Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie poster

 

After writ­ing and direct­ing three pre­quels between 1999–2005, it’s easy to for­get that Star Wars god­fa­ther George Lucas opted out of direct­ing Episodes IV: The Empire Strikes Back and V: Return of the Jedi back in the 1980s. Now Lucas appears once again to be ced­ing con­trol over his most famous baby. He’s back to shep­herd­ing along splin­ter projects like The Clone Wars from the more aloof role of Exec­u­tive Producer.

For any­one else con­fused, as I cer­tainly was, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a feature-film sequel to the 2003–2005 Car­toon Net­work tele­vi­sion series “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” in turn fol­lowed by a sec­ond series with the same name as the movie. Got that? There are much big­ger dif­fer­ences than swap­ping a colon for a defin­i­tive arti­cle, start­ing with the visual look itself. The best thing about the orig­i­nal series was its bold, strik­ing visual style, real­ized in a hand-drawn line-art look sim­i­lar to Gen­ndy Tartakovsky’s pre­vi­ous show Samu­rai Jack. From what lit­tle I under­stand of the process, CGI ani­ma­tion cre­ated in 3D can still be ren­dered in a flat 2D style, giv­ing it the look of tra­di­tional hand-drawn cell ani­ma­tion. So the char­ac­ters in the orig­i­nal at least appeared hand-drawn even though they prob­a­bly weren’t.

Ashley Eckstein and Matt Lanter in Star Wars: The Clone WarsAnakin trains a young propellerhead

How­ever, the fea­ture film sequel looks like direc­tor Dave Filoni opted to skip that step and ren­der the char­ac­ters with full 3D shad­ing. The result resem­bles a rough ani­matic or a throw­away videogame cut scene. Filoni gets kudos for not aim­ing for pho­to­re­al­ism, which becomes very creepy when approach­ing the uncanny val­ley — the point where ani­mated char­ac­ters look almost, but not quite, like real humans. Look with fear upon the night­mar­ish zom­bie hor­ror­shows Final Fan­tasy: The Spir­its Within, The Polar Express, and Beowulf (the lat­ter being a huge step for­ward, but still not quite there yet). But The Clone Wars’ par­tic­u­lar brand of styl­iza­tion just seems cheap to me; I would have pre­ferred the cool-looking 2D char­ac­ters as they appeared in the TV series.

The Clone Wars is canon within the Star Wars uni­verse, but no one (prob­a­bly not even Lucas him­self) would ever con­sider it as pri­mary as its six older sib­lings. One advan­tage to being rel­e­gated to the sec­ond tier is a free­dom to vio­late ven­er­a­ble Star Wars tra­di­tions. The clas­sic open­ing crawl is gone, replaced with a Cit­i­zen Kane-style news­reel catch­ing the audi­ence up with the key facts needed to make sense of what’s going on in between all the ‘splo­sions. That par­tic­u­lar change is a shame, but brace your­self for some heresy when I admit I find another change rather wel­come: Kevin Kiner’s very non-John Williams-esque score. As much as Williams’ music was the sound­track of my child­hood (my entire gen­er­a­tion can sing the Star Wars, Jaws, and Indi­ana Jones themes a cap­pella, on cue), I had long since tired of him. The point at which I lost it was the wall-to-wall blan­ket of redun­dant music that threat­ened to drown out the already almost over­whelm­ing Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan.

