ATTACK OF THE RUMBLINGS!! MORIARTY Weighs In On The CLONES Script!!
Published at: Feb. 27, 2002, 10:09 a.m. CST by staff
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
It's dawn on Wednesday. And I can't take it anymore.
Please... stop sending me e-mail about ATTACK OF THE CLONES. I get it. I missed a deadline. All I can say is that AICN is a full-time job, but not the way you define one. What I do here, I do for love. I do it because I want to. I do this to relax and to spread the word on things I enjoy, or to spread poison over the burnt ground of something I hate, hoping to stop it from ever growing again. This is a place for me to mouth off.
I appreciate every letter I get from you guys, but there does come a point at which I don't need to read yet another variation on:
"Dear Moriaritty! WHAT IS YOU'RE FUCKING PROBLEM, DUDE?!!!! HURRY UP, BITCH!! You said you would review the script for STAR WARS months ago!! You lied!! You better fucking do it fucking now!! PS- I love the site! Keep it up!!"
Ahhhh... like sweet, sweet music.
The truth is this: Harry told you guys about the script too soon. I wasn't going to mention it for a little while. But once the cat was out of the bag, things started to escalate, and I started trying to put the article together. I didn't want to slap some half-assed "IT ROCKS!" or "IT SUCKS!" thing together, though. I wanted to digest the script, see if I could read it again, and then react to it. I knew that there were other projects... projects that are paying the bills... that would have to be finished before I could take the time needed to really discuss ATTACK properly. I do apologize for the delay, but it hasn't been for lack of trying.
With Harry out of town for the last half of this week, though, I want to take this opportunity to post several smaller versions of the RUMBLINGS, using this chance to clear the shelves of several pieces I've been working up. I'll look at the new novel by Ray Manzarek, a fistful of DVDs, the cool-ass animation brewing in Atlanta right now as well as some very cool animation from right here in LA. I'll be discussing the possible ratings of KILL BILL and SOLARIS and reviewing those scripts, and I'll be squeezing a few movies in over the course of the week worth discussing with you, too. By next Monday, I hope to have three columns posted for you, along with all our regular headlines and info.
And if I fail? Well, sue me for being an optimist, why don'tcha?
Anyway, I think it's safe to say what the first thing you want to hear about is, so let's get right to it, shall we?
HOW MANY CLONES CAN YOU FIT IN A CAR?!
I wasn't even sure I was going to write anything about it. I wasn't even sure I was ALLOWED to write anything about it. But here's how it happened...
It was a recent Saturday night. I was puttering around in the Labs, and it was one of those rare evenings where there was nothing making claim of my time. I was free to just sit and get some work done. Which is practically an invitation for the phone to ring with an offer of coolness somewhere, some temptation. In this case, it was a friend of mine who works in some capacity on some sort of product or project or business that brought him into contact with and possession of the script for ATTACK OF THE CLONES.
I could hear Keanu's voice echoing in my head... What do you do? What do you do?
Prior to this, the plan was simple: wait long enough, behave myself, and eventually Lucasfilm would have to admit that I'd been punished enough and I was no longer Banned From The Ranch. On paper, the very model of simplicity.
But no... my friend has to call. And he just has to make the offer. "Come over right now and I'll let you read it until I have to leave tonight." And do I tell him that would be wrong? Do I refuse because I'm trying to earn my way back into Uncle George's good graces?
No. Not me. I'm over there in ten minutes, and within fifteen minutes, I'm well on my way to losing my damn fool mind as I rip through what may well be the most satisfying STAR WARS story since THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. So go ahead, Lucasfilm... do your worst. Ban me again if you must. But I've got to do it. I've got to shout about what I read. I've got to do it for one simple reason: I think people have lost faith.
Look at any of our Talk Backs under an article about EPISODE II. You'll have people making sweeping proclamations about how bad the film will be. It's astounding to me that any fan could look at the trailers they put out at the end of last year ("Mystery" in particular) and not get that creeping feeling. It looks like STAR WARS. It sounds like STAR WARS.
