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Nolan's Pop Culture Review--now in our third calendar year!
PCR #113 (Vol. 3, No. 21) This edition is for the week of May 20--26, 2002.

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An analysis of the more technical parts of "Episode II--Attack of the Clones"; computer-assisted onscreen violence

What was right about the movie...
FINALLY! A Star Wars movie I can truly get behind! I really solidly enjoyed this flick. No goofy puppets, no furry teddy bears, no annoying sidekicks, no petulant children, no (new) redneck family tree knots, none of the things I've always taken issue with.

Ok, if pressed, I'll admit that I wasn't overly impressed with the dialog because it was aimed at young kids. I wish it had been geared for adults, but I certainly understand Lucas's wishes on this, and respect it. It didn't really bother me too much though, because I'm as immature as I need to be to enjoy such a film, as long as the creativity is there.

Anyways, its not my favorite movie of all time, but it's very close. This is certainly the most violent Star Wars to date, which is a definite bonus. Dismemberments abound, which although typically bloodless, serve-up as a nice little reminder of what happens when the lightsabers actually touch someone. You need that every once in awhile, or it becomes a series of fencing matches as opposed to life-or-death duels. In the Star Wars galaxy, we've seen that amputations aren't quite as deadly as they are in the real world, and aren't even as dramatic, since lightsabers immediately cauterize the wounds as they make them, and prosthetic replacements are never too far away.

However, it's nice to see that even major characters really DO take risks, and can be dispatched quickly and effectively if they screw-up. I'm used to films and TV shows with characters that have the irritating little "force field" that nothing particularly life-threatening can happen to them. Usually, it's never truly a risk, because you know they're gonna make it through because they're main characters. It's nice to see stuff like that where it challenges the way you assume such things.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not suggesting that I agree with killing off main characters at the end of a film. To me, that's just a very cheap way to accentuate the drama in a film at it's end, and reflects a poor imagination. However, I AM in support of surprise deaths that forward the plot (or wrap it up).

Another thing I'm a little tired of is the way actors have a tendency to fire thru their comrades when filming any kind of major battle where guns are used. It's such an unrealistic maneuvar, and has been around ever since automatic, and semi-automatic weapons have been fired in a film: One guy gets in postion firing like crazy, strafing left to right with his gun at his hip, when suddenly a comrade runs out in-front of him and travels completely unhurt thru what is supposed to be instant death. I guess it must be the "good guy bullets" he's using, where all it can do it hurt bad guys. It's a minor irritant at best, but it never fails to pull me out of a story.

A few bloopers?
Also, for some reason, despite the fact that Attack of the Clones was filmed on digital videotape, there are places in the film where it seems that the negatives were reversed (usually creating a horizontally "flipped" image, where left becomes right, etc.) Strangely enough, there ARE no negatives on a digital film. Anyone interested in finding these flaws should keep track of which side of Jango's helmet the eye scope is mounted on. There's a few other places that this occurs in, but that's where it's more of a "provable" item. This glitch is also apparent in the movie trailers. This doesn't detract from the film, it just amuses me to no end, because I can sit there and say, "HOW many folks worked on this film, and poured over it frame-by-frame, yet missed stuff that I was able to spot literally within 1 second of my first viewing of the material?"

I didn't study Jango's helmet or anything ahead of time, it just struck me as a reversed image the instant I saw it at one point, so I made a mental note of what side the head scope was on, but even as I did that, it switched sides again.

It makes folks look silly, and suggests that if Lucas had REALLY wanted to remove flaws like that before the film was released, all he had to do was let me watch the movie with him once. I wouldn't even charge him for it. But apparently he chose to spend all kinds of money on some half-blind union monkey, and got the same quality control that the porn industry is reknowned for. heh heh.. don't get me started on that track.

I imagine that the reason those glitches are there are because the frames were intentionally flipped due to the fact that continuity called for a character to fire in a direction that they're weren't filmed firing in.

For example if a target is filmed moving directly towards the camera, and is supposedly approaching the shooter from the shooter's left, it would hurt the "apparent continuity" to have a clip showing the shooter facing the camera and turn away to the left to fire.. it would look too odd, so instead of that, you have to film the shooter from his left, turning to face the camera.

If that corrected piece of film was never shot, you have to do what you can to correct it on the editing table. By flipping a negative, you can reverse the direction a person appears to be facing, the nice thing about digitally inserting a background, and editing frame sequences in digital "layers" on the computer is that although you "flip" the character, you can leave the background where it was.

Finally, my last detraction from the film: I hated the way they "Frankensteined" some of Anakin's sword duels. To "Frankenstein" is to add motion to a scene where not enough motion was originally used by the actor. (Adding life to a dead performance). It just comes out a little goofy when you do that, unless you add only subtle movements. I don't know how many folks would even notice it, but almost everytime Anakin lunges with his lightsaber, or perfoms a tricky little maneuver, he warps and shifts a bit in unrealistic ways. It's very fast, and perhaps it'll be just me that notices it, but I suspect it's something that folks that go to digital theaters will have a better chance of noticing.

