||Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came on, and I dutifully TiVod it for later perusal. Why? Aside from two great set-pieces, being the opening sequence in the club and the ore-cart race, its not very good. It has several grating elements:
1. Short-Round! He prucky! He blave! This little shaved Ewok guarantees that no fun will be had; he saddles Indy with responsibility, and this only makes Indys foolhardiness all the more unbelievable. You stay right here in the ledge of the Kali-worshippers temple, while I go get their precious rocks. Theyve been gone for three minutes; Im sure the place is completely deserted.
I missed the part where they explained why Indy has a boy following him around - did he buy him from a corner stall? Win him in a poker game? Ah, the good old days before child-protective services: you could take a little boy into a dark tunnel infested with insects, booby-traps and corpses, and no busybody social worker would raise a peep.
2. Kate Capshaw. Millstone numero dos. Shes a bad actress, all of her lines are badly looped in post-production, and she doesnt behave like a real person, but a movie person. She sees a mans heart get ripped from her chest, a sight that would make any sane person empty their bowels in fear, but five minutes later shes forgotten it all because Indy mentioned the word diamonds. Not even Lisa Douglas was that fashion-addled. She's one of those characters who just make you feel tired, because she absorbs the very spirit of the movie like a box of baking soda. She makes you remember spunky, confident, smart Karen Allen, and you wish she was in the movie instead of a whiny spoiled immature bimbo in high heels. Men hate her character. Women hate her character. Hermaphrodites hate her character. Innnnndddeeeeeee! Jesus.
3. An incredible amount of sadistic violence. I remember how I felt after I saw this the first time. I felt almost soiled. It wasnt the quantity of violence, but the nature of it - at some point you stop fearing for Indy and start fearing for Spielberg, because something must have gone wrong in his head when he put this one together. Lets recap the merry middle act, shall we?
Heart ripped from mans chest; man is burned alive, screaming while the priest holds up his still-beating heart - which explodes into flames! Kali Maaar! Thank you! Drive safely!
Shick-brithouse-sized Punjab overseer whips bird-boned children who are shuffling in chains, moaning; he singles out one for extra-vigorous beating, complete with wet skin-whacking sound
Jones captured, shackled in cage with other children who appear to have been starved for the role
Jones forced to drink potion from chalice made of a human skull, its face contorted in eternal pain and dental discomfort
Jones and Short Round stripped - n -whipped, in tandem
Jones suffers horrible screaming spasms from potion
Willie (Kate Capshaw) strapped into death rack, screaming; is lowered into flaming pit of oblivion which symbolizes her career
Short Round attempts to wake Indy from his stupor; the boy is punched hard in the face, and he responds with a plaintive Indy, I love you.
Short Round jams flaming torch into Indys stomach, which has the salutary effect of bringing him around
Fight ensues with much uptempo John Williams music
Willie, upon being rescued, punches Indy in the jaw
Indy heads to the catacombs and fights Punjab guy, beginning by swinging mallet into Punjabis gut; he shrugs it off, throws the mallet on someone elses head, who collapses from a broken skull and cerebral hemorrhage; Indy has fist fight with Punjab, but the Boy Maharaja stabs his Indy doll, causing unimaginable spasms of pain in Indys kidney; Punjabi punches Indy hard in the face
Fight in the ore cart, with mallets
Indy cracks Punjabis shin with heavy object, but voodoo stabbing results in more pain; Punjabi puts his fist on Indys chest, forcing him into rock crusher; Indy howls in pain; Short Round attacks Boy Maharaja; Indy rakes saw blade across Punjis waist, punches him senseless while Short Round punches Boy Maharaja in the face, repeatedly
Punjabi is crushed to death, screaming
Boy Maharaja comes at Short Round with knife; Short Round jams flaming torch into his flesh, bringing him around
Willie is attacked; Short Round clubs attacker with beam, kung-fus six other big men
Then its off on the ore-cart race, which is exciting, and in the end the great white father and his British cousin defeat the monkey-eating bad Indians and save the children of the poor noble good Indians. The movie ends with Short Round saying ha ha very funny ha ha. Very funny, just to remind us that nothing we are seeing is very funny, and the final shot is the sort of passionless kiss you get when the director is sleeping with the woman being kissed by the handsome star.
