Posts Tagged ‘cgi frenzy’

Half Time

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

I have a new weekend ritual. As The Clone Wars airs on Cartoon Network in America on Friday evenings, some bright spark has usually put them onto, uh, a popular video sharing website that sounds like Boocube by Saturday morning.

As the series is airing on the pay to view channel Sky Movies in the UK, Spewlube is the only option for the obsessed fan who is not only a tightwad, but cannot wait until the DVD release. I imagine these episodes will look great on DVD, as they have been created specifically for HD televisions, but they lose something of their visual excitement on a small fuzzy, flash video screen. This is a shame, as the crisp imagery and adrenaline fuelled pace is clearly their strongest point, certainly more than the storylines and characterisation that have so far been a bit of a mixed bag.

The “movie” – actually the first three episodes edited together to be shown in cinemas, was mostly notable for its heralding of the TV series and the potential for further, ongoing adventures, rather than its by-the-numbers plotting. It has been easily outclassed by many of the episodes that followed it.


Yoda plus homies

Yoda plus homies

The first, Ambush, featured Yoda and the last three clones of his battallion surrounded by the Separatist army, yet winning out with a combination of jedi philosophy, creative strategy and midichlorian fuelled ass kicking. This was followed by a rather?drawn out?trilogy of episodes based on an ion cannon toting Separatist flagship The Malevolence, that ended wonderfully with Anakin, Obi Wan and Padme (not to mention Threepio and Artoo, doing their double act schtick) attempting to escape from the ship in swashbuckling style particularly reminiscent of A New Hope

Rookies was a one off tale in which a handful of “Shinies” (clone slang for inexperienced soldiers, so named for their pristine armour) are trapped on an isolated outpost, (once again) surrounded by Separatist troops. This episode scored on several counts. Firstly it didn’t feature any jedi, instead focussing on the clones who are often relegated to cannon fodder. Secondly they were set against some kind of ninja droid commandos rather than the inept and ridiculous standard issue Trade Federation battle droids. Crucially, though, we had seen none of these characters before, so we genuinely didn’t know who would survive (and there were some particularly gruesome deaths).


Is it wrong to fancy fictional cartoon aliens?

Is it wrong to fancy fictional cartoon aliens?

All too often The Clone Wars follows the adventures of Anakin and Obi Wan, or background Jedi generals from the films, such as Plo Koon (inexplicably supervising director Dave Filoni’s favourite character) and fanboy pleasing nubile Twi’lek hottie Aayla Secura. Trouble is, we know what is going to happen to every one of these characters – ie. Order 66. Of course, some character development on the lesser known characters is welcome, but so far the series has been more about incident than any character’s internal life.

I suspect one of the aims of the series is to rehabilitate Anakin as a character (as opposed to the films, in which he is petulant, arrogant and generally unsympathetic). The two part Downfall of a Droid/Duel of The Droids made Anakin’s attachment to Artoo the focus (a neat bit of continuity with the novelisation of Revenge of The Sith that tells us that the droid was a wedding gift from Padme), and foreshadows his inability to let go of things. The creators would do well to continue along this road if the series is to be anything more than some awesome lightsaber duels and shit blowing up. Duel also features another gruseome death, this time an execution by cyborg psychopath General Grievous. For a series that’s aimed at kids, there are some nasty moments, which I thoroughly approve of.

Controversially, a couple of episodes have featured the return of Jar Jar Binks to centre stage. Roundly despised by fans, if anyone needed rehabilitation it’s this guy. Bombad Jedi (written by Troops creator Kevin Rubio) wasn’t a bad episode, just a little undistinguished (its best moment was a subtle reference to Anakin and Padme sneaking off together for clandestine sexy times). Jar Jar was shown to be exactly as he was in The Phantom Menace, good hearted, clumsy and borderline retarded. However, if there’s one thing worse than bringing back an unpopular character, it’s changing his voice, as was done in the later Gungan General.


I wouldn't rate this guy's chance of survival

I wouldn't rate his chances of survival

Other episodes include the atmospheric Lair of Grievous, in which the titular General has some much needed backstory hinted at. However, the troubled Mon Calamari ex padawan may as well be wearing a red shirt, his death is so obviously telegraphed throughout the episode. A few more new characters need to be created, but also developed over the space of more than one episode. This way we can have a few characters who can be put into genuine jeopardy. Luminara Unduli pops up in the terrific Paul Dini scripted Cloak of Darkness, but, while I don’t recall seeing her killed during Revenge of The Sith, I’m sure her fate has been marked out in some spin off novel.

