Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones Review
And so Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones is finally upon us. All of the hype, or lack of it, and all of the expectations from fans that this will be the 'darker, better' part of Lucas' new trilogy has created an 'underground' buzz for this latest episode of the saga. The film is closer to an animation, in fact at times there is little to visually distinguish Attack Of The Clones from something such as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within or indeed Shrek.
Lucas worried the majority of his fanbase three years ago with Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, a film that earned him considerable criticism for being out of touch with modern cinema and for pandering to heavy commercialism as opposed to crafting out another epic slice of fantasy the fans so craved. The film carried an almost overbearing reliance upon CGI special effects, and because of this the mystique of the previous trilogy had subverted the power of the original films. Whereas A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi were human stories depicted amongst wondrous fantastical landscapes, The Phantom Menace, and now Attack Of The Clones are mere spectacles, flexing Lucas's Industrial, Light & Magic muscle. However, Attack Of The Clones suggests Lucas is much more of a shrewd moviemaker than he lets on.
Firstly, fans will fall over themselves to be impressed with Episode II. There's enough plot revelations, humourous in-jokes and 'saga' situations to ensure that geek fans will be chewing over the plot discussions until Episode III arrives. If you don't consider yourself one of these types of fans, but do consider yourself someone who adored the original trilogy, then you will be disappointed. The film moves along at a slick pace, but is nothing more than a collection of set-piece video-game cut-scenes, complete with the typical banal conversations and with plotting bereft of any beauty. There are sequences from the original trilogy that contain some of the most startling imagery of the latter twentieth-century. Yet Attack Of The Clones, because of its style-over-substance mainstream approach to film-making, will be all but forgetting when the next blockbuster epic is released, incorporating the latest brand of CGI effects that will render it instantly redundant. Indeed, Spider-Man has already trapped the film's box-office takings in its web.
It's possible that the original trilogy of films succeeded because the characters were more humane. They weren't super-beings, they were humans struggling to battle an evil empire. Attack Of The Clones lacks any character that can compete for the audience's hearts with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Leia, Chewbacca or Lando Calrissian. Even the younger version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, played in a terrible Alec Guinness-imitation by Ewan McGregor, lacks any charm or grace of the more-aged version of the man. Rather than depicting a battle between David versus Goliath or Flash Gordon versus Ming The Merciless, Attack Of The Clones is just a clash of two bureaucratic superhero tribes. In his haste to provide the 'show of all shows', Lucas has glossed over a screenplay that treats his characters as if they are equal with, if not less important than the sequences they appear in, and this never appeared to be his policy in the original trilogy. We cared about Luke Skywalker, and yet we hold no care towards Anakin Skywalker, who rather than represent a fascist character drawn towards the dark side because of an evil streak, presents the young man as a spoilt adolescent struggling to cope with growing up. It just seems impossible to imagine that Anakin, as played by Hayden Christensen, will ever become Darth Vadar.
That might be the film's major problem, in that it doesn't seem to adequately serve as a preceding episode to the original series. George has a lot of work on his hands with Episode III to ensure that both trilogies communicate in the same language. So far, they seem to stare at each other in bafflement. Also, you'd think that Lucas would have at least maintained plot continuity, as some scenes that occur in Episode IV: A New Hope have clearly been negated in Attack Of The Clones. No doubt George will spend the next three years reading internet forums about the film and its inconsistencies just so he can appease fans for the next film, and in turn completely forgetting about the remaining portion of his audience. Considering Boba-Fett and his father Jango-Fett are considered to be major characters in the film, one must question why Boba-Fett is only treated as a minor supporting-character in Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi.
In terms of acting, the stars seem subdued and unsure as to whether to take the film ultra-seriously or treat it like the joke it's become. Ewan McGregor has frequently moaned about the extreme usage of blue-screen technology in the films, and he doesn't even have veteran Liam Neeson to bounce off in this film. Hayden Christensen is so dull as young Anakin that it's tempting to be cynical and wonder whether Lucas cast him purely for his pin-up looks. Christensen represents everything that is wrong with the new film, and he has even less charisma than Yoda, despite the green Jedi master being brought to the screen completely in CGI for the first time. Out of nowhere, Christopher Lee has managed to effectively confirm his legendary villainous status by appearing in both Attack Of The Clones and The Fellowship Of The Ring, and he wipes the floor with his fellow actors.
