I kind of feel the same way about these new Marvel Star Wars films, as I do about J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek films. Whatever keeps the idea alive can’t be so bad, can it? And Rogue One wasn’t so bad. But on closer analysis, it was bittersweet in a way that could only be properly digested and identified by a 70’s era child of the Original Trilogy.
It’s like this: while those films were made from a place of strong storytelling that recalled many well told cinematic stories of the past, this new film was designed to be a fresh take on the Star Wars universe, supercharged by modern cinematic techniques. But because they ignored the original intent of the Original films, they wound up with a diesel engine, as opposed to a linear aerospike. And it’s for this reason, that I think I had very little of an emotional response to this story. Or its characters. And that’s sad, given how good the acting is among the principal cast. If anything the director did right it was work with the actors to build memorable characters. Even if all they did was stand there most of the time. I mean, at the very least, the director did a very fine job of directing these actors to give their lines the proper inflection. Something Lucas never even gave a passing thought about doing with the Prequels. But maybe this film, and its audience, would be better served by a plot that involved the Rebels rounding up a group of criminals, one by one, and somehow getting them all to cooperate with this mission. Would’a, could’a, should’a.
To me, this film really felt like a long, twisted, confusing journey to find some sort of a weaving plot that justifies the happenings within it. And the audience isn’t supposed to even be this aware of something like that while watching a movie on an initial viewing. If your story is constructed correctly, the audience is completely preoccupied with the movie’s storyline, in the vault of their own imaginations. But here, we don’t have a thrilling plot that unfolds, much less a mystery. Heave ho, the art of distraction; all which is required is the overlong, episodic tale of how to get from point A to point B. Fuck points C through Z, we don’t need those; we can feed ‘em 3D, hyperbolic videogame gobbledygook for the cerebral cortex, throughout the second half of the film, and they won’t know the difference. This makes Rogue One a hollow meal that makes you wish for a better restaurant, or better yet, home cooking. Unlike some movies where it seems like bits and pieces of junk-ideas and leftovers have been heaped into a single script and sloughed onto the audience’s plate, this movie seems more like a by-the-instructions, hard won recipe for nothing more than a lunch of the week special of very expensive and well-made pasta — covertly removed from the refrigerator, and microwaved to proper room temperature before serving to an unsuspecting patron, at the most expensive restaurant in town.
So it’s truly confusing how to feel about this movie. While I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the movie Star Wars: Rogue One, I can definitely say that too many things about it seem all but completely distanced in my imagination from the universe of the Original Trilogy. Much like the Prequels. And that breaks my heart, in light of how much they got right with Rogue One. Don’t misunderstand me, the film is a vast improvement over the Prequels. As was Abrams’ own film, The Force Awakens. However, while I have issues with Abrams’ film, I did feel it was connected to the essence of Star Wars. It felt connected. But with Rogue One ... there’s something missing. Maybe it’s a simple spark of creativity. Maybe it’s that the intended connection — the face of Princess Leia — is a dodgy effect at best; and the audience required better, in order to complete that illusion and generate the intended emotional response. (Perhaps it would have been better if clearly CGI Leia didn’t fully face the camera.) Or maybe it’s too gritty. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t realize that a little grit goes a long way with this type of film. Or maybe the film’s simply not intended by the filmmakers to truly belong within that universe the Original Trilogy of films inhabit, in the first place. And that’s an issue with me. They make a shit-ton of money off of these things. And they likely always will. No matter what kind of films they make. And they know that. Which begs the question, do they even care about the longevity of these stories? Or are they only playing pretend on behalf of the public. Yes, in addition to wanting to separate you from your money, we also care about Star Wars. But do they?
Since the filmmakers, and I’m sure numerous Executives, could not figure out how the magic of Star Wars worked, they merely reinvented it. Makes sense, doesn’t it. They simply went back to the drawing board. Question is, is that a sufficient enough copout for not trying to genuinely achieve the grand illusion that audiences require?
I knew something was off with the opening titles. Which were designed to place the film on another track. An adjacent track to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The film opened with simply a prologue. A dark and gritty scene that portrays the abduction of the female protagonist’s father when she was a child. A scene that any experienced screenwriter will tell you, is unnecessary. In fact without it, her story would have unfolded much better in bits and pieces of information as the film went on. And there would have been more of a mystery surrounding her, as well as her Father. The entire sequence is not only unnecessary, but it plays much too long. As does pretty much the entire first half of the movie. In circumspect, the entire set-up of the film is handled the way today’s movies (many of them not theatrically released) are routinely tasked by today’s filmmakers and their crews. Lots of ‘you really need to take this seriously’ bullshit cinematography, complete with the customary shaky cam, and unending exposition. It’s a general tone we’ve all come to accept, and a modus operandi now seen repeated in film after film, since Casino Royale introduced it in 2007. And to some extent the filmmakers miraculously manage to make this work. But once you get beyond that, there are issues with this film that could never have been resolved, due to the way the story is constructed. And it all points to a singular idea, intended for a single sequence in a larger story, being padded out to fill the entire runtime of this one movie. Almost as if they looked at the original script’s structure and decided, ‘well we could make FIVE movies out of this,’ and earmarked the other five parts of the story, for five more movies. And personally, I dread the recognition of familiar material in subsequent films. I’ve seen this before, and it genuinely gives me a headache. I was the one who thought it was too easy and obvious that Lucas reused the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Now we have a total of 4 films, count ‘em, FOUR, featuring the freakin’ Death Star. (I’m including the planet killer in The Force Awakens; which was essentially the same plot device.) And while this one film does have a good excuse for that, given the conceit of the story, it manages to make the Death Star far less interesting, this time around. How the hell do you make a planet killing moon-sized space station, blasé and disinteresting?
And here’s a few more little touches of insanity that fell upon my head while ingesting this film:
When Diego Luna’s character (the Clandestine Rebel Agent) killed a trusted informer in one of the very first scenes … I knew the movie was in trouble. Because that could only mean certain doom for any protagonist character in any kind of Star Wars film. This was something that nagged at me for the entire first half of the movie. And to be fair, it is possible that his character, being who he is, was ordered to kill that individual by his Rebel Commander. But A) that was not conveyed, and B) that makes the Rebellion no better than the Empire.
Did they expect that the film would only be seen by audiences in 3D, is that the reasoning behind the slightly dodgy Liea and Grand Moff Tarkin effects. I mean, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but come on, man. They can do better than that on TV Commercials. You expect me to believe …
It was nice to have the cameos from the original film. Certainly in light of this film’s place in the timeline. But am I the only one who noticed a few issues with that? Where the hell are the characters from the wonderful, animated Disney show Star Wars: Rebels? When the impromptu Rebel Council – or whatever they called that inept roundtable debate – made a decision to surrender to the evil empire, and the female protagonist decides to go it alone, and suddenly Diego Luna’s character approaches her with volunteers … would this not have been a perrrrrfect opportunity to introduce the Star Wars: Rebels characters into the live action arena? In my opinion, that would have elevated the film to a B+, as opposed to a C-. And by the way, why is Walrus Man’s head so much larger in this film that it was in the original Star Wars? Did he get bit by a giant Fucking mosquito shortly before the events of this film, or something?
The score was ho-hum. Michael Giacchino is clearly no John Williams. To be fair, Giacchino was not the original composer, of record. Pun intended. The original composer was replaced, and Giacchino had to do a rush job on this one. But he ain’t no J.W. ‘Nuff said.
Why did the Game of Thrones mentality of ‘everybody dies,’ have to influence this film? I mean even the Robot dies. That’s overkill. Another pun intended. And placed within context – it sends a not so nice message to children that a bunch of ragtag, dirty, homeless, rogue rebels went through hell and died acquiring the plans to the most destructive weapon in the galaxy, so that pretty little rich kid Princess Leia Organa didn’t get her white robes messy.
Too much contrivance. I loved the small Rebel ship crashing into a Star Destroyer, causing it to collide with another Star Destroyer, and have both fall and crash into a shield generating spaceship, thereby destroying all ships involved, and deactivating the shield. Really made me laugh. There’s just one problem. Well, two if you want to get anal about it. There’s not enough gravity that far up in orbit to cause those ships to fall downward. Duh. 2. It’s too much of a stretch to believe that the Rebels didn’t know that shield ship was going to be there, and work out a method of dealing with it, beforehand. Maybe this would have worked in a more playful film, but positioned as a plot contrivance within a story told with the gritty tone this one is told with, it just stands out like a sore thumb.
