Is it wrong for Capone to jump on the CLONE WARS hate-wagon? He doesn't seem to think so!!
Published at: Aug. 15, 2008, 1:24 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey all. Capone with a few brief words about STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS and embargoes (that sound you hear is a can of worms being re-opened, hopefully for the last time).
A big part of me (but I'm not saying which part) was really stunned at the supposed outrage that went along with Moriarty's discussion about why we pulled the AICN reviews of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS a couple days ago. I agree with everyone that was of the opinion that this was certainly not the film to get this bent out of shape over. Not to bore you with semantics, but my working out of Chicago means two things: I don't get the same embargo-breaking privileges as my comrades in Austin, nor do I get the privileges that the folks in L.A. get. Part of my "going legit" as part of the Chicago film critic community a few years ago meant that embargoes were going to a part of my life, full stop, end of story. Occasionally when a director or marketing person who is a hip to the AICN funk gets involved, embargoes are easily lifted (I ran my TROPIC THUNDER review three weeks ago, for example) for me. But for the most part, in order to get invited to any press screenings or have access to talent for interviews, embargoes are a part of my world.
For those paying attention for the last five years or so, most of my reviews (including the ones going up today) are posted on Fridays, so anyone crying foul in the talkbacks today hasn't been paying attention. Harry and the Austin gang, as well as Moriarty and his L.A. deviants, have a lot more freedom. Why? I'm not sure, but thank goodness. Embargoes don't mean the movie is going to suck. However, selectively enforcing embargoes is another matter. It's the equivalent of not screening the movie at all before opening, and we all know what that means. I've never had to promise a positive review to anyone to print an early review. In fact, I've never even been asked if my review will be positive in advance to secure an embargo-breaking review. I remember when PAN'S LABYRINTH was screened. I was told before I even saw the film that I was allowed to write a review immediately. That offer is almost never extended, mind you, but when it is I always take advantage.
Oh and here's perhaps the most important thing about embargoes: those of you out there in the readership who see a movie early at a test screening or sneak preview or film festival don't have to pay any attention to embargoes. You can send us your reports and reviews, and we'll post it if it seems legit (as in a non-plant) and somewhat literate. What makes AICN different from so many other online movie sites is not necessarily our regular staffers, but our irregular staffers. In many ways, you wield just as much power as we do in generating or killing advance buzz on an upcoming release. Embargoes aren't for suckers or sellouts or whatever other way-off-base labels you'd like to attach to us; they just are. And we deal with them as much as we'll told to, so you don't have to and so we can keep bringing you as many reviews and interviews as possible. Keep writing in, y'all.
What got me started on this? Oh right! CLONE WARS. Well, of course it's crap, but honestly, I didn't think it was any worse than THE PHANTOM MENACE. In fact, I think it's a tiny bit better than that low point in the STAR WARS franchise. The truth is, I like the possibilities an animated Star Wars tale offers, even if this particular film doesn't deliver on that potential. Instead what we get is a between-Episodes-2-and-3 story that acts as a weak bridge, using voices from actors who are clearly not the original cast, and introducing us to sub-par new characters clearly aimed at a younger audience. What's more disturbing to me is that many of the rules and storylines established in ATTACK OF THE CLONES are totally ignored. When I was a wee lad and first heard the term "Clone Wars," my fertile mind dreamed up just how epic and glorious such wars would appear when/if George Lucas ever chose to tell that story. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a scenario where all of the characters looked like mannequins with waxy, expressionless faces and a universe where Lucas seems to be borrowing from the older films' mythology for cameos rather than drawing up new and interesting ways of maneuvering them.
Part of the problem (as with any prequel) is that we have a fair sense of who lives and dies already, so any character we recognize, we know won't die; any one we don't, probably will. Sure, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Palpatine and Padme are all here (none voiced by the film actors). Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu, Christopher Lee's Count Dooku and Anthony Daniels' C-3P0 are in this as well, and all three actors bothered to show up to voice the characters, which eases the sting a little, I suppose. What kills me is that none of the new characters (who I hear will be major players in the upcoming animated TV series) are in any way compelling. First there's Anakin's apprentice Ahsoka, who is the equivalent of a teenage girl with all of the requisite sass and none of the hotness. She calls Skywalker "Sky Guy," if that gives you any sense of how clever the film is. On the villain front (Lucas has a history of creating far more interesting villains than heroes) is Ventress, a dark-side warrior who is all huff and no puff. And while I like that we get a little more backstory on the importance of Jabba the Hut to the Star Wars universe, perhaps the two most baffling additions to the cast are that of his infant son (who resembles a fat tadpole and is nicknamed "Stinky" by Ahsoka, who is apparently full of great nicknames) and Jabba's gay transvestite uncle Ziro. Okay, I don't know for sure if he's a transvestite, but it sure looked like he was wearing a whole lot of makeup. And don't get me started on the voice. Everyone in the audience I saw this movie with laughed whenever this character spoke. A critic friend of mine said the voice reminded him of Truman Capote. Now, normally I would think of my own reference for the voice at this point, except Capote is so obviously the vocal reference for Ziro that I'm not even going to bother. Just when Lucas had finally stopped offending Asians and African-Americans with his voice choices in the prequels, he goes and gives us the alien equivalent of a flaming queen.
Director Dave Filoni (who helmed a handful of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" episodes) at least keeps things moving in THE CLONE WARS, almost to a fault. Not like the other prequels were big on character development, but we fly through this story so quickly that you hardly have a chance to look at some of the interesting art elements of the film or care that much about any of the new characters (perhaps the series will remedy this to a degree). But the real elements of this film that bothered me were the little things: no title crawl (a terrible opening narration takes its place), no reference to the fact that Anakin and Padme are married (Padme barely registers in this film), no mention of the increasing friction between Anakin and Obi-Wan, and no sense that Anakin is being tempted by the dark side. I realize this film is pulling double duty as a stand-alone film and as a pilot for the TV series, but would a little continuity kill anybody? In the end, THE CLONE WARS is a blip on the summer of 2008, a blip on the STAR WARS saga, and a huge missed opportunity to do something really cool to keep this franchise alive.