Yes, I did like the third one, and no, Im not hopeful about the fourth.
Bad dad, bad dad. This morning we were reading books - Mom got several dozen from the library, including a creepy Edward Lear alphabet book. "U is for funeral urn." Im not kidding. I think they should have started with that theme - A is for abattoir, B is for beheading, C is for cat o nine tails, D is for decomposition, E is for embolism, F is for fistula, G is for goiter, H is for Hell, I is for Intifada, J is for Judas, K is for Killbot, L is for Lecter, M is for Microsoft, N is for Necronomicon, O is for Ohgodpleasenoanythingbutthat, P is for Diddy, Q is for Quorn, R is for Rigor Mortis, S is for Suppurating, T is for Telemarketer, U is for Undertaker, V is for Vicious [Sid], W is for Wal-Mart, X is for Xenomorph, Y is for Ypres, [battle of, with its grinding trench warfare] and Z is for Zardoz. Anyway: One of the books concerned a pig with body issues - so Im guessing, since every page strains to show how the pig has a great self-image. B is for Brave, and shows said pig looking under a bed with a flashlight, exposing a startled monster.
Should we get a flashlight and look for monsters? I asked, like an idiot.
Ohh - kay, Gnat said, suddenly informed that there were indeed monsters. Shed seen a Rolie Polie Olie that featured a Boogie-Bot under Zowies bed, and it unnerved her. They say TV is wallpaper for kids under two? Pah - she gets it, and understands precisely the emotions conveyed. Zowie was afraid to go to sleep because of something in her room, and Gnat got it. And she wanted to see it again and again, perhaps to reinforce the happy ending when Zowie befriends the Boogie Bot and all is well. but here was stupid thoughtless daddy proposing a merry monster hunt. So they are real.
I got a flashlight and changed the subject as quickly as possible - now we were playing games with the light, following it around, using it to tickle Jasper. She wanted to wield the beam herself, and spent the next half hour painting the walls with light. Monsters all forgotten. Whew. But like I said, bad dad: this was just the start of todays series of lousy parenting decisions. I offer them in the form of advice.
1. Introduce child to notion of lurking baseboard-level demons. See above.
2. When child awakes from nap after ten minutes and shouts DAAADEEE for another ten minutes, give in, and decide to rejigger the afternoon around a later nap. Why, lets go to Target and the grocery store now, and have the nap later. Put child in car. Note with alarm that child has fallen completely asleep as you pull into the grocery store parking lot.
2. Wake child, carry child into store, place insensate child in cart. Drive cart over rough cobble-stoned meat department, causing childs head to bounce up and down. Wake child with the promise she can go right back to sleep when you get home.
3. Cut out the Target trip; get back in car. Take two sharp left turns, forgetting wifes advice that sharp turns may indeed cause car sickness. Hear the unmistakable urping sound. Look in rearview mirror. Note urping. Note additional urping. Note, with wide eyes and sinking stomach, the sheer quantity and duration of this urpapalooza, thinking: does she chew anything? You fear the appearance of corn, for you have not fed her corn today.
4. Get home. Remove child. Remove car seat. Peel urp-sodden clothes off child, put them in the washing machine; add detergent and start cycle. Shoo away dog, who has been summoned from two floors up by the tempting breezes of urp galore. Swab child, who is now grinning and saying Messy. Redress child; put child in high-chair, give her bread and juice and Elmo. Run to car before urp hardens; drag chair outside and hose it down. Check to make sure child hasnt inhaled a bolus of bread, then run back down to car, roll down windows, wash out back seat.
At this point its two. On an ideal day shed have been down for an hours nap, would be refreshed and happy, and wed be off on our wondrous two-hour time-killing Monday provisions run.
