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Like a Tree
No, this isn't some Jedi metaphor that wound up on the cutting-room floor. It's how I would describe George Lucas' structure in the film. The leaves are the blowouts among droids, clones, etc. that Palpatine conjures up and manipulates to his own ends. The trunk and branches are the destruction of the Jedi and the birth of the Empire. The roots are Anakin Skywalker's betrayal of everything and everyone he loves to follow the Dark Side of the Force.
I was mostly disappointed with the 'leaves'. Not having gotten 'Clone Wars' in the mail from Netflix yet, all the battles in the first half often made me feel like I was at a sporting event where nobody had bothered to explain the rules to me. True, it was fun to pick up the references to films like 'Titanic', where the mighty vessel flips 90 degrees and they're slip-sliding away. But more often it seemed all-too-much like a sideshow, as Kenobi describes the war against the separatists (if not in those exact words). Also, George Lucas is free to use the wars of his fantasy universe as a metaphor for the actual wars of here and now. However, taking the line 'This war will be over once we capture Saddam Hussein' and replacing the last two words with 'General Grevious' is a lazy and literal-minded way of going about it.
As for the trunk and the branches, Lucas mostly gets it right. In the first two films of the new trilogy, I often thought "What are the odds that a skinny little light saber could protect you from 5 or 10 blasters at close range?" Well the odds finally caught up with the Jedi this time. Their extermination serves as a metaphor for any act of genocide throughout human history, without needing to spell it out. As for the senate caving in to Palpatine's demand to become emperor, I suppose they had the same "Go along to get along" mentality that approved of Augustus becoming dictator, and Hitler after him. My one complaint is that Palpatine's grand plan doesn't look so brilliant if his opponents are decidedly less so. I can't bring myself to fault the detective skills of the poor Jedi. So instead, I'll mention how Palpatine's toadies must have been as dumb as dirt not to realize what he meant when he said that he was sending Anakin Skywalker "to take care of you."
But as for the root of the matter, the fall of Anakin Skywalker, Lucas hits one out of the park. When Anakin envisions Padme's death in childbirth, and vows to follow the Dark Side of the Force if it means saving her life, it echoes Greek tragedy like 'Oedipus Rex'. He fulfills a prophecy precisely because he tries to prevent it (she is in perfect health, but loses the will to live after learning what heinous things he has done, supposedly, for her sake). The brief, red-tinted glimpse we get of the world through Darth Vader's eyes is chilling. I had long thought that the first words out of Darth Vader's mask would be something like "What is thy bidding, my master?" To hear Vader ask about Padme was heartbreaking, and to hear one last lie from the Emperor, that Anakin had killed her in a jealous rage, made me snarl silently at the screen.
But seeds have been planted for the future, and all the misfires of the previous two films fade from memory, when Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru take baby Luke to see his first double-sunset on Tatooine.
Independence Day (1996)
I wish I had only seen it once
I thought 'Independence Day' was hugely entertaining when I first saw it, but I find more flaws in it each time I see it again. I'll leave aside how Devlin & Emmerich thumb their noses at the laws of physics. Instead, I'll focus on three gaping plot holes, plus how the humans react to their last-gasp victory.
1) Nobody has a clue about the existence of the alien mother ship until its with spitting distance of Earth. But how could astronomers have missed an object with a mass 1/4 that of our Moon lumbering its way through the solar system? Plus, all the radio telescopes out there would have picked up that alien static well before that. 2) The nations of the earth respond to the attack by launching jet fighters. But where are the cruise missiles & bombers? You don't risk a pilot's life with one, and you get a bigger bang with the other. Not that they would have penetrated the aliens' shields either, but it looks like we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back. 3) Levinson's computer virus cripples the shields long enough for the good guys to prevail. But if the parts of a Mac & PC are incompatible, wouldn't the aliens' systems and any virus cooked up here be more so? I know its a tribute to H.G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds', where common bacteria wipes out the Martians, but that doesn't change things.
As for the ending, I now find it so hollow as to be scarier than all the sights of destruction earlier in the movie. The music swells as all the characters are beaming with pride, while looking at the ruins of one of those 15-mile wide 'city destroyers'. I think a more fitting ending would have been for the cheering to die down, and everyone to stare ahead wearily. They recall now that hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people are dead. All of the trappings of our civilization are crumpled to dust. Life will be a struggle to survive for years to come. And, perhaps, someone could voice regret that our fallen enemies could be so mentally advanced, and so morally backward.
But such an ending would not jibe with the summer popcorn flick Devlin & Emerson set out to create, I guess.
Capturing the Kerby's
I remember reading a review of "Beetlejuice" which mentioned how it was influenced by this film. Finally seeing "Topper" this weekend, after checking it out from the library on DVD, was a real let down. The Toppers were charming; it was the ghosts in this ghost story I couldn't stand. The Kerby's in life believed that the world revolved around them, and dying didn't change their world-view one bit. Cary Grant usually kept just short of smugness in his dashing performances, but not in this early role. The filmmakers even let slip a chance for a real climax. Cosmo Topper never learns that George & Marian have selfish reasons for getting him to lighten up - they think that doing so is the 'good deed' that will be their ticket to heaven. I know that its already been remade as a TV-series and made-for-TV movie, but perhaps one last take on the subject could explore that possibility.
Stating the obvious
'Network' tells a story that is eerily prophetic - a tabloid network battling the Big Three, terrorism packaged as prime-time entertainment, America's fears about where all the money is spends for Middle Eastern oil is going. But I just can't call this movie a masterpiece. Do we really need a narrator to tell us why Harold Beale had to die? Do we really need to hear Max Schumacher's monologue to see that Diana Christensen is a shallow man-eater with no comprehension of life outside of TV? The characters' actions speak for themselves. But I guess that wasn't quite good enough for Paddy Chayefsky. At moments like that he doesn't seem to be calling attention to characters' motives so much as his own screenplay. And how is that any different from editing or cinematography calling attention to itself? It isn't. Its still a story worth telling, though.
Man of Aran (1934)
Why Isn't It On Video?
I taped "Man of Aran" back in 1992 off a TV broadcast. I'm glad I still have it, because I'm certain I've never seen it on the air since. My father grew up on the smallest of the Aran Islands (hence my user ID), and I heard quite a bit about the film before finally seeing it. The baby girl in the crib, for instance, grew up to marry the brother of our one-time neighbor. Dad also assured me that Robert Flaherty didn't follow the islanders around unobtrusively with his camera, but staged all the action. Hunting sharks, for instance, may still have been done at the turn of the last century, but not by the 1930's. That same year (1992), Dad came across Robert Flaherty's daughter at an Irish festival. She mentioned that she had some unused footage from "Man of Aran" back home in New Hampshire. That would be great to see on a DVD version. Of course, who knows what kind of shape that film stock is in by now? Call it a 'documentary fantasy' if you will (which the British film magazine Sight & Sound did). To me, it will always be a powerful look at how harsh, and beautiful, it is to live off the sea.