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In this episode: Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones
Predictive Movie Review


Reviews On The Side is pleased to announce a new service, Predictive Movie Reviews! Based solely on trailers and overheard tidbits, our reviewer will write what he believes he will think of the movie. Will he be right? Will he be wrong? No one will know until after he actually sees the film. And that's just half the fun! Imagine if he's right and has nothing to retract after seeing the movie? Or, even more intriguingly, imagine if he gets so embarrassed by how wrong he was (as would have been the case with Spider-Man) that he ends up lying to cover up his true opinions, hiding them from the public like some kind of Bushian executive privilege? Oh, then we'll have moved far beyond the realm of fun and into the kingdom of THRILLS!

So now sit back and enjoy this completely uninformed but, we wager, fairly accurate Predictive Movie Review of...


Black Hartnett Down

Sorry I've been absent so long, folks, but I got a promotion at work and have been incredibly busy with travel and productions of all kinds. I was so busy, I couldn't even finish fixing the Reviews On The Side website after my ISP had a crash in March that rendered much of the site corrupt. (I think they ended up blaming Enron for the snafu.)

But now the site is fixed, and I thought there would be no better way to celebrate than by reviewing the newest Star Wars movie before I've even seen it. I'll see it at Fox tonight and so will be able to see how right or wrong I was, and I'll be sure to report back.

Well, what can I say? When you really, really want something to be like a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae and it turns out to be more like a freezer-burnt Drumstick, you can't help feeling anything but disappointed. But if the last ice cream treat you had was worse than even a Drumstick and tasted more like a half-chewed Tootsie Roll in a glass of chilled milk, than that Drumstick would be a nice surprise.

I wouldn't call Star Wars: Episode II—The Attack of the Phantom Menace a surprise, certainly. But it's better than Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Clone Menace. There's about 400 times more action, 400 times more special effects, and 400 times less acting. Which brings it into the realm of your average action movie straight-to-video rental.

What sucks is that Mr. Lucas has completely lost his grip on what constitutes a good movie. He has forgotten about writing, dialogue, character, emotion, and intelligence. Granted, he started forgetting those things way back during the Howard the Duck days, but to see him squeeze the Star Wars putty thorough such a mundane stencil is sad and depressing. We know Star Wars can be so much more because, God dammit, that's how it started. Instead, we are treated to visually breathtaking mundaneness.

The most unbearable part of the film is the acting and dialogue. Natalie Portman seemed talented enough before she got involved in this colorful cacophony, but now she seems like a drone. Or maybe a second-rate clone. Hayden Christensen, thankfully kicking little sucky-pants Jake Lloyd out of the Anakin role, looks like someone needs to come along in Episode III and kick his sorry-ass, sucky-pants self out of the role. Even Yoda, despite having his shackles of puppetdom broken so he can perform in brilliant 3-D computerized glory, is stiff and clone-like. And there's no New Hope in adding a greatness like Christopher Lee to the mix, because from poor direction comes poor acting. I long to see Lee in The Two Towers instead.

With this lot of wronged thespians on display, I now fully understand the source of the stupid name, Attack of the Clones.

The only guy who comes through mostly unscathed is Ewan McGregor. Like in Episode I, you can just feel Ewan squirming in his desert boots, wanting to go make another Moulin Rouge and huck this whole Star Wars thing into the spice mines of Kessel. But also like in Episode I, he actually gets something of a performance out there, making him the buoy to hold onto in the maelstrom. Despite his stupid fear of flying and his lame-ass dialogue and his costume-shop-fresh hairdo and beard thingy, Obi-Wan is a-okay in my book thanks entirely to Ewan.

Star Wars Romance? Ugh! Things aren't much better in the story department, and I wager that department was sacked and plundered by the Pink Slip Gang long ago. The mechanics of the romance between Natalie and Hayden is such a joke, you want to be sure not to be drinking anything during those scenes lest a fine spray of Mountain Dew Code Red issues from your nostrils, misting the bulky gentleman in front of you and causing you to miss the rest of the movie due to the immediacy of your need to get to the hospital. Yes, love can be funny, but not that kind of funny. The horrible romance novel poster for this movie says it all: Soft Focus! Childish Puppy Love Shenanigans! Wuvy Fwuffy Coo-Coo Talk! Good God, it's enough to make you WANT to spray that brute with Code Red to save yourself the mental pain.

