Monday, September 19, 2011

"Star Wars" on Blu-Ray: Disc #2 - "Attack of the Clones" – Now with love speeches about sand in HD Audio!

It’s finally here!  As explained in this post, the month of September is officially Star Wars Month on the Monthly Ten Podcast and JonathanLack.Com, all in honor of one of the most anticipated home video releases of all time – the Star Wars saga on Blu-Ray Disc!  The 9-disc has finally arrived, and I’m devoting eleven days to reviewing the entire box set in depth.  Today, we continue our disc-by-disc run-through of the set by analyzing the contents of Disc #2, which contains Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I’ll review the film itself, discuss the video and audio quality, extras, and more, a trend which will continue throughout the week as we continue through each disc in the set.  

Review of Disc #2 – Attack of the Clones, coming up after the jump…  

The Film: Fighting Boredom in Episode II

Yesterday, I wrote about how nostalgia made it difficult to be overly critical of “The Phantom Menace.”  I expected I would have similar feelings about “Attack of the Clones,” since I know I was fond of it as a kid, but instead, I found the film a real chore to sit through, despite an excellent Blu-Ray presentation.  I felt only vague traces of nostalgia from start-to-finish, and even then, those memories didn’t exactly help me enjoy the movie.  I enjoy certain aspects of the film, particularly anything involving Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, but on the whole, “Attack of the Clones” is a tremendous bore that, like its predecessor, accomplishes very little in the way of narrative momentum.

Or maybe it does.  Hell if I know.  A big part of the film’s problem is that the story is messy and incoherent.  The opening title crawl – usually reserved for non-essential but appreciated bits of backstory – is hilariously overstuffed this time, tasked with introducing viewers to the idea of the “Separatist” movement.  Apparently, between episodes I and II, thousands of planets got mad at the Republic and seceded, and therefore, the Republic is debating whether or not to form an army.  That’s a pretty massive information dump for the title crawl, and the film itself does a terrible job explaining who the separatists are, why they dislike the Republic, and what their eventual goal is.  Things only get more confusing when we finally meet the chief Separatist –Count Dooku – and he explains that he was motivated to leave the Jedi and form his rebellion when he learned that the Republic has been infiltrated by the Sith.  Dooku is correct about this, of course, and for a moment, it seems like he might be a good guy after all; he’s correct in saying something needs to be done about the Republic.  But then he decides to kill a bunch of Jedi, and we learn he’s working for Darth Sidious, the same Lord of the Sith ruling the Republic from the inside. 

What the hell is going on?!?!?!!

The inconsistencies don’t stop there.  We hear a lot about a Jedi named Sifo-Dyas who ordered the construction of a Clone Army.  Even though characters such as Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and Yoda all know who Sifo-Dyas is, we’ve never heard of him before, and we never find out what this Jedi’s intentions were in ordering a Clone Army.  It gets muddier when one considers that Jango Fett, a bounty hunter working for the evil Count Dooku, is the basis for the Clones.  But the Clones are on the side of the Republic.  WTF!?  It just gives me a headache trying to figure this stuff out.

Still, narrative incoherency is far from being the film’s chief problem.  No, “Attack of the Clones” has something far worse up its sleeve, a Padawan learner by the name of Anakin Skywalker. 


Young Jake Lloyd is utterly terrible in Episode I, but as written, little Anakin isn’t entirely problematic.  He’s a kind, selfless boy who loves his mother and is eager to help strangers.  Lucas and Lloyd botched the execution of the character, but conceptually, I don’t think there were any major problems.  Adult Anakin in “Episode II,” however, is flawed all the way down to the core.  From the moment he appears on screen, he is horrifyingly unlikable.  He’s disloyal, arrogant, bratty, creepy, disrespectful, and stupid, often all at the same time. 