5. Put child down for nap at 3:30. Endure ten minutes of plaintive wails, fetch child. Hear drier buzz; remove garments; realize that they were washed on HOT, and now the pants look like garments for a small mouse.
Wife comes home. Nap - or rather collapse like a sack of urp-flecked dead potatoes. Sleep. Up - stagger around the block with the dog, brew coffee strong enough to strip the varnish off the woodwork, stare at the computer screen for 90 minutes pecking at a column thats due tomorrow. Feel brains boiling with stress and overwork -
Then melt, completely, when Gnat comes in the office with her flashlight. Natties fashight, Daddy. She gets down on her hands and knees and points the beam under a bookcase. No monsers! she proclaims, and runs out of the room laughing.
The flashlight banishes monsters. Shes heeled. Shes packing heat. Shes got a photon roscoe. Ive given her a tool to fight the forces of darkness; I accomplished something after all, whether I meant to or not.
Good daddy. Good.
Is this better? I called up the bleat at the office today, and saw it was about three miles wide, thanks to my own incompetence. Looked fine in my browsers, but apparently I needed to rejigger some attributes. If only I knew what I was doing. I look at the list of attributes for graphic positioning - top, right, bottom, middle, text abs, wombat justified, whaddlewedo spiffado, etc., and they all seem to apply to what I want to do. Im surprised more novice web designers dont put their fist through the computer screen, especially since monitor prices have come down so much lately.
I dont read the big three newsmagazines - Time, Newsweek, Useless News and World Distorts (as we called it in high school debating club.) (Not that we didnt quote it if it supported our case.) They have their function, I suppose - if you dont have the time for newspapers, you can use these publications and be just as ill-informed as those who sop up conventional wisdom on a daily basis. I just visited the Newsweek home page, and instantly saw two reasons why I dont read these things. One:
Patti Davis: Thoughts on Nuclear War
They are, as you might expect, Worried Thoughts. The piece consists mostly of her recollections of a novel about nuclear war by Carolyn See (who, God bless her, gave me the most spectacular book review I will ever get, way back in 87.) Davis seems to believe that a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would be the End of the World. The possibility of a doomsday scenario is once again on everyones mind. Well, no, it isnt. The old doomsday scenario was quite different: nukalur combat, toe-to-toe with the Rooskies, Slim Pickens whee-haing out of the bomb bay, a couple dozen cities gone and the entire Northern Hemisphere awash with ash and atomized concrete, and a billion billion beetles feeding on the flesh of the poisoned dead. Europe as a glass skating rink, inner America a lawless wasteland of zombies and survivalists. As we learned from the Mad Max movies, everyone would have smudged faces. By their smudges shall ye know that the world hath ended.
Everyone nowadays knows that nuclear war between Pakistan and India would be an act of unspeakable barbarism, all the more unforgivable for its utter fucking pointlessness. (Forgive my language, but the idiocy of this situation takes your breath away.) It would not be the doomsday scenario for us, and it wouldnt even be the doomsday scenario for India. But heres the line that really made me snort:
nuclear weapons (a) terrifying reality that could be unleashed with
what? A phone call, a button, a military command.
Its a little more complex than that, which she might have known if shed asked her father, who was the President of the United States of America. Jeez.
The other story that made my heart sink like a sack of pigs tossed in the Thames was titled Joyce Maynard: Then and Now. At this point I realized that either I was out of sync with the world, and the teeming masses woke each day desperate to learn what Patti Davis and Joyce Maynard thought, OR, these newsmagazines are produced in a rarified world where Davis and Maynard are relevant to life as its practiced by 260 million people. The first graf makes my bowels knot:
JOYCE MAYNARD was like other young, aspiring, liberal-minded writers in the early 70s. She wrote about Joan Baezs music, Jackie Kennedy and the Vietnam War. For NEWSWEEK, though, she tackled a different subject: the quest for role models by a generation she called apathetic.