Still, trailers can be deceptive. Every fanboy in the world remembers that feeling when you saw the first trailer for THE PHANTOM MENACE. I know I remember it. That trailer promised greatness. We could argue the merits or faults of TPM until the end of time, and it doesn't seem worth it to rehash all that. Suffice it to say that for many people, the final film didn't seem to live up to that early promise. I know that when I first read the script for EPISODE I, I loved it. Keep in mind the experience I had, though. I got my hands on the script. It was November 1998. The first trailer had just been released. And my buddy invited me to drive from LA to Palo Alto with him to spend the holidays with his parents. On that long drive up the coast, he put the soundtracks for the first three STAR WARS films into the truck's CD changer and I read the entire script out loud. And the two of us imagined the EPISODE I that might have been, and for the three hours we spent with that music playing, reading that script, that film was nothing but potential. I still say that on the page, EPISODE I works quite well. That's because you aren't hearing Jar Jar's voice. You aren't watching Jake Lloyd's performance. You aren't sitting through the Neimoudians and their bizarre performances. It's all potential. And I saw the best possible version in my head. And I loved it.
Call me crazy. Say I don't learn my lesson. But I don't care. I want to believe. And reading EPISODE II, I found myself even more excited than I was the first time around. And I didn't read it under the same kind of optimum circumstances that I did the first time around. In fact, this was one of the most stressful reads I've ever had of something. I was afraid the entire time that my friend was going to have to leave, and I wasn't going to be able to finish. For all he knew, this might be the only weekend he was going to be able to bring the script home, meaning I might not get another crack at it. For something like this, I like to read it twice or even three times before commenting on it. No such luck this time.
Because I only read the script that one time, I find myself struggling to organize my thoughts. I wish I had it open here in front of me as I write this. Instead, I'm going to have to rely on my memory here, and at the advanced age of 231, I'm not sure that's as sharp as it once was. I'll try to do a quick version of this without spoilers first for those of you who just want a general overview, and then I'll dig in a little further for those of you who are junkies for every possible nugget of information you can get. That way, everyone's happy.
One of EPISODE I's flaws is that the film is essentially a series of meetings. First they meet on this ship, then that meeting goes badly, so they head to the surface, where they swim to an underwater city for a meeting that leads them to Theed City where they have another meeting before leaving the planet, pausing mid-journey for a series of meetings on Tatooine. And on and on. The action set pieces (the pod race and the final duel in particular) are eye-popping, but they took too long to get there. On repeat viewings, some of EPISODE I's flaws become even more evident, but it's that structure that eventually undoes any sense of urgency that might exist.
That is not a problem for EPISODE II. The script literally opens with a bang, and it rarely pauses for breath between there and the final chilling image. The biggest two improvements in this chapter of the prequel trilogy are the tone and the dialogue. The addition of Jonathan Hale as a co-screenwriter seems to have made a major difference in the overall energy of the script. There's a breathless quality to it, and in many places, it feels like Lucas and Hale are offering sly responses to fanboy responses to EPISODE I, particularly when introducing Jar Jar or when dealing with "whiny" Anakin. For all of you who believe that Lucas operates in a money-insulated bubble, never listening to anything the fans say, EPISODE II should serve as a solid, resounding refutation of that idea. This is a script that seems almost overeager to please, packed full of action sequences and interesting supporting characters, cutting back and forth between several genuinely interesting storylines at once.
Are there flaws? Trouble spots? Heck, yes.
There is one major subplot which concerns me because of the utter failure of Lucas with his actors in EPISODE I. He stranded them. And it surprised me, to be honest. I don't buy the hype about Lucas having always been bad with actors. There are simply too many excellent performances in THX-1138, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and the original STAR WARS.
In EPISODE I, though, Lucas finally fell prey to his high-tech toys. We've all heard how Lucas would combine takes digitally or even manipulate the faces or the bodies of his actors using CGI. Considering how powerfully bad Jake Lloyd's performance is in the finished film, it's obvious that this technique doesn't connect Lucas to his actors; if anything, it seems to distance him from them. And if he's going to give Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman the guidance they will need as Anakin Skywalker and Senator Amidala, he's going to have to rise to the occasion. This script has a tender, tentative human heart even amidst much sound and fury, and it would be a shame if Lucas is unable to do justice to his own marvelous creation.
