Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones

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Vladimir: ***

Starring Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Temuera Morrison

Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

Yay. Three years ago, I decided to lay off spoilers for Episode II, having had The Phantom Menace thoroughly disintegrated previous to viewing by the likes of the Virtual Edition. I said to myself, let me just read what the official site has to offer, and see the trailers, and leave it to the movie itself to tell its story. Thatíll be the only way to be sure of how I really feel about it, right? (And for the record, I ended up liking TPM a-plenty, despite the spoilers. Yes, itís juvenile, in parts. But it was hands-down the most consistently imaginative movie I was to see in theatres in years, something so rich that I can still pop the DVD in and see stuff I never noticed before. It started out where it ought to have, with innocence and good intentions put to use furthering the goals of the enemy. And thatís more than fine in my book.)

Then, last month, I made my first major contribution to the Digest by writing a mind-bogglingly detailed review of the Attack of the Clones score, more thorough than anything else Iíve read on the Net since. (To put it modestly. Hey, itís just a quantitative observation.) So it should come as no surprise that the first reaction Iíve had while viewing the film itself (in a mostly empty theater, with the image that was too dark to be judged properly, and a sound system that seemed to leave out half the aural spectrum, despite having the Dolby Dig cranked up) was one of bafflement at the use of score. Itís mostly fine throughout the movie, until we come to the concluding act on the planet of Geonosis: the very arrival of Anakin and Padmť is tracked with the music from the opening of TPM, and if that sounded wrongo, it was but a teaser of the scoring horrors to come. The track ĎOn the Conveyor Beltí has been almost completely excised, much as was the original ĎSail Barge Assaultí in Return of the Jedi, and is here similarly replaced for most of its length by an inferior melange of preexisting themes. Moving on, while the ĎLove Pledge and the Arenaí is indeed in the film, it has been padded with actual tracks from the score to TPM to a disgusting extent: RotJ had one scene (Death Star Reactor) tracked in with music from Empire, and one with music from A New Hope, but weíre talking something like 15 minutes of recycled music here. And that was tremendously distracting to this score enthusiast. It just felt incredibly wrong. So I can understand people who feel outraged all over the net on the account of Williamsí being vilified here. However, its obviously not unprecedented in principle if not in extent, and funnily enough, I didnít notice that a single piece from the soundtrack was actually missing, apart from the Conveyor Belt music. The score was somewhat weak, its usage is weaker, but hey, itís just a part of the picture, right?

How was the movie already, dammit, Vladimir?

Well, once my nerdy musical horror abated, I started breathing again, and the utter disgust that I defaulted to the entire movie had started to turn into something more akin to appreciation. Then some people stopped over at my place, and one had already seen the movie at the charity screening, and little by little, Iíll be blasted, I started feeling again like that giddy schoolboy of 13 standing in line to see RotJ. So yeah, it is with heavy heart that I have to admit that I like it now. Spent the night dreaming about it, for Yodaís sake.

Itís no love at first sight, though. Although the one part of the film I really like is the love story. (Hey! Ainít it schmoopy?) Maybe because I can really relate to someone whoís been harboring love for a girl for ten years, and now that he finally sees her again heís totally at a loss on how to break it to her. And Anakin is young and brilliant and ó much like Jen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ó feels that his skill entitles him to more than a disciplined monk-warrior life. While protecting Padmť, he gets to work on his own, without Obi-Wan, for the first time: and that is doubly unfortunate. Not only is she his greatest temptation, but he can also, finally, go find out what is going on with his mom. And while I consider this filmís entire Tatooine sequence to be the poorest written of the entire saga (look! hero randomly arrives in the nick of time after TEN BLOODY YEARS, just in order to have an experience which will push him in precisely the right direction for the plot to move where it ought to! and heíll meet a bunch of characters with no relation to the present plotline only so that they can be tied in with Episode IV! oh my), itís over with mercifully quickly, and we can go on to Ďhelping the friends in perilí plotline which is the main narrative connection of Episode II with the previous saga.

(Seriously. The previous four movies had either the Ďletís destroy the Death Starí or Ďour hyperdrive is brokení storyline, so AotCís detective/yojimbo plotline is original to the saga, at leastÖ Well, itís partly lifted from Kurosawa again, obviously. As it ought to be, of course.)

The plotline, then. Well, it is top-heavy: it has intermittent action for most of its duration, while being predominantly moody and character-motivated, only to unleash one huge action sequence upon another in a seemingly endless barrage over the last 40 minutes. So you have too little at first, and then way too much to digest in one sitting. Plot is not helped at all by the fact that it has NO VILLAIN to drive it for over half its length: when Jango is established as a minor villain, it comes so abruptly as to raise a chorus of WTFs in my brain. Similarly, when Count Dooku begins to be treated as one, it comes only minutes after he has presented himself as the only one who can save the Republic from the Sith Lord who is now its Chancellor: this was a damn interesting spiel, and it neednít have been seen through and rejected in the blink of an eye. Those are serious charges as far as drama is concerned, and they are not helped by the filmís need to switch gears between the two main plotlines all the time, so that the pacing and the atmosphere are constantly broken. Ben Burtt, the brilliant sound designer who also was the sole editor of this movie, was in over his head, apparently. And this hurts, at least on initial viewing.

Now for the good. The one thing no single reviewer has noticed is that the film is the best color-coded one of the entire SW saga. It begins beautifully, with the camera tilting UP after the opening crawl (hee) and presenting a gray, foggy, mysterious Coruscant. It then gets bluish, dark and neon-lit: the urban grays and blues give way to Nabooís greens and Kaminoís white-and-indigo color palette: it gets yellow as we come to Tatooine: and then finally golden and orange on Geonosis. The penultimate scene takes us back to Coruscant, which now has a Grand Army of the Republic ó which the story has basically brought up on it unawares ó and it is now CRIMSON RED: we have passed the entire spectrum and are now exactly where Darth Sidious wanted us to be, with the music giving us enormous chills. So the visual coding gives the film the kind of coherence its plotting sorely lacks.

In the end, itís not the big action sequence at the end which gave me the biggest surprise, but the revelation on who is fighting on whose side. Attack of the Clones indeed: youíll see what Iím talking about. And the Jedi, clouded by the Dark Side, actually supporting the one move that will lead to their destruction. With Yoda bearing most of the blame, no less. Despite his mosquito-from-hell fighting abilitiesÖ In the end, the film in fact didnít need the bad guys to show up until the final act, because the good guys did most of their work themselves. And that is a very good idea on Lucasí part: it rings very resonant with whatís going on in the world around us, even more so than is usual in the saga, and gives this film an extended lease on life ó meaning that Iíll be there to see it again today, and tomorrow, and who knows how many times more. Dammit, Iíll even start liking its obvious flaws ó because itís flaws that make you fall in love, more so than the obvious plusses. Thatís just the way the human heart works, toward movies as well as toward people. If Padmť finally felt it, I guess we all can.

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