In particular, Anakin’s treatment of his master Obi-Wan just makes me sad.  Yesterday, I discussed how much I loved the relationship between young Obi-Wan and his master, Qui-Gon Jinn.  Obi-Wan isn’t a perfect Jedi in the film, he still has a lot to learn, but he’s always respectful of his Master, and even when he disagrees with Qui-Gon, it’s a respectful, intellectual disagreement.  I loved watching the two characters interact; to me, they represent everything Jedi are about.  Anakin, however, treats Obi-Wan like shit from start to finish.  He’s incredibly disrespectful of his master, openly disagreeing with Obi-Wan in front of Senators and Jedi Officials; he disobeys every single order Obi-Wan gives him, and throughout it all, he has the audacity to bitch and moan about how poorly Obi-Wan treats him.  This is bologna, of course: Obi-Wan does nothing but love Anakin, tolerating the boy even in his worst moments and always trying to make him a better Jedi.  But Anakin continues to treat his master like garbage, and it’s just uncomfortable to watch.

Speaking of uncomfortable, Anakin’s treatment of Padme is equally problematic.  George Lucas can’t write romantic dialogue to save his life – “Attack of the Clones” features the worst, most laughably bad dialogue in the franchise – and his idea of a developing relationship basically amounts to Anakin saying “yes” over and over while Padme says “no” over and over until the poor woman acquiesces and admits her affection.  It’s shoddy character development at best, but actor Hayden Christensen makes things infinitely worse through his creepy, deranged line-delivery.  He stares longingly at Padme with the eyes of a stalker, and performs the romantic dialogue with anger and frustration, rather than anything resembling love or affection.  It’s just unsettling to watch, despite poor Natalie Portman’s admirable efforts to salvage the relationship.  Unlike Christensen, she’s a talented actress, but she still never finds a way to convey exactly what Padme sees in Anakin.  During the course of Episode II, she only ever sees him whining about how mean Obi-Wan is, breaking orders from the Jedi Council, and slaughtering an entire race of Sand People, but nevertheless, she falls for the guy. 

Oy.  I think it’s safe to say that Anakin is one of the least likable “protagonists” I’ve ever seen on screen, and the entire film suffers as a result.  Thank God Ewan McGregor is there to balance things out, or it would be impossible to sit through the movie.  I honestly do love the material McGregor is given in the film; his investigation into the nature of attacks on Senator Amidala showcases a powerful Jedi at the height of his game, and that means more than just twirling a lightsaber.  Jedi are fascinating for their physical and mental prowess, and Obi-Wan’s detective work that leads him to Jango Fett is just as engaging as his eventual battle with Jango Fett.  Through it all, McGregor is in total command of the character, and I adore the slight sarcastic edge he gives this grown-up version of Obi-Wan.  There’s never any doubt that this man is wise and brilliant, but he also wears his exasperation on his sleeve; he hasn’t quite achieved the calm of Alec Guiness, which is exactly as it should be. 

I also appreciate Christopher Lee’s performance as Count Dooku; it’s a very generic role, but with his booming voice, Lee can make any character interesting, and if anything, Lee is sorely underused.  Yoda, who in the original release was appearing as a digital creation for the very first time, gets some awesome showcase moments from start to finish, demonstrating his wisdom, his power, and his compassion; in particular, I love the sequence where Obi-Wan walks in on Yoda teaching the Younglings, and Yoda instructs the children to help Obi-Wan with some interstellar cartography.  Considering that past movies in the franchise really only showed us Yoda in one location or capacity, I love how much more Yoda gets to do this time around. 

Yet as much as I may enjoy individual elements of the film, as a whole, “Attack of the Clones” is a failure.  The story is messy bordering on nonsensical, Anakin moves from “obnoxious” to “unlikable” early on, not even John Williams’ beautiful score can salvage the romance, much of the action is limp and lifeless, and very little of the film is engaging.  At the end of the day, most of “Clones” is simply boring, and it’s very depressing to describe a Star Wars film that way.

