MADAGASCAR: A JOURNEY TO AN ISLAND YOU'VE BEEN TO BEFORE...
Eric Darnell & Tom McGrathWriting credits:
Mark Burton & Billy Frolick
Last summer, Dreamworks Animation and Pacific Data Images
' follow-up to the inaugural Best Animated Feature winner Shrek
, the imaginitively-titled Shrek 2
, caught fire at the domestic box-office, earning over $436 million, becoming the highest-grossing animated film of all time in America and also becoming the number one film of 2004. Then, they followed-up on the success of Shrek 2
by attempting to get America to fall in love with an animated lion... and failed horribly, with the poorly-received animated series Father of the Pride
, an expensive dud for NBC and Dreamworks/PDI. NBC continued to flounder in the ratings, but Dreamworks/PDI got their mojo back with Shark Tale
, which earned well under half of what Shrek 2
made at the domestic box-office, but still managed to net $160 million, which is an excellent take for an animated film released outside of the traditional "summer" and "holiday" seasons, when the vast majority of animated films are released. Now Dreamworks/PDI has gone back into the lion's den hoping to crown a new king of the animated jungle with Madagascar
, though this time they leave the computer-animated versions of Sigfried and Roy back at the Mirage hotel, and, instead of John Goodman's pudgy Larry the Lion, we get a much svelter leonine model, with the voice of Ben Stiller.
Alex the Lion (Stiller) is on top of the world, the star attraction of the Central Park Zoo, which, in the universe of Madagascar
, has alarmingly low walls separating Alex's carniverous fangs from the childrens' succulent tender flesh. But Alex's natural instincts have been long muted with daily steaks, the thing he loves best in the world other than the adulation he gets from kids and adults alike. He has no reason to want to leave the pen, unlike Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock), who longs to run free in the open grasslands and frolic in the jungles of a place he doesn't know but sees represented on a mural. After Marty breaks free to take a trip to this mysterious land he heard about called "Connecticut", Alex along with Melman, the hypochondriacal giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria, the-not-too-interesting-token-sassy-female-character-who-is-to-filmic-endeavor-approximately-what-Lola-Bunny-was-to-Space-Jam
hippopotamus (Jada Pinkett Smith), go on a search through the streets of Manhattan for him. Adbusters
magazine-reading types might, as usual, whinge about the preponderance of Coca-Cola, Cadillac, and Hewlett-Packard logos in Times Square (and, I presume, the absence of hammer-and-sickles and giant portraits of Ché), but... it's fricking Times Square, product placement central. It would be weird not to see logos, and fake logos are distracting. They meet up with Marty in a lovingly-detailed Grand Central Station, but not before attracting whole squadrons of policemen, animal control officers, and a tough old lady. The four rogue animals are tranquilized, represented by a psychadelic segment that got 20% lopped off the Drugs/Alcohol "thermometer" on Thomas A. Carder's WISDOM scale
, and shipped off, in crates, to a wildlife preserve in Kenya. ("We're gonna see lions! Only in Kenya. Come to Kenya, we've got lions!"
