Saturday 17 December 2016

That new Star Wars movie

If you need to be told that an article entitled "That new Star Wars movie" is perhaps going to discuss that new Star Wars movie, and intrinsically that's going to include details of the plot then... well here you go:

This contains spoilers.

I'll leave some space before I say anything else, in case that's not clear enough for you, and you think "oh, I hope what Cameron says here doesn't discuss that new Star Wars movie... I haven't seen it and I don't want it spoiled".

Oh for fuck's sake why do I do this to myself?

Firstly, Adam Tuttle is dead right on two counts:

This is true. I watched the trailers for this and though: "haha, nicely played: this doesn't look like crap!", and pretty much decided to see it on that basis. He followed up with this:

I'm the same. I've not actually enjoyed one of these movies since the third one. To save some confusion: I don't give a shit how Lucas decided to number these, or whether they're prequels, sequels or spin offs: I number them chronologically based on their release dates. In this case I mean: Return of the Jedi: the third one. I liked that one. I was 13 when I saw it (in 1983), and I've always had a soft spot for "space ships and laser guns" movies. And it was a good kids' movie. And I was a kid.

It demonstrates AdamT's point that I also knew what date this new one was being released (well: within a week or so of the date: "early Dec"), and I figured a coupla nights ago... I'd be in Galway on Saturday afternoon with two options:
  1. sit at the pub and write a blog article about consuming SOAP web services with PHP. Oh, and drink Guinness;
  2. or go to the local cinema and kill a coupla hours watching this movie first.
I don't wanna think about SOAP yet, so I decided on the latter. On the way home from the cinema I decided to procrastinate on the SOAP thing further by wittering on about the movie instead. I've got the Guinness though. There's always Guinness.

But anyway AdamT was right... there was some anticipation from me to get to see this latest Star Wars movie, and given - despite my best efforts - I don't actually enjoy them, I suspect it's just the nostalgia thing he mentioned.

So, yeah, I scooted down to the cinema and watched the movie. Interestingly there was only about another dozen people in the auditorium. I guess it's either not the draw "a Star Wars movie" used to have, or Saturday afternoon is not a popular time, or the Irish are too sensible to waste their time on such nonsense. I like to think it's the latter.

In case you don't know, this one is the story about how the goodies got hold of the Death Star plans just before the beginning of the first movie, and got them to Princess Leia and R2D2 and what not, and off they went to be chased by that Star Destroyer, and the rest of Star Wars goes from there.

Here's the problem with this new one from the outset: we already know the goodies in this movie succeed in their efforts to steal the plans, and we also know that they all die. Hey I told you there was going to be spoilers. Why did we know they'd all be dead at the end of this one? Well if they weren't they'd still be around for Star Wars etc, wouldn't they?

As a sidebar I am a big fan of the movie Alien, and before I developed a sense for decent movie writing, I also really liked Aliens. I always thought it'd be way cool if there was a linking story covering the period at the LV426 colony before they all got wiped out (some scenes of this made it into the extended mix of Aliens)... showing the colonists being overwhelmed, and only two of them being alive at the end. But even then it occurred to me the denouement wouldn't work as we already know what it would be.

Same here with this movie: Felicity Jones (I've no idea what her character name was: it didn't matter) was always gonna end up dead. And that other geezer she was with. Dead. Along with all the red shirts they were with. Well obviously they were gonna end up dead: they were only making up the numbers (this includes the yeah-we-get-it-it's-The-Force blind dude and his... brother? Pal? Who knows? Who cares?). This was, accordingly, a movie without any real overarching sense of drama.

One thing I did like about this movie was all the nods to the earlier movies there were. I'd usually think this would be self-indulgement / self-knowing / "Joss-Whedon-esque" sort of movie making, but hey, this thing is a nostalgia exercise more than anything else, so why not. I mention this cos I chuckled when they did indeed open with a triangular thing coming down from the top of the screen - eg: the Star Destroyer in the first movie - but this time it wasn't some big spaceship, it was a visual illusion of the way a planet's rings were in the planet's shadow (you'll need to see the scene to get what I mean). On the whole these things were inconsequential but I spotted a few, and they made me chuckle.

I was surprised to see Mads Mikkelsen in this (slumming it slightly, IMO), and he delivered his lines well and seemed convincing in his role... although it was a pretty small if pivotal one. I mention this because most of the rest of the acting was either pretty bland, or the players were the victim of pretty turgid writing (I was reminded of Harrison Ford's quote "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it!". This was alive and well in this movie too, despite Lucas having nothing to do with it).

Forest Whitaker was a prime example of victimised actor here. His lines were so awful even he couldn't save them. I actually wonder if there was more material for his character originally which was excised, cos I really don't see why he was in the movie.

Felicity Jones was OK, but in comparing her to... ooh... [thinks]... Daisy Ridley in the preceding movie, who I though "hey, you've made a good character here!", I didn't get the same reaction. But she was completely OK, and one of the few people not over-egging their performances.

The comedy robot sidekick was better than usual, but it was still a comedy robot sidekick. It's interesting though that - on reflection - it was probably the second-most-rounded-out character after Jones's one. More so than all the other humans.

