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February 18, 2012

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Joel

I think that Mel Brooks should make a prequel to Spaceballs, and when it fails to live up to my lofty expectations I will curse Brooks' name all over the internet, proclaiming that Brooks has raped my childhood. Perhaps Brooks should simultaneously make the prequels and the documentary tracking the disappointment of his fans. This actually sounds like an awesome idea. Or am I the only Spaceballs fanboy?

lazarus

Very surprised (and delighted) to see this defense of the film, especially w/r/t Lucas' compositional and action scene constructing talents, which are eternally undervalued. And also the astute observation on Neeson's contribution, which I always thought really anchored this. His blend of weary austerity, humor, wisdom, and rebelliousness was pretty much the perfect blend and as much as anyone could expect from a character we've never heard of before, and he's really the star of the film (making it rather ridiculous that he's not even featured on the 3D release poster).

One correction I should point out however, is that the cross-cutting at the end of the film is actually between FOUR sequences, not three: space battle, droid battle, lightsaber duel, and Amidala's return to the throne room. And in my opinion, Lucas bit off more than he could chew here, trying to up the ante from the three sequence cross-cutting in Return of the Jedi.

A lot of the action is fun/thrilling on its own, but the momentum is often cut when it's just starting, and it's hard for the viewer to remain engaged with each subplot while having to wait through three others before seeing the next segment. It's constructed as well as can be, though, with things going bad for the heroes in all four stories before the tide turns. And I'd argue that the 100% CGI droid vs. gungan battle doesn't quite have the dynamic of the other sequences.

One review I read suggested that the next two films are going to lend themselves more to the 3D enhancement, due to the larger amount of action and less "set-up", as mentioned here. I'm personally excited to see the nighttime speeder chase and that Harryhausen-esque arena battle with the glasses on next year, among other things.

Aaron Aradillas

@lazarus: You're right about there being FOUR sequences going on, not THREE. I always just lumped the throne room cat-and-mouse stuff with the lightsaber portion. Probably because it is the least dramatic of the sequences. Also, the droid battle is fun but it lacks the emotional impact of the Ewok battle on Enor. This probably because, like it or not, we spend a good amout of time with the Ewoks. (I'm always surprised by how moved I am when the one Ewok is killed in a blast and the other Ewok tries to comfort him. It's the kind of emotional beat that Lucas doesn't get enough credit for.)

However, I would disagree that the level of susense is cut short by the cross-cutting. If nothing else Lucas keeps the tension pretty during the lightsaber duel.

@Joel: I'm also a SPACEBALLS fanboy. After ZERO EFFECT, it is easily Bill Pullman's finest performance.

Frank McDevitt

There are a handful of really arresting shots and sequences in Phantom Menace, and almost all of them have something to do with Darth Maul, one of the most visually inventive characters of the decade. For as problematic as most of Phantom Menace was, Darth Maul is its greatest legacy.

Bruce Reid

I can't even remember what if any justification is given for their existence, but that bit when the force fields force a pause on the final battle has always been my favorite moment from any Lucas film. Kenobi smashing against the invisible barrier with youth's impatience; Darth Maul pacing, every bit the tiger in his cage; and Qui-Gon settling down to meditate, his serenity exploding into action the instant he can engage the enemy. It's fabulous stuff, an integration of character and action as thrilling as any moment in the original trilogy.

Whether it's worth sitting through some much clunkier moments to get to? Not for me, but I can understand how others disagree.

Joel

Aaron: He was also great in Ruthless People, playing "the stupidest man on the face of the earth." Maybe we can put that performance at number three, behind Lone Star and Daryl Zero.

Aaron Aradillas

Yes, RUTHLESS PEOPLE contains another fine performance by Pullman. I think that just about covers everything. (Does anyone really want to make a case for LOST HIGHWAY? I didn't think so.)

I've always bee a fan of the bit where the purple force field puts a stop to the lightsaber fight. (I always imagined they were an early version of the force field that caused the Falcon to get pulled toward the Death Star.) I admit to being a little disturbed by the fact that Obi-Wan couldn't run fast enough so as not to make to end of the hallway before they went up again. I mean, couldn't he have jumped down the hall? I always felt the bit of Qui-Gon meditating was what made the whole thing work. He truly is a Jedi Master.

