• Movies

    Movie Review: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

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    FAI’m writing two reviews for this movie, since it’s only been in theatres for about a week and a half and it is Star Wars after all. This is the Spoiler-Filled review. If you want an opinion without spoilers, that one is here.

    So let’s start with what I liked about the film.

    The characters showed some cross section and some diversity, which was nice for a Star Wars film, in addition to being a relatively new thing if you don’t count mostly negative stereotypes from the prequel films. Those characters were mostly played by actors who were allowed to act, which was also pretty neat.

    I mostly liked the production values, although whoever was in charge of the cinematography spent a lot of time trying to impress me with how big everything was, a little too much really.

    The overall aesthetic of the film, visuals, effects, soundscape, were all awesome. The film looked and sounded good, even in 3D, though I think I should have been sitting a little farther back. There were a few moments when there was too much going on for me to be able to take in everything.

    Here’s where we get into spoiler territory, mostly with things that didn’t work for me.

    In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens is just a remake of A New Hope. All of the basic elements are there: Death Star/Death Planet, Trench Run, Cantina, bad guy in a black plastic mask, young hero(ine) learning to use the force, desert planet, rescue mission, rebellion/resistance, a unit of distance being used as a unit of time, a droid with incredibly important computer files, etc, etc.

    Although… Storm Troopers who could actually hit things. That was nice.

    I guess I’m saying the writing was weaker than I might have liked, but I should also add that the dialogue was a lot less clunky.

    And there were a handful of things that really stretched credulity for me, to the point where I couldn’t suppress my need to make smart ass remarks out loud: a giant laser that could shoot faster than light, Kylo Ren stopping a blaster bolt in mid air and not even needing to concentrate or look at it to hold it there while he held the shooter in place, either one of the two people who picked up Luke’s old lightsaber being able to stand against a mostly-trained Sith for more than a swing or two (especially after one of them got his ass kicked by a Storm Trooper with a shock baton), not to mention said Sith’s temper tantrums, and R2 waking up when it was all over to provide the rest of the map to find Luke instead of when BB8 and friends came by to tell him that they had a piece of the map.

    And everything was too close together: the Resistance base, the New Republic Capital, the Death Planet, and the underground Casino all seemed to be practically in the same system.

    Did I say the writing was weaker than I’d like?

    Not quite done yet, though. The biggest thing that threw me out of the story was the very impressive trench opening up between Kylo and Rey just at the right time to not let her kill him. It would have been a lot better for Rey’s character development to actually make the choice not to kill the bad guy and maybe even try to bring him back.

    Speaking of Rey, she figured out too much Force stuff on her own. Jedi mind tricks, focusing ability to suddenly improve her light saber skills, and the art of mental distraction. She’s pretty much got all of the Obi-Wan stuff locked down without having had any training. So why does she need to go find Luke? (Side note, I’m thinking there’s going to be a training montage very early in the next movie.)

    I wasn’t invested enough in Poe. He wasn’t more than a plot device in this movie, though he was clearly meant to be a main character. I feel like there are probably a couple of cut scenes focusing around him that would have made me care about him more as a character, and maybe they’ll put those back into a bluray release, but it wasn’t there in the theatre.

    That said, I was clearly invested in things near the end of the movie because I remember thinking several times that they needed not to pull another Darth Maul and allow Kylo Ren to die. You know you’re filming a trilogy that makes one big story arc so try not to waste a good villain. The way Kylo’s life didn’t end was a big eye roll, though. The giant trench in the ground I mentioned.

    Never really a secret, or at least not for long, that Kylo Ren is actually Han and Leia’s son Ben, but the line, “There’s too much Vader in him,” rang hollow and cheap. And Kylo throwing a temper tantrum every time he got angry and Supreme Leader wasn’t around to see was… let’s go with unfortunate.

    And great death scene for Han Solo. Naturally flowing out of the characters and not really surprising, but a definite emotional impact because there’s no way they’d really do that, right?

    There are a lot of unanswered questions, and that’s a good thing because most of them came out of the characters and their actions or largely unexplored backstory, and most of them can lead to some great character development in the next film.

