|Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 22 March 2005|
“Star Wars” is arguably the largest science fiction franchise in the history of filmmaking. The initial three offerings ignited a whole world of dreamers who went to sleep at night reaching out for lightsabers and longing to be one with the Force. Back in 1977, most viewers had lost touch with
the Joseph Campbell views of the quintessential hero in his marvelous book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and the 12-step outline of a world myth. Today’s audiences are more jaundiced, more in step with how such stories are presented.
Perhaps that intimate grasp of story structure and the place of the hero are to blame for George Lucas’ latest trilogy not quite catching on the way first trilogy (Episodes 4, 5, and 6) did. “Star Wars: Episode VI -- Return of the Jedi” was released in 1983. Sixteen years later, in 1999, Lucas gave his audience “Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.” But the audience seemed to have changed and the movie wasn’t as well received as everyone had hoped, despite the financial success that was involved. Sixteen years had passed in which that audience had embraced novels and comics about Luke and Leia and Han Solo. That audience had seen those further adventures, and known the whole time about the mythology of Anakin Skywalker and his eventual loss to the Dark Side of the Force. The question then became, what could Lucas offer that would be new and different and exciting? Unfortunately, the answer in the movies has become: not much. Admittedly, there are some good touches along the way in both “Star Wars: Episode I” and “Episode II” so far, but they are few and far between.
The fault doesn’t lie with Lucas, except perhaps in the overall concept – maybe telling Anakin’s story might not have been such a good idea, because everyone already knows how the tale will spin out. Each of the last two movies has been a brick – elegant and cutting-edge with movie technology craft and special effects, but bricks all the same. The first movie saw young Anakin (Jake Lloyd) step forward to become a Jedi Knight, only to be turned down because the majority of the Jedis felt he was too dangerous and could become too powerful. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) chose to become his master and train him in the ways of the Force despite the council’s beliefs. “Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones” concentrates on the star-crossed love between Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen) and Amidala (Natalie Portman), the growing rift between Anakin and Obi-Wan that symbolizes the former’s turning toward the Dark Side of the Force, and the politics that usher in the state of tyranny Luke, Leia, and Han fight so valiantly against. Because there is so much ground to cover to get from the first movie to the second, although “Episode II” starts out shedding 10 years like it was nothing, the middle of “Attack of the Clones” actually gets short shrift and doesn’t translate well.
Despite the movie’s story flaws, “Attack of the Clones” is a gem as far as the video and audio presentations go. The movie was the first big-budget enterprise ever to be filmed with digital cameras and processed through computers to render images that are the purest eye-candy, featuring brilliant colors and dead-on placement of actors and special effects for the biggest payoffs.
Chapter 2 opens up with an audio treat in the form of the soul-stirring music every “Star Wars” fan is familiar with. The subwoofer cranks as the surround sound system blasts and fills the viewing area. The subwoofer stays fired up in Chapter 3 with the arrival of the ships rocketing planetside with thundering reports. Continuing the action in port, a bomb explodes inside the ship and kills Senator Amidala’s stand-in, rolling through the subwoofer with impacts that rattle through the viewers. Chapter 4 introduces the problematic fact that there is a shortage of Jedi Knights. Evidence of the light touch of the sound design of the movie is the appearance of the communication hologram on the chancellor’s desk, triggering a gentle ringing and whooshing noise that comes across as delicate and pure after the thunderous explosion. The chancellor asks that Yoda place Senator Amidala under Jedi protection and that Obi-Wan be the one charged with that responsibility.
Obi-Wan’s tense relationship with Anakin comes across in Chapter 5. Jar-Jar Binks, one of the first movie’s most controversial characters, puts in an appearance here but plays a much reduced part throughout the rest of the movie. Chapter 6 reveals the continuing attempt to kill Amidala, and the fact that Anakin has mother issues. The colors draped throughout the city in this chapter are brilliant, a step above lifelike but wonderfully so. The cityscape is absolutely amazing. The familiar hum of lightsabers finishes off Chapter 6, but Obi-Wan’s death-defying leap through the window where the robot drone gains entrance to Amidala’s sleeping quarters in Chapter 7 takes the viewer’s breath away. The hum of the drone speeding away fades dramatically in the surround sound system, giving immediate vindication to the thought that the brave Jedi is not going to survive his own zeal.
