Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Warning! Geek alert! Film snobbery to follow.

So I saw a couple of movies this week -- Star Wars Episode III last night and Kingdom of Heaven tonight. Star Wars just seemed to limp along with occasional flashes of digitally enhanced brilliance, while Kingdom of Heaven actually took the time to build a story, invest in its characters, and move its audience with a grand cinematic scope.

The whole Star Wars franchise has just simply lost its steam. The original films has a wit and self-awareness that never seemed to dare you to take them too seriously. They also had a cast of characters that were well worth an effort to invest in. Plus, some pretty kick-ass effects (for their day, at least). The prequels, save for the all-new eye-popping effects, lack the humor and adventure of those originals.

In fact, the only emotional moments in Episode III were those that hearkened back (or forward?) to the original films -- snipets of John Williams' score and scenes of Tatooine from the originals near the end were the closest Episode III got to moving me. But those moments weren't original moments, they were nostalgic ones. Looking back/forward to other moments that actually did mean something to me. Episode III wrapped things up the way it was supposed to, but that didn't really make it all that satisfying. It's one thing to know the facts of how we get from A to B. It's another to use film to tell the story in a compelling way. Lucas told us the facts, but forgot how to weave the facts into a compelling story.

Watching Kingdom of Heaven just reinforced this whole idea. Here are the facts of the Crusades. Now here is the Crusades condensed into a logical, cohesive, yet entertaining narrative. Characters are created and plots are simplified. Wooden dialogue is rewritten craftfully then put into the hands of capable actors who make it sound all the more fantastic. And finally, a master storyteller weaves it all together with cinematic flair.

Where George Lucas turns every actor into a piece of cardboard, Ridley Scott gives them a stage on which to win Oscars. Where Lucas overwhelms the audience with CGI shot after CGI shot, Scott blends the terrain of Morocco seamlessly with his CG effects. Where Lucas' cinematography is clumsy (especially when on actors and not on effects), Scott's shines and shimmers with a life of its own.

If there's a point, I guess it's this. Anyone can make a movie. But not everyone can direct a film. Anyone can tell a story. But not everyone is a storyteller. Lucas, while wowing us with his ILM tricks, fails on both accounts. Scott does not.

Which is why I eagerly await some future date when the "Special Edition" of these prequels are released -- with all new actors, dialogue, and directing -- at some point in the distant future, where seemingly all things are possible.

And that is why I'm not an amillennialist.

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