). But, en route, the freighter ship they're on is hijacked by four wiseguy penguins, who also escaped from the zoo, and, when they turn the ship around and point it towards Antarctica, the crates containing the four big mammals get knocked overboard, and they wash up on the shores of Madagascar, which, in this film, is still a paradise, mysteriously underpopulated by humans, that isn't an ecological hellhole that has been almost scraped bare by slash-and-burn farming
. Marty is elated to find an island that is exactly like his dreams, while Alex would rather work towards efforts to attract the attention of passing ship (of which there are very few, for some reasons), and they split the beach down the middle, in an intentional reference to bad sitcom episode premises (though South Park
already did the same metatextual reference two years prior). After the P collapses into an L in a giant "HELP" made out of logs (hey, Thomas A. Carder, how come you didn't mention the giant "HELL" as an "Offense to God"? You're slippin', man!), Alex decides to join the others and try to make the best out of the situation, eventually befriending a tribe of simple-minded lemurs who love to party, led by the Rasta-talkin' King Julien the 13th (Sacha Baron Cohen/"Ali G"), who worship the new arrivals as the "New York Giants" and who want them to defeat the mysterious ravenous predators called the "Foosa" (really Fossa
, which look like a cross between a dog and a cat but which are actually distant relatives of the mongoose). And, speaking of ravenous predators, hippopotami, giraffes, and zebras are fine eating the native vegetation, but what about Alex the Lion? How is he going to cope when there are no steaks, and his friends seem like the only decent eating around?Madagascar
starts out of the gate strongly, with a picturesque New York, with foliage in full autumnal splendor, just the way New York looks in my dreams, and a lot of funny gags, most of which aren't too reliant on pop-culture references, which are fine in moderation, but films with too man, often quickly dated in-jokes reeks of the writers trying to make the film seem a lot more clever than it actually is to cover up the weaker sections of the storyline, and you end up choking on the self-congratulatory smugness (*coughcoughshrekcough*
). I especially liked Alex's intimate familiarity with his own merchandise, which reminds me very much, though this is probably just an unintentional coincidence, of that hilarious scene in episode 100 of Sailor Moon
(Sailor Moon S
), "Retire from the Sailor Soldiers!? Minako's Concerns"
, wherein Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) excitedly tries hawking a multitude of "Sailor V"-branded products1
whilst the other girls are trying to study. I also loved Chris Rock's throwaway line, politely reminding people not
to spay or neuter their pets. I doubt Bob Barker would appreciate that joke, but I'm not him.
Disappointingly, while the film never completely falls flat, the majority of the energy and spectacular visuals are in the first third of the film, in Manhattan and on the boat. Once the crates hit the beach, you get a feeling of familiarity, like you've seen it all done before. Like the tribe of stock happy-go-lucky natives who worship the newcomers as Gods. Dreamworks themselves did the same general set-up only five years ago in the severely underrated, at least for Chel
-value, Road to El Dorado
, and the same situation was also used, to a lesser extend, in Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire
the following year. The band of outsiders who the locals hope will help them fend off a ruthless or abusive foe? A Bug's Life
. And the main plot, about a natural predator trying his best to overcome his natural instincts and not eat his herbivorous allies? Been done both in Ice Age
and Finding Nemo
, except at least in Nemo
, it was a B-plot. Not that I'm saying that those films were, by any means, the first to use those kinds of situations, I just wanted to use examples of American animated films from within recent memory. At least there's no damn clichéd dance sequence at the end, unlike Robots
I did like the look of the film, particularly how the animators weren't afraid to *not* push the envelope and try and make everything look super-realistic, instead creating an appealing and internally-consistent style that is a little more abstract, angular, and cartoonish than Shrek
was. With theatrical 2D animation currently out of fashion with North American audiences, it's nice to have CGI creations that at least recall, to some degree, their paint-and-acetate forebearers. The ocean looked spectacular, both the mid-oceanic tidal surges, and the shallow water lapping at the sandy beach, but we've already seen spectacular-looking water in Finding Nemo
. The jungle looked okay, but was a lot more monotonous than the city scenes.
Also, allow me one minor geeky nitpick. This movie shows Antarctica as being, according to the onscreen caption, 2000 miles south of Madagascar. According to my Atlas, in real life, the town of Ambovombe, on the southern tip of Madagascar, is located at about 25ºS, 46ºE. 2000 miles south from there would be just a mile or so north of 54ºS, 46ºE, in the middle of nowhere in the southern part of the Indian Ocean. According to my cheap-ass Collins Paperback Atlas of the World
, at around the 46th
meridian is the far eastern part of Droning Maud Land of the Norweigan Dependency, a degree or so west of the border with the Australian Antarctic Territory, and, at that meridian, the coastline hugs the Antarctic Circle, at about 66º50'S. So, the penguines would have to take the ship another 900 miles south of where the caption says to be able to eat frozen sushi.Madagascar
is harmless animated summer fluff that's worth watching once, if you're adult animation enthusiast, but is nothing I'd consider essential to your DVD collection, unless you have children. It will certainly rule the animated box office this summer, but that will be due to a near total lack of competition, other than the limited release of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle
, due to Disney pushing Chicken Little
back to November, to fill the hole in their autumn release schedule left by Pixar's Cars
. Since most of the most entertaining parts are concentrated towards the beginning, I'd say this is one animated film that, like March, comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb.