Despite all of these criticisms, you will enjoy the film for the most part, as long as you don't expect to feel the same way you did whilst watching the original trilogy as a kid. Rather than be excited about how the saga will tie up with Episode III, a more interesting story might centre on the saga of Star Wars DVDs, and the journey that fans will have to endure before George gives them the DVDs they want. Maybe there will be a special edition version of Attack Of The Clones one day too, in which Lucas gives the film a beginning, middle and an end. How's that for a new hope?
It's depressing, because when revisiting the original trilogy of films, you immediately understand why they are considered as such fantastical epics. Despite being situated in far-away galaxies, the images were fuelled by iconic, almost comic-book visuals; demonstrating sparse, startling imagery fuelled by vivid primary colours. Now, the screen is fuelled by CGI clutter, that distracts the viewer from the core of the plot.
Watching the extras on this DVD, and realising just how much of an obsessive tyrant Lucas has become over his pet project, it's almost impossible to believe that this same man once allowed other directors to helm Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Rumours are that Spielberg begged Lucas to let him direct an episode, but George refused. Now that the original series has been cheapened by their animation prequels, Lucas may live to regret this decision.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, with a transfer captured and created directly from the digital source. It's a very good picture, presenting fine natural colour tones across a vivid landscape, even if some of the CGI effects distance themselves from the live-action by possessing an almost 'too-perfect' quality to their visuals. Also, a tiny amount of edge enhancement can be detected on the transfer, which prevents the visual quality of the film from reaching a perfect status. Even so, it's an excellent transfer, that complements the film well, and suggests that with technological benefits the transfer to Episode III has a strong chance of being the greatest DVD transfer ever.
Again no DTS mix, but that doesn't matter as the 5.1 Dolby Digital EX mix provided on the disc is a stunning audible assault to the senses that will please any audiophile. Each sound event is given a full degree of spatial channelling, and the rich bass level fully augments the overall production level. Surround elements are pushed to the limit, with an almost chaotic level of control applied to the various elements, such as musical score, dialogue and background effects. Overall, it's truly a reference disc in terms of sound, especially as it also comes with a THX optimizer.
Menu: An excellent and fully animated menu system that has a different setting for each option, and completely ties in with the themes of the film.
Packaging: A similar packaging to Episode I, with an amaray casing housing the two discs with similar cover artwork and design.
Audio Commentary With George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll & Ben Snow: Considering the various crew members participating on the commentary, the DVD producers have opted to edit together their comments into one track, as opposed to having them each exchange viewpoints with one another. Thankfully, subtitled captions appear onscreen to inform the viewer which crew member is speaking. Considering the wealth of technical extras included on this release, nothing of relative value is learned if you have already trawled through the extras. Also, it's quite telling that none of the actors are included on the commentary, revealing Lucas' low regard for the art that is acting (or even how little importance they played in the ultimate scale of things). Still, it's an enjoyable commentary, if slightly overblown on the technical side of matters.
'From Puppets To Pixels' - Digital Characters In Episode II: This is an interesting fifty-two minute documentary focusing on George Lucas' obsession to convert all of the puppet characters that were so effective in the original trilogy into CGI animated digital playthings, so that they have full freedom when it comes to action scenes. The documentary is very revealing, considering the real-life actors are almost treated like secondary support players to the CGI creations, who are laboured over extensively with a large autocratic hand by Lucas. Whether this sort of characterisation is the future of Hollywood or not, it's fascinating viewing when compared to the processes of making the original trilogy. Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
'State Of The Art' - The Previsualization of Episode II: This is a twenty-two minute documentary similar to the From Puppets To Pixels in that it focuses on CGI, but this time on the background locales that are so visually trademark of the Star Wars universe. Considering the vast scope of the film, there is more of a case for CGI in terms of background renderings compared to main characters, and so again this is a fascinating and concise burst of extra material.
