Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

December 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

When I was a kid in 1977, Star Wars was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It had stuff going on in the background that would have been the centrepiece of another film, and the world had never seen lightsabres or thought of people tapping into a spiritual energy called the Force for vaguely godlike powers.  Finally, all of it was wrapped up in a rousing score, great effects and a classic good vs. evil story (with good as the underdog, of course). Luke Skywalker was taught to tap into the Force in a reserved, noble way in the name of peace, and not in a lustful, greedy way.

Arguably, that’s all George Lucas really needed to do, creatively. And about all he had to offer. The rest of the original trilogy extends the narrative to give us a fuller picture and allows Darth Vader to redeem himself.  On really generous days, I’m willing to say the three prequel films (produced much later) suffered from even clunkier acting and dialogue, but manage some kind of stunted message about the perils of giving in to hate and the perceived comfort of centralised power.  But then, that’s kind of what I said above, isn’t it. I guess it can at least be said the prequel films illustrate how it was with the best of intentions the characters populated the galaxy with troops that became the grumpy empire of doom.

But wait, there’s more.  And then, there’s more.  Along the way, we were given (I should say, sold) various refurbished versions of the original films that always seemed to improve some element while sabotaging another, and then a Clone Wars animated series produced by the same outstanding animators that made the Samurai Jack TV series. OK, fine.  I enjoyed the impressive visuals and disarmingly simple plots of Samurai Jack (how often is a TV series willing to go without dialogue?) and thought they made an enjoyable enough Star Wars romp in their own unique style. But wait, that Clone Wars was a sort of test run for a new 2008 Clone Wars film with computer animation and character faces so still they look like mannequins. And, the 2008 Clone Wars film is an appetizer for a new Clone Wars TV series.

The original trilogy told the story of a farm boy rejecting his father’s cold, hostile, increasingly mechanical way of doing things, and the father eventually redeeming himself after his original tragedy. There’s something interesting in the archetypes there, and a little relevance to modern life. But now I’m supposed to care about attacking octopus droids and a dude needing to blow up a generator so some clone troops can win. Jabba the Hutt was originally a throwaway line in the first film, and after a certain amount of suspense, he becomes a surprisingly well-realised archetype in the third film — the fat gangster as an alien slug. Kind of nifty, but not worth more than one appearance. Since then, he’s been inserted into the original 1977 film, and now features in this new Clone Wars film.  This film even introduces a Jabba relative, and guess what? He’s also a fat slug who presides over a room with alien dancing girls and an alien band.

If these new productions explored some hidden corner of the Star Wars world, and had better writing, I might not mind, but the 2008 film is proof Lucas is strip-mining his own, decades-old creative ideas to produce the same lightsabre-droid-I’ll-get-you-and-your-little-dog-too tedium. If it was about the slightest thing I might care. But it isn’t, so I don’t. All I can say at this point is please stop, George. All the magic is gone, and every little background critter has come forward to have his own moment. I won’t be seeing anything else, and I feel like a clone for seeing this much.

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The Abominable Snowman (1957)

December 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

I’ve blogged about the great Peter Cushing recently in The Beast Must Die (1974) close the end of his film career, but recently went back to check out The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957) an early horror film for Cushing, and yet an underrated classic and a film that actually plays more like a thoughtful mystery.

Sure, there’s a body falling from a height that’s so obviously a dummy it isn’t funny. And sure, we’re talking about some actors climbing around sets and fake snow, but the studio work blends very well with some impressive location work, particularly as it’s all in black and white. Cushing co-stars with Forrest Tucker, and the two actors have roles that contrast quite nicely. Cushing is the utterly thoughtful naturalist and preservationist, and Tucker the showman who just wants to shoot a few and bring them home.  In other words, the two represent the best and worst sides of our nature. Wisely, the film waits, and then waits even longer to show us the face of a Snowman, while Cushing gets lines like this, looking at the body of one of them: “This isn’t the face of a savage thing… there’s gentleness.  Suppose they’re not just a pitiable remnant waiting to die out.  Waiting, yes… but waiting for us to go.”

Wait a sec, a fifties horror flick that suggests some of the low-key biodiversity out there might outlive us, and it’s only our egocentricity that allows us to think we’re more important?  I was impressed.  Sadly, the film is out of print on DVD, and as I’ve moaned before, there’s no Peter Cushing collection to speak of.  But try to track this one down, if you can, because it’s well worth it. I was able to see it through Zip.ca, in Canada.

Watch the flying dummy here.

The Beast Must Die (1974)

December 5, 2008 § Leave a comment

“This film is a detective story — in which you are the detective.

The question is not “Who is the murderer?” — but “Who is the werewolf?”

After all the clues have been shown — you will get a chance to give your answer.

Watch for the werewolf break.”

With a hilariously funky seventies soundtrack, The Beast Must Die manages to be pretty good fun, even if low budget and extremely cheesy fun.  And yes, this is a film that stops near the end to give you thirty seconds to think about who might be the werewolf.  The premise is pretty simple: a wealthy, egocentric man invites about six people to his country estate (wired for surveillance) to dine and hang around, knowing that when the werewolf transforms, he can hunt it.  So, um, yeah that’s the plot.

I watched this mainly for Peter Cushing, who was reintroduced to audiences in the original Star Wars (1977) but had a long career before that as one of a handful of English actors (along with Christopher Lee) who elevated Hammer horror productions such as Horror of Dracula (1958)  Curse of Frankenstein (1957) or The Mummy (1959), all remakes of the classic films of the thirties but with a level of gore that jolted audiences in the late fifties. Aside from playing characters like Van Helsing and Dr. Frankenstein (with Lee as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy) he was even Sherlock Holmes in a pretty decent Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), and Doctor Who in a couple of colourful spin-off films while the TV series was terribly popular.  In the sixties, Lee and Cushing starred in a pile of Dracula and Frankenstein sequels, with various levels of quality, but it’s the originals from the late fifties that stand out in my mind as the kind of classy yet shocking horror film that just isn’t made any more.

Cushing doesn’t have a lot of screen time in this, but does manage to be as classy as possible while putting a bullet in his mouth — a supposedly silver one — to prove he isn’t a werewolf.  Still, even if Cushing fans are disappointed by this one, it’s a fun, bizarre little film crying out to be remade with a better budget, and probably without the “werewolf break.”

There’s an impressive Peter Cushing tribute here, with great quotes from Cushing and Lee.

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