***½/*****1One thing has always bothered me about that scene: Minako Aino's identity, as Sailor V and Sailor Venus, is secret. And, between the pressures of school, saving Tokyo, and looking for love, Minako probably does not have too much spare time. So, where does that merchandise come from? I doubt she makes it herself, and I don't recall Luna ever giving her an arcade machine that automatically makes the merchandise for her. Does she have some sort of licensing agreement with the companies that produce the merchandise? If so, who deals with her and how does he know her secret identity, because it's not like it's easy to enter into a legally-binding contract with an individual who has no legal identity. And, if she had nothing to do with the production of the merchandise with her likeness on it, why is she so happy to promote what is technically bootlegged merchandise? I need answers.
On Late Night with Conan O'Brien
for the past few nights, at "halftime", Conan just read the names of the guests on upcoming episodes and cut immediately to commerical, meaning no halftime sketch, which sucks, because "Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage" is a segment they always do in the middle, not at the beginning. We did actually get to see Pierre Bernard recently, in a sketch-cum-experiment when he was attempting to flush a copy of Paris Hilton's book down the toilet in an attempt to debunk, Mythbusters
's bogus report about American troops flushing the Koran down the toilet in Abu Ghraib, but Pierre didn't get to speak much beyond "It's not going down." The last actual "Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage" sketch, not counting reruns, was over two months ago
, when Pierre was complaining about the NBC commissary keeping on changing the brand of juice they keep in stock, preventing him from getting enough of one color of caps to do bottle-cap portraits with. It's about time for Pierre Bernard to make his offical bow in high definition, with another one of his humorous complaints about something esoteric and arcane.
Bottom line, America? Late Night with Conan O'Brien
should put on another "Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage" segment before the end of May Sweeps month, so I can get a much needed spike in Google hits from people looking for information about the sketches.
(Thank you, Steve, I'm sure there are two or three other bloggers in cyberspace who know exactly how you feel.)
TWO THINGS BOTH YOUNG JAPANESE SCHOOLGIRLS AND THIRTYSOMETHING MEN* LIKE...
Just two small unrelated things I wanted to mention.Warriors of Legend: Reflections of Japan in Sailor Moon
is a new book by Jay Navok and Sushil K. Rudranath of Genvid LLC
, the people who brought you The Sailor Moon Soapbox
and the main English-language information source on the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon live-action series
. (Also involved in the production of the book is Jonathan Mays of Anime News Network
, who was the editor and also a contributor and researcher Hans Schumacher.)
Now, I know what you're thinking. You can already get copious amounts of Sailor Moon
information online for free, at places like Hitoshi Doi's Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon Online Encyclopedia
. but this isn't a straight episode guide. It's a book written for fans, like me, who are as much interested in the small details of the show as they are the story arcs, talking about each and every element of traditional culture, Shinto and Buddhist religious references, Japanese geographical references, sexual and gender roles (yes, usually academic code words for "talking about lesbians"), and even pop culture. In other words, they're pretty much doing the same thing for Sailor Moon
that I'm attempting to do for Super Gals!
, except with better writers and the benefit of actually having someone *IN* Japan to do legwork and research beyond what I can find on the Internet and in books I have.This page has two sample excerpts from the book
, about the Kimi-chan statue of the girl with red shoes in a park in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Azabu Juban (also mentioned on this page of Sailor Moon-related photographs
; it's in episode 97 of Sailor Moon S
, by the way), and the beginning of a section about the educational pressures Japanese students face.
It needs to be mentioned that, while the book is packed with information, it's written in a way that's easily accesible to the casual reader, unlike, say, the dense academic verbiage of Susan J. Napier's Anime: From Akira to Princess Mononoke
(not that I'm bashing Napier's book, but it makes far more demands on the reader).
