Friday, May 20, 2005

The Smudge Responds to Anthony Lane's New Yorker Review of Star Wars III

If you are down for a good laugh, and if all things Star Wars is your Syrup of Ipecac, read Anthony Lane’s review of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. It’s doubtless going to be the review that all SW-haters point to as they turn their eyes from the countless good ones.

Anthony Lane’s review is hilarious. He clearly hates the series, and expresses it with glee. The problems with his review stem from this hate. His anger has clouded his judgment; he has gone over to the dark side of movie reviewing. No longer does he think with a logical mind, or even with an untinted eye.

Disagree? Here’s my case, point by point. And mind you, I hate to do this, because I generally dislike critiques of critiques.

Lane starts by taking issue with the sinister word “Sith:” “It sounds to me like the noise that emerges when you block one nostril and blow through the other.” Come on. It does have a wicked ring, and “Sidious” sounds just as evil, not much different than that dark class in Harry Potter, the “Slitherin,” which Lane also despised: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is, despite its trickery, that plainest and least surprising of artifacts; the work of art that is exactly the sum of its parts, neither more nor less.” He declares the naming of villains in his beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy superior: “Tolkien, earthed in Old English, had a head start that led him straight to the flinty perfection of Mordor and Orc. Here, by contrast, are some Lucas inventions: Palpatine. Sidious. Mace Windu. (Isn’t that something you spray on colicky babies?) Bail Organa. And Sith.” Hmmmm...that’s funny when you first read it, but when you stop and think about it, you realize that Palpatine is actually a decent name for a senator.

Would you vote for someone named “Dark Lord Sauron” or “Morgoth?”

And Bail Organa is Princess Leia Organa’s stepfather. You can’t name him “Bail Valiant” because then you’d have to explain why Leia would change her name to “Organa,” which no brave rebel would ever do.

Then you have this: “Anakin, too, is a divided figure, wrenched between his Jedi devotion to selfless duty and a lurking hunch that, if he bides his time and trashes his best friends, he may eventually get to wear a funky black mask and start breathing like a horse.” That’s funny ha-ha too, but it would be funnier if it were true. The “funny black mask” results from “trashing his best friend,” yes, but he turns to the dark side only to save his wife. He has visions of her death, but guess what? No visions of a black mask. Lane must have been having visions of these visions. Of course, Mr. Lane couldn’t tell us that it’s far-fetched for a man to abandon his friends out of love for his wife. It might have happened once or twice.

Next, there’s this: “What can you say about a civilization where people zip from one solar system to the next as if they were changing their socks but where a woman fails to register for an ultrasound, and thus to realize that she is carrying twins until she is about to give birth?” Hee-hee. True, so true. Or--hey, wait a minute! Nobody says that she doesn’t know she’s carrying twins! She tells Anakin, “I’m pregnant.” She doesn’t say, “with one baby boy whom I will name Luke.” No. And guess what else! If you didn’t know you were having twins, wouldn’t you be surprised when you did? Padme not only shows absolutely no surprise when she has the twins, she already has names ready for a girl and a boy. Maybe Lane wanted Padme to go round telling everyone, “Hey everybody, I’m having twins!” But she doesn’t have to, because it should be obvious to the unblind members of the audience that she knows.

Nobody ingests or excretes.” Lane would probably be happy if Yoda farted during a session of the Jedi Council. Come to think of it, I’d probably enjoy that, too. Lane must have overlooked General Grievous, who spends all of his scenes coughing and hacking, and he doesn’t even have lungs! Maybe Lane was too afraid of the General to keep his eyes on the screen during the Grievous scenes. He was big and scary, and I think that next to Jedi, his greatest bloodthirst would be for New Yorker readers.

Lane goes on: “Did Lucas learn nothing from “Alien” and “Blade Runner”—from the suggestion that other times and places might be no less rusted and septic than ours, and that the creation of a disinfected galaxy, where even the storm troopers wear bright-white outfits, looks not so much fantastical as dated...

Is he talking about "Revenge of the Sith?" Because all of the fighting ships and uniforms were stained, dented, scratched, and battered in some way. I challenge you to find a clean one. The original Star Wars movie has Stormtroopers in clean uniforms, but that was while they were on ships prior to battle.