Olaf

There is nothing that will convince me the "Phantom" is a well-made film. Most of the dialogue is simply laughable, and the reaction shots during the Pod race are among the most clumsy (and badly acted) I have ever seen - Lucas may have some technical skills, but he is be one of the worst directors ever when it comes to coaching performances out of actor. Nobody watching PM would ever think that Portman has talent, that Liam Neeson is a great actor and that Pernilla August did breathtaking work with Ingmar Bergman. And what does it matter that Jar Jar Binks is perfectly realized if the character itself is so insufferable? Butterfly McQueen gives a marvelous performance in "Gone with the Wind" but the character she plays is still a shockingly racist concoction...

D Cairns

What Olaf said.

Lucas was obviously interested at least slightly in the technical challenge of Binks and topping his previous action sequences, but his disinterest in story and character shows sheer contempt for his audience, many of whom, to give them credit, actually picked up on that.

And the problem is NOT the awful dialogue. In between a few nice lines written by other people, all the previous Star Wars films had their share of rotten dialogue too. The problem is that the dreadful verbiage is needlessly extending scenes which have no dramatic point and no human character. The original characters were defiantly one-note (callow, wise, cynical, spunky, sinister, prissy, hairy) but the story made a nice joke of these characteristics: you'd smile because Han said something cynical, as you knew he would. The Phantom Menace characters mostly lack even a single defining trait, and are inconsistent. "Wise" Neeson scolds the vaguely middle-eastern big-nosed alien for gambling, as he pockets his winnings (having cheated).

I don't actually think the fanboy backlash was over the top. Sure, because Star Wars played an exaggerated role in their lives, they overstated how important it all was (Star Wars is not important at all). But their emotional reaction to being openly insulted by somebody they were paying money to strikes me as appropriate in tone, if not in scale.

"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

LexG

I WANT TO FUCK A [Message truncated due to "size']

Oliver_C

Ahem...

"Come back, Lex G, all is forgiven."

-- Glenn Kenny, February 17th 2012.

Oliver_C

(PS: Forget 'The Phantom Menace' -- you want to see some really spectacular embarrassment, check out Lex's latest logorrheic outbreak of drunken, sex-starved self-loathing over at Hollywood Elsewhere, before it all gets deleted too!)

Aaron Aradillas

@ D Caims: Well, the fanboys did choose to go back and see THE PHANTOM MENACE more than once. They also went and purchased tickets to ATTACK OF THE CLONES and REVENGE OF THE SITH. I'm pretty sure Lucas didn't make 'em do it.

You suggest that a few lines written by other writers are the good lines. This kind of logic is exactly the kind of thing that drives me crazy. How ECAXTLY do you know which lines were written by which writer? Unless you were there I seriously doubt you can say for certain. The denying of credit towards Lucas is simply petty. (Its similar to a certain critic who gives Wes Anderson all the credit and says Noah Baumbach contributed nothing. Or TINTIN is all Spielberg and Peter Jackson added nothing.)

Account Deleted

Jeez, you wouldn't want to get stuck next to D Cairns at a dinner party!

Aaron Ardillas is correct. Lucas is always given short-thrift for storytelling, usually by people that either a) haven't done their homework or b) just don't know what they're talking about. Anybody that doubts George Lucas' storytelling abilities should read the transcript of the Raiders of the Lost Ark story conference that is floating around the web. Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan all throw ideas at each other and almost 90% of the great ideas that made it into the finished film are from Lucas.

I saw TPM last week, I thought the 3D conversion was atrocious but overall I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. It has a few flat stretches here and there but it's a much better blockbuster than anybody gave it credit for back in '99.

"Lucas, a student of silent movies and cliffhangers, still believes in the action happening within the frame. He doesn’t go for fast cutting and arbitrary jump-cuts. This allows him to do a slow build that, seen today, is kind of refreshing."

Absolute 100% agreement.

Account Deleted

D Cairns said: "his disinterest in story and character shows sheer contempt for his audience"

On the contrary, Ian McDiarmid's performance and storyline in Phantom Menace is possible the most interesting of all six films. If anything this storyline was so subtle it went over the heads of most audiences - how does that represent showing contempt for them?

Josh Z

"Weesa in da big doo-doo now!"

Lines like that (and the movie is filled with them) could only have been written by a man who utterly despises his audience to the core of his being.

Aaron Aradillas

To add to what Markj74 was saying: If people are going to dismiss Lucas as a terrible storyteller, then they must say that ALL of the INDIANA JONES movies are trrible. Spielberg has said on several occasions that he is simply executing his friend's ideas. You can't only blame CRYSTAL SKULL on Lucas. You must also dismiss RAIDERS, TEMPLE OF DOOM, and THE LAST CRUSADE.