There is really no main character, functioning within this plot. They’re ALL supporting characters, and only one of them even has an arc. Am I honestly the only one who noticed this? I was very excited to see this film. The premise seemed to be withholding much in the way of imaginative storytelling. And some of the critics who saw early screenings touted that the film did in fact hold surprises. But this was merely the Wizard behind the curtain. This new kind of movie seems to be the norm these days. Please don’t look to close, just enjoy the pretty pictures. It wasn’t dumb, by any definition. But it was an expert example of how to skip over the hard parts of telling a story.
They still haven’t fixed the issue of how easy it is to kill a storm trooper, even though they are supposedly wearing armor.
In summary, I did enjoy the film, Star Wars: Rogue One. Just not as a Star Wars film. I had trouble accepting that. And in the end, there were a few little things I did like. And Diego Luna’s character arc was one of them. At the beginning of the film, he kills indiscriminately. Possibly because he’s been ordered to. After all, he is a clandestine operative. But when faced with a moral dilemma, he chooses not to kill; which rings true with the morality that Star Wars was originally designed to impart to children. And while that doesn’t correct the problem of his character’s initial introduction, it does give his character a proper arc; whilst none of the other characters even have an arc. The female protagonist walks through the film and dies a martyr, whose name is only spoken of in hushed whisper, off camera for the remainder of the serial. The Blind Guy (really the best character) who really believes he’s one with the force, walks through gunfire, flips a switch then dies walking back — guess an actual Jedi would’ve seen that coming. The stoic rifle toting broad shouldered long haired guy … charges the enemy, gets shot, has a grenade roll his way, then just stares at it go off and dies, needlessly. The Clandestine operative is content with having accomplished his mission and dies. The former Empire pilot who just wants to make things right, has a grenade thrown at him, then just stares at it and gets blown to bits, too. And the Robot is given a blaster (apparently his life’s ambition is to hold one) moments before he gets to use it, then gets himself shot. Gets shot a lot, actually. Matter of fact, I think the last one went right through the center of his head. Guess those toys won’t be flying off the shelves. Oh well, everybody else dies, why not the stepin fetchit, right.
**Actually, I liked the Robot. Didn’t like that he was given artificial intelligence that practically acquaints to human intelligence, and then treated like a ‘sophisticated spanner,’ as writer Harlan Ellison once termed R2-D2. That dehumanizes the character. Another negative aspect of the storyline.
The site was revised as of 06/23/2016 to reflect that my book, “Western Legend” is not currently available. All clickbait on the right of the page referencing sites wherein the book was available — as well as the cover — have been removed.
More information will be available regarding this book if and when it sees publication in the foreseeable future.
Thank you to everyone who supported my book.
Currently, I am working on other projects. Another book, two screenplays, and seeking financing to the “AstroWorld” project.
“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” SPOILERS AHEAD!! ALL SPOILERS!!
SERIOUSLY, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE!! YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES!! ALSO: FAIR WARNING — FOUL LANGUAGE AHEAD. THIS IS AN UNCENSORED REVIEW!!!
**Please NOTE: I began writing a movie review, and wound up writing a paper. A thesis, if you will, that critiques the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but moreover subsists as a tome of frustration against, and will hopefully be thumbtacked to the very ass of, Corporate Hollywood.
IN PROLOGUE A Writer in Requiem
In May of 1983, I was 12 years old.
Sitting in a darkened theater called “Angelina Twin Cinema,” in Lufkin, Texas, I watched as the last (and most anticipated) of the original Star Wars Trilogy, unfolded. And surprisingly, I sank lower, and lower, and lower in my seat. Having read interviews with various behind-the-scenes participants, in various movie magazines such as Starlog and Fantastic Films, I knew in advance that something hadn’t gone quite as planned in relation to the film’s screenplay. On my way in, I really didn’t think it would matter. On my way out, I was frustrated. I just kept shaking my head, ‘Why the hell did they do that??’
While watching the movie, my ability to delude myself, suspend my disbelief, and in general distract myself from the film’s faults, was not only nonexistent, it had gradually turned into full blown anxiety. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Five drafts! All circulated among V.I.P.’s termed, “Above-The-Line Talent,” prior to principal photography. And with each new draft, reportedly came even more watered down characters and plot developments, and more and more contrived and inconsequential visual exposition. Rumor was, it was a ploy intended to sell more toys.
I was caught off guard. I could actually see the difference in the quality of the material, moving across the screen. And I could certainly hear it in the dialogue. Although the larger structure was really strong, scenes within that larger story structure were … simplified. And a little wooden. Even cartoony. But more often, pointless. This was awkward and embarrassing. Especially in comparison with the former film, Empire Strikes Back. Within two days, I knew I could have written it better. I didn’t just think I could have written Return of the Jedi better – I knew I could have written it better. This was the very moment, I realized I was going to be a writer. Whether I wanted to be, or not.
Mind you, I was only 12 years old.
PART FIRST The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing or Wherein I explain the how’s and why’s of every nightmare in the 21’st Century being systematically generated and monopolized by Opportunists
I thought Return of the Jedi was the worst Star Wars would ever have to offer. DISSOLVE TO: Thirty-two years and Seven months have passed since then. And Luke Skywalker has vanished. In more than one sense.
After a disappointing trilogy of Prequel films, helmed by original Star Wars co-writer and director, George Lucas, Disney and Lucasfilm sought out talent to “reboot” their newly acquired franchise. Several names were thrown to the media. After months of gossip, former movie Producer, and newly inaugurated Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy announced that J.J. Abrams had gotten the job.
Abrams entered the Industry as a college film school grad who had attracted the attention of the one and only Steven Spielberg. Working in multiple roles and positions in the area of film production, “Jeffrey” Abrams had managed to write and sell screenplays such as: Taking Care of Business (1990,) Regarding Henry (1991,) and Forever Young (1992.) Eventually, he was offered work polishing scripts for film production, and did so for good payment, but little or no credit. That is, with exception to the 1998 stupidfest, Armageddon. And just why Abrams would agree to a job rewriting said script is a head-scratcher. Specifically in light of the fact that Steven Spielberg was a mentor to Abrams, and Armageddon was competing against the Steve Spielberg produced Deep Impact.
Segueing into the TV business, by writing, and creating shows such as Felicty and Alias, Abrams quickly became a well-known, successful commodity in the business of Television. By the time the TV show Lost became a phenomenon in 2004, Abrams had plopped into the Television Development Executive comfy chair, offering comments, notes, and a certain creative advice, on numerous shows. A job role which he would never be credited with, as Development Executives rarely get credited. That’s the job position they don’t want you asking too many questions about. Because Television Development Executives always have more authority than they really need, and exploit it, obsessive-compulsively.
Eventually, Abrams began directing. First in Television, but later with films like Mission: Impossible III, Super8 (a film that reportedly pitted him against both Dreamworks’ and Paramount’s Development Executives, with heartbreaking results, ha-ha) and two Star Trek films. And all the while, he maintained his role as a “Television Development Executive.” The role that actually introduced him to the corporate climate of Hollywood, and in effect, has always been his trump card in the industry.
So, why did Lucasfilm want Abrams? Because Stephen Spielberg called up Kathy Kennedy and suggested Abrams. And why would Stephen Spielberg call up Kathy Kennedy, wishing to suggest Abrams? Because Spielberg had discovered that Disney (which owns Lucasfilm) wanted to reboot Star Wars into another kind of franchise. And just what kind of franchise? An ATM Machine, that’s what kind of franchise. Specifically, an overly episodic, simplified, addicting storyline. An unending series of films, preferably designed with less emphasis on the Joseph Campbell influence, and preferably straight-jacketed by a “Bible.” A “Bible” on a show, is television industry parlance for, “We wanna know what the hell’s gonna happen, going forward; don’t hold anything back; tell us everything, so that we — those who are really in charge — can determine the direction of these stories. You know, just like the Marvel films that we release. That’s it! Simplify the fuck out of it, in advance; that works for us!” They wanted something that they, the corporate-minded people who don’t really want to watch these movies, can understand. Something that is nothing like the Original Trilogy. Something that Development Executives can understand. Something like a Television Pilot…
Enter, J.J. Abrams.
PART SECOND “The Film,” if you insist upon calling it that, or Jar Jar Abrams Strikes Again
There will always be quibbles. So let’s get those out of the way, first. I have two minor quibbles about the opening of this new film, The Farce Awakens, and I’ll let it be that. Laugh if you wish, I’m sure you will.
A) “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …” was always vibrant blue in the Original films. Now, for some inexplicable reason, it’s freakin’ green. And kind of an ugly green.
