Thursday, January 29, 2009

Episode 17: The Phantom Rated R

A sort time ago, in an apartment very, very late at night. . .

Ta-Da! It's episode 17. This week we bring you the first of our monthly Star Wars discussions with Steve from Geek Out Loud! There was so much to talk about that this episode got rather lengthy, but we had a ton of fun recording and hope you enjoy listening.

TV week: Gossip Girl, Supernatural, BSG, Flashpoint, Bones

Music used this week:
"No You Don't" by Pat Benatar
"Queen Amidala; The Naboo Palace" by John Williams
"Get Back" by Demi Lovato
"TV Land" by Superchick

1 comments:

NoelCT February 11, 2009 at 1:00 AM  

I'm sorry, but I still can't stand PHANTOM MENACE. I was floored by the awesomeness of the teaser trailer and was jumping with anticipation as the weeks slipped by. But as I was leaving the theater on opening night at age 17, I could barely contain my disappointment. Sure there were stunning visual, the basic story was sound, half the cast was great, and some of the themes and concepts were fantastic, but it was sloppy. That right there is the word I use to describe the entire prequel trilogy. Sloppy.

Let's start with the Trade Federation. I actually quite like the idea of a corporate conglomerate stepping in to support the governments of worlds, only to overthrow and enslave them. Unfortunately, instead of visualizing the organization through calculating, nefarious individuals, all we get are the Neimodians, who offer no presence, no depth, no sense of threat beyond their "comically" inept battle droids, and shuffle about like uncertain 6-year-olds who just lost sight of their moms at the department store.

And why would they attack Naboo? It's an obviously wealthy planet with a stable government and a good degree of support in the senate, so it doesn't make sense that the Trade Federation would take such a risk, even at the insistence of Darth Sidious. A rural, unstable world like Tatooine would be a far more likely target and I can think of a dozen ways to easily resculpt the story in this direction, with the Trade Federation being responsible for putting the Hutts in power.

Now, on to the two things Steve says were the primary complaints.

Jar Jar was awful. Not just because he was overly cartoony, not just because he was a failed attempt to once again mimic the "peasant's point of view" Lucas lifted from Kurosawa for the portrayal of the droids in A NEW HOPE, but mainly because, as Steve was quick to point out, he serves no purpose to the story. He's a totally peripheral character who never once steps forward to offer a justification for his presence. I think this could easily have been alleviated had they left the Gungan city unseen until later in the story, thus building up his identity as an exile (which he can use to bond with the uprooted Anakin) and allowing us to stretch out his hesitation to once again set foot in his homeland, a fear he overcomes as he takes action and saves the day.

And eliminate the giant fish scene. It's beautiful, it's funny, but what does it offer to the story? In EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the asteroid beast was merely a funny capper to a genuine plot point. Here, the monsters are just a few minutes of unnecessary screen time keeping our characters from getting to their destination.

And then there's Jake Lloyd as Anakin. I don't think he's a bad actor. Pretty decent for a kid, actually, and he has a nice screen presence. Unfortunately, just as with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, he doesn't have enough range to overcome the stiffness of the dialogue. Actors like Neeson, McGregor, and McDiarmid have a depth to their skill that allows them to work around and overcome such limiting material, but the others were hopelessly lost as they stumbled all over it.

And, no, I didn't have a problem with Darth Vader starting out as a good kid. The ideas behind that thread were actually quite nice and I like how it's the treatment he receives from the Jedi Order and Obi-Wan, more than anything, that sets him down the dark road. There's a realistic sense of irony to that which I quite enjoy, much like Lucas mostly redeeming Jar Jar down the road by having his vote be the one to put weapons in Palpatine's hands.

There were other issues I had with the plotting and specific scenes, but I don't want to drone on and on. What did I like?

The design of the film was superb, offering a richness and variety that almost put the spartan original trilogy to shame. Though I still think Lucas got lazy with flat, boring cinematography, the content of the images was often striking. And one thing I'll always credit Lucas for is his editing. Though I think his plotting got wonky, each scene was cut beautifully and paced to perfection, the thrilling podrace being the best example.

That huge swordfight between the Jedi and Maul was amazing. Even though I groaned every time they cut away to the bland palace assault or Anakin's ridiculous jaunt in the fighter, that swordfight had me on the edge of my seat. Not only through the choreography or the striking design of Maul, but even little moments, like Qui-Gon dropping into meditation when the walls cut him of, while Maul stalks back and forth like a hungry wolf. And "Duel of the Fates" is easily my favorite piece of orchestral music, in my book topping even the greatest from Gershwin and Wagner.

So, yes, there are things I like, I just thought it could have been pulled of with far more skill than we saw. And Steve, to say this was just because I couldn't look at it with the eyes of a child is a bit insulting. As colorful as they are, the original trilogy still (mostly) holds up when looked at with adult eyes, so why should I expect any less than the same here? Films are only truly great if they can be viewed by everyone, not just those of a specific age or mindset.

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I listened all the way to the end. Do I still get a cookie? ;)

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