Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to go down to Skywalker Ranch and see a screening of the new 3D release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Before any of you say anything, I highly doubt that there is a single one of you out there that would have turned that down, no matter what you feel about The Phantom Menace. However, I happen to like the movie. Really like it. So, no, it's not my favorite of the Star Wars movies, but even the least of the Star Wars cannon is still Star Wars which puts it miles ahead of everything else. And, honestly, I love the movie. Even Jar Jar, as I've said before. [Scoff if you want, but I think if more of you were able to look at the movie based upon its own merits apart from your expectations, you'd see a different film. But more on that in a bit.]
It's been more than 12 years since I last saw this on the big screen, and it was so worth it to go see it again. And the 3D was AMAZING! Seriously. Of course, I saw it in Stag Theater on Skywalker Ranch, and, as the man said before the movie started, you won't see it anywhere else at a higher quality. I believe it. My children are not happy with me (because, unfortunately, I can't take them with me when I go down there for things like this).
And here's what makes it so awesome: there are no gratuitous 3D shots. I love the new Real 3D; however, I'm not always thrilled with the movies made in 3D. I hate those shots that have no real place in the movie, but the producers really wanted an over-the-top 3D shot for the trailer. It's annoying, to say the least. However, the Star Wars movies weren't made with 3D in mind, so there are none of those shots in the movie. I have to say, though, that Star Wars was just meant for 3D. I think that must be the way Lucas' mind works, because the movie was just incredible. AMAZING! I really don't care how you feel about Menace, you shouldn't let this opportunity to see it in 3D slip past you.
I also have a new respect for the lightsaber duel in Menace. The one from Empire has always been my favorite. It's just so classic in its style, and I love it. Just after that falls the duel at the end of Sith. However, the one from Menace may actually push it out of the #2 slot. After seeing it again on the big screen, I think it is the best example of what it must be like to be a Jedi involved in a lightsaber duel. Most of the credit there has to go to Ray Park. He made that duel.
On the question of gratuitousness (which wasn't really a question, but I'm making it one), this 3D stuff makes an excellent example of the pitfalls for writers in adding things in just because they're cool. Not that there's anything wrong with having cool things in your work, BUT. But sometimes it's out of place. Seeing Menace in 3D, there is nothing out of place. There is amazing 3D, but nothing jumps out and pokes you in the eye and screams, "I'm here to show you how cool 3D is!" A long while back there was that Spy Kids movie done in 3D, and it's full of shots that are there just to highlight the 3D. Even Coraline, which is a great movie, has specific shots made just for the 3Dness of it.
I suppose what I'm saying is that you have to be really careful with this stuff. When the audience becomes aware that something was added in just to please them, the audience actually, usually, is displeased by it. Yes, the definition of irony. As a writer (for whatever medium), you can't be too overt with these things. Avatar, actually, is a good example of this. There are some shots in the movie that are there just to display the 3Dness of the movie (like the shot in the control room with all the holographic screens (and I can't wait to see the 3D holographic image of the Death Star in Jedi, by the way (and it's totally not gratuitous))), but they are melded into the film so flawlessly that you can barely tell. It seems natural. And it is even though it's shown the way it is just to be 3D. However, one might say that the whole prospect of re-doing Titanic in 3D is the very definition of gratuitousness.
There's a balance that must be maintained between the integrity of the story and giving the audience what it wants. Audiences are fickle in a lot of ways, and, if you give them too much of what they want, they no longer like it. Sort of like allowing kids to gorge on sugar until they're sick.
Which brings me to my next point: audience expectation.
The Phantom Menace disdains audience expectation. People wanted another A New Hope. Maybe, they wouldn't say it that way, but that's what they were looking for. They wanted to relive that experience of seeing Star Wars for the very first time as a kid. And, most of all (I think), they wanted Han Solo. But you know what? Lucas already made that movie. It was called A New Hope. Why make it again? He's said as much in interviews, and I agree with him. He can never make that movie again no matter how hard he tries because the adults, now, that experienced that movie for the very first time back in the 70s can never relive that experience again. You can't go back to being a kid and have that joy and awe that you had when you first saw Star Wars.
So this is another fine line to walk. Although, I agree with Lucas in that he made the movie that he wanted to make (except not exactly, because Qui-Gon was added in because they couldn't do with Yoda, yet, what they wanted to do with him, and Lucas knew that the puppet Yoda could never perform a believable lightsaber duel), he may have gone too far the other direction. That's a hard one to call. And, see, I'm actually on the side of Lucas. My kids love all of the movies, and my kids love Jar Jar. In fact, I don't know of any kids that didn't love Jar Jar. And I think that's great, and I think the problem lies within the adults if they can't get past the fact that Jar Jar is in the movies. [I'm sorry. Remember back to when you first saw Star Wars and take into account how old you were. Now, put yourself at that age in front of Menace and tell me (honestly) that you wouldn't have loved it.]
That doesn't change the fact that Lucas failed to meet the expectations of the greatest proportion of his audience, and his audience has been roasting him for it ever since. As an author, what should you do? Should you strive to meet audience expectation? I'd say no, because it doesn't matter how hard you try, you'll never achieve that goal. Of course, that's me, the author, talking. Most people that are just audience would say, "yes, meet my expectations! Throw in gratuitous 3D shots to show me how cool everything is!" And, then, they wouldn't like it anyway. So, really, it's a no-win situation, and I don't have any good answers.
Well, that's not true, I think we, as the audience, have to learn to accept things as what they are and quit demanding that story tellers write our stories for us. If you feel so strongly about how a story should be written, go write it yourself. I guarantee it will change your perspective.
Other short reviews (because I won't have time to give these the attention they deserve):
I highly enjoyed this movie. Hugh Jackman was great. When is he not great? The kids was a bit to precocious (beyond his years), but it was a good exchange the two had going. The robots were cool. You can boil it down and say this was Rocky with robots, and, in many ways, it was, but the dynamic of the father/son relationship makes it worth watching.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Great movie. Seriously. I can't even begin to explore this in the time I have to do so, so you'll just have to see it. James Franco was great as was John Lithgow. Of course, it was Caesar that stole the show and Serkis certainly deserves some kind of recognition for his performance. I think they did a fabulous job of going back and setting the stage for the old Apes movies, and it made me want to go back and watch them all again (I haven't seen them since I was a kid). I think I'll be doing that, in fact.
"The Evil That Men Do" is almost finished. Well, it is finished; I just have to finish with the formatting and the notes. I'm hoping to have it ready for Thursday but, certainly, by the end of the week.