charlie's Angels fight choreography? That the force can allow one to do superhuman (or super-other species) feats is taken as a given, but why do four forward flips when, say, one would probably suffice?

Finally, what I believe to be the most damaging indictment of ROTS is to imagine this movie with this script made in 1977 when the orginal Star Wars movie was released. Without the CGI, how many thumbs up do you think it might have got? Would you have been anxiously awaiting the sequels?

I've written before that Mr. Lucas' biggest mistake was doing 1, 2 and 3, instead of 7, 8 and 9. The necessity of living within the constraints of a storyline that dictated a certain ending was more than Mr. Lucas could adequately cope with. He is in some ways a victim of the impossible expectations raised by his earlier success. Nevertheless, George Lucas will be fondly remembered and feted for bringing us his tales of a galaxy far, far away for a long, long time. The rather sad second (or first, if you prefer) trilogy tarnishes his star just a little, as the first (or second, if you prefer) trilogy was so very, very good. Mr. Lucas appears to be a spent force creatively, albeit an incredibly wealthy spent force.

Posted by Charles Austin at June 2, 2005 12:00 PM

I also found Anakin's conversion unrealistic. Yeah, he wanted to save Padme but what good is it if you reject everything else good in your life. Guess that's the 13 year old mindset.

I'm curious to hear your daughter's reaction. Boys liked the movie for all of the fighting and action, but I'm curious to hear a girl's reaction. I didn't think it was Ishtar bad, but I didn't see where it was any better than the previous two, like many others are claiming.

Posted by: MarcV at 01:39 PM

After that it gets kind of tiresome to have to watch another fifteen second silent interlude that serves no apparent purpose other than to allow the boys at Industrial Light and Magic show us once again just how technically proficient they are with their toys.

Ouch. As one of the pointy-headed types who designs and builds their toys, that's a real bummer. Oh, well, at least they don't make porn movies with them...

Posted by: Kieran Lyons at 07:55 PM

Marc, daughter #1 liked it, but she hasn't seen 4, 5 and 6 yet, so her perspective is shaped only by 1 and 2.

Kieran, I certainly wish no ill will on folks who make CGI possible. I started doing that in grad school about 24 years ago, but slowly drifted away from it. CGI is not the problem here -- it is Lucas' reliance on it as a substitute for a narrative.

In case I wasn't completely clear, I'm glad I saw it and look forward to seeing it on my big TV at home (which is almost as big as the screen I saw it on in the theater), especially the first 20 minutes or so. Nevertheless, I'd only give it about one and a half stars. No matter how well executed or how pretty, this is a poor movie considering the talent and money involved. I wonder if other's saw it coming but couldn't or wouldn't pull Mr. Lucas aside to suggest he take a different tack.

Posted by: charles austin at 08:18 PM

No offense taken, Charles. I don't actually do the CGI stuff (frankly, that's too saturated these days and has too many big players...), more the hardware and software infrastucture that runs a facility using CGI, serial digital video and various types of digital audio, and lots of other media formats. I can't really say more without violating my NDA, so let me just say I commented mostly to let you know I wasn't dead and I still try to find time to read your blog.

Lucas' companies don't spend much of their efforts on his own movies anymore. Watch the credits from other directors, and see how often Lucas Digital, Lucas Film, ILM, Skywalker Sound, and Lucas Arts show up. You'd be amazed. Watch one of the marvelous Pixar products and look for the once-removed Lucas credits. As I said, you'll be amazed. He's made his companies ubiquitous.

Of course, that also means I can be shamed by ROTS and seriously jazzed by The Incredibles. It's just a matter of how the customer uses your work, isn't it?

Posted by: Kieran Lyons at 01:07 AM

Okay, so it's Ishtar bad. Even Gigli bad. No problem there. But is it Heaven's Gate bad? I thought not.

Posted by: greg at 07:07 AM

"daughter #1 liked it, but she hasn't seen 4, 5 and 6 yet, so her perspective is shaped only by 1 and 2"

Well, I can see why she would like it then. 3 is far better than 1 & 2. After sitting through a poorly acted portrayal of a petulant, selfish teenager in #2, I was not convinced that Lucas would be able to pull off a decent reason for Anakin becoming the embodiment of evil in the universe. Can't say it was an unqualified success, but it was better than I was expecting given 1 & 2.

Posted by: Jon at 09:24 AM