You must also say that both THX 1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI are worthless as storytelling.

Oliver_C

At least one advantage of having a passing acquaintance with the 'furry' subculture, as I do, is getting to see Jar-Jar Binks slash fiction and hardcore illustration.

lazarus

"Nobody watching PM would ever think that Portman has talent, that Liam Neeson is a great actor and that Pernilla August did breathtaking work with Ingmar Bergman."

Aaron already made the case for how committed Neeson was to this performance, so we don't need to go through that again. But I thought he delivered every line as well as it could be, and managed to be iconic.

IMO August did a FANTASTIC job. You're talking about a woman who doesn't even work in Hollywood, let alone with all the CGI crap. Now granted the location work in Tunisia is probably the most organic environment in the whole film, but she was completely convincing as the concerned mother. There are some great human moments between her and Neeson (which Lucas could easily have trimmed), and I actually do find her farewell scene with Anakin moving, as ridiculous as that may sound. And even moreso now considering what happens to her in Clones (another film I look forward to defending with vigor).

Peter Scott

My biggest frustration with the prequels is that Lucas didn't make them for me. I grew up on the original trilogy, but he made these new films for kids. Sure, there's this poorly-rendered "rise of Nazi Germany" plotline grafted into the rise of the Sith, which Lucas apparently thought would lift these films above pulp to some sort of rich political allegory. But other than that, everything else about these films is fairly juvenile and simplistic, from the dialogue to the action to the character development to the "romance." And that works great for viewers under the age of 13. I don't know a single young boy who isn't a massive prequels fan. Every single one wants to be Anakin or Darth Maul. Lucas is incredibly successful at targeting a specific audience and playing to them with these prequels.

TPM is the best of the three for me, by far. The pod race does have some silly character moments, but overall it's tightly paced and edited and the sound design is excellent. All of the scenes with Darth Maul are great, and the long climatic Jedi/Maul battle at the end almost makes up for most everything else I didn't enjoy in the film. There are some wonderfully gorgeous shots and compositions in TPM, and I have to agree that letting the action unfold in longer takes rather than editing the hell out of it is one of Lucas' strengths here.

Sadly, AotC is the antithesis of this. It's a disaster from beginning to end, one of the most self-indulgent, tone deaf films I've ever seen any director throw on the screen. And while I desperately wanted to enjoy RotS, it is really nothing more than the Mother of All Toy Ads, an attempt to justify a massive amount of product placement by throwing as many random items into every frame as possible. There is no attempt to justify much of anything beyond the Anakin/Obi Wan and Yoda/Dark Lord showdowns. Even these scenes are dramatically hobbled by the hackneyed performance of Hayden Christensen, who whines and mopes so much that I found it hard to believe he and Darth Vader even occupied the same galaxy.

Lucas didn't rape my childhood and I don't subscribe to the silly notion that he's nothing more than a creative figurehead atop the Star Wars empire. He simply made a trilogy of films that culminate in such a thudding bore they only truly appeal to children and the hardcore fanbase. Thankfully for Lucas, there's more than enough cash in those wallets to keep him afloat for decades to come.

John M

"You must also dismiss RAIDERS, TEMPLE OF DOOM, and THE LAST CRUSADE."

Why? Because he has story credit? Because he collaborated on a treatment for each film?

He wasn't screenwriter on any of these. There's a big difference between outlining a story and actually shaping scenes, characters, and tempo, as you know.

He has full "Written by" credit on all the most recent Star Wars movies. The dialogue and structuring (the general story flow) in all of those is markedly worse than same in the above-named Indian Jones movies. The Star Wars movie that I think plays the best as a piece of storytelling, EMPIRE, was not written by him--he came up with some of the neat creatures and the over-arching "mythos," but the screenplay is by Kasdan/Brackett.

Lucas is kind of a lousy writer, and has gotten lousier with age. Throw his stale directing onto his stale writing and you get one big sluggish crap-lasagna. What he does well is spitball.

Apologies to all those who found great interest in Ian McDiarmid's storylizzzzzzzzz.

BobSolo

"because Star Wars played an exaggerated role in their lives, they overstated how important it all was (Star Wars is not important at all)."

I just thought that needed to be restated. A perfect thesis, DCairns.

If you're an adult compelled to defend a filmed justification for Happy Meal toys, PLEASE take a good look at yourself. Giving these fucking films more ink just continues the cycle of abuse. STAR WARS and its ilk are why we can't have nice things (i.e. films made for adults).

