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SFFH in Film, TV, and other NonTextual Media

Friday 31 May 2002

§ What Lawrence Kasdan -- screenwriter for The Empire Strikes Back -- thinks about his work with George Lucas.

Q: Because "The Empire Strikes Back" has become such a clear-cut favorite among critics and fans, I've seen writers give Brackett credit for its dark emotional crosscurrents and humor, because they know Brackett wrote the scripts for "The Big Sleep" and "Rio Bravo."

A: Look, there's no question that Leigh Brackett was one of the great screenwriters of all time. But it was an odd job for her, and there's nothing of that draft left in "Empire."

Not to say it's all me. The truth is these movies are all George. I wouldn't say that of "Raiders," but I would say that of the "Star Wars" movies. He has the stories in mind and the difference in each film is how they're executed.

George had hired Leigh the way anyone would--because, oh my God, she's Leigh Brackett, and because he wanted a Hawksian, goading humor between Han Solo and Princess Leia. But Leigh couldn't serve George the way he wanted to be served. Out of all our respect for her, she was always going to get a credit for the movie.

§ Salon salutes Star Wars -- the original 1977 film -- as a masterpiece.

[O]ne of the biggest keys to "Star Wars": Lucas' genius for balancing the solemnity of its classic good-vs.-evil struggle with an enthusiastic embrace of innocent goofiness. The dialogue and bland anti-intellectualism may seem embarrassingly trite at times; during production Ford famously said to Lucas, "George, you can type this shit, but you sure can't say it." But ultimately, criticizing this movie's dialogue is like saying "Annie Hall" doesn't have enough action sequences, or "Schindler's List" doesn't have enough romance. The dialogue succeeds in diffusing a story that might otherwise take itself too seriously. Lucas knew what he was doing when he wrote cheesy lines like Luke's famous bellyache to Uncle Owen after being commanded to do his chores: "But I was going in to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters!" It's a way of ensuring that the somber weight of this galactic struggle doesn't suffocate us...

Friday 24 May 2002

§ What Patrick Nielsen Hayden thinks about Clones.

Attack of the Clones is an intelligent, well-considered, complex, and artful piece of work that keeps being mysteriously interrupted by actual human actors wandering into the screen and speaking terrible lines of dialogue.

§ Patrick Goldstein thinks Seclusion Has Left Lucas Out of Touch. (Echoing John Shirley's review at points.)

What has drained the new movies of their magic? Sad to say, the fault lies not in the stars, but with their creator.

Lucas should never have directed the movies himself. After "Phantom Menace" arrived with a thud, the filmmaker's defenders said he was simply rusty--he hadn't directed a movie since the original "Star Wars." Things would be better next time. Well, they aren't. Like its predecessor, "Clones" is missing what we crave from great films--vibrant storytelling, narrative clarity, compelling drama and good acting (with exemptions granted to Ewan McGregor and Christopher Lee).


Lucas works in seclusion. Whatever feedback he receives is from friends and underlings, not peers. No one seems to deliver bad news. He told reporters recently that problems with "Phantom Menace" were "totally in the media [and] not based on fact.... I wouldn't change anything about it."

It's telling that Lucas appeared shocked that people took offense to "Phantom Menace's" Jar Jar Binks, the bumbling animated character who sounds like a Jamaican resort pool boy. Lucas dismissed the charges of racial stereotyping as "ridiculous" and blamed them on newspaper stories, saying none of his black friends had taken offense.

Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2002 [requires registration]

Thursday 23 May 2002


§ Images of robotic drones in Attack of the Clones are bound to color public discussion of cloning, and stem-cell research, says Matthew Nisbet.

Our analysis finds that in association with a sharp rise in media attention, the use of dramatic storytelling themes also increased markedly, with a quarter of all stem-cell-related articles in 2001 featuring some reference to science fiction, popular culture, or historical metaphor. Moreover, the media framed coverage predominantly in terms of political strategy and conflict. ...

By discussing cloning and biotech research in terms of Frankenstein, mad scientists, or Brave New World, cloning opponents emphasize certain dimensions of the issue over others, limiting debate to terms that marshal support for their position.

The American Prospect, 5.15.02

§ What Bruce Sterling thinks about Attack of the Clones.

"Star Wars" is women's romance, action-adventure, a Western, a mystery, horror, fantasy and occultism — all at once. It's a mongrel host of alien traditions under one sleek industrial facade. You just can't get more American. ...

