Star Wars Prequel Blog-a-thon: Attack Of The Clones [Week 2]

Star Bores Episode II: Attack Of The Inanities. 

There is unrest in my brain. Several thousand cells have declared their intentions to rebel against the prospect of having to sit through this tripe a second time… 

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“I have a bad feeling about this…” – Obi-Wan Kenobi.  

Greetings, my young padawan! 

Here we are again, in collaboration with boxofficebuzz, on the Star Wars prequel trilogy blog-a-thon.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones is an absolutely marvellous piece of work. 

Against all odds, it managed to be EVEN MORE DETESTABLE THAN THE PHANTOM MENACE. Which, unbelievably, is quite a feat. 

Unfortunately, in my time, too many trips to the cinema turned out to be lousy and ultimately wasted days out, but, without a doubt – and, by Jove, it pains me to say this – Attack Of The Clones is one of the MOST UNDERWHELMING SF MOVIES EVER.  

So we were promised far less of that annoying Gunganso what? We were lumbered with an even greater diverse range of crud to seriously spoil our already somewhat lessened expectations…

And they made that Gungan a Senator… 

Rather than suffer through that great disturbance of a movie all over again, a few scenes were selected. What’s it like going through this material 14 years later? 

What Works (This Is Going To Be Tough):

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“You must join me, Obi-Wan, and together we will destroy the Sith! …It may be difficult to secure your release…” – Count Dooku.

First, and foremost:

If anyone could bring the required menace the Dark Side deserves, then it was the Master of Horror himself. His voice alone is tinged with “Sith Lord.” But would the character have been named “Count” if anyone other than Lee had played him…?

However, there is just one quibble that annoys me: just think of the terrifying names of some of the characters this late legend has played: Dracula! Scaramanga! Saruman! Dooku! Dooku…?! Get outta here: always sounds more like a puppet on a daytime kids TV show…

  • “You wanna buy some death-sticks?”

“You don’t want to sell me death sticks.”

“Ah, I don’t want to sell you death sticks.”

“You want to go home and rethink your life.”

“I want to go home and rethink my life.”

At this point, numb with boredom, yours truly felt like having a good chortle. As it had been so long since having a good laugh, thought it best to exercise the necessary muscles, just to see if they still worked… 

  • The lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan/Anakin/Yoda and Count Dooku: 

Distinctly remember the groovy lighting effects as Anakin fought Dooku alone in the darkness. When Yoda hobbles in, his saber flies into his hand and then – whoa! – see the pesky Little Big-Ears GO! Whoo-hoo! 

That got the biggest laugh in the cinema! Come to think of it – the only laugh…

  • Jango Fett does his blaster twirl:

The only highlight of the Geonosis arena sequence. Nice touch… 

  • Slave 1 chasing Obi-Wan through the asteroid field: 

Trying to select the outstanding scene from this Episodebelieve me, it was such a struggle. This was the first that sprang back to mind. One of the very few scenes to catch my sagging interest on that fateful sole viewing, it was amazing to see Slave 1 again and get some well-deserved action. Other than spectacular visuals – what is most impressive about this sequence are the sound effects, particularly those seismic charges. Oof, Brad digs a good seismic charge.

But hey, just this once, let’s overlook that problem of having sound effects in space at all…

Stand by!

What Doesn’t Work (How Much Time Have You Got?):

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“If you are suffering as much as I am, please, tell me” – Anakin Skywalker.  

Let’s deal with the main offender straight away: 

  • Hayden Christensen: And you thought Jake Lloyd was bad…

The inner torment, the struggle to suppress conflicted emotions, the lure of the Dark Side calls for deep, insightful drama, tackled by a fine young actor. Shame this production could produce neither…  

  • Natalie bloody Portman: (aargh! yet again!):

She turned out to be just as awful as you can imagine. This time, her “acting” (if you can call it that!) is more annoying than the script. How Padme still wants to have younglings with that whining, petulant whelp is one of modern cinema’s inexplicable quandaries…

  • That chase on Coruscant: guaranteed to give me a migraine just thinking about it… 

The worst scene ever featuring Obi-Wan is when – extremely against character – he leaps through a window, somehow grabs onto a probe and gets whisked through the busy sky-lanes of city-planet Coruscant. There then follows a quite ridiculous chase for a bounty hunter (other than Jango Fett); Anathema – ha ha! sorry! – Anakin just drops out of the speeder and – through thousands of other crafts whizzing by – somehow manages to land on precisely the one (eureka!) in which the shape-shifter is in (bollocks). It binds us, it penetrates us, etc. but no use of the Force canand should – ensure such error-free reckless daredevil antics. Suspension of disbelief, my eye…