By the time she wrote the piece, headlined Searching for Sages, for the Dec. 25, 1972, My Turn section, the 19-year-old Maynards writing career was off to a sizzling start. A few months before, she had developed a piece for The New York Times Magazine reflecting on her 18 years. That story formed the basis for her novel, Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing up Old in the Sixties, published in 1973.
Shes since been noted for living with J. D Salinger, whose artistic constipation has made him the stuff of legend, and if the thought of that wizened husk forcing his swizzle stick on this brittle twit doesnt make you shudder, this will:
Maynard has just returned from a seven-month stay in Guatemala, where she continued work on her latest novel, The Usual Rules, which reflects on the events of September 11. The book got its start after Maynard read a story in the New York Times about a young girl who lost her mother that day and decided to continue the young girls story in a fictional rendition. The situation of a child experiencing every kind of loss really haunted me, I think because my own children experienced the division of family that comes from divorce, she says, referring to her divorce from her husband in 1989.
I think Ive come more and more to trust myself, she says.
Oh, break out the bubbly. Let the bells peal across the land: Joyce Maynard has achieved an addition level of self-trust, and we can only pray it results in another memoir. Trusting Myself: a Journey of Self Trusting, or, How the Sight of Ten Million Tons of Concrete Crashing to the Ground Was SOOO Like My Divorce, Minus All the Dust.
The self-absorption of these people is one of the reasons her generation will be regarded as the most weightless inhabitants of the 20th century - born into a plenty, cosseted and flattered since the cradle, they spent their lives believing their adolescent fascinations were epiphanies that would light the way for eons to come. Its a generation that embraced yoga so they could have the supple spines that enabled one to not only stare at ones navel, but kiss it. They all make me want to rear up and shout there are starving children in India, but I suspect that their entire lives are based around refuting the relevance of that reminder. Give me the Lost Generation, the hard-scrabble kids who grew up in the Depression, the ones who came of age in the crucible of worldwide war, the adults who white-knuckled their way through the fifties while embracing the boon of drive-ins and Elvis - hell, give me the famous neurotics of the late 50s and 60s who wanted to put the entire culture on the shrinks couch; at least they had a sense of humor. The Maynards and Davises are the last spasms of Sensitive Twit culture, and the only reason they fill up pages in the newsweeklies - at the expense of tens of thousands of better writers - is because their peers are in a position to hire them, and this makes everyone involved feel relevant and important.
Newsweeklies are now the opposite of Playboy: I buy them for the pictures.
The punchline to yesterdays tale of parental stupidity: I left the blurt-spattered carseat outside, after hosing it off. Of course, it rained all night. I groaned, thinking A) it would weigh seven tons, and B) smell of old sour bar-rags from here on, but the fabric was treated to repel everything from water to urine to Hessian invaders. Its fine.
Additional Gnat note: as any parent knows, its not what you teach them that surprises you. Its what they pick up on their own, and I dont mean the penny she found at the mall and put in her mouth. We have this bingo-type game where you match tokens to squares on a board. The token and the square have the same picture. Gnat shoots 100% on this one; there are 24 items, and if I spread them out, leave her alone and return in five minutes, all 24 are in the right spots. But we lost one: the tulip. The other day we went on a search for the tulip token, poking through sofa cushions, looking under rugs, in boxes, etc. Couldnt find it. Lost for ever. Sucked into the interdimensional gateway. Well, today the piece turned up.
Oh! said my little 22-month old. The missing tulip!
I stared, agog: the missing tulip? That seems to be a rather complex construction. But that's my girl.
Note to J. D.: don't even think about it.
Small world: I fire up the browser, call up Instapundit, and learn that hes going to be on KSTP AM 1500, my old station. I turn it on, and there he is with Ian Punnit. (Ian took over my time slot when I left the nighttime Diner show.) The Prof sounds exactly like youd expect - and no, I dont know really what you expect, but trust me, thats what he sounds like. Interview ends. Time passes. Phone rings. Its Ian.