The Clone Wars series and movie are both set chrono­log­i­cally between the events of Episodes II: Attack of the Clones and III: Revenge of the Sith, a razor-thin slice of time in which noth­ing of import really hap­pened in Star Wars con­ti­nu­ity. The movies already showed us how the war began and ended, so The Clone Wars movie and series are basi­cally war sto­ries. This is actu­ally a good thing in light of how the pre­quel tril­ogy often became bogged down in tedious polit­i­cal pro­ce­dure involv­ing inter­plan­e­tary trade routes. The series was by its nature a string of vignettes, but the fea­ture film still feels like an episodic tour through a num­ber of spec­tac­u­lar bat­tles. A par­tic­u­larly grip­ping and excit­ing bat­tle takes place on a ver­ti­cal cliff face, “shot” with a hand-held “cam­era.” Lucas was sure to con­ceive of his two armies as droids and masked clones, allow­ing for car­nage and huge body counts with­out a drop of blood (not to men­tion the eco­nom­i­cal reuse of cos­tumes, and now, dig­i­tal mod­els). I remain puz­zled, how­ever, how clones and droids can have names, ranks, and vary­ing skill sets. This Dork Reporter grew up with the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, and still has trou­ble accept­ing stormtroop­ers being on the side of the good guys.

Tom Kane in Star Wars: The Clone WarsYoda’s look­ing more “kit­ten” than “tur­tle” today

The TV series focused mostly on the bat­tles, but the movie squeezes a frag­ment of a plot in between the action set pieces. Anakin Sky­walker is incon­ve­niently charged with train­ing Ahsoka Tano (Ash­ley Eck­stein), an annoy­ing teen “padawan learner” (a Luca­sism for “appren­tice” that still sounds very much like a George W. Bush mala­prop­ism). I still find it dif­fi­cult to accept that the Anakin we see here and in Episode III is so close to the tip­ping point to absolute cor­rup­tion that he will soon betray the Rebels and become the embod­i­ment of evil, Darth Vader. At this point, he still seems a merely moody and impetu­ous kid horny for the girl­friend he left behind on Naboo. Being respon­si­ble for the spunky, good­hearted Ahsoka cer­tainly does lit­tle to help him attain the state of emo­tional detach­ment Lucas equates with goodness.

Even though there’s no doubt a great deal of very expen­sive tech­nol­ogy behind this kind of ani­ma­tion, it’s still cheaper than mount­ing a live-action pro­duc­tion. Ani­ma­tion, where any­thing is pos­si­ble, is also the best way for the Star Wars fran­chise to expand the sto­ries of its exist­ing char­ac­ters, when the orig­i­nal actors have aged, become too expen­sive, dis­in­ter­ested, or passed away. So why focus only on the pre­quel char­ac­ters? Why not tell more tales star­ring the trin­ity that every­body really loves: Luke, Leia, and Han? Is Lucas afraid that mess­ing with the canon­i­cal heroes gen­er­a­tions of fans have taken to heart is to risk fatally wound­ing their deep emo­tional con­nec­tion to the mythos? Or to be cyn­i­cal, he may always uti­lize the var­i­ous masked char­ac­ters (Chew­bacca, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hut, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2) in any­thing at any time with­out clear­ing actors’ like­nesses. That said, some of the orig­i­nal cast do lend their voices to The Clone Wars, includ­ing Samuel L. Jack­son, Anthony Daniels, and Christo­pher Lee. James Arnold Tay­lor does an excel­lent impres­sion of Ewan McGregor’s excel­lent (in turn) impres­sion of Alec Guinness.

One last thing: it wouldn’t be Star Wars with­out at least one offen­sively char­ac­ter­ized alien. Jabba’s uncle Ziro the Hutt (Corey Bur­ton) is inex­plic­a­bly voiced as an old South­ern queen.


Offi­cial movie site: www.starwars.com/theclonewars

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade

 

In order to catch up on the over­whelm­ing back­log of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, this Dork Reporter is going to keep it brief with a few dis­con­nected bul­let points:

• Re-watching the orig­i­nal tril­ogy as an adult is an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence; even the first time around as a kid I was right: Raiders of the Lost Ark is excel­lent rip-roaring fun, The Tem­ple of Doom is bor­der­line offen­sive crap, and The Last Cru­sade is thank­fully a return to form. Gone are the annoy­ing kids and mean-spirited xeno­pho­bia, and back are the Nazi-bashing and Judeo-Christian overtones.

