Friday, February 10, 2012

Episode 1 - The 3D Menace.

It would be remiss of me to come home after watching The Phantom Menace and not put finger to key in order to tell you what I thought of it in the off-chance that at least three other people will read my words, so here are my thoughts.

Firstly, if you hate the prequel trilogy, episode 1, Jar Jar, post-conversion 3D, then don't go.

Definitely don't go if all you are going to do afterwards is wheel out the same tired old complaints that George Lucas has raped your childhood (in 3D), that he should stop fiddling with the work, that the film is a CG smorgasbord of crap, yadda yadda.
I'm terribly, terribly bored of listening to folks bitch about the film(s).

So, the lights dimmed, the 20th Century Fox Logo started, and I got a little choked up.
It's really hard to describe to someone who is not as immersed in this whole 'saga' as I am (and many more of my generation) the feeling you get from watching the films. Star Wars was a huge event in my life, I was 10 when the first one was released, and has been in my life ever since, influencing career choices, leading to marriage, creating circles of companionship I will treasure forever. In fact it is much like religion, but a lot easier to justify.

The Lucasfilm logo looked lovely in 3D, as did the opening crawl and the interior of the Councillor  ship being piloted by that girl from The Commitments. In fact, in general, the 3D wasn't too bad. On the sliding scale of post-converted 3D films, TPM was more Alice in Wonderland than Clash of the Titans. Of course, it was nowhere near as nice as a film actually filmed using 3D cameras, and I must admit that I was pulled out of the film on a couple of occasions (not hard to do) when some of the 3D effects didn't quite work, or worked too well.

The opening scenes on the Fed ship were very nice, as were the closing scenes of mayhem with lightsabers and other acts of nefarious doppelganging. However, scenes where the technique fell flat (pun intended) included all of the Naboo swamp/forest ones, as organic shapes really do not work as well as geometric ship and building interiors. Also, surprisingly, I found the podrace a little lackluster. There were too many 'fuzzy' shots of Anakin which felt like the whole process wasn't working, or the focus was on the wrong elements in the frame. Sadly, Bode and Feed (the announcer for those of you that are not as geeky as moi), was super-sharp and multi-layered - too multi-layered in my opinion. Take my word for it - check out the TV screens surrounding the announcer booth - there's some serious 1-dimensionality right there.

Having moaned a little bit, I really should add that Liam Neeson looks magnificent in 3D - it's as if the technique was developed just for ol' wolf-puncher.

Let's be honest here, TPM isn't the best film in the saga. It is the worst one by a long shot, and I really don't need to watch it in its entirety ever again. Of course I will, when my boy is old enough, but I'll probably doze off during the talky bits. However, the production design alone is worth it - I adore the look of the Naboo starfighters, the pilots' costumes,  the Queen's ship, the Bongo, Darth Maul and Sebulba. The sound design is pretty terrific (my silly cinema didn't have it cranked up enough for my liking) but, on the music front, this is not my favorite John Williams score, and I find the continuous music in the background a bit superfluous.

For some reason I was really aware of the pauses between dialogue - it really did need a bit of tightening up in the editing room - and only served to heighten the stiffness of the proceedings. In fact, for the first time it felt a little like watching a stage play, and the planes of scenery in each shot only reinforced this. Look out for this around Theed Palace, you'll see what I mean.

At the end of the day, I found myself sitting through the film, rather than enjoying the film, but with this one out the way we can look forward to the future releases. The space battle alone hinted at the wonders to come (it was very effective, by the way).

Should you go? If you love the saga with a passion, have a kid who hasn't seen it on the big screen, or you are a completist, then yes.
If none of the above, then no.

Hey, if it makes enough money, then we might get the TV show a bit sooner :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – The Musings of the Modern Yoot.

With the advent of the 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace looming in the near future, I have taken the opportunity to assist a bunch of lads ranging in age from 13 to 17 who have never seen any of the films in taking their first steps into a larger world.

And for world read galaxy; one that is far, far away.

