STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: What must be the most complexly plotted of any film series gets a new chapter. SW-II seems to be the most complex STAR WARS film so far. It busily knits up loose ends preparing the way for the last piece to neatly fit in place. Many things are happening at once as Obi-wan goes in one direction uncovering conspiracies to control the future and Anakin completes unfinished business from his past. Certainly the film is a mixed bag, but there is ample that is rewarding to make this film worth seeing. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
Perhaps the biggest fault of the George Lucas's STAR WARS series is what once was its greatest virtue. Every new episode has to demonstrate how much the art of graphics has improved. Some of the images that he creates in this film are so complex they could never have been accomplished three years ago when the last episode was released. It could well be that he is pushing the art farther than it really should go. In STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, he now has so many elements combined in a single frame that the eye has trouble taking them all in. Some of his images are needlessly complex and confusing because he is demonstrating as much as he can, not as much as he should. The intricate hugely layered views of Coruscant at night make one long for the simple images of one or two dinosaurs one would find in an old Ray Harryhausen film. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the technology has far surpassed the Harryhausen level. George Lucas did not invent digital graphics, but his films certainly opened up the field. His STAR WARS series is taking so long to come out that now the use of the digital graphics that he pioneered is already considered cheap artificial effects that have a bad reputation. Still, every new film he makes in the series breaks new ground, and by now it may be more ground than was needed to be broken.
That is not the only way Lucas has been experimental by any means. He has convinced the world that to do a major series like STAR WARS out of chronological order is actually possible. But he has not shown that it is a good idea. In his Indiana Jones series he found he could not keep making Harrison Ford a younger man each successive film. In the STAR WARS series he faces different problems. Everyone--at least every fan--knows how the series is going to end and that the second half of the story is less spectacular than the first half. Will Obi-wan die in this fight? No, we have already seen that he lives to be an old man. By examining ATTACK OF THE CLONES and A NEW HOPE we already know a great deal of what has to happen in the one remaining film. There are far more plot requirements on the next STAR WARS film than on, say, the next James Bond film. All that is required of the next Bond film is that it has to be reasonably entertaining. Lucas has set himself more stringent goals and surprisingly he generally is able to achieve those goals.
So what is the current story? It begins with an attempt on the life of formerly Princess but now Senator Amidala (again played by Natalie Portman). Obi-wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen) try to guard her, but a second assassination attempt ends in an incredible (but not necessarily good) mid-air chase high, high above the BLADERUNNER-inspired streets of Coruscant. A clue left at the scene sends Obi-wan off looking for planet that no longer seems to exist to find a very real conspiracy that is quite literally hatching. In his absence Anakin goes off to Tatooine to tie up the largest remaining loose end in his short screen life. Along the way several pieces fall into place from other stories. We learn more about how Luke Skywalker will come to be on his moisture farm. We see why the schism is forming between Anakin and the Jedi. There is even some explanation of why go from robotic troopers to what might seem like lower-tech humans that we see in the 1977 film. This is a film that might not stand well on its own, but it offers plenty to followers of the series.
While George Lucas, who once again wrote and directed, is a visionary filmmaker, he is not necessarily a great director. He does not always seem to know the difference between a good line- reading and a bad one. While there are instances of some very good acting in the films, they generally are there because he has actors like Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee. These are actors who are well-known because they can provide a good performance. Frequently a lesser character delivers a line that gets by with a terrible and flat delivery. The director should have caught it, but has not. Of course, it is not clear that any actor could give lines like "You are in my very soul tormenting me" a believable delivery. But the actors who are really professionals manage to compensate for the over-tolerant director. In order for a love relationship like the one in this film to work, the viewer must understand what each person sees in the other. The chemistry is just not there between Padme and Anakin. Natalie Portman is attractive, as I suppose is Hayden Christensen, but their love scenes come off stilted and cold. There just is no chemistry between them. On the other hand, a little more reserve in the Jar-Jar Binks character in this film is more than welcome. I give Lucas credit that he did not simply read the fans' opinions and decide to eliminate Jar-Jar. He even has a return of Watto the junk dealer. The Empire should be a democracy, but a film production needs to be a dictatorship.
Visually much more of this film is more dark and murky than previous films have been. This may be to cover loss of resolution Lucas expected transferring from a film shot digitally to a film print. Much of the effects of the film, like the circus of images in the complex cityscapes, are covered by a curtain of night. The darkness only serves to make the complex images more confusing. John Williams musical score has a lot of retread to it, but he has written a very nice love theme.
Like many very talented people, George Lucas does not always recognize his limitations. This tends to make films of mixed quality. Still, there is always enough that is excellent to make them worth seeing. There is enough here that I thought was good to give the film a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. Mark R. Leeper email@example.com Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper
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