Saturday, August 16, 2008
Cartoon Network's short animated series Clone Wars (20th Century Fox)
Now I am a longtime fan of Star Wars (as a teenager I saw A New Hope 4 times in one day at the old Center 3 Cinemas and I even bought the licensed S8 versions of the film to watch at home back in the pre-VHS days, and then there are the toys adorning the many shelves in my home and office). I am also a huge fan of the cartoon shorts series Clone Wars , which were packed with better action and storyline than the Episodes I through III features. Those shorts were made with the audaciously talented Genndy Tartakovsky as director, producer, writer, and animation director. He was the creative force behind the boldly animated Samurai Jack series that I adore. The visual look of Tartakovsky's Clone Wars had a thick-lined, manga/anime style that was refreshing and action packed. So when I heard an animated feature film was in the works, I was thrilled. Then I saw that Tartakovsky was no longer involved and that his clever visuals would be replaced by the higher tech but more familiar looking 3-D computer animation giving it more of a look of a video game. I was so disappointed. But I still went to the Star Wars panel at Comic-Con to see what it would be like on the big screen. The results pretty much confirmed my expectations - battles, aliens, droids, and clones were all impressive but the people looked dreadful - angular and unappealing. But the panel only presented clips so there was still one more test - seeing the completed feature.
The Clone Wars film, designed to kick off the animated series, mentions but never shows General Grievous and keeps Yoda and Mace Windu on the sidelines (even though they provided some of the most jaw-dropping battles in Clone Wars) . This is probably because they will take on larger roles in the proposed series. The feature film focuses on essentially one mission bestowed upon Anakin (voiced with far more emotion by (Matt Lanter than Hayden Christensen ever endowed the live action character with) and his young Padawan learner Ahsoka Tano. Their mission is to rescue Jabba the Hutt's kidnapped offspring in order to win favor with the Hutt so that the Jedi Knights can use his trade lanes in fighting the droid army. But of course Count Dooku (one of the few characters voiced by the original movie actor, Christopher Lee) and his dangerous cohort Asajj Ventress are set on foiling their mission.
Asajj Ventress displays some & (Warner Brothers)
This latest entry in the Star Wars saga is aimed squarely at young viewers. Now Star Wars has never been known for its articulate dialogue, complex narrative or provocative themes, but at its best (in Empire Strikes Back ) it served up pop entertainment that could delight audiences of any age. But The Clone Wars feels very much aimed at a young demographic that will likely turn on the TV series and buy the video games. Older fans can still enjoy The Clone Wars but not with the same level of satisfaction they feel over A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back .
After seeing the entire film, I was once again impressed by the animation of the action sequences and by some of the non-human characters. But the action fails to build the excitement and tension of the battles found in Episodes IV and V or the mini Clone Wars. These new battles are huge but involve a lot of clones and droids that don't have a lot of personality. Although the droids are turning into quite humorous comic relief as they stumble through battles. At one point a droid is informed that he and his cohorts are outnumbered and he gamely begins to count his enemies before he's blown away. But with battles constantly raging and clones and droids seeming to be endlessly expendable, it's hard to be pulled to the edge of your seat while watching the fighting.
Humans that look like those marionettes in The Thunderbirds (Warner Brothers)
Plus having a mission that involves helping Jabba the Hutt - even if their driving motivation involves a larger strategy to win the war - just seems a bit odd. This storyline places the ideals of the Jedi in the background as they work to rescue someone related to essentially an enemy. Fighting for freedom or to destroy an evil empire or to rescue a princess - now those are things that prove much more satisfying than a covert mission so you can get access to shipping routes to move troops around. This storyline like much of Episodes I through III gets caught up in politics and logistics rather than breathtaking adventures. So I wish a more clever narrative had been conceived for this outing.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking) was destined to disappoint me on some level because of the affection I had for the earlier animation style of the Cartoon Network shorts (hey at least I'm being open about my biases). But trying to push that aside, this new The Clone Wars installation offers a couple hours of video game style fun. Technically, the animation is impressive but the character design for the humans still leaves something to be desired (the humans kind of reminded me of the marionettes in The Thunderbirds .). It remains to be seen if the TV series can improve on this kick-off installment with a better storyline. But if you consider yourself a Star Wars fan yo do need to see how this expands the SW universe -- and I am growing quite fond of those loopy droids.
Companion viewing: Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack, Empire Strikes Back, Hidden Fortress