CGI = Cast Grossly Inessential.
George Lucas doesn’t make book on The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Flagrantly disregarding the word “budget,” Lucas feels that by throwing the baby, the bathwater, the soap AND the rubber ducky at audiences, it will buy him the love and respect he seems so desperately to be craving.
STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a cry for help; a glutted, ostentatious syrup of coagulative computer pixelation, which detracts from the reason why those effects are there in the first place – to lend credence to the human story which they end up overshadowing. It is obvious that no veteran director ever sat down with George as a young filmmaker – no John Huston or Milos Forman – and advised the neophyte, “Y’know, George: Less Is More.” Pile upon redundant pile of superfluous graphic imagery stuns you into almost not laughing at the hamhanded attempts at characterization and kindergarten dialogue. Nonetheless, like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, this film will eventually be logged as “better than the first” – but still only slightly less excruciating than passing a kidney stone.
That being said, on some levels, CLONES is a great movie – for reasons that Lucas’s target demographic of superfreaks and cybergeeks probably couldn’t even fathom: the actual storyline rivals that of Frank Herbert’s classic DUNE series (political intrigue set against a science fiction cyclorama), yet the manner in which the tale is imparted is sorely ingenuous. The imagineering of the wondrous visuals IS genius, as are the effects mavens who continue to pioneer their art form. But effects do not a movie make – this is not a catalogue for a suite of outboard tools, it is a story told in moving pictures.
Stephen King has opined many times that “It is the tale, not he who tells it,” but I have never agreed with him on this point. Consider: you can be told the same joke by two different people and while one of them loses the plot, forgets the punchline and makes you wish you had not made eye contact with them on the way to the lunchroom, the other will make you wonder why he is not plying his trade as a comedian, in the stead of despicable hacks like the Pauly Shores and Adam Sandlers of this talentless town. Ultimately, “it is NOT the tale, BUT he who tells it.” Lucas can think up The Tale, but he should leave it to his good buddy Spielberg to TELL it. It has become passé to criticize Lucas’s recent STAR WARS efforts, a major reason being that he has the clout to secure the greatest actors in the world, then abjectly ignores their interplay in the grandiose fictional worlds he has forged for them. One could say that this movie’s gaping flaw was its technical perfection – whilst all humanity suffered around that perfection…
Watching Hayden Christensen (the nascent Darth Vader) interact with Natalie Portman (as Padme) or Ewan MacGregor (reprising his Obi-Wan) makes your skin crawl with embarrassment. This is not even phone-in material – did Lucas do any second takes at all?! Every line between Darth Anakin and Padme Portman reeks of Lucas (and whoever else is responsible for the reprehensible script) rifling through teen magazine advice columns and copying the conversations verbatim. And get those two a kissing coach, George – their onscreen lip-smudges exuded all the reticent passion of a Michael Jackson public-woman-kiss. Portman’s inherent sexual heat (played upon gratuitously in her primo role as 12-year-old Mathilda in LEON, 1994) is now, at an age when it should be searing celluloid, nonexistent amidst the clutter of machinery and glutted blue-screen babble. Even those dumb, slutty outfits (ostensibly ex-queenery attire) do nothing to propel her plasticism into three-dimensionality.
Christopher Lee suddenly appears in the movie, as the raging Count Doofus, having lost his way from THE LORD OF THE RINGS sound stage and figuring that no one would realize he was playing the same role. Master of the Dracule race, still undead, of all the titles he could have been bequeathed by Lucas, amusing he ended up yet again as a “Count.”
Temuera Morrison, largely unknown in these United States (except for his cataclysmic role in the New Zealand cult classic ONCE WERE WARRIORS), was another surprise, as the clone-model bounty hunter Jango Fett, whose freight-train stature lent just that subtle hint of sarcasm to his best line, “I’m just a simple man, trying to make his way in the universe.”
Anthony Daniels returns, clad once again as golden droid C-3PO. Unfortunately, in this movie, he only took over where Jar-Jar Boolum-Head left off in the last one. Lucas seems intent on inserting a staple lowbrow element in this series to keep the 3 Stooges fans wetting ’em in the aisles. Whereas Daniels’s fey English Butler/Dr. Smith routine only got better in the first three real STAR WARS movies as he became more accustomed to the character, we are now subjected to a fusillade of desperate, non-funny schtick from Daniels, his vapid repartee obviously culled from out-takes of MARY-KATE & ASHLEY and THE HOGAN FAMILY. Describing his role as “dull and clichéd” does it justice! All that was gold definitely did not glitter this time ’round.