B) That opening starfield doesn’t look right. Many of the stars seem to be in the same place as they are in the other films, but … Now, I know you’re laughing, but I’m tellin’ ‘ya, it doesn’t look right. All the stars are the exact same brightness, giving it absolutely no depth at all. It looks cheaper. In the Original films, the starfields have depth. Mainly because the effects artists gave them depth, by creating multiple layers of variant brightness. In the case of this new film, it appears that a computer program mapped out the generic starfield from the Original films, and re-generated it. And no one ever sought to even tweak that. They just let the computer do it. You wouldn’t think this would matter, but it does.
Let’s get back to those quibbles a little later. Presently, let me just give you the overlong, exasperated, overblown, blow-by-bow, description of incidentals that take place within this movie, minus the commercial breaks. *dusts hands* Stay tuned, I’m about to get mean.
The camera tilts down to the planet Jakku (pronounced Jack-oooo,) and after Abrams’ poor attempt at a signature opening shot (a cartoony shadowy triangle of a big star destroyer rising up in frame to cover the day-side of the planet,) we are on planet night-side. And quickly introduced to an apparently nameless character, played by world-renowned actor, Max Von Sydow. But please don’t get to comfortable with him, or curious about him, because he will be dead shortly. After having a brief exchange with Poe Dameron (played well by actor Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis,) this makeshift camp in the desert is raided by Stormtroopers. Wait. Are they still called Stormtroopers? Screw it, I’m callin’ ‘em Stormtroopers. Poe has uttered exposition, confirming that he is part of ‘The Resistance’ (this is apparently a new word standing in for Rebellion; when in fact the Rebellion apparently never ended, and both words mean the same damn thing,) and Sydow has given him a small thumb drive (no shit, that’s exactly what it is) filled with some secret data that will assist the Rebels. I mean the Resisters. Whatever.
So the camp is attacked — and although brief, it is good action filmmaking; some nice work here – and we are introduced to BB8, which is Poe’s droid. Poe’s X-Wing fighter is damaged during the melee, so he cannot escape the Raid with the thumb drive. So he puts it in the robot, and tells BB8 to take off, that he will catch up with the cute little spanner later. Then, Poe sees an Imperial ship approach and land. Meanwhile, one of the Stormtroopers sees a comrade killed, and runs to his aid, only getting there as a bloody hand reaches up to mark his helmet. Then, the same sympathetic Stormtrooper watches as his other comrades gun down unarmed people. And even though he’s wearing a helmet, Stormtrooper is clearly conflicted. THIS guy, is the absolute best, and most wonderful thing about this fucking movie.
Soon after, a dark and shady guy in cheap black cloth and a graphite grilled helmet comes out to question Max Von Sydow. They seem to know each other. Sydow speaks to Mr. dark and shady, says something about you can hide behind a mask, and call yourself Kylo Ren, but yada yada yada… That sort of thing. So Kylo Ren lightsabers Max Von Sydow. A wonderful thespian, and unique talent, taken from the Star Wars universe so quickly it makes you want to buy a puppy, name it J.J. Abrams, and slap the living shit out of it. Then, some Stormtroopers bring Poe before the Kylo Ren person, and place him on his knees. Kylo Ren leans over, just stares at Poe. Poe comments that he’s not sure if he’s supposed to talk first. Then Kylo says something about wanting the little thumb drive, and Poe comments that he can’t understand a word he’s saying; must be the mask. They take Poe away. Stormtrooper with blood on helmet is still conflicted …
Shift to day, and across the Planet. A character we eventually come to know as ‘Rey,’ a teenage scavenger, appears, and following a series of expository bits of business revealing her shit life and knowledge of the veritable junkyard of ‘Empire’ space ships littering the planet, she rescues the nauseously cute BB8 from a junk scavenger, who would have simply dismantled the robot for spare parts. This comes to us via conversation between Rey the teenager, and BB8 the droid. You see, she speaks his language. They can communicate. Something Luke needed an X-Wing Fighter’s computer to assist him with in Empire Strikes Back. Wait, it gets better. As the movie goes on, she talks to Chewie, as well. She’d make a great protocol droid, given she speaks the language of everybody she meets. In any case, she shows dignity and integrity, by refusing to sell BB8 for food. Awwwww …
Meanwhile, after arriving on-board the Star Destroyer, Conflicted Stormtrooper needs a moment to himself. After removing his helmet to get some air, he finds a minor character named “Captain Phasma” over his shoulder. A sleek, tall, chrome Stormtrooper that looks very similar to a Cylon on the old Battlestar Galactica. By Phasma’s voice, we know the dude’s a she. This cool chick was wasted. She pops up infrequently, and only for an instant. And Later on in the movie, they just stick her in a garbage compactor, and that’s the last we see of her. And we never saw much of her to begin with, mind you. I hear she’s in the sequel. Lame excuse.
Anyway, after Poe has been interrogated by Kylo Ren, or Darth Punk-ass Bitch, as I like to call him, Conflicted Stormtrooper is placed in charge of the despot Rebel fighter, and pulls them both aside to offer to help Poe escape, if Poe will fly. Because conflicted Stormtrooper’s not a pilot. Some funny exposition, and the two of them go through a humorous sequence of stealing a Tie Fighter and crash landing it back on Jakku. But before they do, Conflicted Stormtrooper gives his name as FN and a number. Poe refuses to call him that, decides to call him “FINN.” Finn responds really enthusiastically to this. They probably should have rethought that moment, given what a white man giving a black man a name, implies.
They two are separated by the crash. Is Poe no more? Finn meets Rey, after witnessing her defend herself. Gets attacked by Rey because BB8 recognizes Poe’s jacket on Finn. Somewhere in there, Finn lies, says he’s part of the Resistance. And essentially he is, now. Whether he likes it or not. So technically, he’s not really lying. And, the Empire – I mean The First Order – Jesus, was it really necessary that they rename the fucking Empire? Okay. I’ll just have to get used to that, I guess. I’m not getting used to ‘The Resistance,’ though. That is ‘The Ridiculous.’ So anyway, The F.O. knows that BB8 is carrying the thumb drive. So they’re gonna be looking for it, right? And the last thing they would do is shoot at it, right? Wrong. Sort of a plot hole, there, people! Once they find BB8, Tie Fighters show up and start strafing the area. Clearly attempting to murder the poor little robot fart. Like I said, PLOT HOLE, PEOPLE! Or … ‘ya know, discrepancy, or whatever-the-hell you wanna call it. I don’t care. Run, you little 1981 Nerf soccer ball.So Rey and Finn have to escape. But like Gerbils, they’re obviously going nowhere without transportation off this rock. So she leads them to a ship that’s about 200 yards away. Finn sees one closer, and shouts something along the lines of, “What about that one!?” She looks across the desert sand, and deems it to be a piece of junk. Suddenly, the very ship they’re running for 200 yards away gets blasted into oblivion, and Rey and Finn deviate to ‘piece of junk.’ Which turns out to be The Millennium Falcon, with tattered tarp covering its fuselage. IT’S A TARP! Admiral Ackbar even makes a later appearance in the movie. So this is a nice little in-joke.
Contrivance, contrivance, they escape, get caught by a freighter, which turns out to be Han Solo and Chewie, wherein we get the famous trailer moment, “Chewie … we’re home,” but a slightly better version of it. Once everyone knows who everyone is, Han tells Chewie that they will have to let the kids off at a nearby way station. Rey and Finn offer that BB8 is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker. Han is surprised. They take a look at it. The map is not complete, but it’s a good chance for some exposition. Han tells them that Luke tried to train a new generation of Jedi, and failed, miserably. He sunk into depression and vanished. Leia has been trying to find him ever since. Han says at one time he didn’t believe any of it: a force that encompassed everything, the Jedi, their powers. All of it. But now, he tells them he knows it’s true. All of it. This scene attempts to get across that these kids have heard about ‘The Force,’ and these people (Han, Luke, etc.) but assumed they were mythical. And now they’re finding out they are real. Unfortunately, it’s handled, fleetingly, and amateurishly. And after illustrating that little bit of the scene from the trailer, ‘It’s all true, all of it,’ the scene essentially goes nowhere. They really didn’t know what they had there. I honestly thought, given that this is a key scene, that the filmmakers would have worked on it a bit longer. But oh, no, it seems like they did a couple of passes, and never came back to it, and consequently, the real meaning of it, and the opportunity to dig deeper and have it really mean something, and possibly narrow down the through-line of the entire movie, gets lost. Or is slighted. Don’t get me wrong. You comprehend what they’re telling you — the idea they’re trying to get across — but it’s not nearly as mythical or emotional or legendary as it should be. Most important scene in the movie, and they mucked it up. And they could’a done it with less dialogue. That’s the sad part. And there’s something bothering me about Han Solo. He seems familiar. But like a grandmother. Please note: I did not say grandfather.