One more thing regarding the story [SKIP THIS if you don't wanna know—Yes, I even have spoilers in my predictive reviews!]... Enough with the father/son thing. ENOUGH! It was surely dramatic and important when we all discovered Darth Vader was Luke's dad. And had Return of the Jedi Clones not been as mediocre as it was, the conclusion of that whole drama would have been quite moving and important. But now we have this Jango/Boba thing. Who the hell wants to think of Boba as a little kid with bad acting skills? That completely ruins the image of Boba in Empire (though actually upholds the uselessness of Boba in Jedi). I just don't think I want to see a young tyke Han Solo in Episode III. Please, God, no! Don't let it happen! I'd even take more Jar Jar than that! (I think I've just sold my soul.)

One MORE thing... If Mr. Young Darth and Ms. Young Queeny-poo end up living on Tatooine—in fact if Anakin was from there in the first place—how is it that Darth in his evil guise never thought to look for either Luke or Obi-Wan there later on? Okay, so not all the connections have been made yet, but logic is out the window with so much of this crap, and I just won't stand for it any more! I'll take action by not buying any Episode II Legos!

So George's money can't buy good writing, good directing, good story, or good acting. What it can buy is the best special effects people on the planet. For the most part, the effects in Episode II are impressively gorgeous. Since just about everything in the movie is an effect, it's important that they be done well, and they really, really are. The scale of the effort here alone is worthy of our awe, and the general quality is bang on. BUT...

...You can still tell that's a CG Jango Fett flying around. He'd look right at home with the rubbery CG Tobey Maguire Spider-Man (though Spider-Man would, in the end, kick Jango's metallic ass). You can still see the seams around the "live action" people and the virtual sets. And you can still tell, thanks to some flaws in trajectories and object physics, that this stuff is CG and not, say, models.

I wasn't completely pleased with the effects in Spider-Man, yet, thanks to the overall quality and gargantuan fun of that movie, I forgave them and enjoyed how they added to the style of the film. With something like Episode II—Attack of the Clowns, it's extremely important for the effects to look flawlessly realistic, though they populate a world of the fantastic. Therefore, when some of the effects fail, so does the movie. Since the effects are the only thing of quality going on here, they have a lot to make up for. It's not ridiculous for me to expect a lot from them.

Where the pure digitality of this movie is a plus is in digital projection. Shown in DLP, Episode II looks damn fine. There's still problems with skin tones, and the live action stuff looks kind of strange—almost mushy—but the effects look sharp (if you're not sitting so close you see the pixels) and bright. As you may or may not know, this movie was shot using digital video cameras. No film was involved. This created many problems in post when Lucas had to spend millions to make Episode II look... well, better... well, more like FILM.

I still don't think the technology is ready. Lucas is pushing very hard for theaters to install digital projection, but there are still mucho problems to fix. The resolution needs to improve. The color still needs work. And, worst of all in my mind, there is no definite standard for digital projection. DLP, by Texas Instruments, is in the lead, but there are other incompatible formats out there or soon to be released. Could you imagine if film had been handled this way? For over half a century, film has been standardized. You can put a 35mm film from 1958 in a modern 35mm movie projector and watch it. The improvements come in the film stock itself, so though newer films have much better color and grain, the format is the same. Simple! Digital projection, however, can never work that way, even if standardized. Major improvements in the digital picture will come only with a change in the format itself. How do you get rid of those annoying pixels? By creating a higher-resolution chip. Which will change the compression and resolution parameters for digital films. Which will, eventually, make older movies not work on newer projectors, like older computer software does not work on newer computers. It's a huge nightmare just waiting to happen. And I haven't even delved into the camera side of the digital movie world! Oh, things are going to get messy.

Well, that was a long to-do about much.

To wrap up, I'll briefly mention the music. It's fine, but still nothing as impressive and important as the score to The Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark (which should be re-named Indiana Jones: Episode II—The Raiders of the Lost Ark) or even Star Wars itself. John borrows themes from his earlier Star Wars scores, which I suppose is understandable, but the new stuff is pretty lacking in excitement or what those in the record industry like to call "hummability." We'll see what he does in Minority Report.

If you have any love for Star Wars at all, you'll end up seeing this in the end. And you'll think it's okay. I doubt this movie will end up being as loathed as Episode I was. I'm just glad I don't have to pay to see it later today. That means my paying for Spider-Man twice so far will help that film whomp Episode II in the record books. Nothing would make me happier than to see Spider-Man take away Episode II's thunder. I know George's skull is too thick these days for any kind of message to sink in, but for the rest of us, it would seem a mighty important message indeed if Spidey made more money than Episode II.

THANK YOU! On behalf of all of us here at Reviews On The Side, thank you for reading this Predictive Movie Review and making it a part of your day. Our reviewer will get back to you later on with his impressions after he's seen the movie. Ciao!




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©2002 Steven Lekowicz except
Star Wars: Episode II poster ©2002 Lucasfilm Ltd.