Film review: Star Wars prequels
As promised, I've now watched the hateful new Star Wars films so I can compare them to the originals while they're still fresh in my memory.
The Phantom Menace isn't as bad as I remember, but it's still pretty goddamned awful. There is no acting in it whatsoever, there's irritating expository dialogue (delivered woodenly, of course), there's whole sections that could be cut out or at least severely curtailed. And all the CGI just makes me cross. There is a good film in there, wanting to get out, and it might have been able to get out if the actors had had a chance to act and if there had been a good dialogue editor. But then, having weird and wonderful beasties and lots of stunt flying makes it easier to sell toys and video games.
The second prequel, Attack of the Clones is just as ineptly directed and shot. There are a few moments of acting - Hayden Christensen momentarily portrays a wonderfully spoilt and sulky teenager, for instance - but otherwise all the same criticisms apply to this film as to its predecessor. And you can then add a whole load of tired cliches, in particular during the oh-so-derivative rolling-in-a-meadow scene. And as for selling toys and video games - Lucas couldn't even be bothered to shoot the video game footage seperately, it seems. Much of the CGI is of such poor quality that it only belongs in a video game and not in a film. When it comes to special effects, the rule is "Do, or do not. There is no try". Again, there's the potential for a reasonable film in there, shamefully spoilt by how the damned thing was made.
And finally Revenge Of The Sith - by far the strongest of the three prequels. The special effects are still short-bus special: many are spectacular, but the rendering especially of the clone troopers is inept. It surely can't have been beyond Lucas's budget to have a few costumes made and use them at least for those in the foreground and interacting with the other characters! Again, it smacks of being a video game in some of the long action sequences. The script and much of the delivery is still terribly wooden, in particular Palpatine's speech in which he takes dictatorial power just isn't written very well. There are, again, moments of acting. Ian McDiarmid really stands out, and Christensen manages to act for a few brief moments. Even so, much of the dialogue is still delivered woodenly, because of over-use of green-screen techniques.
To summarise, none of these films are as awful as I had first thought when I saw them a few years back. They're still badly made, but if you can look beyond that you can feel that there is good in them. The common failing is over-use of technology. Lucas supposedly held off from making these films for twenty years to wait for technology to catch up and let him "realise his vision". Trouble is, much of his "vision" could have been done back when the original trilogy was made. Not all of it, sure, but almost all of it could have been, and many of the bits that would have been tricky are peripheral to the plot. The character of General Grievous, for example, in Revenge of the Sith, was clearly designed with CGI in mind, but could have been re-written as a more conventially shaped character and portrayed by a bloke in prosthetics and costume - or could have been written out and replaced with more of Anakin being turned to the Dark side, which in the film did happen rather suddenly and all at once.