Next, there’s a mindlessly unnecessary sequence that follows wherein two criminal gangs dock with and board Han and Chewie’s freighter, wanting the return of their money, as cargo was undelivered. Han argues he’s got to get rid of the cargo he currently has, before he can pay them back. Seems Han is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, again. Han’s hauling some monsters, which I cannot remember the name of, but wasn’t really impressed by much. They certainly were creepy, gooey looking things; I’ll give ‘em that. Weird looking 1990’s Sci-Fi shit, is really what it was. However, they were derivative, and not very inventive. Didn’t capture my imagination for an instant. Matter of fact, looked like a rejected creature from one of Abrams’ Star Trek films. Or any bad sci-fi movie, for that matter.
Anyway, our heroes escape in the Falcon and travel to another planet to meet a small alien woman who owns a Bar in a Castle. A small alien woman who wants to know where her boyfriend Chewbacca is. Anyway. There’s some talk at a table. Finn warns them about a new type of Deathstar. Finn wants to get the hell out of there, and head for the Galaxy’s outer rim, for safety. Rey is shocked. Finn decides to leave with some aliens who will take him there. The Bar owner, Maz Kenyata? Kanata? Sounds like a compact car. I guess it is hard for Development Executives to come up with good names in the Star Wars Universe. She asks Han who the girl is, WE CUT AWAY before he answers. But we suspect that we will eventually learn in another film, that this is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps they haven’t nailed that down yet. I don’t know whether to chastise them for generating a Bible for this new enterprise, or chastise them for not having figured out the backstory to their own fucking movie. I’m conflicted.
Case in point. Rey hears something, and is drawn into the basement of Castle/Bar. Down a long stone hallway, she finds a keepsake box with a lightsaber inside. Touching it, she has a flashback to the corridor aboard Cloud City, from Empire Strikes Back, sees Kylo Ren and others like him, and finally, sees herself as a little girl, abandoned on Jakku. Apparently, by her parents. At this point, I realize that the planet Jakku is not really very interesting, and has come up far too much, and been dwelled on far too much, in this movie. It looks exact’a’fuckin’ like Tantooine. So why didn’t they just – never mind. So the little Maz Piñata Bar owner lady appears, again, tells Rey that the lightsaber belonged to Luke, how it got here is another story, but that it calls to Rey. Rey runs away, says she never wants to touch the thing again. Like a virgin. The point that should be taken, though, is that none of this makes sense, because it doesn’t make sense to Abrams, either. Keep that in mind.
By the way, there are a few brief interludes I’m leaving out between a red-headed guy in authority aboard the Star Destroyer, and Mr. shady, Kylo Ren. They are wasted time. I have also left out a character seen in giant hologram. A shitty hologram. Named Snoke. It looks like a giant naked “Dobby” from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Only without ears. Snoke wants Kylo Ren to kill his father, Han Solo. Stupid for them to give that away so early, but whatever, dude. Your story; ruin it if ‘ya gotta. Snoke is the kind of character you hope somehow vanishes in-between movies. He’s gonna turn out to be the Jar Jar of these new films, I can see that already.
So, two aliens inside the Bar/Castle have sent secret messages: one to the Rebel Alliance (once again, the ‘Resistance.’ Notice how my mind is ‘Resisting’ using that word,) the other to The Fuck Off. I mean the F.O. Both report that they’ve found the droid each side is looking for. Which is not a bad bit of business, but not handled very effectively. If I could take a moment to simply reiterate my appreciation for the fact that F.O. also stands for – never mind that; never mind that. Okay … so Rey has run off into the woods around the Castle/Bar place, and looks up to see Tie Fighters, etc., flying overhead. Uh, oh. Shit’s about to get real. Right? Not so fast, this is a sequence that could have been done much better. It’s too much ‘by the numbers.’ As if the director just walked through it. Like it was a Television Pilot — thaaaat’s right; I forgot, I’m sorry.
Rey is confronted by Finn. I mean Kylo Ren. Sorry. Finn and Ren rhyme too much. That’s not good. Anyway. Rey is still in the woods when Kylo tries to get the location of the droid out of her, and discovers that she’s seen the map. It’s in her head. Which for some reason reminds me of Star Trek. So he places her in an unconscious state, and abducts her. Finn sees this after fighting a Stormtrooper with Luke’s lightsaber. The Stormtrooper, by the by, has been magically equipped – total fucking coincidence, I’m sure – with a wonderful taser wand, that deflects a lightsaber. Let that sink in. So a moment later, Finn sees Kylo Ren taking Rey — ya know all three of their names should have been changed to something else. Rey, Ren, and Finn. What dumbass thought that was a good idea??
Okay … so anyway, Finn is sweet on Rey. And is devastated to see her being carried, unconscious into a later-day shuttle craft, by Kylo Ren. He tells Han they took her, and Han just confirms he knows; walking straight for a transport ship, landing not far away. He stands solemn, waiting. Like a guy’s who’s really done something stupid, waiting for his wife to get off the plane at the airport. And you’re expecting a really amped up Leia. Because previous dialogue from Maz the Bar owner has led you to believe that Han and Leia haven’t seen each other in a while. So she’s gonna have a word with him. Right? Wrong. Instead, you get a wooden Carrie Fisher; whose performance as Leia was clearly restricted. And that sucks. Big time. You also get C-3PO. He says hello to Han Solo and makes a small, trivial comment about his new “red” arm. Which seems forced, and truly makes you wonder if this Abrams guy is aware of how discombobulated and awkward that is. Because there’s nothing more to it than that. And why would 3PO need to mention that it’s “red?” Anyway, Han tells Leia that he saw their son. “He was here,” he says this without an ounce of grit, and suddenly I realize what it is that’s been bothering me about Han Solo. He’s been lobotomized.
Another thing I’ve neglected to mention is that Poe Dameron from the opening scenes, finally returns to pilot another X-Wing craft in defense of the aliens and resistance fighters, around the Castle/Bar. No doubt sent by Leia. So Poe’s back. That’s cool.
So now we get a protracted sequence on another planet, somewhere, wherein various characters converge and have more dialogue and exposition, which isn’t really well thought out, but also isn’t as simple and straight to the point as the original Star Wars, either. A shame really. Intercut with this, is Rey aboard the new Death Star. Which is a Death Star with a big laser gun at the equator, but with land and water all over the rest of the planet. Looks like they built this new Star Destroyer base from within the planet. Interesting idea. Wish they had dwelt on that a bit more. Even if only with a bit more dialogue about it. I’ve read they termed this technological craptastic extravaganza, “Starkiller Base.” But I don’t remember hearing that uttered in the movie.
So Rey is restrained within Kylo Ren’s interrogation room (the same one he interrogated Poe in,) and she convinces Kylo to finally take off his helmet. And as suspected, it’s Adam Driver. But we all knew that, because Disney and Lucasfilm can’t keep a secret for shit. They even paraded him out at Comic-Con – alongside the other villains featured in the film. Driver, while earning my respect in spades as both a thespian, and former United States Marine, is nonetheless playing a character that is not genuinely a threat to anyone. It’s easy to understand why they cast him, though. He looks like he could be the bastard child of Han and Leia. Looks a bit, in his own way, like each of them. And I can see what they’re going for here. The concept of the character is that he’s sort of a young 21 year-old guy from one of the X-Men movies, who drifted way past Magneto’s prejudice, and straight into complete madness … because he meant to do that. Kind of creepy, actually. But by his own exhibited behavior, the character is still just a child. And that just doesn’t work within this film. Because he’s the only real heavy, and he ain’t that damn heavy. Maybe if he was more acrobatic, and moved around like lightning. Something, anything scary. I’ve always believed that what makes a fantasy villain work is whether or not you could bean him in the head with a big rock, and he would still kill you. I mean that takes courage on your part. But what if it has no effect on the villain. Then you know you are dealing with something closer to evil. As opposed to a soul you can relate to, and have a dialectic argument with. But, from what I know of Kylo Run, I mean Ren, I could bean his ass in the head from 20 feet away and run like hell, and he would not recover quickly enough to chase me. He’s too weak. I fear no retribution from him.