"Star Wars" is like science fiction, but freed of the future. And yet it is America, all over: flaming, tumbling aircraft; huge enterprises collapsing before they're built; earnest, rich young princesses pretending to be democrats; a corrupt and inept Senate. As entertainment, it's full-speed sideways into a fun-house mirror, as Mr. Lucas's youthful aspiration is methodically replaced by an endless, brilliant, consumerized torrent of guns, gowns, clones and plastic figurines.

— Op-Ed, New York Times, May 15, 2002

Friday 17 May 2002

Skiffy Flix

§ Early reviews of Attack of the Clones were so negative that David Edelstein of Slate felt compelled to offer some defense.

Cut it some slack—it's almost a real movie! ... It seems to me a tolerable night out once you accept that: a) the storytelling is hopeless; b) the Flash Gordon giddiness of the first Star Wars trilogy is long gone, replaced by turgid pageantry tricked to life with gargantuan amounts of computer-generated busyness; and c) George Lucas is trying to be Japanese.

§ But Salon's Stephanie Zacharek isn't having any of it.

What no one wants to admit is that modern fantasies like TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books have rendered the ever-more-convoluted machinations of the "Star Wars" franchise irrelevant. (I'd also argue that the first installment of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" series stole the thunder of "Attack of the Clones" months in advance.) Both "Buffy" and the Harry Potter books relate directly to real life, instead of taking place in a sterile, self-contained universe. Both have done a much better job than the "Star Wars" series of creating a rich and complex mythology and, most important of all, they've given us characters we genuinely want to care about.

§ Roger Ebert, meanwhile, is still hung up on the digital projection.

Sunday I was able to see the digital version, and Lucas is right: "Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones" is sharper, crisper, brighter and punchier on digital than on film. This will come as melancholy news, I suppose, to the vast majority of fans destined to see the movie through a standard film projector.

It is important to understand that "Episode II" is essentially an animated film with humans added to it. This is the flip side of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which was a live-action film with cartoon characters laid on top. Most of the non-human screen images on "Episode II," and some of the characters (Yoda, Jar-Jar Binks), are created entirely by computers. Even in scenes dominated by humans, the backgrounds and locations are often entirely computer-generated. Whether this is an advance is debatable.

§ Over at The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last takes the films seriously enough to analyze their political underpinnings.

The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good. ... [T]he most compelling evidence that the Empire isn't evil comes in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: "There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy." It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.

§ Moving on, Wired magazine's profile and interview of Steven Spielberg suggests that he's finally turning to his dark side, with his adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story in Minority Report.

There are certain technologies that scare me because I don't think I'm very good at them. For instance, programming a computer. I can get on AOL, and that's about it. But I'm a gameplayer as you know. So I play games and I can navigate any game narrative. I stick with it for four or five days, if it's compelling, until I get to the end. Sometimes I'll play eight-hour days - which my wife hates. But since I've got my kids in the room, we are having a shared experience. And I have to have the mouse, or the keyboard. I have to control the joystick.

Friday 10 May 2002

Skiffy Flix

§ The first reviews of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones [official site] do not bode well for those hoping for an improvement over the previous film...

A.O. Scott, The New York Times:

[W]hile "Attack of the Clones" is many things — a two-hour-and-12-minute action-figure commercial, a demo reel heralding the latest advances in digital filmmaking, a chance for gifted actors to be handsomely paid for delivering the worst line readings of their careers — it is not really much of a movie at all, if by movie you mean a work of visual storytelling about the dramatic actions of a group of interesting characters.
Roger Ebert, who gave Phantom Menace 3 1/2 stars, gives this one 2 in Chicago Sun-Times:
The first hour of "Episode II" contains a sensational chase through the skyscraper canyons of a city, and assorted briefer shots of space ships and planets. But most of that first hour consists of dialogue, as the characters establish plot points, update viewers on what has happened since "Episode I," and debate the political crisis facing the Republic. They talk and talk and talk. And their talk is in a flat utilitarian style: They seem more like lawyers than the heroes of a romantic fantasy.
The Hollywood trades were split in their judgments, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Patrick Lee's review for Science Fiction Weekly, already posted here, gives it a B+.

Slate summarizes:

Dreadful early reviews for the most anticipated movie of the year.

April Media Refractions

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