Hey, I say. You had my buddy Reynolds on this morning.
A slight pause, as Ian tries to figure out how the hell I know a law professor in Tennessee. I explain that I dont, really, but theres the blog thing . . . but thats another conversation. Ian wanted me to do the show tomorrow or Friday, which I will. Small world.
Talk radio is a lot like the web - it has these organic networks that parallel the Mainstream Media. It doesnt have the institutional caution that handicaps NPR or the high-profile jabberwonky shows, and hence draws from a far more diverse pool. Youre less likely to hear from people who head the Institute for the Study of Policy or the Center for Policy Studies. Youre more likely to hear from people who are actually doing something instead of studying it, or have spent four years writing a book. You also get ranting maniacs, but anyone whos ever endured ten minutes of Diane Riem croak out some shopworn piety knows which is preferable for sheer entertainment value.
Fine day. Shorts weather, which says it all. Had a fine fun morning with Gnat, who spent an hour reading buks without my help, then chose a video tape, put it in the machine, pressed the play button and turned up the volume. (Every day, I become incrementally less useful.) Drove to work, parked right outside the office - which is amazing, really. I live in a major city, drive to work on an unclogged highway, park 20 feet from the back door and pay only three bucks to the meter. In New York three bucks gets you 15 minutes in a ramp 10 blocks from your office.
Life is often cold here, but its just so much easier - and, in many ways, better. I was looking through the real estate section of the Times the other day and saw a Chelsea condo whose asking price was the same as Jasperwood. It was a room. A. Room. A featureless room with two windows at the end, narrow enough to swing a Mini-Me and give his forehead minor abrasions from contact with the walls. In addition to the asking price, there was a $1200 per month condo fee.
For this price you can live on a LAKE in this city in a five-bedroom, four-bath house three-level house with a kitchen the size of the entire Chelsea condo, and spend the $1200 on monthly payments for a BMW convertible, a home theater system, every cable channel on the planet, broadband internet - or another house you either rent to others or visit in Florida twice a year.
Many years ago I stayed with a friend who was housesitting in a condo next to the fabled Chelsea hotel. It was a converted hotel room. The kitchen was a hot plate in the closet. The windows wouldnt open all the way, perhaps to keep you from hurling yourself out to the gum-flecked pavement below. Maybe its the North Dakotan in me - Im used to space, and I know that the truth of America is not the cramped quarters of the East Coast but the astonishing expanses we havent begun to fill up. I simply could not live in a hotel room and cook in a closet. Of course, Ive lived in tiny places before - through my 20s I went from dorms to rooming houses to efficiencies to one-room apartments to bigger one-room apartments, but the general idea was upward and outward - i.e., as you do better, you get more space. In New York you can do fabulously well and still live in a room smaller than the backseat the cab that took you home.
Of course, you cant judge the entire megalopolis by Chelsea, and I know people who have nice fine big places . . . but it takes a train ride to get there. Its the price you pay for living in New York, I know; dont hasten to defend it, because I understand. It has a lure, a cachet, a dynamism utterly absent here in the Land of Slack. New Yorkers would think Im crazy for putting up with this backwater joint.
But. I humbly suggest they stroll down the Nicollet Mall on a summer afternoon, tour the Farmers Market, window-shop at Saks or Neiman-Marcus, pause by a fountain or listen to the classical music wafting from a bus shelter, look up at the fifty-story towers spaced so they stand alone against a pure blue sky, stroll a few more blocks to the park-lined river, and ask themselves whether this might not be a reasonable example of urban perfection. Not the only example; just one.
Then come to Jasperwood so I can show you what the price of a hovel in a loud neighborhood will get you here. Why? Because I am a cruel, cruel man.
Just walked past the TV, and Hannity & Colmes was on (or, as we call it round these parts, Meatboy and Spock Jr.). Colmes - who looks like the kid who always got picked on in Vampire School - was criticizing the new proposal to fingerprint and photograph non-citizens coming to America from countries that harbor, encourage, tolerate or smile upon terrorism. He was spitting mad about it, and insisted that there were already all kinds of laws in place, and all we needed to do was enforce them.