Anyway, Kylo Ren soon finds that Rey is strong with the force, and he’s not getting that map out of her. So he leaves her under the guard of a Stormtrooper. So she tries the Ben Kenobi, “You don’t need to see his identification. These are not the droids you’re looking for.” And at first, she’s ineffective. It doesn’t work. However, after a second try, it does work. And a Stormtrooper that sounds suspiciously a lot like actor Daniel Craig, frees her, leaves the door open, and walks out, dropping his weapon on the floor. It’s mildly humorous.
So a few of Abrams small potatoes actors make cameos in the Rebels final briefing meeting. And there, of course, is Admiral Ackbar. And across the room, BB8 discovers R2-D2 underneath a drop cloth. C-3PO informs BB8 that when Master Luke went away, R2 went into low power mode, and has been in that state ever since. Maybe that will make more sense in the plot of the next movie. But it would have been nice if it had made sense in THIS movie. But let’s not forget, THIS IS TELEVISION. That’s the way they’ve designed this movie. They’re trying to get you addicted to nonsensical bullshit, with the promise that there will be a payoff. Just like the TV show, Lost. Remember Lost? Yea, that was Abrams.
To wrap things up, Han, Finn and Chewie travel to the big new Deathstar base to complete their part of the sabotage mission. There’s some bit of business about the Empire’s shield’s being at a certain modulation, and therefore the falcon will need to come out of light speed past the shield. Sounds like an idea leftover from Abrams’ Star Trek, but it’s kind’a cool when they do it. And that is when you realize this movie will play better on TV. Once they crash the falcon through some trees, and into some snow, they infiltrate the base, and Finn – who has offered to help them sabotage a vital part of the base – reveals that he lied. He doesn’t know anything about where that that part of the base is, or how to sabotage it. But he wanted to rescue Rey, and he knew they wouldn’t let him come along if he didn’t lie about being a sanitation worker for the F.O. No shit.
So they take Captain Phasma hostage, throw the poor maligned and unused character into a garbage compactor, and find Rey just in time. Now they have to set explosive charges. Whist Han and Chewie are doing this, Han sees Kylo Ren searching for them. Han decides to confront his son, “Ben,” who’s walking across a catwalk platform over a deep chasm leading down into the heart of the base. It does not go well. Kylo “Ben” Ren is definitely conflicted, but his inner conflict exists simply because he’s been ordered to kill his father, Han Solo, by Snoke, the giant earless Dobby clone. And though Kylo Ren/Ben he wants to kill his father, he doesn’t have the gumption. He’s simply not man enough. And Han doesn’t realize that. This reminds me of something Han and Leia had discussed earlier in the hidden Rebel base. Leia says something along the lines of, “If you find our son, bring him home.” But Kylo is no longer Ben. For whatever reason, his psychological transformation from the person he used to be, to the person he now wants to be, is complete. Or it’s about to be. Ben offers his lightsaber to Han, and once Han takes it, Kylo ignites it, right into Han’s chest. Han’s expression is complete surprise. He strokes his son’s cheek, and Kylo further slices the lightsaber blade out of Han’s side, and this sends Han falling into the chasm. Kind of like the Emperor falling into the same type of chasm in Return of the Jedi. Maybe Kylo was always just a bad kid. Maybe he was bullied. Maybe, maybe, maybe; whatever. If they knew, we would know. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan never figured that out, so they just never addressed it. Because they don’t have to do that in Television. In light of Harrison Ford terming Return of the Jedi, “… nothing but a big toy commercial,” I’m sure he’s secretly pleased as punch with having shot the most expensive Television Pilot ever made.
So Chewie sees this, HOWLS, and shoots at Kylo. Kylo evades his gunfire, looks up and spots Rey and Finn at an exit on their way out. Rey and Finn run out and into the woods. More woods. Scenes in the woods on two different planets. Interesting. Someone has a one-track mind. Once they get out there, Kylo magically appears from out of nowhere, and uses the Force to slap Rey into a tree. Finn goes to her aid, Kylo gets his attention with, “That lightsaber! It belongs to me.” Clearly Kylo wants Luke’s lightsaber. It is possible, that Luke gave it to him as a boy, and an adult wisely took it away from him. Clearly, Luke tried to train this kid, who, according to dialogue between Han and Leia earlier, was already a bad kid. But they only have a few words about this. So it just puts an image in your head that this kid might have been suffering from a sociopathic personality disorder, before Luke tried to train him in the Jedi arts. So why would Luke blame himself that the kid grew up to be an evil freak, and run away? To be fair, perhaps Luke didn’t run away for that reason. Perhaps Luke ran away because he knew that Kylo Ren could feed off of his power, and become more powerful. And perhaps that’s bullshit.
So Finn fights Kylo, and gets injured badly. We think he’s dead, in fact. Because Kylo Ren sliced him in the back, and we don’t know how deep. So Rey wakes up, sees Fin, and is emotionally overwhelmed. At the end of the previous fight, Luke’s lightsaber went flying off and landed in the snow, several yards away. Kylo uses the Force to grab for it — but it goes right past him and lands in Rey’s hand. And she fights him like she’s been trained. Like a Boss. Plot hole? Perhaps? Or perhaps her memory was wiped by Luke. Or something else. I’ve read theories, but honestly, I don’t think Abrams and Kasdan considered it important enough to determine that. And Rey was a little young in her flashback to when she was abandoned on Jakku. So when they hell did she learn to feel the force and use it, and train with it, and all that stuff??? Another questions we’re not supposed to ask. So she defeats Kylo Ren (sounds like a brand of Ramen Noodle,) leaving him injured, but alive on the other side of a canyon-like chasm that develops between them, following the explosion from the charges left by Han and Chewie. Chewie arrives in the Falcon, helps get Finn aboard, and they leave the planet, with Poe and his Squad in pursuit. The base explodes. Big Bang Boom. And we’re back at the Rebel Base. There is some celebration by the Rebels out on a tarmac. R2-D2 wakes up. He has the rest of the map, and the Rebels put it together with what was on the thumb drive, discovering Luke’s location.
Rey and Leia say goodbye. Rey takes Han’s seat aboard the Falcon. Chewie seems pleased with this. And they take off to cheering. On a distant alien planet, the Falcon surfs across the ocean as they approach an island of grass and rocks. Then, Rey walks from the Falcon, about a half a mile up a series of rock stairs to see a cloaked figure on a cliff, looking out over the ocean. He turns, she takes a step forward. He removes the hood of the cloak (looking a bit too dramatic, and trying to look cool) and she pulls out the lightsaber. Incidentally, I promise you the pose he makes will be turned into an endless series of gifs and memes on the internet. They will appear without hesitation or pause, as soon as that image and/or video is available. Facebook, here it comes. Trust me on this. By the way, Mark Hamill’s clearly wearing hair extensions. But the look on his face, the pain in his eyes … it works because of that. Even though he looks ridiculous.
Next, Rey offers him the lightsaber, and he just stares back at her. He’s a little stunned. Give him a minute, he’s old. Or that’s the impression we’re clearly supposed to get. Self-enforced ageism in Hollywood is getting a tad tired, at this point. “Sure,” they say. “He can be Luke Skywalker. But he has to be Luke Skywalker old and tired and everything that goes with.” Ridiculous. Luke would be more alive than that. Depressed, or not. And to be fair, we have all seen the more recent photos of Mark Hamill on the internet, evidencing his new haircut and waistline. And he’s already in the UK. Rumor is they’ve already started shooting the next movie, even though their official start date for principal photograph is in January. Regardless, it appears Luke will be much more alive, active, and overall present, in the next movie, than he was in this one. Which wouldn’t be hard to accomplish. Lastly, we get another shot of the two them still standing there from above, and we’re out.
First thing you see next, is “Directed by J.J. Abrams.” This comes full circle to my original quibbles about the credits. Said credits look oddly like a lazy approximation of the original credits. A pale imitation is really what they are. And there’s something about that simple detail that really bothered me, and still does. I mean, seriously. You heard of “Harmy,” yet? The individual (or possibly a group of individuals) who generated the De-Specialized Editions of the Original Films; thereby removing all changes made by George to the 1997 Special Editions? You know who I mean. Based upon samples I’ve seen, that person(s) did a much better job simulating those original credits, in a clear attempt to get those Original films as close to the versions that were theatrically released (in ’77, ’80, & ‘83,) as possible. Much better job. And although I’m not saying it had to be perfect — I’m not nitpicking, trust me – the fact is: if you’ve seen the Original films enough times, you will notice the glaring difference, pretty quickly. Once the film is released on home video, compare those opening and closing credits of Force Awakens (a title I do not like, and will address shortly) with that of the Original three films. You will instantly notice a clear difference. Again, I’m not stating this to be nitpicky. I’m pointing out how fucking lazy a job they did on the new film’s credits.