BobSolo

"because Star Wars played an exaggerated role in their lives, they overstated how important it all was (Star Wars is not important at all)."

YES

Aaron Aradillas

If you think Lucas just outlines and spitballs, then there really isn't much to discuss.

John M

"If you think Lucas just outlines and spitballs, then there really isn't much to discuss."

Of course, he doesn't JUST do this, but he does this best. When he takes over a script, it's like letting air slowly out of a tire.

Aaron Aradillas

Like I said, there really isn't much to discuss.

StephenM

I saw TPM on the big screen last night, and was surprised at how well some of it worked. I actually got involved with parts of the story quite a bit, especially on Tatooine. The pod race is still the best part of the movie and looks great on the big screen, even though 3D really doesn't add anything, except to ticket price, and the final lightsaber fight is still a classic. But the final fight is chopped up with a lot of other sequences that are all of wildly different tones, and flipping back and forth between them every few seconds really destroys the tension. And I was reminded again how awful the dialogue is, how stale and boring so many meeting scenes get, and how completely, offensively idiotic (and yes, racist) the Gungans are. I never used to hat Jar Jar too much--I first saw the film when I was 10, and I liked him then--but this time I despised him with every fiber of my being.

I went back home and watched the RedLetterMedia YouTube review of the film again. That guy defines the problems in this movie so well, there's not much else to say. (I'm surprised no one mentioned him yet on this thread.) There's major things wrong with the whole plot, major details left out (perhaps to sell books?), horribly bad dialogue, lackluster characters, incredibly stupid actions by characters, poor staging of majority of conversation scenes, bad acting, and more. I have felt compelled to defend this film before because it isn't as godawful as some think it is, and far too many seem to be horribly offended by it in a way that is very much over the top, but the fact is that much of it is just plain bad. So aside from a couple action sequences, some terrific design, sound, and music work, and the performances of Liam Neeson and Pernilla August (Ewan McGregor is given absolutely nothing to do until the final fight), this movie has nothing worth defending.

Peter Scott

I don't actually get your point about the "dismissing" the Indiana Jones films. Lucas may have been responsible for most of the ideas and story elements. He might even have written large portions of the screenplays and simply given credit to someone who "polished" his work, although that seems unlikely considering the ego in question here. Regardless, those finished films are obviously the work of Steven Spielberg and they're simply better overall than the prequels, in virtually ever respect (I'm happy to blame Crystal Skull on Spielberg too - Spielberg isn't perfect by a long shot). Lucas is an ideas guy, but he didn't direct the Indiana Jones films and it really shows.

The Star Wars universe obviously germinated from one creative mind, and he's more than happy to admit his control over the prequels and Red Tails. They might be cinematic, but they're not great films. So credit where credit is due, but credit for shoddy dialogue, weak plotting, laughably flat characterization, and inconsistent (at best) narrative isn't anything to crow about.

Jeff McMahon

I'm surprised and disappointed nobody has yet defended Natalie Portman's performance in Black Swan, which was great.

Anyway, let's try and cut through the hyperbole and defensiveness here. The prequels show Lucas at his best and worst. At best, he's capable of some outstanding action sequences and visuals (the pod-race). At worst, the drama here is at best negligible and at worst baffling (midichlorians).

I don't care who you want to credit, but the screenplay could have used a co-writer and several more drafts to be on the level of the original trilogy. It's disjointed and rambling.

And I thought it was generally accepted by now that The Empire Strikes Back is both the best of the 6 movies, _and_ the one with the strongest creative collaboration (Gary Kurtz, Irvin Kershner, Kasdan, Brackett).

D Cairns

You know, I hardly ever get into rows on the internet. I state my views on the Star Wars prequels, and this happens.

I didn't say that Lucas has always been a rotten storyteller. I said that the Star Wars prequels are examples of rotten storytelling, and that Lucas is responsible. As he's sole writer, that seems reasonable.

Lucas has stated that Huyck and Katz added lines in a dialogue polish to Star Wars: A New Hope. Were their lines an improvement on what was there before? I would hope so, otherwise why use them? And the next two Star Wars films were not scripted by Lucas, though lines like "You look fit enough to pull the ears off a gundark," could have been.

The fact that many Star Wars fans hated Phantom Menace, went to see it again, and went to see the next two films does say something rather depressing about the human condition. The abject failure of the animated Star Wars, however, is heartening, because it suggests that there IS a limit to how bad something with the words "Star Wars" on it can get, before people stop paying for it.

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