And speaking of that computer-graphic twit, JarHead, his role has mercifully been minimized in this film, though he is involved in one of the film’s pivotal plot events: having been bequeathed ad hoc senatorial power, he casts his vote in favor of the Evil Guys (don’t ask me to outline the plot – I wasn’t really paying attention at that point), thereby making the winter last four more months when he doesn’t see his shadow… though it’s hard to buy the plot contrivance that placed him in that senatorial position in the first place. Who in their right mind would hand over senatorial duties to a marmoset with the reasoning capacity of Curly Joe Besser? Anyway, the less said about that thing, the better. My ears are hurting just thinking about trying to decipher what that thing keeps saying, “Me so hooorny! Me love you long time! Me love you… too much!”
real actors displaced in this fantasy
Samuel L. Jackson, as Yoda’s sidekick/bitch, Shaft Windu, delivering his lines like he’s chowing down on a Big Kahuna Burger;
Jimmy Smits, as the Persian-Rug-wearing senator/porn-star, Trey Orgazmo, just longing for a role where he could be as ethnic as he wants to be;
Jack Thompson, halfheartedly reading his sides, about his “wife being kidnapped or something…”;
Hayden Christensen, whose acting talents were constantly lauded in all the press junkets, yet who brought a wooden-ness to his role that Christopher Reeve could only dream of bringing to the SUPERMAN movies;
Natalie Portman, who was out-acted by her dresses;
Ian McDiarmid, as Emperor Palpatine, wearing too much makeup even for the drag-queen that he was portraying. Fortunately, he took those Vincent Price lessons by EPISODE VI and showed us how to elevate insouciance to a whole ‘nother level with his delivery of the line, “And now, young Skywalker… you will die…”;
one of the Tusken Raiders, who was leaning up against a tent as if he was “acting like a Tusken Raider leaning up against a tent”; and finally,
Liam Neeson, whose presence in this episode was as powerful as his presence in the last one…
interminable scenes that may kill you
Chasing Padme’s would-be assassin through crowded flying traffic: Trying to secure a deal with Universal Studios for a tie-in rollercoaster ride, are we, George?
Jango Fett battling Obi-Wan Kenobi: Knowing that Obi is not going to die until EPISODE IV (and even then, Luke can’t get the stank of Obi’s Force out of his head, as he crops up contractually during X-Wing battles, Ewok celebrations and comic-book tie-ins), is there really any tension in this scene?
Any scene where Anakin and Padme are alone: What could I have possibly done in my wretched life to deserve this?
The arena lightsaber battle between the Compleat Jedi Book Club and Count Doofus’s misprogrammed robots: How can I be so sure they’re misprogrammed? Well, when a human aims a blaster, their human imperfections don’t allow them to target a point perfectly every time; but if a robot is programmed to fire a blaster at a target, it isn’t thinking about whether it left the oven on – without any mental distractions, it is targeting its objective with pure mathematics and (possibly) sonar or radar alignment. How then could this army of robots, this veritable Phil Spector Wall Of Blasters POSSIBLY fire so many shots into the ground and into the surrounding edifices when ALL their shots should be finding their marks or, at the very least, deflected by Jedi lightsabers? And Padme does not even have a defense weapon! – she only has a blaster, firing arbitrarily into the surrounding blue-screen, hoping that no one will notice the conceptual flaw due to her bare midriff. If I was Count Dookie, I’d be getting my money back on these pieces of trash – typical Fry’s Electronics garbage.
Any scene with Jarjar Binks in it: Don’t get me started. Poor Ahmed Best.
Notwithstanding Lucas’s ineptitude, three unstoppable real-life actors rose above the morass of CGI fartwork: Christopher Lee (playing a role he has commandeered since time immemorial); Ewan MacGregor (holding his own in the dwarfing shadow of Sir Alec Guinness, whose young counterpart he plays), and Yoda (who was directed by Clint Eastwood). A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) a master of puppets (Frank Oz) created and voiced Yoda, in the role of comic relief and crippled, enigmatic, green sidekick – but an even longer time ago (this EPISODE – ATTACK OF THE CLONES), a Jedi UberMeister proved he ain’t no Muppet, throwing down against the mighty Count Doobie; as lightsabers clash and burn between Count Vlad and the High Plains Jedi, it is obvious that the only way out for Christopher Lee is to cheat and then run like a girly… More sequels on the way…
Or should I say “PREquels”? The trend of the sequel has arguably been overrun by the last few years’ trend of prequels. As Lucas wrapped production on the first of his Star babies (PHANTOM MENACE), the prequel to the Superman saga, SMALLVILLE, was already on the small screen; we have seen the YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, the YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERIES, MUPPET BABIES, BEFORE THEY WERE ROCK STARS, MOVIE STARS’ HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOKS; we have even been subjected to THE THORN BIRDS: THE MISSING YEARS (did anyone even know or care?)… Now here comes the prequel-to-the-sequel of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – RED DRAGON, which is itself a remake (?!?!) of MANHUNTER…
Like Eddie van Halen before him (who did not invent fingertap, but brought it to the masses), Lucas did not invent the “prequel”, but he will be the person at whose feet will ultimately be laid the blame for the rash of impostors and wannabes that keep us rolling our eyes.
As Yoda’s last words in this film portend, “The attack of the clones… has begun!…”