Saturday 7 February 2015

Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones

In this retro review, originally published in Dreamwatch and Starburst magazines, I look back at Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. Incidentally, this was the first movie I saw digitally projected, a novelty at the time...

Lucas Strikes!

After the relative disappointment of the first prequel, a film I watched six times at the Odeon, much rides on this second instalment in Lucasʼ six-part magnum opus. Does it deliver and can it equal ʻThe Empire Strikes Backʼ in the dramatic stakes?

On Tuesday, May 21st 2002, I travelled (with friends) to see the movie at the Odeon, Leicester Square. This is one of too few venues, which has the facility to present motion pictures digitally (if itʼs available in the format). Suffice it to say that I was excited to see, for myself, whether or not ʻClonesʼ could deliver both in terms of dramatic and technical performance?

On the former. After the obligatory credit crawl. The camera pans up, which breaks with the convention established in the previous entries, a motif that signifies a change in tone. The colour palette and designs allude to ʻEmpireʼ. And the tense, and by turns amusing, chase through Coruscant inspires obvious comparison with ʻBlade Runnerʼ and the highly derivative ʻFifth Elementʼ on speed!

This is followed by Obi-Wan Kenobiʼs journey to the, mysterious and enigmatic, water world Kamino. The clinical ʻlook and feelʼ of the cloning facility mines the cinema of Stanley Kubrick! Culminating in a thrilling rain-soaked encounter with bounty hunter Jango Fett on a landing platform. Jangoʼs eventual fate, at the hands of Mace Windu, was deserving. This hopefully drives an older Boba Fett to play a substantial part in the final prequel! He certainly has the motivation.

Anakinʼs ʻTusken slaughterʼ confessional to Padme is, arguably, almost on a par with Vaderʼs paternal revelation! Hayden Christensen (finally getting centre stage) chillingly convinces as the conflicted apprentice. John Williams serves to underscore this pivotal scene, reflecting on what is to come with familiar leitmotifs that sound somehow fresh and new.

Christopher Lee excels as Count Dooku! His confrontation with Obi-Wan is rich with kinetic tension. Dookuʼs choreography shadows Vaderʼs thereby embellishing the seriesʼ mythology further. And this is cemented when Anakin loses his right arm during the duel - echoing Lukeʼs loss of hand in ʻEmpireʼ. Let's hope that Lee reprises the role in Episode III.

Whilst ʻClonesʼ is certainly an improvement on ʻMenaceʼ. Lucas is still unable to write dialogue (an affliction that is not unique to him) and the production methodology intrudes at times - too often one is aware of the layers of fx composition.

Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensenʼs chemistry is wasted on relatively poor dialogue. And a few of the later scenes are laughable! The worst offender, not involving the doomed duo, features a clone trooper asking Padme if she was OK after falling from an airborne gunship? Surely it would have been more poignant (and ironic) if clone troopers had recovered her unconscious body, from the desert, in a scene echoing Stormtroopers confronting Leia at the start of A New Hope?

On a technical note. The difference between analogue (film) and digital (hard drive) sources is palpable! The sound and picture are vivid and, at times, an overwhelming feast for the eyes.

In conclusion. Ultimately it was inevitable that ʻEmpireʼ wouldnʼt be displaced, in my opinion, as the best Star Wars movie. But, there is much to enjoy and relish in ʻClonesʼ. The performances, pacing and visual virtuosity are exponentially improved.

Star Wars has never looked more beguiling - replete with unrivalled colours and textures. It is with elevated spirits that I look forward to the darkest, and by extension, most complex instalment: Episode III.

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