Why do I think he didnt make that argument after Columbine?
There was a defense attorney complaining about the rules as unAmerican; they were Profiling at its naked worst, and violated all manner of Constitutional protections. (I missed the day the Constitution was amended to include Syria.) Whats more, they would alienate the very people whose help we needed, dont you know. Disgusted, I turned the channel and landed on a C-SPAN press conference with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization that would rather see the Sears Tower fall sideways and take out 20,000 Chicagoans than have the FBI sit outside a storefront mosque and take pictures of the people filing in for the weekly explosive-belt raffle. The spokeswoman said that the proposed laws were unAmerican, violated the Fourth Amendment, and would alienate the very people whose help we needed.
Nice to see everyone got the memo.
Pity about those people who were going to come to America to help us fight terror, but regarded the fingerprinting as a violation, and stayed home.
I went online for some more info. Heres John Conyers, D-Sverdlosk: Rather than helping to protect our citizens, these registration rules will only serve to further alienate the American Muslim community and our Muslim allies abroad, two crucial allies in our fight against terrorism.
Got that? An American Muslim from Somalia who lost her husband or sister or wife or child is going to be alienated because the government wants to fingerprint a 24-year old unmarried Yemeni with an Interpol jacket as thick as a Clancy novel.
I dont believe it. I dont believe most Americans who practice Islam are going to be offended by this. And if some are, let me be honest: I dont care. I am way past caring. I have not a jot of the care-sauce left in my bones. The care tank is empty. Theres no one home in Careville. The dog ate my care. The Care Crop didnt come up this year. Self.com/care comes up as a 404.
Would I raise an eyebrow if the government quarantined everyone with a Koran, kept them in holding cells for a week, tagged them with a microchip and sprayed them with a dye that shows up on orbiting satellites? ? Yes, I would. Im raising an eyebrow right now, just for practices sake. But when these people get hysterical about co-religionist non- citizens being photographed and fingerprinted, I not only disregard what they say now but whatever they say in the future, as well as whoever cites them as an authority.
Oh, it gets better. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle told reporters he gets concerned about the long arm of the federal government when it comes to taking actions like this that may or may not be helpful and certainly may be invasive. I call statements like that an ass burkha. And theres this gem: The plan smacks of the sort of tactics used by totalitarian regimes like Iraq, said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Iraq? Its the sort of tactics used by countries like FRANCE. Said the same news story: In contrast, most European nations have rigorous registration systems . . long-term visitors in France must register within seven days of arrival and then every 12 months and whenever they change their address.
Was there ever a time when people with whom you disagreed were so gloriously stupid? Just curious.
Left home, drove down the hill, stopped at the light and thought: did I let Jasper in the house?
Have I seen Jasper this morning?
Went back to the house. Wife & Gnat had gone to the library, I knew; they left while I was in the shower. I checked outside: no Jasper. I went upstairs: no Jasper. I went to the Battle Bridge downstairs to check in his favorite hidey-hole by the sofa. No Jasper.
No Jasper anywhere.
The other day his nametag had fallen off - Id made a new one, but had forgotten to attach it.
And now he was gone.
I went upstairs, put paper in the printer and called up Photoshop. LOST DOG poster en route in sixty seconds. Visions of Jasper shivering in a cage at the dog pound, afraid and alone; visions of Jasper flat on a road somewhere. Recollections of the day he got out as a pup by clawing through the screen in the room where he slept at night, and we thought he was gone for good. Palpitations, sweats; how will I explain this to Gnat? Visions of her asking for puppy to jump up on the bed . . .had he jumped up on the bed last night when we were reading books and tucking her animal friends under the covers? He always comes up for her nightly rituals. Had he been gone since last night? How did he get out?
Ping: when I pulled the car in the garage, my wifes car was still in her bay. But theyd gone to the library -
Ping: they walked.