The things that worry me are far outweighed by the things that excite me. Ewan McGregor has got to be the happiest man in this movie. Lucas was smart enough to recognize which archetype was missing from THE PHANTOM MENACE, the charming rogue. Han Solo (before the carbonite freezing) is one of the great iconic reluctant heroes, with a dry, arrogant wit that can't be beat. There's no one like him in EPISODE I, and the movie is weaker for it. This time around, Lucas has allowed Obi-Wan to grow into this particular role, and even as he makes his way through a mystery that not only places him at the center of the events that completely change the Republic, he manages to come across as both funny and bristling; we can see how the tragedies to come might have burned all but a flicker of this spirit out of Obi-Wan, and in that context, Alec Guinness' performance in STAR WARS becomes even greater. It's when thinking about stuff like this that the sheer nerve of this experiment strikes me all over again. Sequels to STAR WARS, EMPIRE, and JEDI would have been so easy, so safe. Lucas could have produced further adventures in a post-Empire universe for the rest of his life, cranking out product year after year, and the market would have been there. To go back and write prequels that can only end on a resolutely depressed and bleak note is not the safe bet people like to accuse him of. Things happen in ATTACK OF THE CLONES that will surprise and shock many viewers. Anakin's descent into the Dark Side begins in blood in this movie in a way that I find genuinely unsettling. Palpatine continues to manipulate everyone from behind the scenes, a master. I believe people deeply underestimated how well-written the Palpatine storyline was in the first film. This time out, it's going to be hard to ignore. How often do we see villains in movies who want to take over the world? Well, here's a villain who not only takes over his own world, but every world in all the systems, and he does it without anyone realizing how much influence he's had over events. Palpatine doesn't seize power; he manipulates other people into voluntarily handing power over to him. He's marvelous, and Ian McDiarmid has so far been one of the unexpected treasures of the prequels. Who knew he was this good an actor when we first saw him in JEDI under all that makeup?
There is a major tone shift between THE PHANTOM MENACE and ATTACK OF THE CLONES, but it's not what I expected. Many fanboys have already prematurely declared this the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the prequel trilogy, but I don't think that's a fair comparison. It only works on the surface. We've got bounty hunters and asteroid fields and industrial planets and battles involving walkers and a strong romantic subplot, and those comparisons might make you think that the films were similar. EMPIRE was about how an arrogant, victorious Rebellion got handed its ass by the Empire, still strong, still capable of summoning massive wrath and force. It's a crushing defeat in slow-motion, even as we see Luke Skywalker confronted with the temptation of the Dark Side, something he learns has been a problem with his family. ATTACK OF THE CLONES is about how the proud Republic is destroyed from the inside by a cancer of evil, and how the goodwill of the Jedi is turned against them, used to destroy their reputation and disrupt their unity, even as we see Anakin Skywalker confronted with the temptation of the Dark Side, something he seems almost powerless to fight. The original trilogy was about redemption and victory, which means that by necessity, this trilogy is about tragedy and failure. To see Lucas being true to that gives me great hope that EPISODE III could be the triumph that fans of this mythos have always wanted to see, an almost operatic conclusion to the saga. He's definitely used ATTACK OF THE CLONES to lay out all the pieces needed for the puzzle to come together. Even at the ending of this film, an ostensible victory for our heroes, there is an action of utter defiance that seals the fate of Anakin and those around him. It is something that would be joyous, even beautiful under other circumstances, but to me, it's a horrible image, cut straight through with sadness because we know where this is going. We know how bad things are going to get. And I would give anything to be able to change things for these characters. I like them enough that I don't want to see them go through the pains and sorrow ahead. To my way of thinking, the fact that I care this much about where this story is heading is a mark of just how well ATTACK OF THE CLONES works on the page.
And if you don't care about any of this... if story and character are just a distraction to you and all you care about is eye candy... well, this movie should still make you stand in the aisles and scream like a 14 year old girl seeing The Beatles on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. The new worlds we visit, the new machines we see, the new aliens we meet, and the new characters who are introduced are all written with the sort of mad, fevered imagination that made our first taste of this universe so potent back in 1977. EPISODE I had so much work to do to set up the world that it doesn't surprise me that Lucas forgot to have fun with it. This time around, he seems to have remembered just how much he enjoys this world he's created. Even the smallest of supporting characters are interesting, well-realized on the page. One of the things that made me happiest was seeing that he allows C-3PO and R2-D2 to spend part of the film together, and they fall into their familiar comic rhythms with an enjoyable ease. It should make you smile ear to ear to see them first discover each other as foils. I'll be curious to see how people react to the origin of Boba Fett. Me? I dig it. His exit from the film is iconic, and it should be delicious to see how he re-enters the series. Unlike the first film, which had only a few big action scenes, this whole movie feels a little out of control, breathless. Lucas has a lot of story to tell, and he manages to tell with economy.
And how about that title? Let me say this... having read the script, I can't imagine another title for the movie. When you see it, you will understand. ATTACK OF THE CLONES, indeed.
So... that's about all I can say without delving into spoiler territory. Tell you what. I'm going to go watch the new behind-the-scenes movie from The Official Site to give all of you who don't want any spoilers time to skip down to the next story of the RUMBLINGS. I'll see you back here in a few minutes.