At its worst The Clone Wars is at least good brainless, forgettable entertainment (as in Dooku Captured, a fascinating premise that just doesn’t ring true, with innumerable plot holes and a baffling, seemingly unfinished script). Every episode has some exciting battle scenes and badass moments, and is so far never boring. But it has a great deal of potential, and much of the series has hinted at something much bigger and better than crashing spaceships, whirling lighsabers and somebody saying “I have a bad feeling about this”.



Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

A long time ago… ah screw it, everyone’s probably done that one. Today’s the tenth anniversary of the release of The Phantom Menace. Happy birthday Duel of The Fates, Watto and  The Boonta Eve Classic. Although for us in the UK we still had another excruciating two months to wait while everyone else in the world was talking about  it.

He's Behind You!

Like many people who can’t let it lie, I have felt the need to defend the damn movie over the last ten years. Dunno why, it’s neither my fault, nor my problem if someone else doesn’t like it.  But I do find myself wondering why so many people have taken against it, especially seeing as every single film looks like that now (Even the Sex and the City movie had that completely incongruous scene where two vast armies of CGI it girls fought on a CGI battlefield, using CGI Louis Vuitton handbags). Let’s look at the reasons;

  • Enormously clunky plot contrivances. So they need a hyperdrive generator and the only person that has one is immune to the jedi mind trick and also owns a slave who has latent jedi abilities and races pods and has just happened to be secretly building a podracer for a tournament that just  happens to be tomorrow… phew!
  • Midichlorians. Let’s be honest, while it doesn’t invalidate the mysticism of the previous movies, we hardly needed an empirical system of measuring someone’s connection to The Force.
  • Jar Jar. The Star Wars movies were always aimed at a young audience, but never before was a character included specifically for the preschoolers. However, people never complain about “that really bad special effect”, or even “that really bad character”. They actually talk about Jar Jar as if he’s a real person. So really he can be said to be a success… from a certain point – ah screw it everyone will have used that one too.
  • Too many special effects. Seriously, complaining about this in a Star Wars movie is like stopping taking drugs because they make you feel weird.
  • Sixteen (or twenty, depending on how much of a nerd you were) years of anticipation. After that amount of time we could have got the best film ever made and people would have still complained. Not that I’m suggesting it is the best film ever made, you understand.
  • Darth Vader built C-3PO. Actually, I can explain this, no problem.

This piece, written by Using the Force author Will Brooker,  pretty much sums up my experience. It wasn’t my own expectations, any of the (admittedly many) flaws in the film, or even Ben Quadrinaros that ruined it for me. It was knowing everything about it, including how I was expected to feel.

Having said that, I still love The Phantom Menace. As Todd Hanson says in A Galaxy Not So Far Away, it’s just a big dumb movie about space wizards. What’s not to like?


One Season More…

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

After an inessential movie, and a patchy, but sporadically impressive first run, Clone Wars returned for a second season and has vastly improved (and also managed to cram in fan pleasing appearances by Bossk and Boba Fett).

While being ostensibly aimed at a younger audience, and certainly having plenty of fans among the Ben 10 constituency, it seems the Star Wars saga just can’t get away from a (mostly) healthy seam of nastiness. Most startlingly, we have our central character Anakin Skywalker playing bad cop and secretly torturing information out of insectoid Seperatist bigwig Poggle The Lesser, in a clear foreshadowing of the monster he will inevitably become. In another episode, Duchess of Mandalore, he impales some dude through the back with his lightsaber. Hardly the actions of your average protagonist in a kids’ cartoon, and it’s played for laughs too.

For the most part, it’s a regular kid’s show with regular kid’s show plots. The Zillo Beast and Brain Invaders employ standard tropes for pulp space opera, that shift the series away from the source movies, but closer to the original inspiration. Formulaic and familiar they might be, but they look great, and have a wide eyed, “everything but the kitchen sink” charm.