Frankensteining is also used where actors ride on the backs of CGI characters, and I agree wholeheartedly with Mike Smith; they've got a long way to go before that effect looks any better than bad cartoon animation.

Stars and ratings...
Interestingly enough, I give it three and a half stars, which is one-half star less than what I apparently rated Jason X. However, please note that this film isn't perfect, and is rated on a different scale than Jason X was. If nothing else, Star Wars has a LOT to live up to. (Not to mention the fact that my Jason X review neglected to include a star-rating, so Nolan kinda' inadvertantly threw additional stars into my mouth. I never bothered to get him to change it because it was funny to see everyone get all stirred-up about it).

But on a one-to-five star rating...
Maybe this helps clarify my stance, there's simply too many factors to consider when it comes to giving a 1-5 overall star rating. I simply won't do it without the disclaimer that every movie is compared on an individual value system that is independent from other films. So the rating "stars" are more indicative of the amount of "passion" or excitement that's stirred in me, as opposed to the merits of the film itself, or sometimes even my personal enjoyment of them. Unfortunately, without knowing what criteria I'm grading with, it's impossible to know what the stars mean. I might give a movie a star simply because the blood was realistic, and there were gallons of it being splashed around (as a coolness factor), however, another movie might gain a star for its moral "uprightness" despite what its genre indicates the film should do.

You can't compare the two against the same scale, so how can they be graded on the same scale?

That'll sound like a cop-out to some, but it really isn't, and explains why Oscars are awarded for individual efforts in different films, as opposed to one Oscar going to everyone in a single "best of the year" film. You can try tallying my meters and figuring out a single star system, but you're gonna' notice some VERY odd trends.

My personal rating system...
Without further ado, all meters are 0-10, with 5 being a completely neutral rating:

Skull rating (sheer coolness factor for violence, bloodshed, property damage, toughness, etc. anything that makes the guys whoop and holler, aside from naked chicks and/or babes)

Jason X = 9 skulls - I almost lost my voice Attack of the Clones = 7 - lots of really cool scenes and action, but there were pg limitations involved that hampered this.

Microscope Rating (attention to details, continuity, authenticity, believability, scripting, quality control issues, scenery, backgrounds, acting abilities.)

Jason X = 4 - there were some graphic gore scenes in the film that indicated that someone had done their homework, but that's about it. Although there were definitely "positive" points added to this ranking, they were outweighed by the negative ones mentioned in my Jason X review. However, for a tongue-in-cheek, low budget slasher film, it DOES almost hold it's own in the category.

Attack of the Clones = 9 - These guys were on the ball, and as per usual, included background minutae that was "accurate" to the many novels written about the star wars galaxy. Human emotional reactions seemed beleivable to me on various levels. The CGI fell short in instances noted earlier, not in a big enough way to significantly harm their rating, but enough to block it from getting a 10 rating. I should mention that Ewan Macgreggor has done an EXCELLENT job of capturing the nuances of Alec Guinness's acting.

Screwdriver Rating (technical issues relating to non-story elements and techniques used in filming, sound issues, lighting issues, stunt-work, casting choices, CGI quality control, etc.)

Jason X- 3 = superb amounts of gore portrayed in ways that were intended to be ultra-violent, but only truly succeeded sometimes. It also had glaringly bad casting choices, with folks that couldn't act reading bad scripts. If your script is this bad, and you want to go ahead with it, you'd better invest in good actors, not "pretty" ones.

Attack of the Clones = 8 - Really great in most instances, and definately state-of-the-art, but there were CGI issues that I would have thought should have been rejected and worked around through other means.

Sheer enjoyment meter: (Despite any negatives or overwhelming positives, was I actually entertained? did I get an overall glow from the film? did I want to see it again? Was I let down?, etc..)

Jason-X = 9 - I laughed at, and with, most of the film, got to see some great death scenes, and groaned at most of the one-liners. I plan on buying the DVD when it's released.

Attack of the Clones = 10 - I was misty-eyed, both at the opening credits, AND when I realized that I'd reached the last couple of scenes of the film. Recollections of the film are very positive, and every "negative" issue was outweighed by the positive ones. I'll be seeing this one several times before it leaves the theaters, and hope that it'll be enough to hold me over until Episode 3 hits!

About The first showings:
A News article from England, stated that fans began angrily storming the theater lobby when, 30 minutes into the movie, the end battle sequence started. They forcefully demanded that the film be shown to them again for free, in it's entirety, and in-oreder. Theater owners denied their request, called the police immediately, and averted what may have been a very ugly situation.

Speaking of England, there is part of a scene removed from the Brittish release of ATOC that appears in our television film trailers. Apparently, the film was about to get the equivalent of a PG-13 rating over there, so Lucas had to agree to drop a few frames from a scene showing Jango head-butting an opponent. This violent act was picked from amongst all kinds of violent decapitations, and dismemberments, because it was feared that small boys might try to imitate it "with disasterous results!"

