Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do NOT see "Star Wars - The Clone Wars"!

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: pick a dumpster in a back alley. Any dumpster will do.)

I took my wife to see a Star Wars movie tonight and I had to apologize afterwards.

Can you imagine how bad that makes me feel? Beyond my own level of disgust at this steaming pile of celluloid excrescence, that is. I mean, I’m the one that first introduced her to Star Wars when we were dating, and now, well, now it’s come to this. Sigh.

I admit, I’d read a few bad reviews ahead of time, as well as one or two good ones, but I figured that being a true fanboy, being someone who’s had Star Wars in his life for as long as he can remember, I had to at least give this flick a chance. Well, at most I can say I’ve done just that. I gave it a chance. Wasn’t worth it though.

I smelled the first faint whiff of putrification when we first stepped into the local billion-plex. Only one theatre had been allocated to a Star Wars movie on its opening night. “Um…” I said, staring up at the board, “Well, maybe they’re just not sure they’ll get enough of an audience because it’s animated.” I ventured to my wife. The second hint something was amiss came when we bought the tickets – we were running a few minutes late and according to the board, the movie had already started. I asked the kid behind the counter if we’d still be able to make it – if the previews were still running and if there was room. “Oh yeah,” says the other kid beside him at the other till “You’ll be able to get in.” At this point my wife, sensing a disturbance in the Force, shot me a glance. Walking into the cinema itself, the guy in front of me rounded the corner from the entrance corridor, stared up at the audience and muttered “This can’t be good.” – there were a few people in it, but not many. Not more than 50 or 60 in a theatre that could seat more than 200.

I knew for sure we were in trouble when the film finally started to roll. The big “Star Wars” title jumped up onto the screen, but the music was all wrong! They weren’t running the theme under the opening title sequence? What the hell?!?! I knew ahead of time that they’d engaged a different composer to do the score for this installment (my wife wonders if it’s because John Williams got fragged in “Family Guy – Blue Harvest” but wouldn’t that mean they should have replaced him with Danny Elfman?), and that’s all well and good for the body of the film, but not the beginning! Not the opening title sequence!

It got worse. What’s worse? What’s worse is right at the very, very beginning, when they left out the crawl. Yes, the obligatory text crawl at the beginning of every Star Wars film setting up the recent backstory was absent. Nixed. Gone. Vamoosed! They replaced the crawl with, get this, a 1940’s-style newsreel sequence – some cheesy newsreel anchor doing a voiceover atop scenes of battle across the galaxy, narrating the state of the war. I suddenly realized why the cinema smelled like urine when I’d walked in – I think any self-respecting fanboy would have to fight to keep from pissing himself watching this dreck, and some likely failed.

Let’s get something straight: the John Williams Star Wars theme music and the opening crawl are fucking tradition. You don’t mess with tradition when it comes to the Star Wars movies. That music and that crawl set the tone. They are the Pavlovian cues that have been revving-up the salivary glands of fanboys for more than 30 years now. Take away that crucial combination and you automatically lose that very solid feeling that you’re about to be treated, treated, mind you, to a Star Wars film.

Then there’s the fact that the newsreel was awful. And I don’t mean awful merely because it had gruesomely disposed of the crawl like an alien bursting out of John Hurt’s chest, no, I mean this thing was poorly written, lazily performed, and completely out of synch with the Star Wars style of film. Did you see a newsreel re-cap in Empire? No. Did you see highlights at eleven during Jedi? Did the Three Stooges come out and try to sell you a war bond at the opening of A New Hope? I think not. Why? Because a newsreel doesn’t fit with the feel this type of movie is trying to create. Newsreels used in movies or television shows are iffy at the best of times. Many just don’t work (I’m talking about an episode of you, here, “MASH” [TV series]!). It definitely doesn’t work here.

It was at this point I had to start fighting the urge to howl “Turn down the suck!” at the screen, much the way you might try to choke back a fiery little stream of vomit in the back of your throat during Christmas dinner at grandma’s when the beer in your system from the previous night’s partying tries to come out to wish everyone a colourful Yule.

