by DAVID KEYES
The name George Lucas has been imbedded in countless lists
of the great film directors ever since his "Star Wars"
franchise wowed audiences a whole generation ago, but now
comes the fifth (or realistically, the second) installment
into his famous series, "Attack of the Clones,"
a movie that might finally (and rightfully) call into question
his authenticity as a serious filmmaker. Seldom in the past
have we been invited in on such an obvious display of self-serving
cinema, in which the director's influence is so apparent
that he seems to suffocate the other members of his crew,
who are fighting an uphill battle in trying to come across
with a sense of identity. But there are no alternative angles
for us to look at here; the movie is labored like it were
a biblical code of conduct, with Lucas' thumbprint mercilessly
smearing the canvas until it becomes too much to handle.
A narrative nightmare with an ensemble cast that screams
"filler" in modern moviemaking lingo, "Attack
of the Clones" is endless, joyless, clueless and senseless,
a film that is patched together without any seams or coherence.
The movie doesn't even have a central direction; it wanders
from one point to the next in literal confusion, trying
to manipulate the audience into believing it recognizes
the path that needs to be taken. Everyone knows the inevitable
destination Lucas has in mind with his trilogy of prequels
here: the only question is, why does he even bother planting
the seeds if he refuses to let them sprout?
The movie picks up ten years after "The Phantom Menace,"
which, believe it or not, is not nearly as bad a film as
most would have you believe. During a time when there is
major unrest in the galactic federation (planets and establishments
are severing ties with their government at an alarming rate),
an assassination plot surfaces against Senator Padmé
Amidala (Natalie Portman), who was once the queen of Naboo
and now contributes her political knowledge to a senate
clouded in uncertainty.
Enlisting help from the Jedi council in attempt to prevent
the plot from being carried out, Amidala reconnects with
Anakin Skywalker, the little boy from Tatooine she knew
all those years ago. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) now aged
and matured, is serving as a Jedi apprentice under the supervision
of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), and fancies himself the
greatest Jedi the federation has ever seen. But his naivety
and egotistic attitude threaten to get in the way of the
core problems at hand, which begin to reveal themselves
as Obi-Wan unravels the conspiracy and discovers an army
of clones being built on an unmapped planet in a nearby
The above plot description above will not likely be the
most thorough at your disposal, but it's the best I can
provide. As I watched "Attack of the Clones" unfold,
reminiscing about the complex events of the first four films,
it dawned on me just how increasingly difficult it is becoming
to explain the setups, the gimmicks and the points Lucas
utilizes in trying to tell us this story. Much of the confusion
is provoked by his awkward characterizations; certain players
appear as deadweight when they actually carry significance,
while others who seem important really don't have much of
a thrust in the narrative. Consider the presence of Christopher
Lee's Count Dooku, who is the movie's main antagonist; we
sense there is a purpose to his mad ramblings about why
it is crucial for him to detach himself from the federation,
but in the end, the only thing that truly separates him
from any other force of rebellion is the fact that he goes
one-on-one with Yoda in a lightsaber battle. Furthermore,
the character doesn't even feel like it belongs in Lucas'
universe; his motives, ideals and methods are almost directly
ripped from J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, where the wizard
Saruman turned on his order and commanded a powerful army
of Orcs for the opposition (incidentally, Lee also played
that particular character in Peter Jackson's film adaptation
"The Fellowship of the Ring").
Furthermore, the movie's lead characters, Padmé
and Anakin, greatly suffer from the old Hollywood romance
syndrome, which clearly indicates that any and all intelligent
character traits are abandoned in favor of clichéd
dialogue exchanges and chemistry-driven interludes, where
the two love-struck players reveal their feelings but insist
on holding back because of their duties to others. This
is perhaps the movie's saddest pitfall, as both Christensen
and Portman are extremely talented actors who are more than
capable of pulling strong material off. Watching them mope
around in Lucas' dreary story is like observing the love
story in James Cameron's "Titanic" at half speed
minus the climactic disaster.
I could spend time some talking about the special effects
of "Attack of the Clones," but perhaps that would
be pointless; you already know how elaborate Lucas' eye
is when it comes to science fiction. Despite his narrative
troubles, the director at least manages to paint a portrait
worthy of notice, using tall cityscapes and fast air vehicles
to stretch the dimensional feel of this seemingly transparent
universe. And yet not all of the visuals have the necessary
realism; in fact, when some don't just appear blotchy and
fuzzy (a result of showing digital film on standard theater
projectors), they're actually kind of childish and unconvincing.
Consider the new approach that is taken with Yoda, the franchise's
greatest character asset; in the original films (and even
"The Phantom Menace"), the wise, long-eared center
of the Jedi council was a work of animatronics, matched
with the vocal brilliance of Frank Oz. This time around,
the poor being is completely (and very obviously) rendered
by computers, stripping an essential ingredient from his
appearance until we hardly recognize him. The big plus is
that the digital angle allows Yoda to do something he was
never capable of doing in the previous movies: fight a one-on-one
battle against his nemesis with a lightsaber. The look of
this scene, of course, is questionable, but we sure do enjoy
watching the old guy hurdle through the air as he attempts
to dodge the weapon coming at him.
I've never exactly been a fan of the "Star Wars"
films; in all honestly, I could very well live a satisfying
existence without ever having to hear them mentioned again.
But whenever one of these new films is unleashed onto theater
screens, some small glimmer of hope is always restored in
me, as if maybe, just maybe, Lucas will finally come across
with an endeavor worthy of notice. But no such luck with
this latest incarnation. There is an ironic moment during
the movie when Obi-Wan is grilled about not knowing the
difference between knowledge and wisdom; maybe it's time
Lucas listened to similar criticisms.