“I hate it when he does that,” Obi-Wan complains. Funnily enough, so does Brad… 

Which brings us neatly to:

  • The Obi-Wan/Anakin “friendship”: 

Constant bickering, complaining, disagreements, and so on and and so on – sorry, but what friendship”?! Here, their incessant uneasy and turgid interaction provides anything but compelling viewing. At one point, Obi-Wan makes a remark about “falling into that nest of Gundarks.” Yeah, why couldn’t we watch that instead? Sounds infinitely more intriguing than the drivel we had to sit through… 

Whenever hearing Alec Guinness say: “And he was a good friend,” all one can do now is cringe… 

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“We’ll have to try something more subtle this time…” – Jango Fett. 

  • Obi-Wan’s fight with Jango Fett: Should be in the What Works column – but, hey! – isn’t…

Was really looking forward to this – a classic showdown between two of the saga’s greatest assets! In the end, however, it turned out to be flat and forgettable. This serves as a sad reminder that whatever talents Lucas had as a Director, they had well and truly dried up by this time. Also, his writing here was particularly poor, most notably in:  

  • The “romance”:

Such a catastrophic failure, considering how pivotal the love between Anakin and Padme is supposed to be at this stage in the saga. Banal dialogue and atrocious acting merge to create such mediocre viewing, it’s almost painful. Add that awful WTF moment in which Anakin tries balancing on the back of some wild quadroped-thing and the psychological damage cannot be undone…

What a waste, considering how epic John Williams’ sweeping score: Across The Stars (Anakin and Padme’s Theme) turned out to be.

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“Kin chasa du Jedi. No bata tu tu” – Watto.

  • THIS THING!!

Whatever it is, this ugly brute symbolises the tedium of the whole Geonosis arena sequence – quite possibly the most un-Star Wars scene imaginable. Did anyone thrill to the sight of (ahem) Padme riding some giant lizard, pulling along a wheelless chariot in which her beloved is fending off insectoids with his lightsaber? Ha, thought not… 

  • The Battle of Geonosis: 

This should have been awesome, but instead – addled with copious dollops of CGI – it looks shallow, too artificial – nothing more than a video game. Sure, we get to see other Jedis, but really, blink and you miss them; they show up merely to promote their own individual action figure (methinks somewhat cynically). Considering the substantial budget, the field of marauding battle-droids and sci-fi war machines look decidedly amateurish and anything but exciting. 

Last, and by all means least…

  • The script: Let’s get this out of the way… 

It is appalling how this damning fault from the first Episode was never rectified and allowed to grind on, ruining this second instalment as well. The “story,” perhaps easier to follow than its predecessor, still fails to engage. It’s not helped in any way by the stream of incomprehensible events that litter the screen.

Where was Lawrence Kasdan when we needed him?! 

*

We will stagger regardless to the third and – thankfully – final episode in this shoddy trilogy in the next Post (“He doesn’t seem to take a hint this guy!”). 

Hopefully, my life, limbs – and sanity – will still be intact once this challenge is done. 

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May The Force Make It All Go Away…

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Fifty Years On Arrakis: The Source Of The Spice

The spice exists on only one planet in the entire universe, a desolate dry planet. 

The planet is Arrakis, also known as Dune.

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“Deep in the human unconsciousness is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic” – Frank Herbert. 

“These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave,” Frank Herbert – then a freelance writer concentrating on ecological matters – stated in one article pitch during 1959. He was referring to the sand dunes of Florence, Oregon, and the relentless way they shifted eastwards, “pushed by strong winds off the Pacific.” 

His interest in this topic led to research into deserts and desert cultures, eventually inspiring him to draft two short novels, serialised in Analog Science Fact & Fiction. He later reworked the material into a single volume, which has led some critics – even this year: the fiftieth anniversary of its initial publication – hailing it as the finest science fiction novel of all time.

In the far future – the actual year consists of five digits – Arrakis is the only known planet to produce the most precious substance in the universe: the spice melange. 

The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.

It also induces an “enhanced space-time perception”; aliens known as the Guild Navigators use the orange spice gas to fold space, thus travelling to any point in the universe without moving. 