I read a news article about a guy (possibly in Kansas?) showing up only an hour early for Thursday's premiere of Attack of the Clones who suddenly found that he had the entire theater to himself. He hadn't even bought tickets ahead of time, and was only joined by two other fans to watch the film.

However, my future Brother-in-law told me that there were people at his local theater that waited in-line for two hours that night, only to find-out that the earliest tickets they could still purchase were for Tuesday Evening! Apparently the management was under the assumption that everyone knew it was a sold-out event, and so didn't announce it to the folks in-line that night. Needless to say, some folks were pretty ticked off.

The Box Office Race
It's funny, even as Spider-Man opened, Lucas was asked if he thought that Spider-Man was going to be a tough contender in the movie opening totals. His reply was that he's selected theaters that will not be allowed to run his movie, about 700 - 800 screens nationwide, to be more precise. His theory is that he doesn't want someone to go see the film and feel ripped off because it was shown in a crappy theater. "It's not about a race, it's a Quality Control issue. To be honest, I could care less about setting records if it's done at the expense of quality. I'm not in this for the race."

That's why the end of his films include the line: "If anything interfered with or detracted from your enjoyment of this film call this number." So you can tattle-tale on the crappy sound, or screen quality, or whatever, and Lucas will deny release of the next print to that venue, until the claim can be investigated, situation improved, and/or dismissed.

Spider-Man, on the other hand, completely whored itself to anything that could buy a print. Not that I blame them, but it's a totally different perspective; more of a "buyer-beware" kind of attitude that comes whenever you think your product is good enough to set records that you've never held before. They're right, of course, Spider-Man is still setting records in it's third week, There's no quality control though, so I suppose that suggests that SOMEWHERE there's a fan that's pissed-off about his movie-going experience due to bad sound, or whatever... It's probably neglible, but I think it's great that Lucas looks into things like that.

Lucas also chose to release the Film on a Thursday which would have been a suicide play, IF he actually cared about running against Spider-Man. That's because with a Thursday release, the first two release days are work days. Most movies trying to set records aim for Friday release dates because there's only ONE work day involved. It's a LOT easier to set a record with a PG film if folks are able to go see your film, right?

The first 4 days of AOTC beat the first 4 days of Spider-Man, despite the fact that Spider-Man's first 3 days beat AOTC's. Even with essentially one-hand tied behind it's back, AOTC is still kicking ass and taking names, in a trend that shows little sign of abating.

Folks are seeing it day after day, some even multiple times per day. Is anyone REALLY that surprised? Ya'll noticed the "Star Wars" in it's name, right? That tends to have folks seeing it a million times REGARDLESS of whether or not they even like it, because the "Vader Haters" are looking for more material to offer up as a reason for disliking Star Wars. Whether it's the "racist overtones", or the "annoying characters", critics don't ever seem to be able to just leave it well enough alone.

Lucas the Filmmaker--
It's funny how if a guy makes a certain amount of money, and enjoys a certain amount of success, he can do no right, no matter how hard he tries. What's NOT funny, is that lately Lucas is showing a trend towards being upset by older fans complaining about the way he handles Star Wars as a toy for kids. He's not liking the old fan base anymore, and it's a shame that folks can't just enjoy what they enjoy from the films, and leave the guy well enough alone.

I'm DEFINITELY growing tired of the whole: "Ohh...there's one in the eye for Lucas" mentality. What makes folks treat people like that, other than sheer jealousy? Christ, just leave him alone, he's done more for this industry, and for the fans, than any other 3 filmmakers combined.

He's made himself successful the old-fashioned way, by providing a superior product, with superior service, and superior attention to detail, and Quality control. Brought us new ways of acheiving special effects, and brought the existing special effects technologies to new heights. Crap, he's even doing charity donations on a scale larger than even Walmart, operates a legitimate Educational foundation which is designed to offer greatly reduced prices on items that are geared towards making school more fun (thereby making it more effective), and has done amazing things for the industry which is making it possible for even garage filmmakers to get their visions out to the public at VERY low costs.

On top of all that, he brought out Star Wars, a film STILL closely studied and used as a teaching model for film students. He brought us an entire galaxy made of pure imagination that continues to entertain us at 25 years past its inception date. So he's not perfect.. but he's a damn sight better than anyone else seems to be.

People just need to shut up and have another look at their own bullshit before passing judgement so quickly.

The only complaint I have against Lucas is the fact that he releases movies in such a way that if you buy the first release, it's obsolete within months as improved versions hit the market. Also, if you want all the cool behind-the-scenes material, you have to get a hold of most of the various expensive collector sets in order to get certain ones. That's marketing for you, and it's successful for him, but it makes collecting just THAT much more expensive.

"Deadguy's Dementia" is ©2002 by Mike "Deadguy" Scott.  Webpage design by Nolan B. Canova.  The "Deadguy's Dementia" header graphic and background tile are creations of Mike Scott.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.