Here's a short blurb about the book from the authors (from the FAQ
"Reflections of Japan, or RoJ for short, is the first book to come out in Genvid L.L.C.’s Warriors of Legend series. It is a unique book, one of the first of its kind. It uses the world-famous Sailor Moon television and comic series pedagogically, taking the show to be a window through which Japanese culture is reflected. RoJ describes the “reflections” of Japanese culture, society, and place in Sailor Moon, and also discusses situations where the series critiques Japan as well. It is both a serious study and a lot of fun to read.IcV2.com is pretty positive about this book.
RoJ is organized around the elements of Japan found in the Sailor Moon series. Fans of Sailor Moon will be blown away by the amount of detail put into the book. The analysis of the characters, as well as the information about the city of Tokyo, will rock current interpretations of the show: after Warriors of Legend, you will never look at Sailor Moon the same way again.
Yet RoJ is designed with a wide audience in mind, from people just interested in learning more about Japanese culture to academics. It appeals not only to the Sailor Moon fan but also to the general anime fan and anyone interested in Japanese pop culture."
It can be ordered directly from Booksurge.com
, though Canadian Sailor Moon
fans would probably want to wait until they have other online booksellers available, as, for orders to Canada, Booksurge charges $11.20 U.S. shipping on a $12.99 U.S. book, and, in addition to that, you'll likely have to pay Canada Customs' $5 "handling" fee and sales tax to the postman. (Since I don't have a credit card, I'll likely have to wait for the book to show up at The Comic Book Shoppe on Merivale/Clyde.)
Another weird manga-related item, as reported in the Mainichi Daily News
, the most tabloid-y and sensationalistic of all English-language Japanese news sources:Creepy geeks go gaga over kids' sex ed mangaBy Ryann Connell
May 23, 2005
"Otaku, the geeks obsessed with manga, especially stories tinged with a hint of little girls' sexuality, have swooped in to buy up big and helped make a best-seller out of a sex-ed comic for elementary schoolgirls, according to Shukan Shincho (5/26).
"Naisho no Tsubomi (Tsubomi's Secrets)" is the critically acclaimed manga getting the littlest schoolgirls swooning, but is also innocent enough to make their parents and teachers happy, too.
"We've got another print run of 20,000 copies for late May. It's hardly rare for a comic to sell 30,000 copies, but it is almost unheard of for a series of works directed at elementary school children to do so well," a spokesman for Shogakkan, the publisher of the manga, tells Shukan Shincho.
Demand for Naisho no Tsubomi has been so great since its April 27 release that the manga retailing for 410 yen is going for almost five times that amount in online auction sites."
I'd say the amount of copies it's selling is surprising, but these are otaku we're talking about, and I don't mean the santized term "Otaku" that too many anime clubs, I mean "otaku" as the Japanese use the term
, creepy men who are usually loners who can't relate to the opposite sex normally and who are often attracted to individuals of an age far lower than what is considered societally acceptable.
I'd say I'd be surprised that they aren't selling more
, but the article makes it clear that Naisho no Tsubomi
(ないしょのつぼみ) would be selling more if it had a larger print run.
"Naisho no Tsubomi tells the story of Tsubomi Tachibana, a fifth grader dealing with issues such as her mother's pregnancy, her first period and the strange feelings she has started to get when she has been around boys. Tsubomi, who is joined by two of her best friends, has been praised for her graphic descriptions of what she's feeling.
"Sometimes, my heart has started to beat really fast and my panties feel like they've gone all wet. When I had a look, it was all sticky. When it dried up, it went all crusty," Tsubomi is quoted from one passage in the comic."