You don’t see that with the Prequels. I gotta give ‘em credit for that, if nothing else. That element of the Prequels, Lucasfilm handled fairly well. They generated credits that were at the very least an attempt to be faithful to the pre-established look of those credits. But these new credits just look cheap and superficial. And while I’m sure many people will laugh at me being bothered by something like that, the truth is — it’s a clue. A big one. If approximating that look was done in such a slipshod manner, how much respect do you think they really have for Star Wars, in general? It says a lot about their actual intentions, as opposed to the public’s perception of their intentions.
All right. So, I think I’ve made my point.
PART THIRD A fair analysis by a fair-haired 6-year old; loaded cap pistol in hand
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a plot that is “almost” literally the same as the original Star Wars. Secret Plans are the McGuffin. A farm boy (or girl, this time) on a desert planet. Han and Chewie aboard the Millennium Falcon spirits her away from her home, with Stormtroopers hot on their trail. There’s another bar with aliens. There’s a Death Star. Need I go on?
“This isn’t your father’s Star Wars.” That was the comment I saw on the internet that incensed me. That really bothers me. Because A) it’s not even close to being in the same league as the 1977 film, and B) it’s ripping off the original film, along with elements of Empire and Jedi — and doing a very poor job of it. This is a film with a budget reportedly north of $200Million. And maybe … just maybe, that’s part of the problem. A “Star Wars” film, needs to be a film with a more manageable budget, a spirited and inspired filmmaker, and a support group behind it that does not consist solely of Corporate Hollywood, in order to escape the dreaded by-the-numbers “Star Wars Rip-off” sensibility. Which is exactly what this feels like. One of those movies that simply rips-off Star Wars. Some associated with this new film have termed it, “an homage.” Proving they have no idea what the true nature of homage is, any more than they understand the Forces at work that made the original film work so damn well.
Luckily, everything in this movie goes by so fast, you don’t have much time to complain. And you do generally enjoy it. The film is a Class-A production, all the way. Disney made sure of that. But an hour later, it feels hollow, trumped up, like an interesting diversion from the actual Star Wars Universe, and worst of all, regardless of the money they spent on it, it feels cheap. This doesn’t feel like Star Wars on the big screen. AGAIN: It feels like Star Wars on Television. Or something worse. And it’s too easy. Really great movies are A LOT harder to make than this. And most people never stop and wonder why. It’s because it’s a lot harder to really get it RIGHT.
In truth, I have absolutely nothing against Star Wars being on Television. Actually, Star Wars: Rebels is frankly the best thing that has been done with the franchise, since Star Wars (1977) and Empire Strikes Back (1980.) But a production “intended” for Television is an entirely different animal, than a production intended to theatrical release; which is this case, has been promulgated as the heir apparent to the original film that started it all, and isn’t even trying to get honor the sources of inspiration for the original film.
In Thesis, just because you are terrified of repeating the mistake that was the Prequels, doesn’t mean that you go to the opposite extreme, essentially using every sleazy, derivative tactic ever employed in the annals of Television, to rip-off your most cherished predecessor. No. You do the work, and you do it right.
In closing, I really hope the kids enjoyed it. But based upon recent statistics of the average age of ticket buyers for the film, either the kids are simply not interested in this film, or they didn’t feel they were invited. Which is sad. Because Star Wars should be for the kids. It should always be for the kids. And if they don’t feel welcome. Something has gone terribly wrong. In fact, that 6-year-old kid still inside of me did not feel welcome at all. Maybe it will play better on Television. Where it belongs.
Good move not killing Finn, by the way.
Good article at Hollywood Reporter website on why the Star Wars franchise has to pay off for Disney: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-star-wars-will-change-846918?facebook_20151212
A good story. That’s what I came away from a screening of JAWS with, this afternoon. Although I’ve seen it a thousand times, I don’t recall ever seeing it on the big screen. JAWS has become a piece of pop-culture that people take for granted. And more people should get the chance to see this film in a theater. I was four years old when the movie was originally released, and while I kind of remember my father taking me to see Jaws 2, I can’t remember seeing the original until it aired on television. As for the remaining sequels … 3D was an embarrassment, and 4 (also known as Jaws: The Revenge) was simply sad. By the way, don’t let that ‘4’ on the ticket above scare you, this was in fact the 40th Anniversary screening, hosted by film critic Ben Mankiewicz (son of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz) that I watched.
And though I cannot write anything new about a film that has been written about 1,000,000 times over, there were a few things that caught my attention or occurred to me during the movie, that I ‘personally’ wish to make comment on.
1. Best movie I’ve seen all year. Strike that: best movie I’ve seen in a lot of years.
The last few films I have seen in a movie theater, I have reviewed on this site. And based upon how I responded to a screening of a 40 year old film that I have seen many, many times — I think most, if not all of the films I have reviewed here, have been given slightly better letter grades than they deserved. I would even go so far as to call JAWS one of the absolute best stories ever committed to film. And I probably would not have had the guts to say that before seeing it projected. Audience ‘event’ or not, this was an amazing experience. When comparing this 40 year-old icon to other films, the current state of movie making and box office commerce, becomes painfully real-world, soul-sucking-crunching depressing. It has both forced me to invent a new letter grade, simply to give the film it’s true place on the scale. And additionally to humble my former opinions of previous releases.
Recent releases have a lot of lead time on JAWS. They have decades of advancements in cinematic techniques and technology. They have further insight into human sophistication. They have … so much. And yet, in comparison with JAWS — they resemble nothing less than made-for-cable, fast-food, forgettable nonsense. And the critics in 1975 didn’t even think much of JAWS. Not in comparison with what they then called ‘the classics.’ That means the art form of cinema is deteriorating in quality at an exponential rate. Faster and faster, as time goes on. Which is something we should all be taking note of.
2. I’m now officially ambivalent about the entertainment industry’s increasing reliance on computer generated imaging, compositing, grading, and general enhancement of all images captured by cameras.
One of the many reasons I thoroughly enjoyed JAWS in a theater (a movie I own on blu-ray,) was the lack of artificial enhancement of the visual image. It was nice to see something real for a change. Without all that digital crap to complicate what I’m looking at. ‘Nuff said.
3. Sequential storytelling (as in comic books) is a significant asset to JAWS’ storytelling. And that is something I had honestly never taken note of before. And Spielberg additionally mastered the art of overlapping (or dual) dialogue in this film. And that is something I had only partially taken note of before.
When Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, he and his cinematographer Gregg Toland reportedly went down to a local newstand and picked up a stack of comic books to use as reference. They were looking for angles and ‘shots’ that neither of them had seen overused in movies, up to that time. What Steven Spielberg did here was take an adjacent avenue to that rational. He studied Alfred Hitchcock’s economical, visual storytelling style, and coupled it with his (Spielberg’s) own penchant for match cuts, match dissolves, etc. A technique Spielberg used quite extensively in his more recent film, The Adventures of Tin Tin. Once Orson Welles’ own technique gets filtered with Hitchcock and through Spielberg, it ironically comes out looking more like the sequential art form that comic books and graphic novels are well known for. And regardless of the 2 hour runtime, the story just zips along. Pumping out necessarily and relevant story details, in what amount to small hints. And seldom has that been done better.
Spielberg’s penchant for what I will term here as, ‘dual-dialogue,’ is also in full evidence. In fact he completely mastered it in this one film. Several scenes in the film, almost from the beginning when Chief Brody takes a phone call from his office while his wife talks to his son and dresses his wound, absolutely define one of the perfect ways to achieve the suspension of disbelief in a motion picture. Creating further reality by evidencing the true nature of people, amongst one another. i.e. overlapping dialogue. Something Howard Hawks was also known for playing around with. Two discussions happening in the FRAME, at the same time. As stated, it’s used in this film several times. And few other films have used the technique as effectively, as Spielberg utilizes it here.
4. JAWS was known for many years as more of a fantasy/science-fiction premise. However, that was generally based on the size of the shark. And over the years, a handful of great white sharks have been caught, and or identified, that exceed the 25 foot, 3 ton mass of the masticating fish featured in the film.
This, in my mind, now places the film firmly in the mold of ‘thriller.’ Without much of a hint of fantasy. And that gives the movie much better ground to stand on, in the mind’s eye. Making it easier to suspend one’s disbelief, and simply enjoy the story. Many experts will tell you that sharks do not actually seek to attack people, repeatedly; and/or in the relative quick duration of only a few days time. Clearly, these experts do not live in Australia.
