Monday, August 25, 2008

Star Wars: the Clone Wars (Dave Filoni, 2008)

Cloned Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Dave Filoni, 2008) sucks. How much? Think of the business end of a vacuum cleaner; think a boat caught in a giant maelstrom; think a spaceship tipping into a black hole's event horizon.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars stinks. How much? Think pig carcass stuck in a car in summer heat (I happen to have been watching a replay of Mythbusters). Gas masks and biohazard equipment, for the record, are ineffective at countering a stench this vile.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is hateful. How hateful? I'm seriously considering whether or not I would rather undergo a root canal without anesthesia than watch this again.

It's basically the story of--but I won't bore you with the details. Painful enough trying to piece things together from the mindnumbingly dull narration, the at times pretentious-sounding dialogue (which had all the fizz and verve of flat Coke), the at other times ridiculously childish banter (George Lucas' screenplays have this odd disconnect--it's as if he had written an endless historical epic full of elderly statesmen debating economic and political issues, a junky B-movie script about a band of lobotomized smart-aleck adventurers who try at witty dialogue, and had accidentally mixed their pages together).

The character design--well, Lucas is on record as wanting a look reminiscent of Japanese anime and the 'Supermarionation' of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. By way of review: Japanese anime is designed to use flash and visual impact to disguise the reduced number of frames per second of the animation (frames per second determining the smoothness of an animated figure's motions); 'Supermarionation' is basically stringed puppets brought to life (and more or less enchanting the pants off of a select (and rather lucky) group of kids)--any possible appeal it possesses comes from the brassy music score (you often didn't know whether to listen or march to the music) and the solid, incredibly detailed sets the marionettes pretend to walk around in. Combining anime with 'Supermarionation' successfully combines the worst of both worlds: the clunkiness of Japanese anime (usually hidden by quick editing and various musical and visual punctuations (bursting lights, wind-ruffled hair; blaring music)), the woodenness of marionettes.

Actually, I'd like to pipe up a moment on behalf of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Yes, they basically cooked up silly puppet shows to foreground their incredibly modelwork(the Thunderbirds sequences featuring Tracy Island with its tilting coconut trees (to make room for Thunderbird 2's wings), its swimming pool that slid to one side (Thunderbird 1's exit point) are worth the price of admission (all right, it's TV) right there), but the marionettes were not totally inexpressive--they could lift a hand just so to suggest puzzlement, confusion, just a hint of depression; they could shake their heads and imply desperately conflicting desires; they could hold absolutely still and you'd swear there was a malevolent glint in the corner of a villain's eye. Comparing Lucas' Clone Wars characters to Gerry and Sylvia's rather entertaining efforts is actually an insult--they deserve better.

I'd mentioned the dialogue. The mix of highflown exposition and lowdown comedy is generally regarded as part of the charm (saw the movies again and no, the charm hasn't aged well); I possibly wouldn't have minded this particular screenplay so much if it wasn't for the fact that half the story and dialogue's been recycled, not once but several times throughout the movies--when Anakin is stuck on the planet Christophsis, for example, he's forced to deal with yet another shield generator (what is it with these things that makes them so damned popular? They haven't done squat for anyone who actually used them); after completing his mission he's basically sent on yet another rescue (Star Wars and the opening of Return of the Jedi, anyone?); and while the phrase "I've got a bad feeling about this" is missing from this picture (the first Star Wars movie ever to do so), any number of other worn-out phrases (yes, even "I've got a bad feeling" felt tired way back in the '80s) are repeated ad nauseam (Anakin is described as "a new hope" or "their only hope;" opponents are taunted with "you'll have to do better than that;" a villain's presence is detected thanks to "a disturbance in the Force").

It doesn't help that where the heroes aren't lackluster they're downright annoying--take Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), Anakin Skywalker's new padwan, or apprentice; not five minutes from setting foot on the planet she's already sassing Anakin (Matt Lanter, making no particular effort at capturing the especially unparticular voice of Hayden Christensen) and talking like a Queen Bee. Jabba the Hutt had his gross charms in the otherwise charmless Return of the Jedi (1983), but here (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) he resembles nothing more and nothing less than a large turd; in which case his son Rotta the Hut (David Acord) resembles a large dingleberry (if you google that word, check slang definitions), and his effeminate uncle Ziro the Hutt (Corey Burton) a turd produced by someone who'd been eating purple yams.

(Ziro incidentally, is an offensive stereotype--so if someone coded purple with a woman impersonator's voice, does this mean he's perverted, treacherous, untrustworthy? Anyone looked at Lucas' movies lately? His most forthrightedly gay character, See-Threepio (Anthony Daniels) is an ineffectual buffoon, meant to act as comic relief and foil to the more manly (if diminutive (not putting down short folks, just noting the negative connotations Lucas inserts)) Artoo-Detoo)

The movie's generally considered to be the pilot to an animated series to be shown on Cartoon Network later this year. Now pilots are usually created to test a series; if the pilot did well ratingwise and with the critics, the series was approved; if it didn't, the series wasn't. I more or less have an idea of what most critics think (in a word: "Fpthtpthpthpthpthpthpthpth!") and it's on record as the first ever Star Wars movie that failed to open the weekend at number one--does this mean we're to be spared the TV series? Desperate minds want to know.

(First published in Businessworld, 8.22.08)


Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, really? I'd been wondering why George Lucas would want to make a cartoon version of what he'd already done.

By the way, based on your list of 100 Best Filipino Films, I ordered "Babae sa Breakwater" from Netflix.

Noel Vera said...

Cool. But also, check out Lino Brocka's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang and Insiang, also on Netflix.