16 May 2005

A Turn to the Dark Side

Perhaps the most damning part of A.O. Scott's review of George Lucas's latest attempt to provide a base for all that merchandise is the opening of the fifth "paragraph":

To be sure, some of the shortcomings of Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002) are still in evidence, and Mr. Lucas's indifference to two fairly important aspects of moviemaking — acting and writing — is remarkable.

"Some Surprises in That Galaxy Far, Far Away" (16 May 2005) (typography corrected). The real surprise is that Scott considers this the best of the four SW films Lucas has directed. OK, admittedly that includes the first two in this trilogy… but his approval is more than just lukewarm. Excuse me, but when two of the three legs of a film (the third being production values, the one area in which Lucas admittedly has more than a bit of skill) reflect "indifference," how does one give it such a strong review? Is it, perhaps, a residual desire to be on the right side of the box office for a change?

Roger Ebert should be secure enough to challenge that particular problem, but he doesn't. Although he observes that

To say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion. The dialogue throughout the movie is once again its weakest point: The characters talk in what sounds like Basic English, without color, wit or verbal delight, as if they were channeling Berlitz.

he still gives the film a high rating. Perhaps Ebert's closing note tells more than one might wish:

I said this is not necessarily the last of the "Star Wars" movies. Although Lucas has absolutely said he is finished with the series, it is inconceivable to me that 20th Century-Fox will willingly abandon the franchise, especially as Lucas has hinted that parts VII, VIII and IX exist at least in his mind. There will be enormous pressure for them to be made, if not by him, then by his deputies.

What this really says is: We know this film is going to make gobs of money and be loved by many uncritically. We'd bloody well better not thoroughly trash it, or nobody will pay attention to us.

To put it another way, what these (and several other) critics do is point out that the Emperor's new clothes are see-through rags, but that he does have nice muscle definition. Since this is pre-caffeine, I can get away with musing about the apparent marriage of steroids and film…

I won't be spending my money on a film that two critics of such widely divergent backgrounds and approaches both condemn for weak writing. Ebert, unusually for him, doesn't comment much on acting skills. If you want to see these actors at their best, stick to Closer or The Professional for Natalie Portman, Trainspotting for Ewan McGregor, and The Lord of the Rings for Christopher Lee. If you want to see well-scripted science fiction, stick to Brazil, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Aliens. There's lots of eye candy out there in science fiction film. For whatever reason, though, combining these three aspects seems beyond Hollywood's capability in a science fiction film to date.