From there it was a blur of unforgiveable tediousness and downright bad film-making. Take your pick: maybe it was the endless fighting for the first hour or so that was so constant, so unremitting, so totally determined to not allow more than 20 seconds of characterization and plot, that I became desensitized to and bored with what I was seeing in the battle sequences. Desensitized and bored used to describe my impressions of a Star Wars battle?!? The hell I say! The hell I do say. The melees ended up playing like nothing so much as test beds for video games – and let’s face it, they probably will be. They didn’t really advance the plot and they were often downright stupid. I mean, come on, Anakin and his padawan Ahsoka crawling through a droid army under a box, bickering like an old married couple and no-one overhears them or stops to wonder “Hey! Why is this box moving? Why does it have feet? And why does it seem to be arguing with itself?!”

Maybe it was the lousy animation. Not only am I not a fan of this particular style of drawing, but the animation itself was crude. Fast, to be sure – very fast movements during the lightsaber duels especially, but at the same time herky-jerky. They lacked fluidity – they (especially the non-droid characters) lacked any sense of organic movement.

Maybe it was the frequently clunky dialogue. Sounded like it was written by the same gang that translated “Macross” into “Robotech”. If they could state the obvious or indulge in repetition, they would.

Maybe it was the stupid plot devices like Jabba’s infant son (frequently referred to as “Stinky”) getting kidnapped. They couldn’t think of a better way for the Sith to exacerbate the war? Or, if they wanted to draw the Hutts into it, they couldn’t think of a smarter way to do it? I mean, come on, in the original movies, Jabba may have been arrogant, cruel and overconfident, but he never really struck me as flat-out stupid. Here, the big space slug (whose mind is supposed to be powerful enough to withstand Jedi mind tricks) is manipulated like a toddler watching a cookie waved under his nose.

And let’s talk about bad characterizations: who would have expected Jabba to get all snuggly and cutesy like he does at the end when he’s reunited with junior?

And then there are the downright bad characters who were brought in: Jabba’s make-up sporting, dilettante uncle Ziro? There have been some out there on the net speculating and complaining that this particular gangster is the first gay Star Wars character. Personally, I don’t care. A character can be straight or gay as long as they’re a good character, and Ziro was most definitely not. Here’s another Hutt who was lead around by the nose. Granted, the Sith are specialists in manipulation, but if the original Jabba is any indication, again, Hutt crime bosses aren’t stupid or weak-willed, and you’d figure any slug who manages to eke out a living as a don on Coruscant, right under the noses of the Senate, probably has some brains as well as balls. As for the makeup and feathers? Meh. If someone were to explain it off as inner-systems fashions for oversized potato worms, then so be it. What bugged me was the acting associated with Ziro (that and the stupid choice of name). Why would they inflict a poorly done impression of Truman Capote on us? I felt like I was watching some bad outtake of “Murder by Death”. And it was such a bad Capote impression too!

Speaking of bad characters, let’s not forget how they dragged in pouty Padme for all of 10 minutes. Really scraping the bottom of the barrel there.

And the list of flaws goes on.

But don’t think this review is a totally one-sided hatchet job. Not totally anyway. I do have to admit there were two elements in this flick that didn’t annoy me. The jazz played by the band in Ziro’s bar wasn’t half bad. And Ahsoka wasn’t a bad character to watch either. I just wish she was a little less clich├ęd and had a better plot to live in. It’s nice for the Star Wars film canon to finally have a worth-while female Jedi character for girls in the audience (because I think kids would have more tolerance for this movie than adults – as much as I hate sounding like kids would be fooled by the garbage passing for an installment in the series) to focus on.

But overall though, this stinker ranks down there with the infamous Christmas Special. Oh yeah. It was that bad. When the final credits started to roll, I almost felt like standing up and yelling “Noooooooo!” like Vader in the end of Episode III – but then again, James Earl Jones did such a half-hearted job of that “no”, that it just wouldn’t do. No, you’d need a raw-edged, emotionally torn super “no” like Gary Oldman gave us in the beginning of Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” to approximate the necessary no-ness. But that would just be entirely inappropriate for movie-theatre behaviour, so I remained silent and stewed on my anger. What I couldn’t believe though, was the sound of a group of fanboys in the back row clapping.

The Clone Wars made me angry that Lucas would allow this crap to be made an official part of his story.

It made me fearful that the Star Wars universe will be further butchered as time goes on and more spin-offs are excreted in the search for more money.

It made me depressed that such a great series has been brought so low.

“Anger, fear, depression – the Dark Side are they.” Fuckin’ ay, Yoda. Fuckin’ ay.

As one fan of quality SF to another, I urge you to avoid seeing “Star Wars – The Clone Wars”. Save yourself. I wish I could forget tonight’s experience, but in the words of Vader: “It is too late for me”.
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