Sunday, April 6, 2014

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones


I had a piece of good news today. Joseph, my manager, has secured the services of Olivia Newton-John as Amneris in my new production of Aida on Ice. He thinks she'll be perfect for the part and, with her roller boogie Xanadu background, picking up the skating should be a breeze for her. I hear she's Australian which means she probably speaks at least some English; that will be a nice change from my Rhadames, Andrea Boccelli. He's very pleasant, if somewhat vague and very bad about eye contact.  I also can't understand a word he says. I knew I should have paid more attention in Latin class.

I spent the day rehearsing my flying trapeze entrance into the tomb scene. I, as Aida, come flying out of the wings in a splits position, enhanced by Bob Mackie's lovely lavender body stocking with the contrasting fuchsia sequin trim, and am caught by Rhadames; then we're slowly lowered together into the tomb while singing our last duet. Peter, my trapeze professional, has been standing in for Andrea as the catcher while we get the kinks worked out and the moment is now perfect and will be an absolute knock out under the strobe lights.

Feeling much better about the progress of the show, I called my dear friend Nurse Lynn and off we went for a late supper and then to the local Cineplex for this summer's latest event movie, George Lucas's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I have long been a fan of the Star Wars franchise, ever since I did a cameo in the cantina scene of the original film. I'm the one that looks like a large furry owl. We filmed an extended tap sequence for that character and Han Solo but it was cut for reasons of time. I, like legions of other fans, was breathless with anticipation when Lucas announced his trilogy of prequels and underwhelmed by the first new film, The Phantom Menace which appeared in the summer of 1999.

Lucas continues his saga in Attack of the Clones. It's ten years after the events of The Phantom Menace and young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), the future Darth Vader, has spent the interim training as a Jedi knight under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). As the film opens, Amidala (Natalie Portman), former queen of Naboo (apparently it's an elective, rather than a hereditary office - although it seems strange that a planet would select adolescent girls as their supreme rulers) is now the senator from Naboo to the vast republican senate. Shadowy forces are trying to assassinate her and Anakin is assigned to return to Naboo and protect her while Obi-Wan chases the would be assassin, bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temeura Morrison).

Anakin and Amidala quickly fall in love in some lovely pre-Raphaelite pastoral scenes when their idyll is interrupted by a disturbance in his Jedi senses caused by his mother, so off the pair go to the desert planet of Tatooine where events lead to the first hints of the dark side of Anakin's nature. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan finds himself visiting a number of Giacometti statues who are creating an army of clones for the Republic. His further pursuit of Jango finds him in the lair of the villainous Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a separatist with an army of droids who is in league with the goggle-eyed trade federation baddies from the first film. Eventually, there's some political skullduggery in the senate, in which the ridiculous Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is an unwilling dupe and most of the cast ends up in a giant arena battle with droids and Jedi and clones all mixing it up together.

There is much to like in the film. Lucas and his art department have created one ravishing visual setting after another. He cleverly mixes real locations, such as Italy's Lake Como, with digital effects to create splendid new worlds. Even the humblest of interiors have been shot with a painterly eye and the film has an incredible sheen. John Williams' score, with its now familiar themes, also helps tie the story together and foreshadows what we know will come in the future with the original trilogy. Some of the action sequences such as a speeder chase through the capital city, a fight in the droid factory, and the final confrontations in the arena are masterfully put together. Some of the arena battle looks lifted from Gladiator but if you're going to steal, you might as well steal from something that works.

On the other hand, lovely pictures do not a film make. Lucas, who scripted along with Jonathan Hales, may love his characters and know them intimately, but he sure has no idea of how to put playable lines into their mouths. Normally good actors, like McGregor and Portman are all at sea. Mr. McGregor's whiny petulance eventually wears rather thin - it's as if George told him he wouldn't split the profits from his action figure and Ewan's trying to get even. Portman fares a bit better - she tries, but it's hard to take much she says seriously in Trisha Biggar's bizarre wardrobe. As for Hayden Christensen, making his debut in the central role, he is an improvement on Jake Lloyd's notoriously bad child Anakin from the first film. That's not saying much. He pouts his lips, squints his eyes and delivers all his lines with the conviction of the high school jock in a small role in the senior class play. He also wears more eye makeup than Cleopatra but that's neither here nor there. The film only really comes alive in the final third, when Christopher Lee shows up as the villainous Count Dooku. Mr. Lee, who looks sensational for eighty, brings the necessary brio to the film. He's the only actor who senses that this is old fashioned melodrama and he modulates his performance exquisitely to the level of the material.

The film is marred by some poor directorial choices as well. Lucas has never been the most gifted of directors and here, he seems unable to tell when to cut a scene or how to keep the film moving. Despite all the action sequences, the film drags painfully in sections and feels at least fifteen minutes too long. There are far too many unnecessary moments of exposition, usually there to demonstrate some neat visual effect, and even the action sequences could have been trimmed for a higher level of tension.

On the whole, the film is enjoyable, but a disappointment. I didn't leave the theater with the feeling of elation that I felt after Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back. On the other hand, it's better than The Phantom Menace and I've seen much worse action/popcorn flicks.

Poisonous centipedes. Gratuitous uncredited Jimmy Smits. Holographic billboards. Antismoking moment. Meadow rolling. Sand dune rolling. Clone mess hall. Travel stained C-3PO. Exploding asteroids. Gratuitous Jawa silhouettes. Perils of Pauline factory sequence.

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