See, after reading that, I was prepared to deride Naisho no Tsubomi
-bait masquerading as informational material (lolicom
= "Lolita complex"), but then I found what I believe to be the official Naisyo no Tubomi site
(alternate transliteration, for Google hits), and the way the character is drawn in the sample pages
(cropped so I don't break Photobucket's rules, but the nudity shown in other panels isn't any more detailed than a Barbie doll) is cute and innocent, a full step below even some barely-adolescent American cartoon characters like Kim Possible in terms of sex appeal. You can actually purchase some anime and manga in Canada with barely pubescent characters drawn in a much creepier way. (Personal disclosure: I think the creepiest anime I own is Magical Girl Pretty Sammy
/Magical Project S
, which I own because it's a funny parody comedy series that's a spin-off of Tenchi Muyo
, and not for any other reason. As "borderline" as some of the official artwork featuring Sasami and Misao
is, I've seen far, far worse on anime shelves of comic book and video retail stores in Quebec and Ontario. Anyway, for "attraction" on that show, I'm only interested in the alternate-universe version of the twentysomething female character Kiyone
The subject matter isn't anything a domestic English-language manga distributor like Viz, Tokyopop, Del Rey, CMX/DC, or Dark Horse/Proteus would touch with a 5000-mile pole, but, assuming the sample pages are representative of what the manga, as a whole, is like, I think it's comparable to the season four episode of King of the Hill
, "Aisle 8A", wherein Kahn Souphanousinphone Jr. (a.k.a. "Connie") got her first period whilst her parents on vacation, forcing Hank Hill to go to unfamiliar territory, Aisle 8A of the Megalo-Mart (which sells feminine hygiene products), to buy tampons. ("Poor Connie? Poor me! I had to learn about Megalobsorbancy.") It's didactic and informative, not salacious and perverted, and it's actually far less graphic than Pomme et Charly
, this textless book with unrealistic but still rather detailed line-drawings of two kids at various stages of puberty, who grow up, get married, procreate, and have children, which my mother borrowed for us from the Pincourt library.
Yeah, some perverts will "fap" to it, but they'll fap to underwear photos in Sears flyers, and they'll "fap" to National Geographic
. I don't think a moe-kai ("cute") sex-ed shoujo
manga for girls approaching middle school is any cause for alarm for Japanese parents; if anything, it will instill healthier attitudes towards sexuality in their middle school children in a society that is still rather "bipolar" when it comes to attitudes about sex.*No, I'm NOT implying anything weird about adult male Sailor Moon fans, of which I am one, I just thought I could link two largely unrelated items which I both wanted to write about today with a headline about the mixed demographics of the audiences. I think the difference between the two audiences is that the adult cult Sailor Moon fandom is comprised of both men AND women, not just "certain wrong-minded men" (as Electronic Gaming Monthly once called adult men who like Sailor Moon in a short preview for the Super Famicom Sailor Moon R game).
MONTRÉAL: FILM NOIR
In November 2003, I got a roll of Kodak black-and-white film on a whim and took a few photos around Montreal. Because we're usually so slow at developing our accumulated rolls of film (we may have some from before 2000), I didn't get to see the results until yesterday. For easy sharing, Pharmaprix... erm, I mean Shoppers Drug Mart also now gives you a CD with digital versions of your photos on it, probably as an incentive for people to continue buying film (which I still think looks better than digital).Fotopic.net
is one of the few image hosting places that let you store and view full-sized photos for free (with certain limits), so I started an album with all 25 of the black-and-white photos from the roll of film
, but here are a few highlights, which I posted here at Ourmedia.org
so I can hotlink:The Starbucks Coffee café in Montreal's Faubourg Sainte Catherine market, looking as it would have looked in the 1940s if it was around, which it wasn't. The rain adds to the "Film Noir" feel.A shot, looking up, of the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, as it was undergoing construction.A couple of more shots of the John Molson School of Business, before they added the walls.The eighth floor of Concordia University's Hall Building was undergoing extensive renovations at the time, and the way the wires and pipes were exposed, and the fluorescent light fixtures were hanging, reminded me of a scene right out of the first Silent Hill game.Another shot of the Silent Hill version of Concordia's Hall Building.The corner of De Maisonneuve and Mountain/De La Montagne in Montreal, with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce tower looming overhead.People waiting in the domestic Arrivals area of Dorval Airport/Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport (CYUL). This was before they opened the new terminal, meaning the arrivals area moved to that much larger, less cramped space.Trying to figure out the mysteries of the Coca-Cola machine at Montreal's Dorval airport.