Deleted Scenes With Introductions: Eight deleted scenes are included, with optional introductions from Lucas, McCallum and Ben Burtt explaining why they were trimmed. Most of the sequences are dull stilted conversational pieces that are easily justified in being cut from the film. The sequences are presented in an excellent fashion, with anamorphic and 5.1 enhancement. The scenes are titled Padme Addresses the Senate, Jedi Temple Analysis Room, Obi-Wan and Mace on Jedi Landing Platform, Extended Arrival on Naboo, Padme's Parents' House, Padme's Bedroom, Dooku Interrogates Padme, Anakin and Padme on Trial.
Featurettes: This section is divided into three sub-featurettes, Story, Love and Action. Each runs for approximately ten minutes, and are basic promotional fluff mixing talking heads interviews with film clips. Nothing new is gained from watching these brief time fillers, but they are still enjoyable in a light-hearted way, even if some material is repeated amongst the three featurettes. Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Web Documentaries: This is a collection of twelve short documentaries that were initially released on starwars.com, and are very good brief chapters that chronicle various behind-the-scenes departments. The menu design when it comes to accessing each short featurette is very clunky, but on the whole this is a fine series of short documentaries, each presented in anamorphic widescreen. Subject matters range from the casting of Anakin to the choosing of Australian locations for filming, and are the usual fascinating quality for fans wishing to explore the making of their favourite movie series. The titles of each are Here We Go Again, Wedgie 'Em Out, We Didn't Go to the Desert to Get a Suntan, Trying to Do My Thing, A Twinkle Beyond Pluto, It's All Magic, Revvin' It to the Next Level, A Jigsaw Puzzle, "Bucket Head, Good to G.O., P-19 and Reel 6.
Stills Gallery: The gallery is divided into three sections. Exclusive Production Photos is a good range of behind-the-scenes promotional photos with decent informative captions, each accessible with user navigation. One Sheet Posters is an underwhelming array of posters for the film, considering that most of theme are the same design except for different translated text for each nation. International Outdoor Campaign is a good poster campaign that exploits the iconic status of the Star Wars characters.
Dex's Kitchen: This is a light-hearted collection of miscellaneous extras for the film. 'Films Are Not Released; They Escape' - Creating A Universe Of Sound For Episode II is an excellent twenty-six minute documentary hosted primarily by sound designer Ben Burtt, and focuses on the many layers of sound events that formed the film's sound design, and how they were created. Episode II Visual Effects Breakdown Montage is a four minute visual guide backed with music explaining the multi-layering of the CGI digital effects used for the film. R2-D2: Beneath The Dome is an attempt at humour, treating the droid as a real-life star with numerous celebrities lining up to pay tribute. It lasts six minutes, and is a promo for the full documentary that is available online.
Theatrical Trailers & TV Spots: Three good teaser trailers are included, along with the much-seen full theatrical trailer. Each are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Twelve TV spots are also included, that focus on individual character or plot aspects of the film. These are presented in fullscreen. As a bonus, a music video to John Williams' Across The Stars is included, which mixes footage from the film with clips of the legendary composer conducting his orchestra.
DVD-Rom Extras: This DVD is also a passport to many bonus extras available online at starwars.com, such as forums, photo galleries and exclusive news and information on the forthcoming Episode III.
Hidden Extras: Go to Dex's Kitchen, highlight without selecting Main Menu and select left on the remote and a small calendar next to Dex will highlight yellow, select it, and you will be treated to a subversive college poster campaign advertising the film.
The general consensus is that Attack Of The Clones pleased fans immensely, and was ultimately a more successful segment of the legacy compared to The Phantom Menace. However, Attack Of The Clones is a messy, stilted take on what was once a wonderful, fantastical series. Substituting warmth with technical superficiality, Lucas once again proves he is out of touch with cinema, and no superb Special Edition DVD will ever compensate for such a mediocre piece of cartoon filmmaking. Bear in mind that this Region 2 version also features a very small cut to one of the fight sequences, which may sway completists into buying the Region 1 version.