On the whole the script was dire. Uncharacteristically for me I found myself repeatedly muttered "for fuck's sake: really? Did you really just make the poor actor utter that line?" But I have to realise it's aimed at people with limited attention spans, and limited... well... age. Be that chronologically or... well... ahem.

What's with the capes? Why did that dude... the baddy guy who wasn't Tarkin or Darth Vader... wear a uniform which otherwise would never have a cape (none of the other dudes with the same uniform had one), had a cape basically clipped on to it. Who the fuck has worn a cape since the Edwardian era?? I never understood that about the likes of Batman or Superman either. Fucking daft.

But actually that baddy guy wasn't too badly drawn and portrayed either. He didn't seem "one note evil" like CGI Cushing or Darth Vader. Vader with his cape. Fuckin' dick.

(later update: shit it was Ben Mendelsohn. Fair enough he did a decent job then. Thankfully his script wasn't as bad as Whitaker's)

The visual composition of the thing was impressive, as one would expect from one of these movies. I think they overdid the "huge impressive but strangely odd design for the given situation" buildings a bit. And it was clear there was a design session of "we need new environments... these things always have new environments... I know: rain! Let's do rain! We've not done rain before! Oh and Fiji too. Let's make one of the planets look like Fiji: we've not done that before either". Still: it all looked impressive. It also pretty much looked real too, which is an improvement on some of its predecessors.

There was also a lot of "exciting" action set-pieces, except for the fact they're not exciting at all, because we all know that the action bits during the body of  the movie will only ever serve to maintain the attention-span of the viewers between sections of exposition or travel to the next set piece, and nothing really important will happen during them. Like key characters being killed or anything. Just the red shirts (or white-suited storm-troopers in this case).

All I could think in the final space battle thing was that - once again - they've committed too many resources to this thing: there's not a few TIE Fighters, there's a bloody million of them, so obviously any of that action is not going to actually contribute to the plot, as there's no way the goodies can realistically beat them ship to ship, so something else needs to happen. So: no drama, and might as well not bother. It doesn't even look impressive as lots of small things whizzing around the place is not impressive. So it's just a matter of sitting there going "oh just get on with it, FFS. Get back to the plot".

I also thought the people in the Star Wars technical design dept should talk to the ones from the Battlestar Galactica one. Those were capital ships. None of this "we'll fire a coupla laser beams at you every few seconds", but "we'll throw up a wall of lead and fire, and small craft just ain't getting through it". Star Wars capital ships just aren't impressive. Oh, OK, I did like the way they finally got rid of the shield gateway thingey though. That was cool. It also reminded me of the scene in RotJ when one of the star destroyers lost control, and crashed into the surface of the Death Star.

Speaking of which: why was there no mention of the fact they were building two Death Stars? Those things would take ten years to build, so they were clearly both underway at the same time.

I did think "ooh shit, now yer fucked" when the AT-ATs showed up at the beach battle. Although obviously they were just gonna get destroyed or just not matter anyhow. I grant some of the ways they were destroyed struck a chord, especially in contrast to their seemingly imperviousness (is that a word?) in The Empire Strikes Back. The rendering of them made them look solid and foreboding though. Completely impractical, but quite foreboding.

How come only one person in the movie had a fully-automatic weapon? And why did it have a slide action (like a pump-action shotgun) which occasionally needed using?

What was with that computer of theirs? At the end when they were trying to get the plans. why did it need a manually controlled thingey to find the hard drive that they were looking for? I realise it was a plot device to slow things down a bit so the baddie could get there for that final showdown, but is that the best they could come up with? Shitty, lazy-arse writing.

Why was the controller console for the satellite dish way out there at the end of that catwalk?

Why did the Death Star miss from that range? I mean other than a setup so that the two goodies weren't instantly vaporised, instead giving them a moment to be reunited and have a wee hug (that was telegraphed too. Sigh) before being all tsunami-ed.

Why the fuck do I keep going to these movies?

In the end, I'd rate this movie as follows:

  • visually impressive in a vapid way;
  • not bad for a Star Wars movie. Probably the "best" one since RotJ;
  • but let's make it clear: that's damning it with faint praise. This is an intellectually barren movie, aimed at kids (at least psychologically, if not chronologically). In that I know adults that actually like this shit, it's just further proof of the infantilisation of our culture, and at that I despair.
  • I'll  give it 6/10 mostly cos it does indeed achieve what it sets out to do... I'm just not the right audience for it. But seeing the kiddies waiting outside for the next session all excited made me remember what it was like when I first went to Star Wars, aged eight, 38 years ago.
  • If I was a kiddie, it'd be an 8/10, I reckon. It's a bit bleak for a kiddie though, as they won't understand all the rest of the story kicks-off from the end of this one. That and that pretty much everyone of note in the movie dies. But at least they wouldn't notice how fucking stupid and bad almost all of the human-element of the movie was.

Oh... I thought the very ending was good: getting the plans to Leia's spaceship and off they went... 5min later for the Star Wars plot to start. That was all right.

Right. Another Guinness and I better try to find 1000-odd words to write about SOAP.

Sorry for the off-topic shite, but writing this all down here will save me some Twitter conversations about it. And, hey, it's possible click bait ;-)