The chase that fills Chapter 7 probably better fits the audience’s expectations of the newest crop of “Star Wars” movies. The devil-may-care attitude, the over-the-top derring-do and abilities of our two stalwart Jedi Knights captures our attention, and the surround sound system brings the experience home with nail-biting intensity that places us squarely in the center of that incredible action. This sequence is what the movie franchise’s audience might have been looking for, especially the camaraderie that exists between Obi-Wan and Anakin before the story pulls them to different stages. Obi-Wan hangs onto the drone, whizzing along with the flying traffic from the left front speaker through the center and out through the right front speaker. The digital photography is flawless. The toys, the speeders, the binoculars and the vessel (a tip-of-the-hat to the Death Star) are first-rate. However, the furious chase after the fleeing speeder looks too much like a trailer for a video game. Yes, there are marketing ploys embedded in the movie and some of them were not very well hidden. Anakin’s death-defying leap of faith from the speeder sends our hearts right back into our throats, though. The engine noise of the other speeders whips by through the surround sound system.
Inside the bar in Chapter 8, Obi-Wan asks Anakin why he has the feeling that Anakin will be the death of him, foreshadowing the events that come in the fourth movie. Obi-Wan’s mind-clouding power at the bar is hilarious, especially since the bit is so short and direct that a lazy viewer might miss it. Chapter 9 amps up the tension between Anakin and Obi-Wan as they are given different missions. At the shuttle base in Chapter 10, the sound system kicks in again as the shuttle speeds across the screen from left to right, mirroring the action in the scene. The passing speeders in front of the bar whip across from left to right and right to left. Lightsaber hums, too long missing from the movie by now, echo pleasantly from the surround sound system in Chapter 14. On Naboo in Chapter 15, the transport ship glides across the screen from left to right, and the motion rolls through the surround sound system. As Anakin and Amidala walk and talk, the sound of melodious birds warble in the background, bringing a calm, Old World feel to the scene. Chapter 17 explodes with the emergence of Obi-Wan’s ship from hyperspace. The noise fires through the subwoofer. The planet below is covered in incessant rain. The sluice of the rain and the crackle of thunder fill the audio, placing the viewer in the middle of the action.
Chapter 19 has some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole movie. A magnificent house perches on the edge of a river. The bird chorus continues to be in the background as Anakin and Amidala are drawn to each other. Waterfalls in Chapter 21 mix with the bird noises. However, the movie starts to lag at this point, despite all the things that happen with the individual characters. Viewers start to feel the two hours and 20-plus minutes of viewing time. Chapter 22 has an interesting bit showcasing a winged beast exploding from the sea with a rider astride its back. The sea slams through the subwoofer and the front and center speakers. The love story between Anakin and Amidala is the centerpiece in Chapter 23, but something is missing, primarily the action that has driven so much of the “Star Wars” stories. Chapter 24 shows more of the storm that constantly whips over the clone planet, and becomes an impressive backdrop to the battle Obi-Wan later has with Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) in Chapter 26. The weapon blasts and the hum of Obi-Wan’s lightsaber are so welcome by now by to the action-hunger viewer that the action is like a sip of water to a man dying of thirst. The sequence is exciting and clever.
Chapter 28 offers Obi-Wan’s space pursuit of Jango Fett, and the digital visualization is incredible—especially the explosion of colors. The orange that Obi-Wan encounters is carried over to Chapter 30, where Anakin goes looking for his kidnapped mother.
The assembly line dangers in Chapter 38 also smack too much of being a trailer for a video game, but they do bring back memories of Luke Skywalker’s run through the garbage disposal unit. The arena fight in Chapter 40 is amazing, considering all the CGI work that had to be done, and the action brings back the rolling battle-droids from “The Phantom Menace.”
The special features included in the two-disc set are excellent additions. The interviews have Lucas and the actors giving generously of their experiences and the background of the film, providing a more intimate view of the production. Watching the CG filming is interesting as well, showing what the actors actually had to work with, or, rather, what they were working without. “From Puppets to Pixel” is great, because the piece includes footage from “Return of the Jedi” that shows a much younger George Lucas and the puppets that were used then. The features are even filmed in widescreen. We also hear conversations between the staff as they figure out the various problems of the actual film, the CG work and the prosthetics. The attention to detail that is given to each of these elements is fascinating.
If “Attack of the Clones” had been released without all the back history that had been revealed in the first three films (which actually turned out to be the second trilogy of the story), the movie probably would have fared better. “Attack of the Clones” has to serve two masters, maintaining the overall franchise continuity and yet be fresh, exciting, and entertaining. The movie succeeds and fails on different levels, but fans of the franchise will definitely want to pick up this DVD. George Lucas also tells a story that earns a PG rating but doesn’t push it up to a PG-13, making the movie definitely viewable by the younger audience entranced by sweeping science fiction epics.