5. Robert Shaw was one of the greatest actors who ever lived.
Shaw had a certain reputation. Hard drinking, etc. But watching his performance in this film on the big screen, in comparison with so many others, truly displays his talent. Certainly there is method acting at work here. And while it caused problems between Shaw and actor Richard Dreyfus, it’s obvious to see now, that this was a very precisely designed performance, accomplished by a true professional. Anyone who knows his work can tell you that he completely vanishes into the character of Quint. Method acting is controversial, to be sure. Reference Christian Bale’s performance in the film, ‘The Mechanic.’ But here, Shaw does it right. And by doing so, the character he portrays stands among us as a real person.
6. To be perfectly fair to modern cinema and advancements in technology, the limitations of the Panavision (Scope) style in the early 70’s, are revealed when projected.
At first, I thought it was cinematographer Bill Butler’s hazy photography. But after about half an hour, I began to realize that the camera simply could not maintain focus on more than one focal point within the frame, simultaneously. As a result, in several shots where multiple characters or elements are intended to be featured, there is only a single focal point, in actual focus. This is one of only three imperfections I spotted within the entire film. The other two being the oddly-cut scene when Matt (Richard Dreyfus) Hooper inspects the scant remains of the initial victim, within what appears to be a bed pan. As anyone who has seen the film knows, at a certain point in this scene, Hooper holds up a dismembered hand and says, ‘… you see this is what happens …’ This line and cut are not attached to either the shot before or after it. Then there’s my personal quibble over Chief Brody’s line, ‘blow up’ at the penultimate moment in the film. You don’t really need that. All you need are the visuals of the tank in the shark’s mouth, and Brody shooting at it. ‘Blow up,’ was overkill.
7. The score by John Williams, is the main character.
It makes me chuckle a bit when I realize that Williams had to know when he was working on the score, that the score itself was not only propelling the film, or identifying, or underscoring, but in fact, telling the story. The score for JAWS is quite literally one of the perfect storytelling devices in any movie I’ve ever seen. Nuance by nuance, pitch by pitch, the impact cannot be considered negligible. Take it away, and the story hides behind a lot of pomp and circumstance. People give Spielberg all the credit, but seeing this movie in a theater makes you realize that neither author Peter Benchley, nor filmmaker Steven Spielberg are actually telling the story we’re watching. John Williams is.
Without giving too much away …
Was it perfect ? No. Was it imperfect ? No.
Jurassic World is about as good a movie, as a movie designed to do what this one is designed to do, can get. Not much more can be done with something like this to add depth, in any area. Be it story, character, or deeper meaning. And you don’t really fully realize that, until the very moment the dinosaur shenanigans kick off. That’s when you know what you really wanted all along. And that is what settles the movie cozily between perfect and imperfect. The filmmakers didn’t shoot low. But they didn’t shoot as high as they could have either. They merely aimed at the meat and potatoes. And they hit what they aimed at, with the precision of an expert marksman. But they never even aimed at the broccoli. And come to think of it, Spielberg himself hasn’t aimed at the broccoli since he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Consider: a billion dollar corporation (much like the corporation that actually owns and operates the Park featured in this film,) has assigned ‘you’ the job of driving profits through the roof via the engineering of bigger and greater thrills. Greedy corporate types who just keep snapping their fingers and saying, we gotta keep up with the demand. We need more innovation. We just want ‘you’ to deliver the goods, they say. Just give people their cheap popcorn thrills, they say. No depth. No meaning. No underlying message. Just shut up and show us people getting assaulted, impaled, filleted, masticated, and murdered by extinct animals, genetically engineered to better resemble what the mainstream public have accepted as the generic look of dinosaurs. Don’t get showy and pretentious. Don’t have the ambition to illustrate for the public what dinosaurs ‘actually’ looked like. Don’t get philosophical. No, instead, tamper with the very DNA of the substance — just enough that the public recognize what they know to be an extinct animal. Ya know, give them the fantasy they want. But keep it real. We need profits. Build us a better monster to thrill the kiddies.
In fact, between the plot of the movie and the movie as a product, I can’t decide where the line is.
In part a remake, Jurassic World begins with two kids being sent to the park off the coast of Central America, for Christmas break. Their parents are getting a divorce. Shades of Jurassic Park. For the first 40 minutes, the park is established. It’s perimeter, it’s internal day-to-day routines, it’s principal characters, some other boring business … and then a new attraction the public haven’t seen yet. An intelligent monstrosity that soon gets loose.
What works in the movie, would be essentially predictable — if the filmmakers hadn’t been so clever at hiding it all, and doling it out in intervals of every four minutes, or so. There’s, of course, the aforementioned new attraction, ‘Indominous Rex.’ NOTE: Rumors go back, to around 2006, I believe — and all over the internet — that the fourth Jurassic film would feature dinos wielding assault rifles and being trained for combat. Well, luckily, that idea (reportedly featured in a John Sayles script) was scaled way, way down to the idea of training velociraptors to follow commands. Much like a lion tamer would command the big kitties.
However, turning raptors into a military weapon is precisely what Vincent D’Onofrio’s character wants. His character, is an all too realistic portrayal, of that simply annoying ambitious con-man that always shows up in your office, at some point, and rests a hand on your shoulder, as if he’s already your friend. You know the guy I mean. The guy who pushes his way into people’s lives. The guy who’s decided, on his own accord, that he’s an ‘Alpha.’ The guy you’ve always wanted to turn around and deck. Just lay his ass out flat, man. I – could – not – wait for him to die. Every word that comes out of his mouth was painful to my ears. At one point Chris Pratt’s character just looks at him and says, ‘Do you ever listen to yourself ?’
And while there is the constant presence of dinosaurs, here (Something which was sadly missing from Steven Spielberg’s sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park,) the movie nonetheless takes pleasure in pointing out that a teenager would rather talk on his cell phone or check his Facebook page, than see a dinosaur. An obvious angle on the material, I guess the filmmakers couldn’t resist. Because after all, by now dinosaurs are common place in this Jurassic universe. And probably on live camera feeds on the internet, as well. Thus, they’re all over the place in this movie. That’s the mentality working here. And it often works against the movie. Adding insult to injury, the dinos look the same as they have in every other movie. Not just the Jurassic films, but they greatly resemble any dinosaur in any recent movie. Nothing spectacular or new here. No chances taken; no ‘wow’ moments. Nothing jaw dropping. But you also get the impression very fast that that’s the idea. This is a serial. Nothing more. Their goal is deliver the goods and get out while they can, without overstaying their welcome. It’s like the filmmakers, the financiers, and the corporate big wigs are all on the same page here. This isn’t 1993. Therefore, let’s simplify everything. The movie, the mentality, everything. And they have.
To illustrate the change between 1993 and 2015, let me bring your attention to something. There is a lovely piece of John William’s music echoed here by composer/conductor Michael (Star Trek) Giacchino. And it’s not used to underscore a magical moment involving a dinosaur. It’s used to underscore the first reveal of the expanse of the damn park itself. The scope of the park. That’s how much as changed in the public’s mind’s eye regarding dinosaurs. Both in the film, and in real life. They are mirrored, in subtlety. My how the mighty have fallen.
Having Chris Pratt on hand, riding high on his success in Guardians of the Galaxy, is a nice touch. He’s a likeable actor. And his character has a well defined, commanding presence that you can bet will be showing up in any potential sequel. And it was nice to see Dr. Henry Wu, from the original film, back in the lab. Sadly, while Hammond and Ian Malcolm have serviceable mentions early in the film, no other characters are featured. Not even in supporting roles. But the movie moves at such a pace, that in hindsight, the film would have to have primed you for the return of former characters in a potential sequel, or your disappointment would have been immense at just seeing them for a moment or two. Which is kind of what happened when audiences saw Laura Dern’s character ‘Elle Sattler’ for only a few brief moments at the beginning and end of Jurassic Park III, in 2001. But don’t focus on that movie; I’m sorry I brought that movie up, that movie sucked.