Ping: they took Jasper to the library.
All the panic collapsed into a small abashed point, then winked out altogether. So lets get on with the day.
But I couldnt. Not because of that, but because my Precious Schedule was upended. Usually Thursday is an all-Gnat day, and Friday I got to the office and write a column. Other way around this week. But the column wasnt due until Monday . . . the computer screen had its back turned to me, and wouldnt let me in. I shoved words around for a couple of hours, decided this wasnt working. What to do with the day, then? What could a fellow do in the middle of the afternoon with a few unencumbered hours to spare?
I drove, I parked, I put down six dollars, got fifty cents in change, gave the fellow my ticket and found a seat in theater 8. Id been putting this off long enough. Time to see Star Wars.
Its customary to begin these things by laying out ones bona fides. I saw the original Star Wars 8 times in my mothers womb! This is supposed to add credence to ones opinion, as if a long period of devotion sharpens your critical faculties. Actually, it dulls them - the flaws of the original movies recede as you remember the impact they had more than the quality of the movie that produced the emotions. (Three words: Billy, Dee, and Williams.) And people who are very, very, very wrapped up in the histories and backstories find themselves ill-equipped to judge a movie that doesnt seem to know as much as they know. Knowing the technical specs on Boba Fetts jetpack does not necessarily qualify one to judge a movie.
Im not that devoted a fan. I saw the original one a half-dozen times when it first came out - I was stuck in Fargo for the summer, and all my friends had left town, so Id head to the cool Fargo theater and watch the movie by myself. I saw the second one twice and the third one once. (Not counting rentals.) By the third I was disenchanted - never mind the Ewoks, either. It just seemed to run out of ideas. Back to the Death Star to blow it up again. Back to Dagobath for Yodas death scene which, like Yoda, just laid there. Back to the family secrets: No tongues, Leia, you are my sister. That interminable fight sequence at the end, with the Emperor telling Luke hes toast about 17 times. Then the Ewok song and all the ghosts shows up and wave bye-bye. I had high hopes for the Episode One, but it felt wrong from the start and never won my interest, for reasons Im sure Ive bleated to death elsewhere.
Today at the theater I actually wondered if I wanted to sit through Clones. Its two and a half hours, for heavens sake, and if the reports of gruesome dialogue and wooden acting were true, this would be another case of sitting through some dull scenes so I could get hit over the head by the latest & greatest in digital effects. I didnt even buy any popcorn.
The lights went down. The old familiar phrase: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away in that same font, that same blue hue.
I felt a tingle. Really. A small blush of anticipation. Then the logo crashed onto the screen, the march swelled, the letters marched into the stars, and I thought, well, here we go again. Just dont suck. Thats all I ask. Suck not. As for the number of sucking, let it be zero.
Two and a half hours later I sat in my seat, staring at the screen, wondering how I was going to winch my jaw back up off the floor. I ate that movie like three pounds of filet mignon. Better than Empire Strikes Back? No question. Completely different league. In no particular order, here are some notes - and to put this all in perspective, and keep in mind that this is not Deep Art for the Ages but a popcorn movie, I will use the parenthetic note (LRWATASWH) to lend perspective. It stands for Lets Remember We Are Talking About Star Wars Here.
1. Sound. The engine sounds of the vehicles are always cool, but theres one sound in particular, a sonic daisy cutter released in an asteroid field, that would loosen the bowels of a heroin addict.
2. Coruscant. In the last movie, it was little more than a matte painting crawling with ants, but this time it lives and breathes; unlike any other Star Wars movie, you get a feeling for the culture of the Republic. Previously weve just seen crapholes like Lukes Sand Planet, or Smoov Billy Dees Cloud Planet, or Naboo, which looked like a Thomas Kincaid version of Vatican City. The galaxy didnt look like a particularly interesting place, or all that advanced, either - South America c. 1942 with star ships.
