Monday, December 06, 2004

Fanboys Are Whiny Babys, Pt. 2

Here it is Caitlin. I've decided that I'm going to attempt to reply to some of the issues that you raised in your post here.

1. One of the things that made Star Wars great was the entire context that made the far, far away galaxy so rich in meanings and rich in history. There was a past that was hinted at, but not known. The fall of the old Republic and the clone wars, which we had some inkling of, but no real knowledge of, made Lucas's Star Wars Galaxy real to us. When we are step-by-step shown the history that was hinted at, it loses the mystique that made it so intriguing. Tolkein had the same trouble with Middle Earth. The Silmarillion could never succeed the same way that Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit did, not only because it was written like an academic history, but also because it was the mystical beginning that had made the novels so tangible.
Well, that's certainly true. The Prequels don't have the same "mystique" that the original trilogy had. But can one really fault the films themselves for this? This is a part of the nature of what they are, which is the back story to the other films. Like you said, The Silmarillion also suffers from this, and for that reason it will never be as popular as The Lord of the Rings. However, Silmarillion is an incomparable work of myth making, that even Tolkien's novels didn't reach the level of. For what they are, the Prequels are equally interesting. But lets face it, for the people that didn't really care to know what happened before, I guess the Prequels are that interesting. And again, this isn't really the fault of the films, but of the prior conceptions that fans brought into the films with them.

2. Another thing that made the originals great was the perfect balance between profundity and comedy. Luke's intense experience at Degoba with Yoda is offset by the comic sexual tension between Han and Leia. Han's getting frozen in carbonite is made more bearable by C-3PO's inappropriate and ridiculous chattering. The new franchise is just too damn serious. Right now, I can only think of two spots in both episode I and II when I laughed out loud. (Greg Proop's narration of Anakin's race in Episode I, and Obi Wan forcing a lowlife to make something useful of himself in a bar in Episode II)

Again, this makes your criticism somewhat different from the complaints of the "whiny fanboys." The fanboys always criticise the Prequels for being too goofy, too much slapstick, too childish. I ask myself, what about Jar Jar? Isn't he possibly the most humourous character in any of the films? I know a lot of people are going to attack me on this one, but seriously, Jar Jar is a character that fits into a long history of humour.

Many people compare Lucas's Star Wars films to Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Now sometimes I wonder if any of these people have even seen Hidden Fortress, because the two farmer characters who are the comic relief in the film, and have often been called the precurssors of Artoo and Threepio, are actually far more similar to Jar Jar Binks. They act totally silly, totally cowardly, and are a constance source of annoyance for the princess and samurai (Toshiro Mifune) who they are accompanying.

Also, consider the non-explicit references that Jar Jar is similar too. Jar Jar's pratfalls and clumsiness is uncannily like the work of Buster Keaton, or Danny Kaye. Check out Kaye in The Court Jester in the scene where he is fighting the soldiers in the castle, and compare it to Jar Jar battling the droids at the end of Phantom Menace. Some of this is identical, such as when Jar Jar and Kaye both accidently take out their enemies. The new Star Wars films are full of humour. It's just innocent and far removed from the snarky, cynical humour that so many of us crave. Sometimes the way the fanboys talk, they just show their own ignorance of film history.

3. Where are the swashbuckling characters? The main characters in the originals all had minor flaws so that no matter how right they were about something or how good their plans were, they were always sort of bumbling through things the best way they knew how. Frankly, Luke Skywalker gets bloody annoying in Episode VI and in the novels because he's so freakin' wise. In the new franchise, people are seemingly perfect except for some gross hamartia that is as subtle as a smack across the face with a limp cod fish. I love the characters, but I don't like them very much. Where's the charming arrogance of Han Solo? The self-important temperamentalness of Princess Leia? The ridiculous puppy dog loyalty of Luke Skywalker? The comical anger of Chewbacca?

Basically, I always respond to this criticism like this. So basically, you don't like the films because there's no Han Solo? That's pretty much the main thing. Each of the new characters has their own characteristics. Also, none of the new characters are really perfect. Anakin, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon all have faults and uniqute personalities. Sure none of them is like anyone in the original trilogy, but do we really want that? We already have that. This is a different story. I understand where this argument comes from, but it's a bit like criticising an fine red wine for not being sweet enough. That's not the nature of the beast, and to criticise it for being something it's not, seems to me, silly.

