Thursday, September 04, 2008

'Clone Wars' fails to replicate the 'Star Wars' magic

When the original “Star Wars” came out in 1977, people lined up around the block to see it again and again. Oh, how things have changed. A theatrical release of a “Star Wars” film use to be an event, but the cheapy computer animated feature “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is nothing more than a shameless cash in.

The original “Star Wars” trilogy had a sense of wonder and excitement, and yet, in addition to their visual splendor, the films were character-driven. The new trilogy lost most of that magic. The snappy dialogue that marked the earlier series was replaced with seemingly endless exposition of some of the most boring political intrigue put to celluloid.

Now we have “Clone Wars,” which is set between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.” The release is basically an extended episode of the Cartoon Network’s forthcoming series of the same name. Based on what’s on display here, it is not something to look forward to. This is a sub-par Saturday morning cartoon at best.

The Cartoon Network already covered this material in an award-winning hand-drawn animated series also entitled “The Clone Wars.” That series, while not perfect, had imagination and style to spare and in many respects was more entertaining than the new trilogy. So why does this new film and series exist? Because there’s more money to be made even if the “Star Wars” soil is not nearly as fertile as it once was.

There’s no point in getting into the details of the plot which centers on Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and his new pupil trying to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s kidnapped baby son. The movie is just an excuse for a series of monotonous battles that are never exciting. The movie’s 98-minute run time feels much longer.

“Star Wars” appeals to both kids and adults because George Lucas reworked the motifs of legends and fairy tales to create a fresh story of princesses and knights in a timeless struggle between light and dark. So it is rather odd that “Clone Wars” is targeted squarely at very young children. It is safe to say no one over the age of 10 — and I am being generous with that number — will get anything out of this. Not even “Stars Wars" fans.

Here’s the quality of writing that managed to get by: Anakin and his student give each other nicknames. He’s Sky Guy and she’s Snips because she’s snippy. They give a nickname to Jabba’s kid too: Stinky.

You know things are amiss from the start when the iconic words that scroll up the screen setting up each “Star Wars” film are replaced with a laughably bad voiceover. They are clearly removed because really little kids can’t read — further evidence of who the true audience of this is.

The sweeping, majestic John Williams score is also largely missing accept for briefly at the beginning and near the end. In its place is a generic action score that adds nothing to the lifeless proceedings.

And then there is the animation. Computer animation has come along way in the last decade, so the only excuse for the inconsistent and second-rate animation on display here is money. This was done on the cheap, which might get by on the small screen, but doesn’t cut it theatrically.

Spaceships and foregrounds look fine and have the same clarity as in the films, but the characters look blocky and as if sculpted out of Play-Doh. The character designs are often ugly with lines too sharp and angular.

In a summer with the beautifully animated “WALL-E” and the excitingly rendered “Kung-Fu Panda,” “Clone Wars” looks embarrassingly bad. Both “WALL-E” and “Kung-Fu Panda” played well to kids and adults alike, but “The Clone Wars” ignores adults and condescends to children viewers.

The voice work is unremarkable with only Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee and Anthony Daniels as C3PO returning from the live action movies. I’m still deeply confused by the fact that Jabba’s cousin Zero the Hutt was given an effeminate Southern accent.

On all fronts “Clone Wars” is drenched in mediocrity as Lucas continues to tarnish his legacy. Whatever magic Lucas had is gone. In other words: By George, I think he’s not got it.

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