    Overall, I’ll go with a 7/10, though I feel just a touch generous. Far better than the prequels, but not up to the original trilogy. The potential is there. I liked it, but I probably need to see it again to find some things I missed.

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  • Movies

    Movie Review: The Force Awakens (Spoiler-Free)

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    FAStar Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

    I’m writing two reviews for this movie, since it’s only been in theatres for about a week and a half and it is Star Wars after all. This is the Spoiler-Free review. If you don’t mind spoilers, or you’ve see the movie, that review is here. This is naturally the shorter review, because I can’t talk about specific things.

    I’ll start with what I liked about the film, and this will be in the spoiler-filled review almost word for word, because it’s easy to make the same points either way.

    The characters showed some cross section and some diversity, which was nice for a Star Wars film, in addition to being a relatively new thing if you don’t count mostly negative stereotypes from the prequel films. Those characters were mostly played by actors who were allowed to act, which was also pretty neat.

    I mostly liked the production values, although whoever was in charge of the cinematography spent a lot of time trying to impress me with how big everything was, a little too much really.

    The overall aesthetic of the film, visuals, effects, soundscape, were all awesome. The film looked and sounded good, even in 3D, though I think I should have been sitting a little farther back. There were a few moments when there was too much going on for me to be able to take in everything.

    But the writing was weaker than I might have liked, but I should also add that the dialogue was a lot less clunky. Maybe it’s the Abrams connection, but there’s a lot of Star Trek II factor in here. In a lot of ways, The Force Awakens is just a remake of A New Hope. Without listing them, all lot of the same basic plot basic elements are there to make the same basic story.

    Although… Storm Troopers who could actually hit things. That was nice.

    There were a handful of things, all of them significant events or plot points, that really stretched credulity for me, to the point where I couldn’t suppress my need to make smart ass remarks out loud. One of them was such a completely overused cliché and so completely ridiculous, it threw me completely out of the film.

    Everything was too close together, physically and temporally. The second on of those is a traditional Star Wars problem, but you can ignore it if it isn’t too obvious. The first one, though, is previously symptomatic of Abrams Star Trek.

    There was a little too much spontaneous character development for one of the main characters and not enough development at all for another. A complete lack of emotional investment in what really amounted to a walking plot device needed to move things along at key moments. I feel like there are probably a couple of cut scenes focusing around the character that would have made me care, and those will hopefully be available in the bluray release, but it wasn’t there in the theatre.

    All of that said, I was clearly invested in events near the end of the movie because I remember thinking several times that they {the rest of this paragraph is almost spoilery, but watch the previews, I think I’m okay) needed not to pull another Darth Maul in this film. You know you’re filming a trilogy that makes one big story arc so try not to waste a good villain. However, the way they got around that is the thing that threw me out of the film.

    There are emotional moments, funny moments, intense moments, and a really great death scene for a couple of people. There’s also a lot of cheese and weak writing.

    And there are a lot of unanswered questions, and that’s a good thing because most of them came out of the characters and their actions or largely unexplored backstory, and most of them can lead to some great character development in the next film.

    Overall, I’ll go with a 7/10, though I feel just a touch generous. Far better than the prequels, but not up to the original trilogy. The potential is there. I liked it, but I probably need to see it again to find some things I missed.

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  • Reading

    2015 Reading Journey: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back

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    by Ian Doescher

    I’m not big on mash ups, generally, but I saw the individual volumes of the first trilogy in a bookstore and thought it had a lot of potential to be fun. And it did have a lot of potential. It was a lot of fun. For the first couple of scenes. After that, it got old. Fast. That it’s written as a dialogue-only play with very little real direction other than characters entering or leaving helped to speed things along, but there were times I caught myself skimming for the next good line and had to drop back a page or more.

    I don’t think there’s a need to share the basic plot of The Empire Strikes Back. For anyone curious, it’s my favourite of the original films, and the best by a fair margin, in my opinion. This is the film with the most character depth, the most emotional content, and the best writing. I hoped most of that would make it through the translation into faux-Shakespearean English.