Yes, some of those comments are a bit wordy and redundant, but the more I write, the more hits I'll get from Google Image Search the next time they re-index (probably in July, since they just did a major re-index over the weekend).
The publication ban on the identity of Quebec impresario Guy Cloutier's victim has been lifted... as if we couldn't easily guess who it was before.
MONTREAL — A judge allowed a sexual-abuse victim of Quebec entertainment giant Guy Cloutier to be identified Tuesday at the request of the woman, who was a child when she was assaulted over several years.
Justice Maurice Laramee lifted a publication ban that had prevented media from identifying the victim as singer Nathalie Simard, said Claude F. Archambault, Cloutier's lawyer.
Cloutier, who has managed singers, produced musicals and adapted reality TV to the local market, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison last December for sexually abusing Simard and another child.
The sentence came a month after Cloutier, who is now in his mid-60s, had pleaded guilty to five charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and having sex with a female under 14 who was not his wife.
Laramee said in his ruling it didn't make sense to impose protection on someone who no longer wanted it.
He also referred to the case involving the daughters of boxer Dave Hilton Jr., who sexually abused them. A publication ban that had been imposed in the case was eventually lifted at the women's request.
Simard was 11 when the abuse began in 1980. It lasted for seven years. Cloutier was sentenced to 26 months for abusing her.
Cloutier also entered a guilty plea to a charge of indecent assault involving another minor whose gender was not made public. He received a 16-month sentence in that case.
Obvious translation: Nathalie Simard, the child star from the Guy Cloutier-produced children's series Le Village du Nathalie
, has a book to sell about her ordeal and wants to do the Quebec talk show circuit. I find media saturation coverage of the private pain and trauma of celebrities, like, to name a recent American example, Pat O'Brien's alcoholism, as part of the pop psychology "healing" process to be maudlin and crass, but, if Simard wants to take that route, that's her prerogative.
Anyway, the publication ban on identifying Guy Cloutier's main victim, which I discussed a bit in this entry
, fully knowing that it was Nathalie Simard, was about the most ineffective publication ban I have ever seen, other than the ban against American media sources identifying the name of Michael Jackson's accuser, even though it's clear made clear in media reports of the trial that it's the kid from the special that tens of millions of Americans watched. (Foreign media accounts outside of the jurisdiction of the publication ban mention the kid's name with impunity
, but this blog is technically an American website, being on an American server, I'd best not risk anything by saying his name.) For better or for worse, information that could easily identify the victim as being Nathalie Simard had been leaked out in the French language press back last March
(and I believe one or two online news sources actually named Simard as the victim before withdrawing the story, while a Quebec radio host said the initials of the victim were "N.S."), and, in today's world, once that kind of scandalous information has been released to the public, people will talk about it and remember, and you can't realistically purge every mention of it from message boards and blog "comments" and, even if a blog that discusses the case disappears completely, what was written may still exist at Web Archive
The article also gives some information about the second victim.
"Cloutier also entered a guilty plea to a charge of indecent assault involving another minor whose gender was not made public. He received a 16-month sentence in that case.
The second person was between 12 and 17 at the time. The publication ban remains in effect for that person."
Are they allowed mentioning that the other person abused by Guy Cloutier was a boy? It kind of narrows down the list of potential victimes to about one, assuming the other victim was also famous.
REVENGE OF THE SITH IS THE BEST STAR WARS MOVIE I'VE SEEN SINCE...
...wait for it...