3. Action. The race through the city was the scene that changed my mood from mild enjoyment to stupefied fanboy drooling. The fight in the arena was spectacular - I believed in each of those monstrous creatures - and the battle at the end outdid anything Ive ever seen in any science fiction movie, ever, period, end of the debate. It upped the ante in every shot. Its one of those weep-with-gratitude moments: oh thank you oh thank you for all these wonderful things blowing up. Thank you for the spider machines and four-footed tanks and open-sided troop carriers and the gigantic spherical starship collapsing in a shower of metal and flames. It was exhausting and exhilarating. (LRWATASWH)
4. Character. (LRWATASWH) Over at AICN, Jabba the Knowles says that this is not a series of movies about a particular character, but a movie about the rise and fall and rise of the Republic. Nonsense. At some point in AOTC you realize that the entire six-movie series is about Darth Vader. I mean, hes one of the heroes in this movie. Yes, he gets saddled with some bad dialogue, but hes supposed to be 18 or something, and what he says mirrors the crap I wrote in my journal at the time. I thought Hayden Christianson did a hell of a job with the role. (LRWATASWH) Ewen McGregor was much more confident and relaxed; Natalie Portman shed that stupid stiff Queenier-than-thou voice and behaved more like a real person, and whats more makes you realize that Princess Leia was, well, um, kinda homely after the coke got its claws in her. Yoda, who of course does not exist, turned in a great performance; Christopher Lee had the perfect villains blend of restraint, bemusement, duplicity and height.
And then theres Django Fetthart, the big surprise. Ive always been amused at the cult following the Boba Fett character assembled. He had about three lines of dialogue in the previous movies - and thats why fanboys loved him; they could project all sorts of backstories onto his character. Well, now we know. We meet his dad, who does not turn out to be eeeeevil incarnate, but a tough-assed working-class single parent.
5. Payoffs. Previously, no one ever asked where did the stormtroopers come from? because we just assumed they were conscripts. Now we learn where they came from - and its a twist of particular ingenuity to make them the good guys here. But perhaps my favorite little gift to the nit-picking fan was the moment when Darth-to-Be embraces Senator Padme-shapeme-anything-but-breakme outside the adobe igloo, right before he takes his Space Harley off to rescue Mom from the Tuskan raiders. We see their shadows on the wall of the house as the music swells, and its that theme, that fabulous piece of music (LRWATASWH) first used when Luke stood on the sand dune and gazed at the twin setting stars, longing for adventure. Same music, same place, same suns. Thanks, George; thanks, Mr. Williams.
6. Darkness. Everyone loves the Ep5 because its Dark, which is Cool. Well. Im 43 now, and I find bleakness and tragedy less interesting than I did at 23, mainly because Ive seen some of the real thing. When youre young and melodramatic, you identify with the tragic because it seems more authentic than your parents sunny bouncy happy-crappy attitude. Later you learn that theyre probably far more aware of the Dark than you were, and kept it from you, and from themselves most of the time. Its how you get through the day without going mad. Its hard to concentrate at work when you stop and think of the yawning grave that awaits us all. A fascination with things Dark ends up being a self-regarding melancholic pose, a way of signaling to your fellow adolescents that you possess a deep, deep nature. Youre wrong, of course. Its no insight to think that Life Sucks. The insight comes when you understand that it doesnt have to, and that its nature is up to you.
So I dont need The Dark anymore. Neither does Lucas, it seems - hence the juvenilia that littered Ep 1. Now he gives us Evil, which is different. Annaken does a truly evil thing in this movie. (LRWATASWH) You can see Vader en route - and youre still pulling for the guy.
It helps to see the movie in a deserted theater; you dont feel the moods of the audience rise and fall in ways that dont mirror your own. Youre not wincing that your friend might be wincing at something youre willing to forgive. I know that I went in expecting nothing, and came out in love with the story again, feeling the same gee-whiz juvenile rush I got a quarter century ago. This is no small accomplishment, and Im glad. Its not like this is any old movie serial, after all.
Lets remember: we are talking about Star Wars here.