A common discussion point on the Star Wars movies is in which order should they be first viewed (the obvious answer being the release order. Duh!). However we now have fans of the TV show who have seen none of the original movies. As long as they don’t push the foreshadowing too far, or ever employ flashbacks/forwards, the series could be watched as a prelude to the movies, as they would not reveal any of the saga’s pivotal plot points. Anakin would merely be the brave (if rash and occasionally troubled) hero of The Clone Wars, with Obi-Wan as his loyal friend and brother in arms. When the series was over the films could be watched, with the appropriate backstory told, but with none of the characters’ fates revealed.

The central problem of creating tension in plots that centre on those whose fates are known (at least by older audiences) remains, but has been somewhat minimised by concentrating on new or marginal characters. In Weapons Factory and Brain Invaders, padawans Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee, seem to be genuinely in peril. Ahsoka in particular, originally loathed by fans as a hybrid of Wesley Crusher and Hannah Montana, is coming into her own as a worthwhile addition, and Anakin’s (negative) influence on her is revealing itself. I still don’t know about her outfit though. She’s supposed to be a Jedi warrior, not Christina Aguilera.

Something that has always bugged me about The Clone Wars is that so far everything we have seen of it has been a war, (singular), between The Republic and The Separatists. Calling them “Wars” always implied that there were several separate conflicts going on. During the Mandalore trilogy of episodes, we see a gathering army of the Boba Fett armour wearing mercenary badasses. This is exciting to aging fanboys such as myself because Fett’s initial backstory, sketchily intimated the the Empire Strikes Back novelisation, was that the Mandalorians were warriors that fought The Jedi during The Clone Wars. Could there be a a separate conflict within the larger one in the coming seasons? Yes please!

Some fans were not happy about The Mandalorians showing up, as it didn’t quite jibe with some of the existing spin off novels, which is a bit like being upset that Owen Lars turns out not to be the brother of Obi-Wan Kenobi after all, but I see their point. Lucasfilm has always been cagey about the place of the old Marvel Comics in the current continuity, and who can blame them when you consider it involved six foot tall green rabbits, telepathic pink hamsters and the invasion of the manga goths. But I have a lot of affection for some of those stories because I grew up with them, so when I see an episode like The Deserter, it takes me right back to The Alderaan Factor. This, and light hearted one off stories like Lightsaber Lost, remind me of some of the issues of that series, as well as the slightly grungier videogames but truthfully, they’re much, much better.

A common discussion point on the Star Wars movies is in which order should they be first viewed (the obvious answer being the release order. Duh!). However we now have fans of the TV show who have seen none of the original movies. As long as they don’t push the foreshadowing too far, or ever employ flashbacks/forwards, the series could be watched as a prelude to the movies, as they would not reveal any of the saga’s pivotal plot points. Anakin would merely be the brave (if rash and occasionally troubled) hero of The Clone Wars, with Obi Wan as his loyal friend and brother in arms. When the series was over the films could be watched, with the appropriate backstory told, but with none of the characters’ fates revealed.

Childhood, Changes and Choices

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

There’s more changes to the Star Wars movies on Blu Ray and certain parts of the internet are blowing up with outrage. Most of these tweaks are pretty inconsequential (as ever), aside from one, namely at the end of Return Of The Jedi when Darth Vader finally turns and pitches The Emperor down one of the Star Wars Universe’s many bottomless shafts, he bellows “NOOOOO!!!”, seemingly a cut and paste of the audio from the heavily memed and much hated ending of Revenge of The Sith. If you’re going to do a callback to something in a movie series that’s mostly awesome, why go for something so risible? It’s exactly the same as Chewbacca in Sith reprising his Tarzan roar from Jedi. Yeah, like that was anyone’s favourite bit.

A tense scene on Cloud City

I'm not sure about some of these changes to the Star Wars movies on Blu Ray

It’s a pretty ridiculous change, and undercuts the epic nature of the scene, where the music tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Vader’s head. And I got a little depressed about it when I first heard about it. This just seemed so baffling a choice that it sent my tiny nerd brain into a tailspin. I’ve never really had a problem with the changes in these movies, and ultimately, none of them change the movies or make them worse, but none of them were necessary. Adding extra stuff in is just gilding the lily, or as I believe it’s called in modern parlance “Vajazzling”.

After reading a ton of tiresome “Lucas raped my childhood by changing the movies again even though I hated every version of them for the last decade” style invective, I came across this measured and thoughtful article on GeekPlanet, and it got me thinking about choice. We have become so accustomed to having every possible choice presented to us, when limited choices come up, we tend to lose our shit. People want the original versions of those movies, and it’s a pretty reasonable and understandable point of view.