Indiana Jones and The Last CrusadeWell, this is a fine how-do-you-do

• After a fun pre-credit sequence set in 1912 Utah (fea­tur­ing the late River Phoenix doing a bril­liant Har­ri­son Ford impres­sion), The Last Cru­sade is set in 1938. The pre­vi­ous install­ment was set prior to the first, neatly side­step­ping any hint of Indy dump­ing Mar­ion (Karen Allen). Appar­ently Spiel­berg and Lucas stopped car­ing, and this time just went ahead and implied that he did, after all.

• The biggest area of improve­ment over the lam­en­ta­ble Tem­ple of Doom is in the “Indy Girl” depart­ment. After the spunky Mar­ion and the bimbo Willie, we were due for a third stereo­type: the femme fatale. Dr. Elsa Schnei­der (Ali­son Doody) is both a wor­thy love inter­est and neme­sis to Indi­ana Jones. And Henry Sr. (Sean Con­nery) totally hit that! Way to go, old man.

Indiana Jones and The Last CrusadeOf course she can be trusted

• Why did Elsa wait until the most dra­matic moment to reveal her true iden­tity, and cap­ture Indy and the diary? The woman has a knack for melodrama.

• Fun fact: Each film in the series starts with the Para­mount logo mir­rored in a land­scape or prop.

• Must read: Indi­ana Jones and the Fonts on the Maps, an analy­sis of the anachro­nis­tic typo­graphic choices made in the films’ iconic ani­mated maps (via Dar­ing Fire­ball).


Offi­cial movie site: www.indianajones.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom

 

In order to catch up on the over­whelm­ing back­log of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, this Dork Reporter is going to keep it brief with a few dis­con­nected bul­let points:

• An open­ing cap­tion places the action in “1935.” Raiders of the Lost Ark was set in 1936, so, The Tem­ple of Doom is actu­ally a back­door pre­quel! Inter­est­ing, but why? Every­thing is basi­cally the same, except for the absence of Mar­ion (Karen Allen). Had that cap­tion not been there, Indy would have seemed to have uncer­e­mo­ni­ously dumped her, offscreen.

• On the topic of “Indy Girls,” how could Steven Spiel­berg and George Lucas trade in the spunky, resource­ful, inde­pen­dent, strong Mar­ion for the help­less scream­ing igno­rant bimbo Willie (Kate Cap­shaw)? It’s a cry­ing shame only par­tially excused by Marion’s belated return in the fourth install­ment, Indi­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull.

Indiana Jones and The Temple of DoomDot your eyes and sleep with your starlets…

• In the DVD bonus fea­tures, Spiel­berg and Lucas both des­per­ately defend Tem­ple of Doom’s “dark” tone, com­par­ing it to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This is puz­zling, as to my eyes, The Tem­ple of Doom is notably more jokey and car­toony than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Worse, it is casu­ally sex­ist and racist, and not to men­tion, quite unkind to the cui­sine of India.

• The globe-trotting begins in Shang­hai, with an old-school Hol­ly­wood musi­cal num­ber. Jonathan Ke Quan (Short Round) is actu­ally Viet­namese, and clearly a good sport.

• Hey, it’s that guy! Can you spot the Dan Akroyd cameo?

• The Tem­ple of Doom has the least com­pelling MacGuf­fin of all the Indi­ana Jones films. While the oth­ers con­cerned the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy freakin’ Grail, and UFO arti­facts, this time Indy must recover and return a stolen relic to a starv­ing Indian vil­lage. He only learns of the injus­tice in the first place by accident.

Indiana Jones and The Temple of DoomPlease, sir, can I have another shit sandwich?

• It must be said that this is the only film in the series that has Indy grap­ple with the moral grey areas of his pro­fes­sion. Not exactly a stand-up model arche­ol­o­gist, he explic­itly vocal­izes his moti­va­tions for the first time: “for­tune and glory.” So this time around, his relic-hunting is in the ser­vice of jus­tice and not his own per­sonal gain.

• Indy and pals stum­ble upon a sac­ri­fi­cial pagan cer­e­mony dead for only 100 years? That’s not very excit­ing. If you’re mak­ing up a fake reli­gion, why not make it a thou­sand or more?