This is not going to be a blog about the merit of re-releasing the films in 3D, nor is it taking a stance on the OT/PT debate, I am merely going to recount some (not all) of the comments made during and after the film by these ‘saga-newbies’.

I’ve decided to show them the films in ‘flashback’ order so that we don’t have to wait 5 or 6 years to watch the whole lot in 3D – so the order is IV, V, I, II, III, VI – this makes a lot of sense and preserves some of the more exciting reveals (although this is a moot point. Read on…)

Special Edition on DVD.
The film starts: Their eyes glaze over, so I read the crawl for them. “Was it called this when you saw it?” Me: “No. It was just Star Wars.”

The Star Destroyer reveal: Genuine shock and awe from the kids. This never gets old.

Stormtrooper attack: “Are those the bad guys?” “Darth Vader’s going to come in in a minute.” “Stormtroopers are pretty cool.”

3PO and R2 avoid the lasers: “How did they not get shot?” “This is dumb.”

R2 in the canyon: (At Jawas) “Who is that guy?” “Oh, there are more of them.” “They’re pretty scary.” “What do they look like?”

Droid sale: (At 3PO) “He’s pretty dumb.” “Why didn’t they buy R2?”

Twin Sun shot: “Two suns. That’s pretty cool.”

In Luke’s workshop: “Hey, that’s what your one says.” (I have a large R2 D2 that plays Leia’s message upon command).

Tusken attack: “Those guys are freaky.” Genuinely alarmed during attack scene.

Obi-Wan reveal: The kids were actually surprised at Ben’s revelation.

In Ben’s hut: “Lightsabers are pretty cool.”

Entering Mos Eisley: “They’re going to find Han Solo.” Laughter during the ‘spec-ed.’ addition of the droid who hits the little one and the jawas on the ronto. “What’s that (ronto) called?” (I tell them.) “How do you know that?” How indeed…

Cantina scene: Shock and delight at Ben’s arm slicing. “He’s cool!” Laughter “Look, no-one cares.” “17,000? That’s a lot!” (Despite not knowing what currency they were talking about.)

Shoot-out in docking bay: (At Stormtroopers) “They are useless!”

Remote training: “Why is his lightsaber green?”

Onboard the Death Star: General excitement during the rescue. Laughter at mouse-droid.

As Ben deactivates the tractor beam: “They’re going to fight here.” “I hope he doesn’t die.” For the most part, the kids were fairly quiet during this portion of the film.

Trash compactor: “Where did Luke go? That water isn’t deep; it only comes up to their knees! Is he lying down?”

Han chases the troopers: “This is dumb. There’s 10 of them and only one of him.” Lots of laughter at the “Close the blast doors! Open the blast doors, open the blast doors!” scene.

The shaft shoot-out: “Stormtroopers are useless.” I explain how they’re not clones anymore but sub-standard recruits. The kids shrug this off as the desperate excuse that it is.

`Ben and Vader duel: “Vader is Luke’s dad.” (So much for that surprise). I explained how they were old men, so their saber skills were different, a bit slower etc etc. “It’s still cool!” “Where did he go?” I tried to explain that Ben had merged with the Force. “So he can’t come back in another body? That sucks.” 

TIE Fighter battle: (as Han blows up the last fighter) “That was a massive explosion. What was on that ship?”

On the 4th moon of Yavin: “This looks like Earth.”

In the hanger: “Why are their ships so bad?” “Why can’t Luke have a better ship?” “(When Han says ‘May the Force be with you.’) You can see he doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t believe in it.”

The Death Star attack: “They’re all going to die.” “(As Wedge leaves) He’s going to get shot.” “Where is Vader going? The Death Star is gone.” “Is Ben in Luke’s head?”

The medal ceremony: “This is the end?”

Post-viewing comments: “That was pretty cool.” “You can tell it’s an old film.” “If they remade it now with better effects it would be awesome.” “In the next one, Darth Vader will tell Luke he is his dad.” Thanks, kid.

Next time - The Empire Strikes Back.