     

    The Dialogue

    It’s written as if it’s a play, so it’s all dialogue, but what I mean is the best work is the direct translation of the dialogue works best. And often the best lines work best. If I had to pick a personal high point:

    “I tell thee, droid: Assail me not with odds!”

    It’s not hard to see Han’s face as he hurls that line at C3P0, and a lot of the true dialogue works very well to pull you through a mirror vision of the story, but there’s also a lot of stuff that shouldn’t be dialogue and is.

    Giving actual voice to the Wampa, the AT-ATs, and the giant space worm seems an odd choice. I kind of get that the author want to use them as more than just a noted plot device in the writing, but each of these more or less get completely forgettable short soliloquies.

    And the Ugnauts. A voice of their own, but only one for the lot of them, with almost broken, sing song speech. Certainly a different view of the creatures who played keep away with Chewbacca in the film, but we don’t really get to see that, or any potential interplay between them, since Chewy only grunts in between.

    Show don’t tell. This is a rule so often quoted at writers that it’s long past the point of being a cliché. This is written as a play and we’re not watching a movie, so there’s definitely got to be room for leeway, but so much of what would be happening on screen is given in dialogue, sometimes by characters who didn’t actually have much in the movie, so that the audience can understand what’s going on by reading instead of watching a play. I get it, but it’s almost always too much. I don’t remember an awful lot of stage direction in the Shakespeare I’ve read, but a lot of the action-in-dialogue here was hitting me over the head.

    We’re also given insights into Vader’s character that can only come from taking a good hard look at Jedi. In Empire, he’s pretty much the implacable force until the moment of the big reveal, which is spoiled far in advance using this extra dialogue. Carrying on in this theme, there’s also far too much foreshadowing of the developing relationship between Han and Leia, most of these in the form of asides or short soliloquies as they remark how much they already love each other to the audience long before Leia is at all ready to admit things to herself much less declare to Han.

    On a related note, R2D2 has asides for the audience, a Shakespearean tradition. It’s a neat, something to tell the audience here and there things inferred from the other side of the conversation for a character who doesn’t actually speak. But why not give them to Chewbacca as well? His speech is uniformly grunts that don’t capture much.

     

    The Iambic Pentameter

    Sometimes isn’t. Most Shakespeare is written in iambic pentameter, basically ten syllable lines with the emphasis falling on every second syllable to create a rhythm. This can be split between two characters speaking, but it always adds up.

    In The Empire Striketh Back, there are lines that break this rhythm, lines that read more like a syllable count to make things balance than actual iambic blank verse. It’s jarring when it happens, but it does happen more in the front half of the story than in the back half.

    The other major breakout of the standard Shakespearean rhythm is intentional. Yoda speaks in the traditional haiku format. Not Haiku, but in the format. His lines are divided by syllable 5-7-5, 5-7-5, 5-7-5 until he finishes speaking. It makes him stand out in a translation where everyone speaks a little Yoda-like, but it’s also jarring.

    And Boba Fett is, well, Boba Fett, but he talks too much and while it breaks from the rhythm (intentionally by the afterward) to give a little variety in the pace, he talks too much.

     

    The Art Work

    The interior art brings a real Elizabethan flavour to things. The characters are recognizable, but their dress is tailored just a little to Shakespeare’s time and the backdrops, when shown, put me in mind of something I might see on a professional stage to give a true view of the setting. My favourite of these is the final one, with Luke, Leia, and the droids staring off the balcony at what is probably a wrought iron star with a lantern in the idle. It’s beautiful.

     

    Overall rating: Two Stars. I know I’ve spent most of this saying what I didn’t like about the translation, but it was an okay read taken as a whole. It lived in the Shakespearean paraphrasing of the film’s original dialogue and more or less died outside of it for me. I do wonder if it might work well as a multi-cast audio drama with people voicing the characters who have had just a little Shakespearean practice.

    I won’t recommend The Empire Striketh Back specifically, and don’t intend to read more in the series at this point, but if you like Shakespeare and you like Star Wars, you can probably jump into any one of these books as the author has covered all six films now. I’d recommend picking your favourite as you’ll likely only need one taste to satisfy.

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