• One of many tragic flaws that crip­ple this film is the obvi­ous tin­ker­ing with the for­mula, made in the mis­taken belief there would be more for the kids to iden­tify with. Yes, I’m talk­ing about all the annoy­ing chil­dren run­ning about the place: obvi­ously Short Round, but also the horde of child slaves toil­ing in a mine (a straight lift from Pinoc­chio). Memo to Spiel­berg and Lucas: kids had no trou­ble flock­ing to Raiders of the Lost Ark, so you don’t need to give them an on-screen cypher.


Offi­cial movie site: www.indianajones.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark

 

In order to catch up on the over­whelm­ing back­log of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, this Dork Reporter is going to keep it brief with a few dis­con­nected bul­let points:

• The 2008 DVD reis­sues of the clas­sic Indi­ana Jones tril­ogy have ter­ri­bly designed menus; it looks like everything’s been over­processed with Photoshop’s “Dust and Scratches” filter.

• The zippy, witty screen­play is by Lau­rence Kas­dan, known to genre geeks as the beloved writer of the best Star Wars script, now and for­ever: The Empire Strikes Back.

• Hey, it’s that guy! A young Alfred Molina briefly appears in his first film role. In the DVD bonus fea­tures, he recounts an amus­ing tale involv­ing his lack of dif­fi­culty in evok­ing fear in his per­for­mance as a batch of real taran­tu­las scram­bled across his face.

Raiders of the Lost Ark“I like your hat.” “So do I.”

• Karen Allen is really win­ning as the hard-drinkin’ Mar­ion, and it’s a pity she never became a big­ger star, or at least appeared in the sec­ond and third install­ments. She was robbed!

• Does the Indi­ana Jones fran­chise really give the field of archae­ol­ogy a good name? Indy is moti­vated by money; he loots relics with­out the per­mis­sion of indige­nous peo­ples, and sells them to a museum asso­ci­ated with the uni­ver­sity where he teaches (it’s implied his job or tenure — and that of his boss Mar­cus — depend on it).

Raiders of the Lost ArkRated PG, my melt­ing face, suckas!

• I think I had the offi­cial col­or­ing book as a kid, and I recall being fas­ci­nated by the con­cept of lost cities buried under sand.

• For bet­ter or for worse, the prac­ti­cal details of the phan­tas­magoric cli­max are left unex­plained: why is the Ark empty, why does it make bad guys’ heads explode and/or melt, why does it mat­ter if your eyes are open or not, and why does Indy know that it does?

• There’s lotsa drink­ing, gun­play, gore, and Ger­man pro­fan­ity — in other words, all the stuff kids love! They don’t make PG movies like this anymore.

• Kids, the moral of the story is: any­one with an accent is not to be trusted.


Offi­cial movie site: www.indianajones.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 

Indi­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull is ulti­mately a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, espe­cially if one reflects too much on its plot and basic plau­si­bil­ity, but it has plenty to com­mend it. It is also far from the worst entry in the fran­chise (that would be Tem­ple of Doom — blech! stay tuned for The Dork Report’s forth­com­ing tear­down of that stinky turd), which admit­tedly isn’t say­ing much.

The basic con­cept (report­edly con­ceived by pro­ducer George Lucas and viewed askance at by direc­tor Steven Spiel­berg and star Har­ri­son Ford) is sound. The orig­i­nal tril­ogy was set in the 1930s, and as such the first and third films mostly con­cerned Indy bat­tling the Ratzis. So, whom bet­ter for an older Indi­ana Jones to face off against in the 1950s than Com­mies and UFOs? In all seri­ous­ness, sounds like fun to me! Unfor­tu­nately, the end result is mud­dled with bits of busi­ness about El Dorado, and sad­dled with a dis­ap­point­ingly con­ser­v­a­tive tsk-tsk dis­ap­proval of the ras­cally Indy’s way­ward ways with women. But per­haps the focus on mar­riage and the restora­tion of a bro­ken nuclear fam­ily was also a con­scious allu­sion to the con­formist 1950s?