One of the more positive things I can say about watching “Episode II” is that George Lucas has made one alteration to the film for the Blu-Ray release.  During Anakin’s nightmare about his mother, he now hears her calling out to him, screaming for help so that the scene no longer looks as if Anakin is having an incestuous maternal wet dream.  So there’s that.

Film Rating: C–

Sizing up the Blu-Ray

Video Quality:

After the disappointing visual results on “The Phantom Menace” Blu-Ray, the Complete Saga set rebounds in a big way with “Attack of the Clones.”  Since the film was shot digitally, no physical film was involved in the HD transfer, and there was no chance for degradation of the source material.  We’re pretty much getting a 1:1 copy of the original digital master on this Blu-Ray and the results are close to what we would expect. 

It’s far from perfect, though, and I’ll get the bad out of the way first: “Attack of the Clones” was actually the first major film shot digitally, and as such, there were still kinks in the system that, thanks to the extra resolution of Blu-Ray, are now apparent.  As a whole, fine detail is much softer than we would normally expect of a digital production, especially if live-action performers share space with digital creations.  Facial features, if viewed from any distance, are muddier than normal, and during dark scenes, the contrast isn’t quite strong enough to deliver the same level of depth as the daytime scenes.

None of this stops the majority of “Attack of the Clones” from looking gorgeous.  Though it’s a tad soft, the image is still crystal clear with colors so strong they seem to pop off the screen; if not exemplary, the level of detail is impressive throughout, especially in the busiest shots.  The speeder chase through Coruscant is one example of a set piece so visually rich and complex that only Blu-Ray can accurately bring it to life, and the Obi-Wan/Jango Fett asteroid field chase is even more impressive.  As in “The Phantom Menace,” shots of cityscapes or wide, open planes are always breathtaking.  Some of the CGI looks very shoddy with the added resolution, but much of it holds up quite well; the last act showcases a seamless blend of actors and CGI characters/environments, and it looks great on Blu-Ray.  Nevertheless, the best looking shot in the movie is one of the few that appears untouched by computers – Anakin and Padme lying in a field of flowers.  This image is deep, colorful, and detailed in ways more rewarding than anything CGI can typically deliver.

Video Quality: 4 out of 5

Audio Quality

Once again, the sound is where this disc truly shines.  Everything I wrote about “The Phantom Menace” soundtrack applies here; the DTS-HD 6.1 track makes excellent use of all the surround channels, immersing the viewer in sound from start to finish, whether that sound be bombastic and pummeling or soft and ambient.  The Coruscant speeder chase is an excellent demo scene, as various flying vehicles whoosh around the living room on top of John Williams’ thrilling score.  The arena sequence near the end is another highlight, as it’s effectively a “Ben Burtt’s Greatest Hits” sound effects collection, with beasts shouting, lightsabers igniting, blasters firing, etc., and it all sound crisper, clearer, and more realistic than ever before.  Though “Attack of the Clones” is dull, the sound is anything but.

Audio Quality: 5 out of 5

Extras and Presentation:

All the discs in the set feature identical menus and presentation – the only differences are the choice of clips and music played.  And as I explained yesterday, the menus are unexciting but very efficient.

Once again, we get two commentaries – the original DVD track, which is somewhat ho-hum – and the more exciting “Archival” track, comprised of vintage interviews and sound-bites.  I really like these commentaries, as we get anecdotes from so many people involved in the making of the film, people we wouldn’t normally get to hear from.  I’ve only had time to sample these tracks, but for “Attack of the Clones,” I cued things up to Yoda’s climactic duel with Dooku, and on both tracks, the speakers expressed how much they and audiences loved the scene.  A bit of well-deserved back-patting, and there’s plenty more substantive material beyond that.


After the disappointing video transfer on “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” bounces back with HD video up to the standard of the fantastic audio.  Too bad the movie is such a snooze.  Tomorrow, we’ll finally finish the prequels (yippee!!!) with “Episode III.”  As the newest film in the set, will it look and sound the best?  More importantly, will I be able to stay awake?

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