...The Phantom Menace
. No, I'm not kidding. It's not so much that I thought Revenge of the Sith
was a disappointment, it was exactly what I expected from reading an Olympic-sized poolful of spoilers, it's just that I think The Phantom Menace
is severely underrated. I readilyu concede that much of Phantom Menace
was fluff that added nothing to the overall storyline, and that the plot points in The Phantom Menace
and Attack of the Clones
that are important to the overall corruption and redemption of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader story arc could very easily have been told in one film, but I'm not all that concerned with how each film fits into the larger whole. I know it's unfashionable to like it, but I thought Phantom Menace
was a lot of great fun, even the much maligned pod race sequence, and I'm not ashamed to say that it is still the best prequel of the three, to which you will surely reply, "No, it's your *favourite* of the three, not the *best*," to which I say, "Honestly, the people that make a distinction between 'best' and 'favourite' are simply people who feel that they need to apologize for their tastes. The so-called 'best' films are those films that people think they *have to* like in order to conform with what they feel to be the movie message board, film study textbook, or critical 'consensus', which is really only a plurality of subjective opinions." I'm the kinda guy who likes Star Wars
best when it's somewhat lighthearted. Not that I can't handle serious scenes, I just like to have a balance in the force, and I thought The Phantom Menace
had the best balance between light and dark of the three.
The first half of Revenge of the Sith
, before Anakin turned bad, was a riproaring and rollicking good time, and does anyone ever use the words "riproaring" and "rollicking" in real life other than when they're trying to come up with "pull quote" material for movie posters? The attack on General Grievous's ship to rescue Senator Palpatine was masterfully handled and should wow even people jaded by space battles. The "wow" scene for me was the little bit where there are these little spider droid things on the wing, and I thought they looked like stop-motion animation, not CGI, and I realized that Lucases CGI artists have finally begun to reach the threshhold where you can't tell "real" apart from CGI, something somewhat elusive in the other two prequels. The paer where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin are making their way through the hallways and elevator shafts towards the chamer where Palpatine is being held, chopping up droids left and right, is a wonderful straight Saturday matinee adventure kind of sequence. Even R2D2 gets in on the action in a confrontation with a couple of battle droids that I think is the best single scene in the film, for pure "gee whiz" excitement. I don't know if it's just because it's the first one in the film, but I found the Lightsaber battle between Anakin and Count Dooku to be the most exciting. Then, after Palpatine's "rescue", Obi Wan and Anakin get separated, with Anakin going off to battle General Grievous, who seems to have enjoyed one too many "Death Sticks" (though, apparently, if you watch the Clone Wars
cartoons, you'd know that General Grievou's emphysema was caused by an injury from Mace Windu) while Anakin spends time with Senator Padmé Amidala, who is secretly his wife and who is now secretly pregnant, while she attends to concerns in the Galactic Senate, becoming increasingly skeptical of the motives of Chancellor Palpatine, who has been in power for longer than his mandate due to the emergency of the Clone Wars and who doesn't seem to want to give up power anytime soon, and who begins to take a much more active role in influencing Anakin, who is troubled by dreams of Padmé dying during childbirth.
The biggest problem with the film, I think, is the treatment of Padmé Amidala (the former Queen Amidala). Someone on the RottenTomatoes.com forum pointed out that she's gone from a strong-willed girl who ruled a planet and controlled armies in battle as a teenager, to a senator when her term was up, to, in this film, a weak, withering, whiny hausfrau whose very will to live is tied to Anakin. In other words, over the course of three films, she's gone from being like a geisha princess version of Joan of Arc to being frickin' Miaka Yuki
, except at least Miaka had the ability to summon Suzaku
, the phoenix god know as the "Red Bird of the South". Padmé's figurative castration is even more infuriating when I found out that, in early "treatments" of the story, Padmé emerged as an early leader of the rebellion against the Empire. It would have been way more exciting and even more poignant if Padmé, as a Rebellion leader, had been killed by Anakin in battle, shortly after giving 2 or 3 year old Leia Skywalker to Bail Organa, rather than just dying from a broken heart and childbirth. Padmé's life ended with an uncharacteristic whimper, not a bang. (And what about Leia saying that she remembers her mother? I know some people claim they can remember being born, but I think they're either remembering a dream or their brain just fills in the blanks and they convince themselves they can remember.)