Leaving aside what you consider to be the original version (even back in 1977 there were two different sound mixes of Star Wars in circulation), or which version you grew up with (for me it was a recording of the first showing on ITV in 1981 or 82, complete with ads for Bisto and Allied Carpets, not to mention a different voice for Aunt Beru and the presence of the line “Close the blast doors”), I think people forget that we live in a privileged age of unlimited on demand entertainment. Listen carefully younglings, because this crazy old man’s gonna teach you a few things about the past.

A long time ago, in the 1970s to be precise, there was one Star Wars movie and it was called Star Wars. Darth Vader was some asthmatic dude who killed Skywalker senior, The Emperor was just some politician who got lucky and people didn’t allow droids in drinking establishments. Luke still never really had a chance with Princess Leia though, even though we thought he did. There was no video version. The only way to own a part of that movie was to get reels of “selected scenes” on super 8 film. They were silent and in black and white, but if you were willing to fork out the price of a small house you could get them with sound and in colour. I dread to think what the quality was like, but the very idea of it was so far out of my reach, it seemed an impossible fantasy.

Years later (many years later) the films were available on video. I won The Empire Strikes Back on Betamax in some competition or other. It had trailers for The Cannonball Run and All The Right Moves (featuring a pre Scientology Tom Cruise), and in the actual film you could clearly see the plains of hoth through the snowspeeders. That tape withstood several hundred plays, and that suggests to me that audio visual nerds are right when they say Beta was the superior format. Incidentally, why did they name it “Betamax”? Isn’t that automatically dooming it to runner up status in the format wars? They should have called it “Alphamax” at least.

I remember reading about the Laserdisc collection in the early 90s. Not only did it have the movies in a digital format that would never degrade (like a CD!), it had – gasp! – bonus material like documentaries, photo galleries and audio interviews on something called “alternate layers”. The very idea blew my fucking mind! But again, this was something I could only dream of, surely only millionaires owned such a thing as a laserdisc player. With actual LASERS!

I am not sure how this fits into Return of the Jedi but it looks awesome!

Yet more changes to the Star Wars movies on Blu Ray

When it comes down to it, if I want to watch Jedi without that weird outburst from Vader, I can just watch the DVD. And if I want to watch Jedi without creepy old Hayden Christensen’s head pasted over avuncular old Sebastian Shaw’s (Star Wars FACT: Sebastian Shaw had a long term relationship with John Peel’s mother), I can watch my bootleg versions of the original trilogy (dubs of the laserdisc versions). If only I’d waited a couple of years I could’ve bought them legitimately as Lucasfilm went ahead and released pretty much the same thing in 2007, although I think mine were put together by someone whose love of those movies is a little more casual than mine, as the case of the first movie reads “The New Hope”. I have the choice to watch whichever version I choose.

Those bootlegs aren’t perfect of course – a source of fan rage is that they want HD remastered versions of the original versions of the movies, presumably unaware that once you remaster anything it can’t be considered to be “original” anything. They are however, perfectly watchable  – better than the video versions I had growing up (when the shield generator on Endor blew up in Jedi, the tracking always went mental), but the DVDs aren’t perfect, and guess what, the Blu Rays won’t be either. In a few years we’ll be watching everything in Super High Definition that will make HD look like dogshit  (or, more probably, it will be ever so slightly better if you look closely).

People will continue to bitch, loudly proclaim that they’re not buying it, and make fan edits. Fair play to them if they want to painstakingly piece together their preference as to what those movies should be (a bit like one G. Lucas seems to do every few years – everyone’s gotta have a hobby), but I have no interest in watching some ridiculous version of The Phantom Menace with both Jar Jar Binks and Jake Lloyd edited out. I bet that makes sense, and after all the original is ridiculous enough (HEYOOO!)

Being surprised about Lucas changing his movies after the fact is like being surprised about all the porn on the internet. He’s being doing it ever since the first movie, and will keep on until he becomes a force ghost. The biggest change he ever made was making Darth Vader Luke’s father. It’s pretty clear they were unrelated in the first movie and by including that plot twist in the second (and the full explanation in the third), it changed the meaning of the first movie and the whole shape of the saga. And yet I don’t recall anyone ever complaining about that.