Then he picks on Yoda: “At one point in the new film, he assumes the role of cosmic shrink—squatting opposite Anakin in a noirish room, where the light bleeds sideways through slatted blinds. Anakin keeps having problems with his dark side, in the way that you or I might suffer from tennis elbow, but Yoda, whose reptilian smugness we have been encouraged to mistake for wisdom, has the answer."

Now Lane has crossed the line. Call Luke “Gaywalker,” call lightsabers phallic symbols, whatever…

But Don’t. Fuck. With Yoda.

First of all, Yoda is not reptilian. God…just because he’s green, he must be reptilian? Stereotyper! He’s an alien mammalian. Witness the hair. Remember Biology 101? Clearly not. Also, Yoda is a Jedi master, which is sort of a cosmic shaolin monk, and in the scene Lane speaks of, the room is actually set up sort of like a serene dojo, if you look at it closely. As a Jedi Master, it’s his duty to teach his pupils the way of the Force, which should go without saying if you already saw “Empire.” That was a long time ago, though, and you can’t expect a SW hater to revisit that. He’s no more a shrink than Gandalf is to Frodo. But don’t pick on his beloved Lord of the Rings. He might cast magic missile.

The Yoda-bashing continues: "“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” he says. Hold on, Kermit, run that past me one more time. If you ever got laid (admittedly a long shot, unless we can dig you up some undiscerning alien hottie with a name like Jar Jar Gabor), and spawned a brood of Yodettes, are you saying that you’d leave them behind at the first sniff of danger?”"

So I loved the “Jar Jar Gabor,” and yes, funny, funny. But there’s the bad biology again. Any third grader knows that Kermit is an amphibian, not a reptile. Second, and we already covered this, Yoda is a Jedi master, which is essentially a monk, and even younglings know that Jedi are not allowed to hump or marry. So if one has a logical mind, one knows that Yoda is not telling Anakin to leave his wifey and kiddies, because as far as he’s concerned, there are none; it is verboten. But even if you want to assume that Yoda did know, would he advise Anakin to go ahead on over to the dark side, knowing that the good of the many would suffer under his imperial rule? Again, all of that follows only if you’re a logical thinker and not clouded with emotion.

And even more on Yoda: “Also, while we’re here, what’s with the screwy syntax? Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. “I hope right you are.” Break me a fucking give.

Okay, so annoy you that does, Mr. Lane. Spoke like that he did in "Empire," if you’d bother to watch it again. So if his English were correct for this movie, the only explanation for the syntax in “Empire” would be that he took years of Bad English classes, which they don’t have and can’t get in the Dagobah system, even via high-speed connection.

Many funny paragraphs, most of them wrong, wrong, wrong.

So if you’re looking for a good laugh, or just feel like Jedi-bashing, read Lane’s review.

But if you want to read a good, fair, factual one, try A.O. Scott’s in the NY Times, where these lines sum it all up perfectly:

To be sure, some of the shortcomings of "Phantom Menace" (1999) and "Attack of the Clones" (2002) are still in evidence, and Mr. Lucas's indifference to two fairly important aspects of moviemaking - acting and writing - is remarkable.

Anyway, nobody ever went to a "Star Wars" picture for the acting. Even as he has pushed back into the Jedi past, Mr. Lucas has been inventing the cinematic future, and the sheer beauty, energy and visual coherence of "Revenge of the Sith" is nothing short of breathtaking. The light-saber battles and flight sequences, from an initial Jedi assault on a separatist stronghold to a fierce duel in the chambers of the Senate, are executed with a swashbuckling flair that makes you forget what a daunting technical accomplishment they represent.

The integration of computer-generated imagery with captured reality (in other words, what we used to call movies) is seamless; Mr. Lucas has surpassed Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg in his exploitation of the new technology's aesthetic potential. [Anthony Lane is ready to fight now]

And the most important question:

Would George Lucas at last restore some of the old grandeur and excitement to his up-to-the-minute Industrial Light and Magic? Would my grown-up longing for a return to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my own moviegoing boyhood - and my undiminished hunger for entertainment with sweep and power as well as noise and dazzle - be satisfied by "Revenge of the Sith"?

The answer is yeth.

This is by far the best film in the more recent trilogy, and also the best of the four episodes Mr. Lucas has directed. That's right (and my inner 11-year-old shudders as I type this): it's better than "Star Wars."