Speaking of Padmé, Natalie Portman's acting during the romantic scenes... eh, I agree with the general consensus that those scenes were cringeworthy, and I didn't particularly mind the romantic scenes in Attack of the Clones
. That is one area where The Phantom Menace
is clearly superior, though. She doesn't try hitting on Anakin as a 9 year old. (Why does Anakin seem to age so much faster than Padmé? I guess he has the same mutant rapid aging powers that Andrew Keaton had on Family Ties
Also, Anakin's turn to the Dark Side was a bit too quick. I can handle him killing (allegedly) Mace Windu, since Anakin thought Mace was a direct physical danger to Palpatine, but killing the younglins almost immediately after with no remorse? It's not that I can't accept that happening in a Star Wars
film, and, yes, Anakin did kill all those Jawa Sand People, including children, in Attack of the Clones
, but that was out of an immediate desire for revenge for the death of his mother, Shmi, while this act was only because Palpatine had convinced him that the Jedi were the enemy, plotting against the Chancellor and soon-to-be Emperor for control of the Galactic Republic, and that the Jedi had betrayed Anakin by making him a member of the Jedi Council but not a full-fledged Jedi Master as he was too young, and that the Jedi won't teach him the power to raise the dead that the Sith have, to save Amidala. I can understand Anakin feeling peeved, but enough to wipe out a whole temple of Jedi? And simple "attachment" to Padmé seemed like a skimpy reason for him to turn to the dark side.
And my big problem with the second half of the film was that they layed on the darkness a bit thick with little in the way of comic relief other than a brief, welcome, respite on Kashyyyk, the wookie planet with an appearance from Chewbacca himself. And most of the "dark" scenes take place at night, which isn't exactly a subtle way to underline the overtones. Yeah, I get it already. They went out of their way to appease the Internet fanboys who hate any kind of comic relief and who would rather that the Star Wars
films all be dead serious dreary angst-fests with all lines delivered with sufficient gravitas as though they're actors in Hamlet
, with very few bones tossed to those of us more lighthearted fans who appreciate the Star Wars
films as fun adventures.
Also, the final duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, while very necessary, was visually spectacular but dragged on at least five minutes too long for my pitiful attention span.
And one major scene from the script towards the end was excised: the ethereal form of Qui-Gon Jinn telling Yoda how to use the Force to carry on as a spirit after death. Yoda mentions it in passing, but including that scene would have tied-in Episode I
much more neatly into the saga.
I'm somewhat ashamed to admit this, but my biggest chuckle of the second half during the film came during Ewan McGregor's pivotal final appeal to Anakin's good side during the duel: "You were my brother. I loved you!" Not that there's anything wrong with McGregor's acting; he channels the spirit of Alec Guiness very well in this installment and would do Guiness proud.
And what's the deal with that Cirque du Soleil kind of show with the giant floating bubble of water that seems to pass for highbrow entertainment on Coruscant? More like Cirque du Sperm Fertilizing an Ovum!
Another thing, I know that the people who take Star Wars
too seriously like Revenge of the Sith
best of the prequels because it's the one that ties in the closest to the original trilogy, and they see Star Wars
as one big saga about the fall and redemption of Darth Vader, and that's one way to watch the movies and I suppose that's fine, but I prefer treating them as fun standalone films with recurring characters, and, from that perspective, I still like Phantom Menace
best of the three prequels because it stands best on its own as a enjoyable, carefree... well, care-light little romp.
Not that I want to give anyone the idea that I didn't still enjoy this film a fair bit; a lot of scenes were great, like the aforementioned R2D2 strikes back scene, Obi-Wan actually using a blaster against Grievous and then calling it "uncivilized", recalling the conversation he had with Han Solo on board the Millenium Falcon in A New Hope
, when Senator Palpatine finally gets stuck with his Sith face as Darth Siddeous after the confrontation with Mace Windu (who may have survived), the montage of Jedi murder on distant planets when Darth Sidious commands the Clone Troopers to "Execute Order 66", and Anakin being fitted with the mask to become Darth Vader. Just, in the midst of darkness, I need a few more "light" scenes than what they presented to present a little more contrast to the dark.