Monday, May 30, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

There are many things that George Lucas is. There are also several that he is not. Both of these classifications are very apparent in the latest Star Wars installment, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.

Lucas is visionary - given the story he wanted to tell, he was quite able to assemble the components to accomplish exactly that: the production staff, special effects and technological capabilities, and of course the visual element composition (though his role in this was likely more story-board approval than creation). The pieces of the over-arching plot to connect these previous episodes and lay the groundwork for the first original film from 1977 fall into place obviously but appropriately for the intended audience. "Intended audience" has obviously been a major influence in these most recent films, with several nods toward the younger crowd that has been the merchandising cash-cow. This last installment abandoned much of that premise with its extremely dark material and made it much more palatable for the adult consumer. And the soundtrack was phenomenal.

However, the list of good bits is, I'm afraid, the short one. While Lucas may be able to represent conflict on a galactic scale (which was so far buried in the sub-text of the last 2 films as to be very disappointing), he completely lacks humanity. I once heard an excellent definition of "romantic" as: ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Here in this film the characters are so far from believable alignment in their motivations as to be outlandish and caricatured; grotesque and unrecognizable. And this is saying quite a lot - the human perspective will anthropomorphize pretty much anything to imbue it with those elements which make it that much easier to treat it in a familiar way. However, when the expectation is for the personality to already exist and we find it failing the result is a revulsion. Add bad acting and it's really a disappointment.

Natalie Portman did OK - her talent comes through in the portrayal of Padme and is satisfying. This owes partly to the writing in that hers is also the most believable character. Hayden Christensen raised the bar from the previous film, though this is hardly a challenge with as low as the expectation had been set. Still wooden, but more intense in the projection of negative emotion - which there is certainly quite a bit of. Combining this with the unbelievably swift transition to the dark side and Anakin Skywalker becomes a farcical image of angst. The motivation of "I want to save 1 person so I'll kill everyone else and sacrifice all" is not something to which the public can easily relate. At some point the concept of "greater good" becomes overriding.

I am a husband and father - I have 2 beautiful little girls. I know what it's like to worry about every part of the process of bringing one of them into the world, up to and including the extremely visceral act of child birth. And if the evil extreme ruler of the galaxy held the only clue to saving mother and child, I would still have to do away with him. No question (don't hit me, my wife agrees).

Humanity is the point of all this, as mentioned. It's something Lucas (who has writing credits on this movie) cannot satisfactorily capture. Even during the wrap up when Senator Organa is taking the infant Leia home to Alderaan - and his wife just sits there waiting for him to bring her over for the introduction! Let's dissect this - a husband, returning home from an embattled planet during a war that has led to the overturning of the values of the previous regime, with a new child. And would any woman sit there demurely waiting for him to waltz on in? Um - no. But that made the better camera angle and didn't put too much emphasis or interest on what are supposed to be side characters, so don't bother developing them too much.

*Sigh*. This is not meant to be a blow by blow, so I'll knock that off. Otherwise this would be way too long.

Other major components missing are physics (planets which couldn't possibly hold a breathable atmosphere, inaccurate principles applied during space combat), medicine (evidence of grossly negligent or completely absent prenatal care, inconsistent application of terms ["surgery" mentioned but natural child-birth portrayed - and where's the epidural? fluid replenishment? support equipment (or read-outs)?], etc. - and this is supposed to be at a far advanced level of technology at that), and theology.

But hey, the fights looked good, right? And even if nobody in their right mind goes to bed with fresh lip-gloss on, the screen is still lit-up beautifully. The public will buy anything that's at least pretty, so that's all that matters.

There's more, but it's a holiday and I'm going to spend a little more time with family.

- Paul

PS. Obi Wan: "Only Sith deal in absolutes." That's like, "Help stamp out Intolerance!" or "I HATE bigots!" (which I read in someone's online profile once). To quote the highly sarcastic words of the venerable Sideshow Bob: "That was a well-plotted piece of non clap-trap that never made me want to retch." Good grief.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Magical Mike-B-Gone

There are at least 2 ways to interpret the context of the title: either some mythical product known as "Mike-B-Gone" is magical, or "Magical Mike" is (or is commanded to be) gone. This is about both; and they both make me very sad.

There have been some mangement changes here at work, effective Monday, May 13th. These changes complete the erosion of many concessions I helped to put in place July '04 to allow Mike to stay under similar changes last time something of this magnitude happened. These were hard won but had resulted in the finest working relationsip I've even been party to. One by one, those protections have disappeared over the last 5-6 months (the first 4 months were untouched bliss), removing the seasonings which made the position palatable. As of the end of this Month he'll no longer be employeed here, of his own choosing.

This comes as a shock to those who have made these changes. This alone is a little unnerving, because it means they're out of touch with him in the first place. It also indicates that despite the evidence from the work history, they were unaware of the valuable nature of those arrangements as they institute those policies and organizations that endanger them. Or were aware, but were unable to properly consider the full impact of those changes and dictates.

I attribute this more to ignorance than malice as this is the more logical and less paranoid route. They're also scrambling to try and get Mike to stay on now that the full ramifications have been brought to their attention; but they will be doing it through the same structures and mechanisms to which Mike is opposed and will be unable to meet his requirements. Mike will execute his planned departure with conviction and I see no course of action which will dissuade this.

He has no children, no large financial obligations, no contracts, and a pile of squirreled away funds that will last him 1 to 2 years depending on prudence. He also has several hobbies and pursuits that have been completely abandoned over the last year in favor of working extremely hard in what turns out to be a thankless job for him.

I'm going to quit writing now and come back to this later when my feeble attempts at communication no longer embarrass me as I read back over them. Or at least not to this degree; man, I've slaughtered this entry.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Clever Underdog

A common theme in many folkloric farytales of the medieval and renaissance ages is the clever underdog. The wily hero or heroin who outsmarts the larger, stronger, and inevitably evil force or personage. This emphasis on wit and shrewd cognition have proven thoroughly entertaining throughout the many intervening years, finding their way into pop culture references such as Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam & Elmer Fudd & several miscellaneous members of the cast of villains.

This has also lead, of course, to the farcical idiocy of those same evil-doers. Apparently much of the true entertainment value is the ridicule of those who would do harm, thus resulting in just desserts of their own concoction. But this begins to water down my point for writing about this in the first place so I'm going back to my original thought.

I am fortunate enough to have gainful employment based around those same qualities. Albeit largely formalized into bureaucratic structures and hierarchies of communication, rules for process and process management, etc.; but this is just the Dilbertian environment. The end result is still the achievement of scenarios in which a long-term gauge of success is "How clever can I be?"

I suppose this is true of any information age professional where any creative problem solving is involved. I don't believe though that this commonality derides the potential manifestation of that beloved archetype. I'm also quite certain that this post is mostly contrived in order to give my blog a small shot of CPR in hopes of some systolic momentum to simulate vitality before I have to walk away and ignore it for a while again. In that sense, have I outwitted myself? Against the forces of entropy, probably not. Have I succeeded in confusing the reader?

I just may be the bumbling villain. I need to get off the night shift.