What doesn’t work in this movie … well, apart from a woman running through an action movie in high heels (LOL!) let’s just say that we’ve all heard enough quiet little reassuring comments to children in peril, to last a lifetime, and we didn’t really need more of that shit in this movie. In fact, an irreverent take on how kids deal with being in peril would have been very appropriate, given some of the dark humor in the the later half of the film. Trust me, I assume you’ve all seen that teaser poster and those trailers, featuring Pratt on a motorcycle, flanked by raptors … yea, the audience I saw it with got a kick out of the irony of how that situation turned out. That was more entertaining, and more serviceable to the story, than almost anything else in the movie. Mainly because in light of the publicity surrounding that element of the plot, it was an unexpected left turn. Jurassic World could have used more of that. The movie follows too many rules. And it’s clearly begging to be a full-on black comedy. And I really mean that. Once the action starts, it’s a lot of fun. But in general, the movie is wanting in smart humor. And while I won’t give away the surprise ending, the final ‘confrontation’ was genuinely the funniest, and most crowd pleasing thing in the movie. Just seeing Bryce Dallas Howard light that flare, knowing what she was about to do, generated a slow, drawn out laugh that rolled through the audience like tossing a lit Zippo into a box of fire crackers.
All in all, it was a solid summer movie. And in my opinion, more fun than anything else so far this summer. It’s no where near the magical experience of the first film, but Jurassic World improves over other sequels in the franchise, significantly.
To wrap this up, we all know that anyone who habitually watches movies of this kind has opined and even in some way, proselytized the coming future of movies. And due to much of the big budget, dumbed-down crap that we’ve all endured, it hasn’t been at all positive. Quite the opposite. Specifically, I refer to a genre that has often been referred to as ‘tent-pole’ movies, or ‘comic-book-craptastic extravaganzas,’ or ‘sequels,’ ‘reboots,’ et all. But to my generation, often as simply, ‘fantastic films.’ It will be terrible ! We’ve said. They will take away all meaning and stick us with the cheap thrills ! And it won’t MEAN ANYTHING ! Where’s the Vision !? Where’s the showmanship !? Well, the future of movies has arrived. And although it’s nothing special, apparently no one is complaining. So in the case of Jurassic World, a fun serial-like distraction, I just threw up my hands about 40 minutes in, and simply allowed myself to enjoy the greatest made-for-cable film in history. In 3D.
Jurassic World is not quite a monster movie, and as an action picture, it was definitely no Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it was still fun. And guess who gets the last roar.
I give this near perfect B-movie, an …
THIS is a tough one for me. I cannot really hold with the massive mob of current critical acclaim, and yet, I felt the movie succeeded on a number of minor levels. I looooved the darker tone of the film. Been a while. And the action was well planned and executed. However, I sadly cannot confirm, as many critics have stated, that this film is, ‘an immediate action classic,’ or ‘one of the greatest action films ever made.’ Pardon my French, but THAT is utter bullshit.
However, the movie has some bragging rights, here and there. Charlize Theron’s character was a wonderful slow-burn of a surprise. And the fact that the story just kept moving — almost literally — was fun. Especially in lieu of my ever-fresh memory of having sat through the languid Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, waiting patiently for the action to begin, only to be cheapened in the third act by a single 7 minute sequence, that really added zilch to the already well-established action pallet of Mad Max films. That … yea, that was aggravating.
But this film makes up for that. There was plenty of action here. Closer in spirit to The Road Warrior (1982); still the most popular film in the serial. And across the expanse of what is actually a very thin storyline, there were some acceptable, rich touches of absurdity to behold. Such as the rock guitarist who played during the racing battles. The strange characters that inhabit the Citadel. Bad guys flying around on poles. Even Max’s minor role in the film, turned out to be a nice touch. One that should have been accompanied by additional narration. After all, the story’s construction is begging for creatively descriptive information in places, and Max would have been the perfect person to deliver it. In this case, Max the Explainer would have been an asset, rather than a hindrance.
This, for example, would have been a welcome bit of narration:
We drove across the terminator.
I told her what I knew. She told me what she knew.
I told her I was a cop. After the first wars. Before everything turned to dust.
I told her I went deep underground when I saw the mushrooms, again.
I told her I went mad.
She said when she was young there was a place of hope.
She didn’t have to say more.
Then she told me about their leader. Immortan Joe.
That he had been in charge of building big things, before the world ended.
Things for mining. Like the Citadel.
She said that thousands of days ago, he was sometimes a rational man.
But now he was just a dumb animal.
The wastelands play games with every living thing.
And these people and things were lost among thousands of miles of it.
They were trapped here.
They would live or die here.
Just like the rest of us.
Hope was their enemy.
None of them understood that.
And it would have passed in the wink of 30-odd seconds. But alas, this was not the case. And I got more where that came from, but I will spare you the all-around torture, dependent on your chosen point-of-view.
I liked the cinematography, the music, the direction. I liked the small surprises in the way some of the images were presented. There was even a neat little connection to The Road Warrior that I really liked a lot. One of the characters in the film is playing with a small wind-up music box, which ‘Max’ fans will recognize is later seen in the hands of Max, in The Road Warrior.
Now we come to the films faults. The picture opens with imagery similar to that The Road Warrior. Trees being blown down in an atomic blast, etc. Seen it. And although there is no pavement in this film (presumably because it has been scavenged for other uses by survivors,) the initial chase is indeed similar in style and theme to that of The Road Warrior, as well. If you were hoping for something earth-shatteringly original, based upon those glowing reviews by the critical mob, forget it. And all such chases, merely repeat that motif. It’s like an a single action sequence from that second 1982 ‘Max’ film, plays out over and over again, in digital photography, complete with heavy helpings on CGI compositing.
The only mistake I caught in the film, is a single bad guy who is revealed to be hiding under the ‘War Truck,’ after our heroes have gotten away. He’s never seen again, and he never falls off the bottom of the truck. WTF !? And then there’s Tom Hardy’s voice, which sounds suspiciously exactly like ‘Bane’ in The Dark Knight Rises. And every word of it, looped. You can tell.
As stated, at the heart of the film, is a simple, fast storyline. And for all of it’s attributes and possibilities, Mad Max: Fury Road really is a solid entry among the franchise of ‘Max’ films. However, the story seemed to be headed toward somewhere profound, and on a complex level that would pair the visceral with the poignant in a wonderful ‘hindsight is 20/20’ kind’a way. But the film never quite reached said destination. Albeit a good solid action film, there is something missing here. Opinions will vary. Many will proclaim it perfect. And to each his or her own. But as a writer, myself, I can easily tell when a storyteller is holding back. Instead of planning the road ahead, director Miller should have been more focused on the road beneath our feet. Although those vehicles are tearing across a desert landscape at 90 miles per hour, we, the audience, are seated solemnly, awaiting the story to be told, in complete; right now. And much of that information is missing. Apparently planned for inclusion in another movie.
I ‘liked’ this movie. And I hope that it will grow on me. I truly do. Sadly, though, without those wonderful little nuggets of necessary STORY, an action film is always sub-par. Wish I could give it a better letter grade, but instead …
I was apprehensive about this one. Advanced reviews are all over the map, and to be honest, I bought into large helpings of the negativity associated with some of the more … shall we say, ‘destructive’ comments contained in those reviews. But, in my opinion, much of that turned out to be either A) anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive nitpicking by snide 21’st Century hipsters, or B) a clear case of a coordinated attempt at corporate sabotage. Honestly not sure which.
In any event, the movie turned out to be surprisingly good. Very well constructed story, with various small moments of character development divided evenly among the principals. Which is more than you can say for the first film. Especially in the case of Hawkeye. There are some great action sequences, too. And more (and better) humor, this time around. Case in point, when Iron Man wearing his Hulkbuster armor, punches Hulk in the face, repeatedly, and calmly suggests, ‘Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep…‘ And later, when a payoff scene arrives, regarding the ‘challenge’ of who can pick up Thor’s hammer. When that comes full circle, you’re really gonna laugh.
To be honest, there were one or two very minor quibbles I had. At a certain point in the film, I was eagerly anticipating that Natasha (a.k.a. Black Widow) would whisper to the Hulk, ‘Hulk … smash.‘ And unfortunately, they didn’t go for that wonderful opportunity. And when the final battle occurs, I was genuinely expecting the visual theme to be one of the Avengers being surrounded to the point of being squeezed in and cramped, among Ultron’s minions. But alas, that’s an image only generated by an artist on a wonderful piece of concept art that made its way to the internet rather early in the publicity game.
But don’t let such minor, personal quibbles keep you from seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. Because all said and done, this is a damn good superhero, comic book movie. As good as these things can be. And it ranks with the best of the films that have been released with MARVEL’s logo on them. Including (in alphabetical order) the initial Avengers film, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, Spider-Man (2002,) X-Men, X2, X-Men: First Class, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
You wanna know what my generation were thinking, imagining, and plotting in the 1980’s when we were reading most of the comics that these films are based on ? Age of Ultron is as pretty damn close to that, as you’re probably ever gonna see.
Now if we can get a response from Disney on why there are no Black Widow toys on shelves.
I give it an A-