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullVee haff vays of mak­ing you talk

Cate Blanchett is far and away the best thing in it, but then again, she usu­ally is. Impos­si­bly sexy in a severe bob hair­cut and out­ra­geous accent (the sub­ject of Indy’s best gag: “Well, judg­ing by the way you’re swal­low­ing your wub­b­ley­ous, I’m guess­ing Russ­ian”), Blanchett can take a line as bor­ing as “Take the thing and put it in the car” (I’m para­phras­ing) and steal the scene with it. How­ever, this Dork Reporter is puz­zled by the ubiq­uity of sud­den A-lister Shia LeBeouf. He is not espe­cially hand­some, funny, charis­matic, or even a skilled action per­former. But Stephen Spiel­berg seems to have a man-crush on him, so here he is. Let’s hope saner heads pre­vail and don’t make him the star of future sequels. There can only be one Young Indi­ana Jones; River Phoenix, we miss you. It’s a treat to have Karen Allen back at last. Unfor­tu­nately, there’s no John Rhys-Davies or Sean Con­nery to be had, but in a pinch, Ray Win­stone will do fine.

Of course mod­ern action movies get com­pared to video games all the time (often deri­sively, mostly deserv­ingly), but The King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull is one of the most overt offend­ers I’ve seen yet. Sequences like the one in which the gang must solve puz­zles like rac­ing down a spi­ral stair­case as the steps retract and the ground falls away will no doubt trans­late more or less intact into the film’s offi­cial game.

The biggest clas­sic Indy theme miss­ing from Skull is that of reli­gion. In the first film, Indy tracked down the honest-to-Moses Ark of the Con­venant. The MacGuf­fin of the sec­ond film was a set of Hindu (well, a deroga­to­rily fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion thereof) sacred stones. The third install­ment went back to the franchise’s Judeo-Christian roots and had Indy pur­sue none other than The Holy Grail. Indy some­times dis­misses reli­gious tra­di­tions as myth, but usu­ally doesn’t have any trou­ble accept­ing that the 10 Com­mand­ment tablets and the Grail are any­thing less than actual objects. There are no mere metaphors for Indi­ana Jones!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullYou never intro­duced me to your father!

In keep­ing with the reli­gious over­tones, all three parts of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy end in psy­che­delic freak­outs: wit­ness an empty Ark explode Nazi heads, sacred stones mag­i­cally relieve a village’s famine, and a Grail cause an earth­quake. So as much as I may have hated Skull’s mys­ti­fy­ing, CG-drenched in which a bunch of alien corpses become one liv­ing being that does some­thing glowy to Irina Spalko and launches his space­ship off into another dimen­sion (all of which is like an unholy love child of the X-Files fea­ture film Fight the Future and Spielberg’s own A.I.: Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence), it is actu­ally in keep­ing with the end­ings of the orig­i­nal three films (even the “good one,” of course, Raiders). If you don’t believe me, go back and watch them again.

Must read: Rod Hilton’s hilar­i­ous, cut­ting The Abridged Script.


Offi­cial movie site: www.indianajones.com

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

 

Yub yub!

While Empire was even bet­ter than I remem­bered (and I remem­ber it being very good indeed), it was dis­ap­point­ing to dis­cover that Return of the Jedi is even worse than I remem­bered. What hap­pened to all the drama and con­flict? Everybody’s hug­ging! Tech­ni­cally, even Luke and Big Daddy hug at the end.

I think the DVDs are totally worth it, but then again I’m a total geek with sur­round sound speak­ers. But the attached doc­u­men­tary is unique in that it is will­ing to take the piss out of Lucas and come clean about some of the leg­ends: Har­ri­son Ford telling Lucas some­thing like “George, you can write this shit but you sure can’t say it” and Lucas’ sole direc­tion to his actors: “Faster and more intense.”

Yub yub!