Of course, if you want to spit out your own opinion, you're going to have to fork out your offering to Lucas, Inc. and see the movie first.


The Keoki said...

Fantastic Johnny! Great read!

Earl Jenkin™ said...

Excellent read!

Arethusa said...

I didn't read it (too long :( ) but "It’s doubtless going to be the review that all SW-haters point to as they turn their eyes from the countless good ones. "

I doubt it, not too many people give a shit about the New Yorker really. And two, I don't think anyone would really put Lucas over Tolkien in terms of naming. Sauron and Morgoth are aurally and philologically better than..well just about anything Lucas came up with. I don't really feel it's fair to get into such comparisons though because SW and LOTR are, to me, completely different animals.

Wow, Lane really got you off eh? *g*

Canowine said...

the keoki and earl: thanks!

arethusa: you know, the first time I saw it linked to on the internet was on Arts & Literature Daily, which I love, and which usually give you several links in the form of "more, more, more..." But they didn't do it this time. That annoyed me more than Lane's review. I really did think it was hilarious. I read it before I went to see the movie, and since he was so accurate and right in his LOTR: ROTK review, I was surprised to see that he got so much wrong, and was distracted by it AS I WATCHED THE MOVIE.

They are different in a lot of ways, but to me, LOTR and SW are similar in important ways: both are set in very detailed worlds invented by their creators, they are grand in scale (especially the battle scenes) and plot, they simplify their worlds into good and evil camps, a primary theme in both movies is the conflict between the will to do the greater good and the desire for power, and both are designed for and loved by nerds and outcasts.

Though I'm neither a nerd nor an outcast (or so I declare), I love both series. If I were allowed to keep only one series...I'd take the Star Wars movies, and still be satisfied with my LOTR illustrated novels. Okay, that was cheap. The LOTR movies were better.

By the way, I like the New Yorker. But I don't also read the Utne reader, and I suspect that a lot of New Yorker readers do, know what I'm sayin'?

You're probably right about the naming, but as Lane pointed out, Tolkein had Old English to draw from. You can't really name intergalactic characters "Beowulf" and the such, now can you? So the names have to come from invented roots, and you just have to have some imagination. Maybe the name Amidala derived from the Old Naboo for ruvidian, a precious gem twice as hard as diamond. I just made that up, but you get the idea.

RC666 is calling me a nerd at this moment. He doesn't really care for either LOTR or SW. I still like him, though.

Nah, Lane didn't get me off. I just felt that I had to restore balance to the galaxy.


Ken Collins said...

A tribute site for George Lucas has been opened at thanking him for 28 years of Star Wars. They want to get 1,000,000 signatures and stories to him later this summer.

Canowine said...

Thanks Ken!

I think George gets all the thanks he'll ever need in the form of cash that he receives from ticket sales, merch, and advertising, but this might help the fans (finally) let go.

I'm trying to think of which story I'll tell Uncle George.


The Graduate said...

Just discovered this blog and have to say anyone who likes Anthony Lane I like. His collection of reviews and essay 'Nobody's Perfect' is a fantastic read. Keep up the good work.

mike said...

Saw it on thursday and after reading on the web noticed:
“Only a sith deals in absolutes”

Said by a jedi yes? Isn't that statement itself an absolute?!

Arethusa said...

You have a point in similarities, but I always looked at SW as some sort of red-headed stepchild sprung from LOTR's (and Kurosawa's and Campbell and...I dunno who else) loins. (Which is not to imply that LOTR isn't as derivative.) I also can't get into more detail than that because I baaarely remember the sequels and have only seen one of the prequels.

I'd also argue about the simplification of Tolkien's LOTR into black & white (Gollum, Saruman, Wormtongue, Boromir, Denethor, even Frodo to a certain degree) but that's the books and I acknowledge it is often not "enough" amibiguity for some.

Canowine said...

the finalist - Lane is the slant. You gotta love him for that.

mike - Darned I'll be. An absolute it is. Damn you, Lucas! Too late for editing, unfortunately. Then's Lucas! He can post-edit!

arethusa - yeah, when you get into the individual heros and heroines you get more complexity. But overall, the orcs & the rest of Saruman's armies are purely evil, and the elves are good. Men and hobbits are more complicated.

I'm drinking coffee as I write this. It's like having a conversation, and I'm loving it!