DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones

Thursday 8 December 2011

Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones

Star Wars Episode 2 Attack of the Clones (2002) dir. George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson

By Alan Bacchus

I can’t think of a worse piece of dreck foisted upon the pop culture annals with bigger hype and anticipation than Attack of the Clones, George Lucas’s second (or 5th depending on how you number these things) chapter in the Star Wars saga. A teenaged Anakin Skywalker struts his stuff as a Jedi-in-training caught up in a political power struggle in the galaxy far, far away, with strings pulled by some nefarious clandestine omni-being.

To give it credit, the story is plotted out sharply. Lucas’s desire to create a nebulous cloud of evil, pulling the strings on both the galactic Senate and the business-oriented Trade Federation, deepens the big picture world of Star Wars more than the first series ever did. In the first three pictures we knew only a few planets and only a few characters. And the movements of the characters themselves occupied a very short time span and were in contained spaces. Here, characters move and make decisions all around the galaxy involving complex plotting that surprisingly holds itself together.

With that said, Lucas’s tin ear for dialogue was never more off key. Everyone seems to be sleeping through this picture, especially Ewan McGregor, who looks exhausted at playing the increasingly useless character Obi Wan Kenobi. Take the opening dialogue scene introducing an older Anakin Skywalker to the audience. They’re riding an elevator up to Senator Amidala’s quarters bantering about their past battles with 'humorous' lines like, “I haven't felt you this tense since we fell into that nest of gundarks.” Unfortunately, McGregor just can’t fake the ridiculousness of the attempted comic exchange.

It’s also an uneventful debut for Hayden Christensen, who speaks in a whiney cadence from the back of his mouth and with a Marlon Brando mumble. The romantic exchanges offer the most laughable moments in the entire series, specifically Anakin’s lakeside confessions expressing his love for the softness of Padme’s skin. And the groundwork of Anakin’s future conversion to the Dark Side is laid with the grace of a jack hammer.

It was a bold move by Mr. Lucas to shoot the film digitally, one of the first major mainstream films to do so. For the most part it’s indistinguishable from film, offering us some remarkably pristine and robust imagery. That said, Lucas further demonstrated his disdain (or laziness) with physical production by shooting almost everything on a soundstage in front of a green screen. His hubris in thinking that his other baby, ILM, could render special effects, background landscape and everything else in the frame with a computer and pass it off as real is completely off base.

For example, there’s a shot early on during a running chase between Anakin and a mysterious assassin who tried to kill Amidala. We see Hayden Christensen running across the neon streaking cityscape dodging pedestrians in order to keep up with his assailant. Unfortunately, the crop lines around the actor’s body and the awkward and inconsistent motion of the actors within the space tell us this is not a real space, but a puzzle of separately shot elements cropped together on a computer. In the original films Lucas used motion controlled cameras to link elements together, an effect that still looks realistic today because he used real tangible objects shot with his camera.

Without the anchor of real objects in the frame (other than the actors), most of the action in this film is a swash of colours and light, which fails to stimulate us or at least move us emotionally. The final act, featuring the Jedi battle in the arena, is incomprehensible and over-produced. The only two scenes to keep from this entire film are Obi Wan’s fight with Jango Fett in the rain and the final double-Jedi match against Count Dooku. Both scenes are exciting because of the simplicity of the choreography in the Dooku battle and the real-life rain falling on the actors in the Obi Wan/Fett scene. Again, these are physical effects that the audience can innately feel are real.

I don’t think I’m off base to say it’s the tangibility of this new Star Wars world that is the greatest loss of the series.


T.J. Hawke said...

Glad to see you talk about the green screen aspect of the prequels. While the characters and dialogue are still bigger problems in the sequels, the fact that almost every scene of "Clones" and "Sith" look incredibly fake really harmed the films as well.

Life is not that shiny and clean. The interior of the Death Star looked so much more like an actual place. When the setting looks so artificial, it is that much harder for the audience to suspend their disbelief and get emotionally attached to the characters and the story.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but....IT'S STAR WARS! :))

It's in a galaxy all by itself and I still love watching all 6 episodes and every character.