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"Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones"

Directed by George Lucas.
Written by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales. 
Starring Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christiansen, Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson.
Release Year:  2002
Review Date:  5/16/02 

Folks--

Well, I didn’t write this review Wednesday night because I got out of the theater at 2:30 AM.

Yes, I went to a midnight showing during the work week.  When all you have to do in the morning is hit the large green button marked “Start” on the copy machine, eight hours of sleep is not required!

First off, let’s spill some on the streets for the hardcore movie fan, who even in this day and age will camp outside of a movie theater just to see what a director has up his sleeve.  Really, I kind of miss the old days when I would wait outside of a theater and—amongst brothers—play Uno, swap stories about girls that never materialized or the best places to get a good, sloppy cheeseburger.  In the old days (i.e., 20 years ago), they still sold movie programs at the theater.  Why don’t they do that anymore?  I kept two of mine from when I was a kid—the one I got when I saw “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” (still far and away the best “Star Trek” film), and...the one I got for “Return of the Jedi.”  For those that don’t remember what those are, they were basically ten pages’ worth of movie stills and production notes about the movie, and man, were they cool to look through as a kid.  And, they made for good reading while you sat for hours outside of a theater waiting for the multiplex to let you in.

Nowadays, there is no need for all of that.  Honestly, when I bought my ticket online at moviefone.com a couple of days earlier, I felt like I was cheating the folks that had wasted so much time sitting in front of the theater to be “the first one to see ‘Star Wars.’”  I got to the AMC Van Ness here in San Francisco around 10 PM for a midnight showing, and there was a reasonably large line but because it was showing on FOUR screens, I wasn’t concerned at all about getting a good seat.  In fact, when everyone got let in at 11:30, I plopped down right in the middle of the room where the handicapped aisle is, so that I could stretch my legs while watching.  Poor “Star Wars” geek, all dressed up in his Jedi garb, Stormtrooper armor or Wookie wear, looking at me, Joe Asshole, as I rolled up in sweats with a Big Gulp after having a comfortable meal and commute to the movie house.

But, enough about those schmoes.  How was the movie?

Let me say first that I gave “The Phantom Menace” an $8.25 Show rating (before inflation bumped it to $9) back in 1999.  You have to put these movies into context, and that is what I did in my review.  Look, is the first chapter of ANY book spectacular?  Not usually.  In fact, for the first part in a nine-part saga (as creator George Lucas intended it to be), I thought it laid out who was who, what everyone was fighting for, and some of the bloodlines that will be important to the story down the line quite well.  Sure, it didn’t have enough action.  Sure, it was cheesy at times.  Sure, Jar Jar Binks sucks.  But, last I checked, “Star Wars” isn’t out to be “The Usual Suspects” or “Pulp Fiction”, movies that possess incredible sequences of dialogue and storytelling...Lucas HIMSELF calls this whole franchise his “sci-fi soap opera” anyway...and, for my money, these movies are a hell of a lot better than most soaps I’ve ever seen on TV!

“Attack of the Clones” takes place ten years after the events of “The Phantom Menace.”  Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is back with his apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), who has become the best apprentice the Jedi Council has ever seen.  Obi-Wan is trying hard to keep Anakin in line, but damned if Anakin doesn’t feel like he isn’t getting his chance to own the spotlight.  After reuniting with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), Anakin is assigned to escort the Queen back to her home planet of Naboo following assassination attempts on her life by a not-so-secret bounty hunting family.  This is Anakin’s first solo mission without Obi-Wan, and he uses it as a chance to prove his abilities and...to hook up with the Queen!  Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is sent to find out who this bounty hunter is...turns out, it’s the galaxy’s best professional killer, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison).

Now, there are a half-dozen other little subplots that take place during the course of the film, but you can learn about those for yourself.  Here’s what it boils down to:

The first hour is moderately entertaining, with some of the worst dialogue ever written in the scenes between Anakin and the Queen.  But, the balance in the Obi-Wan scenes helps this first hour break even.

The second hour is just plain monstrous, with the film turning into a straight action film.  The few set pieces that don’t deal with lots of CGI are pretty funny, or tense, or informative for the hard-core fan.  And, when Yoda shows up near the end...let’s just say this is the leading candidate for scene of the year!

In fact, the second hour can be sold alone on just the Jedis-vs.-the-world sequence in the arena; people in my theater were just about on their feet as Samuel L. Jackson and friends (as seen in the previews) break out their blue-or-green lightsabers and do battle with just about anything.  McGregor just looked bored to death in “The Phantom Menace” at times, but here, he is truly alive again.  He looks like he is having fun, and that helps “Attack of the Clones” immensely because Christensen comes off a bit clumsily at times.

I must say, after a day to think about it, that I liked “Attack of the Clones” a lot.  The major detractor for this film—and, it is major enough to drop it a grade—is the absolutely ridiculous overuse of CGI in this production.  I’m not talking about the shots of, say, Obi-Wan or Anakin using their force powers or shots of Coruscant (the home base of the Republic) from above, with their intricate inner workings of a city from a mile away.  In fact, those scenes are truly a sight to behold, and I loved the special effects in the flight sequences in the film.

No, I’m talking about the sheer number of characters that Lucas decided to animate, as opposed to slapping a person in a costume.  For McGregor, I think he should honestly be nominated for the Oscar for playing this character in “Attack of the Clones.”  Once he and Anakin separate in the film for their respective missions, I don’t think that McGregor talked to another costumed character for about an hour of screen time.  I can just imagine what it would be like on-set; he already couldn’t tell anyone that he knows in real life about what he was doing because of the secrecy surrounding the production; after leaving the makeup trailer in the morning, he probably had to report to the blue screen room and talk to the wall for eight hours, then go home.  There is the contact at the diner, the contact at the clone development lab, there was R4, the bot that controlled his spaceship, there was Jar Jar...why animate all of these people?  I thought some of these characters would have been better served to just show up in a costume, and after a while, it is distracting.  Lucas is a technological genius, but the genius is getting out of control.  McGregor handles acting against a blue screen exceptionally well.

The biggest thing that comes out of this film is a great setup for “Episode III”; from the beginning, this was the film I was most excited about, because I really hope that Lucas shows us more of the Han Solo/Lando Calrissian relationship with their Millennium Falcon before they got separated; how Princess Leia grew up; how Darth comes to grips with living in an asthmatic black suit, and so on.  The end of “Episode II” has a couple of good cliffhangers that clearly will set the table for a movie reminiscent of the run-and-gun “Return of the Jedi”; hopefully, when that film opens in 2005, it will improve upon this great piece of entertainment.

Rating:  $9.00 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09