4. Who the hell made the decision to switch to presentational acting from representational? The only people who pull this off at all well in the movies are Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor. Most of the rest of them just look like poor actors. This isn't the case at all; Natalie Portman and Samuel L. JAckson have been brilliant in other roles, but the director made choices about their acting which did not exploit their natural talents.
Firstly, congrats for knowing that they are actually using a presentational style of acting. That alone gives you bonus points. However, I think that you're view of the acting in the original films is kind of rose coloured. Both trilogies have their stand out actors (Ford and Guiness in the originals, MacGregor and Neeson in the current trilogy), but most of the acting isn't outstanding, but nor does it have to be.

Also, let's face it. Lucas isn't an "actors-director." He never has been, and he never will be. But he has an idea of what he wants and a vision of how his film should look. You have to also realize that Lucas wanted to fashion the acting in the new trilogy after the acting in the Saturday afternoon adventure serials that he watched as a kid. And the acting in those isn't Shakespearean in quality.

5. Who the hell edited this thing? Did we need ten minutes of Anakkin nearly dying in the android factory (or whatever it was)? Yes, we get it. Nice CG. I bow down to your technical knowhow. But frankly, by the end of the sequence, I wanted Anakkin to die because I was SO fecking sick of him being almost killed.
FYI, it was edited by Ben Burt, who also did the sound design for the original trilogy as well. But I mean, this argument could be leveled against the original trilogy (the Death Star attack run is painfully drawn out). If you watch the commentary on IAttack of the Clones, Lucas remarks that this sequence was added late in production, but not because they wanted to do more CGI, but rather he felt that pacing wise, it was needed. Without the sequence, Lucas felt that the entire approach and attempt to rescue Obi-Wan was too easy, and too quick, and that their needed to be a sense of recklessness to Anakin's rescue attempt. So, that's one answer.

6. A redemption plot is in general much more appealing to a Western sensibility than a plot about a fall.

Again, see my response in one. This isn't really a fault of the audience. Anyway you cut it, the Prequels were going to be about Anakin's fall. You admit this later in your post, and that it would have been more satisfying coming before the original trilogy. Well, that's possibly true, but I know an awful lot of people who are also looking forward to Episode III precisely because they want to see Anakin fall. And fall hard!


Also, I need to take some time to answer the critics of CGI. Yes, CGI can be used badly, but I really don't think that too much time is spent on CGI instead of traditional effects. The way some people talk, you'd think that "traditional effects" would improve story and things like that. In many ways, CGI actually frees a filmmaker up to spend more time on story and composition and things like that, rather than technical problems.

If people would watch the making of documentaries and read about the making of the original films, they'd realize how much time and effort went into just making certain things work. Story was sacrificed for the effects. It was the nature of the beast. CGI is a tool (and just that a tool) that has allowed filmmakers to do things that they couldn't before. Jackson's Lord of the Rings couldn't have been made without CGI. Spider-man wouldn't have been convincing (or would have looked as bad as Christopher Reeve against the blue screen in Superman) without CGI. What the technology does to a good director is allows them to do things that they couldn't do before.

Also, CG is used in films that most people don't even realize are. Take Master and Commander. Lots of CGI. Digital compositing. That movie wouldn't have been possible without CGI. Or even certain transitions and camera movements aren't possible without CG technology.

Anyway, if people want to know more about the FX work in the new films, I'm more than happy to talk about it and explain to people what's actually going on in different scenes. So please, before you tell me that the ships in the new trilogy look too "fake" because they're CGI, stop, because they're actually models.


At 5:50 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Okay, my rebuttal:
1&6: I don't "fault" the films per se. I mean, it's really inevitable, isn't it? Bea and I were actually talking about this earlier; if we have kids, are we going to show them I-III first, or IV-VI first? Frankly, I-III are never going to seem as good if you watch IV-VI first, but it also takes a lot of the suspense/mystery/surprise out of IV-VI if you watch them after the prequels (for example, when my sister accidentally let slip to her boyfriend that Luke and Leia were brother and sister after they watched V, he was just crushed. Of course, it's his own damn fault for not having seen it till he's 22, but still.)
But even though it's certainly not the films' "fault," it does mean I won't like it as much. Same goes for anything, really. I don't like horror films, but it's not the genre's "fault." However, I'm also not going to start liking it.