It is highly addictive, capable – after ingestion – of turning the eyes of any user a deep blue. Spice mining comes with the major hazard of attracting colossal sandworms about several hundred metres in length. This most prized commodity is integral in maintaining the transport, supply and communication networks of Shaddam IV’s Empire. 

Paul Atreides: son of Duke Leto of the House of (the somewhat-Homeric) Atreides turns out to be their messianic leader: Muad’Dib, as foretold in ancient prophecies. Endeavouring to irrigate the deserts and regenerate the planet’s life-system, he sets out with his band of Fremen warriors – an indigenous nomadic race – to halt all spice production on Arrakis. 

Essentially, Herbert was promoting environmental awareness long before it ensnared mainstream sensitivities.

DUNE VI by HR Giger
DUNE VI by HR Giger
Character designs for Jodorowsky's Dune, created by French artist: Moebius.
Character designs for Jodorowsky’s Dune, created by French artist: Moebius.

“The way in which ecological relationships are made to stand for supernatural ones makes Dune one of the archetypal examples of fashionable ecological mysticism, and this may help to explain its great popularity” – Brian Stableford. 

There are strong hints of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars fantasies and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga, as well as touches of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman space operas in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Having studied Jung, Herbert met, in 1960, Alan Watts, a prominent advocate of Zen philosophy. “Long conversations” ensued. The basic sci-fi premise, distant in both time and space, gradually appropriated deeper, temporal, psychological and spiritual dimensions.

At some point this Winter, one challenge on my list is to watch Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013): a critically acclaimed documentary about the greatest SF cinema masterpiece never made. It would have made for a formidable production: both HR Giger and Moebius provided concept art; Orson Welles and Salvador Dali were persuaded to take prominent roles; and Pink Floyd would provide the soundtrack. 

Instead, we have David Lynch’s opus, (in)famous primarily for dividing critics and fans. Having completed a version several hours in length, the producer Dino De Laurentis wanted it cut down to just two. Lynch baulked at the idea and protested to have his name removed from the final print. Some regard this huge box office disaster as the Worst Film of 1984. 

No matter what the detractors of Lynch’s film might say about it, its visual effects – particularly its assortment of matte paintings – creature and costume design, some ornate sets, plus Lynch’s own distinctive surreal touches, make it, for me, a quite engaging spectacle.

It is ironic to think that not only did Jodorowsky’s Dune fail to get off the ground, but the original Dune novel almost never materialised at all neither! Firstly, 400 pages in Hardback, and then a whopping great flopping paperback tome of 900 pages, this is when publishing houses preferred brevity above all.  Nevertheless, it won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. 

Not surprisingly, Herbert had to deal with twenty rejections before his hefty manuscript was eventually accepted in 1965 by Chilton, a Philadelphia-based trade and hobby magazines publisher – home of the unsurpassable Dry Goods Economist(!)

A HD still from the 1984 film, featuring one of Albert Whitlock's finest matte paintings.
A HD still from the 1984 film, featuring one of Albert Whitlock’s finest matte paintings.

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“Paul Atreides is a young white man who fulfils a persistent colonial fantasy, that of becoming a God-king to a tribal people. Herbert’s portrayal of the ‘Fremen’ owes much to TE Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger’s enthusiastic portrayals of the Bedouin of Arabia’s Empty Quarter” – Hari Kunzru. 

In my horde of dust-gathering SF novels, there is Children of Dune, the third volume in the series, which just happened to be (back then) a rather laborious slog. It had failed to inspire me to read the original, but now – in this half-century anniversary year, and now blessed with a more sensible stock of patience and maturity – it would be appropriate to finally catch up with it, and assess for myself whether the “greatest SF novel ever” tag is warranted.

Herbert’s incorporation of Bedouin traits into the Fremen culture – even the use of such terms as razzia, bourka robes and jihad – holds more potency now in 2015 than it ever did in 1965. 

On a personal level, there is something irresistible about desert planets in sci-fi. Perhaps Tatooine in Star Wars – blatantly inspired by Arrakis – got there first. Look at Uncle Owen’s moisture farm: ripped straight from Herbert’s ecological leanings. The desolate terrains vividly – and colourfully – designed by such iconic artists as Eddie Jones and Peter Andrew Jones remain particular favourites. Yet no matter how individualistic those visions were, there is something about these desert scenes that will always link back psychologically to Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

In the original novel, the First Planetologist of Dune, named Kynes (incidentally the main protagonist of the very first draft) pondered this:

“Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase… The question is not how many can possibly survive within [the planetary ecosystem], but what kind of existence is possible for those who survive?”  

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