Tuesday, 10 January 2006

This Sith Hit's Not Shit

Via the new-TV-owning Vince Keenan's website comes this article: Fellowship of the Sith. It makes a number of incredible claims including this:
Channeling Kurosawa by way of Genndy Tartakovsky, Lucas' dynamic, clean compositions are as sturdy as woodcuts and as resonant as Tarot cards. I now think anyone who reflexively dismisses that possibility that "Sith" is worth discussing AS A MOVIE is, in fact, a cinematic reactionary, a person who has unwittingly rejected the notion that a film's true worth resides in composition, mise-en-scene, camera movement and editing, rather than middlebrow notions of what's serious.

Now, my opinion of Sith was that it didn't suck as much as the others and that playing Lego Star Wars The Video Game had led me to expect a better plot than actually was the case, in fact the linked Idle Thumbs article points out why this might be:
As we approached the end, I wondered how the game would handle the final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, when there wasn’t really going to be room for three. The answer turned out to be thoroughly disappointing. The plan seemed to be that I was Obi-Wan, he was Anakin, try to kill each other in the cutscenes and in between negotiate jumping puzzles together. It was a huge cop-out and it made absolutely no sense that these two would put aside their difference for some shared jumping.

During a lull in said jumping, though, we landed on flat ground and I realised that now, the game actually did want me to kill him. I was unprepared for this, because it wasn’t really a boss fight, there wasn’t any Cody; my brother was still playing as him. Fighting the person I was supposed to complete this game with this whole time was a shock, and the game was only going to end with his death. Sucks to be player two. After I did dismember him, the silence between us was a bit awkward. To be honest, that Lego adaptation got far more emotion out of me than the CGI-showcase melodrama of the movie. It hit all the notes that the movie’s climax was supposed to yet failed to, and it’s a great example of what games can do that most media can’t.

There are many places you can go to argue whether games are art or not. I don't think Lego Stars was ever ment to be included in that debate, but if a game can have you feeling complex emotions like the above, even a gleefully silly one, then perhaps games can be art. And that really is the thing. I did enjoy the fights and the imagery in the new Star Wars trilogy, but at no point did I feel anything for anybody. Matt Zoller Seitz may claim that I'm missing the point or that I didn't watch the movie as a child and he'd be right but I don't think that's a valid argument.

I can see the composition of Sith and I can see the repeated imagery, the fore-shadowing of the space ship designs and the suspiciously familiar Corellian freighters in the corner of certain shots. Great. Movie as one big easter egg hunt. If Lucas was channeling Kurosawa, though, it was late period stately Ran/Kagemusha Kurosawa, making the whole thing conciously epic with fabulous battles and glorious colour and a bunch of people slightly lost in the middle of it.

There is wonder in Lucas's universe and some of it does require meeting it with a child-like fascination but the broad strokes of the plot and lack of any real characterisation outside of an attempt to make Anakin a bad-boy can't really be excused by this. Pixar, Joss Whedon and Russell T Davies have all recently shown that family entertainment doesn't mean childish, or even child-like, and that young audiences will accept characters with complex emotions and motivations.

The recent Star Wars movies are not rubbish because we don't understand them on cinematic level, a ridiculous argument, anyway, plenty of bad movies are well-made, they are rubbish because the fail to engage you. Anakin's progression seems to be whiny kid, whiny teenager, whiny twenty-something, sombre evil bloke. The darkness at the centre of the story isn't a pervading evil but a sucking emptiness. No amount of "rhyming situations and compositions" is ever going to mask that.


Matt Zoller Seitz said...

MZS here--a STAR WARS fan pointed me to this post. Check out the comments in the item you reference. There are links to a couple of pieces -- one by Jurgen Fauth and another from Slate -- that go into this same argument with more depth. No argument that the movies are incredibly simplistic at the level of characterization, but graphically and in terms of their plot construction, they are more complex than detractors have indicated. HIDDEN FORTRESS and YOJIMBO aren't too deep either, but they can be appreciated at the level of narrative and spectacle. Lucas would never be capable of HIGH AND LOW or RASHOMON, but that's a whole other discussion.

Paul said...

Thanks for the reply MZS.

I will add that, despite how my post comes across, I did enjoy the spectacle of Clones and Sith. They aren't bad movies, I just feel they are empty at their heart.

I think my main problem with Sith is that there were hints of a more emotional story, especially if the movies had made one or two more of the Jedi more than ciphers as I found the dying Jedi montage quite powerful but was annoyed that I didn't know anything about these people (watching Clone Wars then coming back to Sith does improve your understanding). For a moment you got the feeling there was a much larger universe that might have been interesting to explore had we not had to put up with three laps of pod racing, Jar Jar, Trade squabbles, platform games and an interminable love story.