(note on Tolkein: I would argue that rather than surpassing Tolkein's other books in mythology, they rather present a backdrop for the action of the Hobbit and LOTR. They are entirely different in content and intent, so I don't know if you could say one was better than the other; it's sort of an apples and oranges thing)

2: Hey, I got nothing against Jar Jar. I think he did work quite well, and I think it's kind of too bad that they had to virtually cut him out of II for political reasons. It wasn't the type of comic relief I would have chosen, however. I'm not a huge fan of slapstick in general; the part I loved about "the Court Jester" was the mistaken identities and the comedy of errors that ensued as a result. It wasn't so much about Danny Kaye's slapstick, which is probably why I didn't like "Wonder Man" as much as I liked "the Kid From Brooklyn" or "the Court Jester." And again, I don't blame the prequels for this, but I really liked the comedy in the originals that came out of character conflicts. I really liked the droids in IV-VI, not because of R2's slapstick, but because of the interplay between their characters; one of my favourite bits is C3P0's line: "No! I don't think she likes you at all" (R2 beeps inquisitively) "No. I don't like you, either." The nature of the comedy in the prequels seems to me to be different than the comedy of the originals. The blossoming of Han and Leia's relationship is so much more interesting than Amidala and Anakin's. It was about being in love in spite of each other rather than because of each other. As well, in I, it seemed to be a bit of a tag-on. It didn't feel integrated the same way. Again, I'm not going to "blame" the prequels for this, but it's one of the reasons I don't like them that much.

3. Okay, it's not just about Han Solo (though Han is definitely very cool). I guess the problem for me is that in the originals, every character was serious and every character was comical at different times. They were so human. In the new ones, it seems almost as if there's a division between "funny characters" and "serious characters," as if they are stock characters from Commedia d'elle Arte, or something. And it just doesn't ring true to me.

4. Bonus points? Am I getting graded? ;o) But I must say, I hold firmly to the belief that presentational acting is not a good choice for the medium of film, especially not with dramas. Sometimes when I watch Lancaster or Hepburn in serious movies from the 30s or 40s, I want to shake them and say, "stop overacting!" Because film is so much more intimate than stage, presentational acting seems garish; I level the same criticism at Branagh's Shakespearean tragedies (and not just Hamlet). The only parts of Henry V I really liked was the comedic scene with Princess Katherine at the end, and the scene where the Dauphin expounds abou the virtues of his horse. Other than that, it struck me as just plain melodramatic. For comedy, a director can pull presentational acting off because comedy is often less intimate than tragedy (unless, of course, it is subtle comedy, which would by definition not use presentational acting). Where I dislike Branagh's Henry V, I love his Love's Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing. But, the prequels are not particularly comedic, so I don't think it works, whether the acting is good or not. I would never say Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench or Robbie Coltrane were bad actors, but I didn't like any of them particularly in Henry V.

5: I do level this criticism at the original trilogy! Frankly, Luke Skywalker playing space cowboy gets damn boring after a while. But I forgive the originals because there is so much else I like about them. The prequels don't have the same redemptive qualities.
So yeah, this is getting hella long again, but one word on CGI: I am totally willing to accept CGI in its many forms. Shows like Master & Commander and Muppets from Space would not be possible without CGI, so I am glad for it; I think it is an extremely useful tool that has expanded the medium of film a lot. But I do think that directors hide behind CGI sometimes (for examples watch the LOTR trilogy; refer to my comment about oliphaunts getting shmucked). I also think they overuse it because they are so excited about it. You see the same thing in really early CGI in the 1980s; they are so proud that they use a whole bunch, and when technology has surpassed a particular movie, it's really just pretty boring.

At 6:24 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Oh, one more thing: I seriously would not consider Harrison Ford a stand-out actor; he has a lot of charisma as Solo, but I really don't much like him in anything else.

At 7:08 p.m., Blogger Anders said...

Some good points. But seriously, you don't like Harrison Ford in anything else? What about Indiana Jones? What about Witness? What about The Fugitive? Personally, I think Harrison Ford is great.

And the thing about CGI in The Lord of the Rings, I think the thing with the oliphants had less to do with PJ being enamoured with CGI than with him thinking "OLIPHANTS ARE FRICKIN' COOL!" I think those films have the best integration of CGI into the film of anything I've seen. Again, watch the Moria Battle scene with the Cave Troll to show how CGI can work wonders.

At 7:28 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Okay, Indiana Jones is so just Han Solo in the 1930s (though "IJ and the Last Crusade" was awesome). And yes, Moria was good, but seriously, did we need like, 15 minutes of it? I don't think so; not, at least, when you leave out most of the Hobbits' journey and 17 years of Frodo's life because of "time constraints."

At 10:36 a.m., Blogger Ewan said...

As a guy who hasn't read the LOTR series, but enjoyed the movies, but found them too long, i think spending too much time on the action was not a bad thing. I was dying during the last hour of ROTK.

At 11:02 a.m., Blogger cait said...

Yes, I was dying too. Do you know why? Because Elijah Wood fills me with an indescribable, unarticulable rage. I really didn't agree with a lot of the casting.


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