Monday, May 23, 2005

another Star Wars regurgitation

Well, it seems Episode Three is out now. There's just something really degrading about watching Yoda steal a burger and fries from a white guy in a diner.

It's at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes this morning, but I don't believe it for a minute. Even the critics who say it's worth seeing are admitting that the dialogue and characterizations are just as bad as the last two, but dammit, we stuck it out this long and we're going to ENJOY IT. I AM ENJOYING IT. HOW DARE YOU DEGRADE A PIECE OF MY YOUTH!

It's like finally getting to date that person you've admired from afar for years, only to find out they're dull and shallow. You stick in there, because of some remembered affection and a desperate hope that it will get better, but basically you're doomed to disappointment and struggling to be nice to this person who can't really be blamed for not living up to your fantasy.

Personally, I'm not going to see it. Scott has been waffling, but I told him he'd have to go without me. Poor guy, he's been living with me long enough he can't suspend his disbelief that high, either.

Couple weeks ago when I was complaining about AOTC, Scotius admonished me to "just turn off your brain and enjoy it." He probably knows he's cribbing Asimov, who said the same thing about Episode IV, back in 1977, but I doubt he expected me to know that.

I make no judgments on what people like or don't like. I have always been able to differentiate between whether a piece of art is "good" and whether I like it. For instance: the musician Prince is probably a musical genius, and definitely a brilliant guitar player, but I was always lukewarm about his work. On the other hand, lately I've been listening to Top-40 country music, which I find trite, lazily constructed and pandering. But it's also bright and bouncy and fun, and I guess I've been needing that. Everyone's got their guilty pleasures. I have my own collection of embarassing movies and books that I love.

But the "just turn off your brain and enjoy" exhortation is not acceptable here. It was appropriate when Asimov said it, because he was a scientist and he was telling us to ignore the rubber science. At that point, Star Wars still embraced the human condition; we still cared about the people and believed in their struggles. It was a fantasy; nobody pretended otherwise.

These new movies don't even have that to fall back on. When you can't sympathize with the characters, when the world they live in and their actions don't make sense, it's not a matter of turning your brain off. It's a matter of the brain grasping for meaning. In order to enjoy a story one has to forget one is watching a story. In order for the brain's "unawareness" to kick in, events have to proceed in such a way that they more or less meet our expectations and understanding of the way the world works. Or, if the setting is in a world unfamiliar to us, then the rules of that world must be explained in a logical and consistent way. In my own writing, I call it "doing the reader's thinking for him."

When the writer doesn't do it, conflict arises between the brain's expectations and the incoming data--kind of like when Yoda says "Tempted by the dark side, you are," instead of the normal S-V-O order we're used to in English. The brain has to stop and sort it out, try to fit the square pegs into the round holes.

The plots and character motivations in this movie make so little sense that we are forced to fill in the holes--or at least try to--ourselves. It's damned difficult, in such a situation, to "turn your brain off," because George sure as hell ain't doing the thinking for us.

But aside from that, I find the idea of "turning your brain off" offensive. It seems to me, fifteen years ago even the bad movies made better sense and had more "point" than the bulk of what's coming out now. I can still watch Back to the Future or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while nobody would accuse them of being High Art, they still hold up story-wise, whether you believe in time-travel and Old Testament mythology or not. They hold up because the internal logic of their respective worlds is first explained and then adhered to. The characters' desires are expressed clearly and then acted upon in a consistent and reasonable manner.

We go to the movies because we want to "turn our brains off" and I simply cannot do that if the writer and director haven't put some thought into it. I want my mind and emotions BOTH to be engaged, or at least respected, and I suspect I'm not the only one, given how movie ticket sales have dropped in the last few years. I'm not saying every movie has to be a life-changing experience; that would be exhausting. But if all you're looking for is a little sensory stimulation, you may as well stay home with a mirrorball and some loud music.

The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy is just BAD. Badly written, badly plotted, badly directed and badly acted--although I can't know how much of that is really the actors' faults. It may be visually gorgeous, but if that's the case I'll just look at the movie stills all over the internet. I am not giving that man any more of my money, and if y'all want some better quality in your entertainment, you won't either.


Holly said...

Scotius, with all due respect, you seem to be missing my point.

I couldn't care less if the science in Star Wars or any other sci-fi adventure is rubbery. If I wanted reliable science I would stay home and read science textbooks.

When I go to the movies I want the characters and their actions to make sense. I want the stories to make sense. The stories and characters in the original trilogy make sense. This new batch do not.

Now, if you can enjoy a movie merely because there are a lot of flashy things on the screen, fine, but I need a little more depth.

C8H10N4HO2O2 said...

Linked you on this. Seemed like the thing to do.

Holly said...

Thanks. I noticed PZM takes on the Orson Scott Card article, too. I couldn't read all the way through it in order to critique it. But yeah... the Mormon thing? I consider myself pretty religiously tolerant, but Mormonism is where I draw the line of credibility. I guess that's kind of like doing "everything but" and still calling yourself a virgin, but we all have our comfort zone.

C8H10N4HO2O2 said...

I guess that's kind of like doing "everything but" and still calling yourself a virgin...

Heh. I'm stealing that. Consider it stolen.

Oh, okay, I'll credit you.

My own attitude's been more that of Rushdie of late. But I've been provoked relatively recently. In-law thing. Long story. Suffice to say I can think of considerably less respectful (and less comfortable) places to put a Quran right now than anyone at Guantanamo is alleged to have done.

Holly said...

Ah. No details necessary. You may remember I have my own family-faith-based issues. My sympathies.