On Screen

SHARGEL, RAPHAEL

On Screen The Triumph of 'Star Wars' By Raphael Shargel They say critics are frustrated artists; my own response to the events of September 11 proves I am no exception. Since that day I...

...The few events from the past that he does evoke he repeats...
...The film I envision is an epic drama told in documentary style...
...They offer him unconditional, undeserved love...
...Television commercials for The Majestic, the latest from Frank Darabont, have featured the director and the film's star, Jim Carrey, implying that because their work could lift our spirits and restore confidence during these newly fearful days, to see it is to fulfill a national duty...
...He has learned that wicked Lord Voldemort, who murdered Harry's parents, is scheming to steal the stone and enslave the wizard world...
...story conference and listens while the offscreen voices of prominent Jewish directors like Rob Reiner, Paul Mazursky and Sidney Pollack transform his ambitious screenplay into a mushy movie about abrave, Lassie-like dog...
...Others rather offensively took advantage of the situation to steer us into theaters...
...My own experience among audiences has been that crowds still cheer at the sight of a leading man shooting some hapless goon in the eye...
...And so Frodo, Bilbo's able nephew, sets out with a small party toward the terrifying country of Mordor, where the enemy resides...
...But they will use that footage primarily to justify the graphic depiction of our subsequent bloody revenge upon the enemy Because movies can take months to shoot and another year to edit and market, we will have to wait at least until next winter to see anything conceived after last September...
...Still, Hollywood's response to the terrorist attack was immediate...
...Placing his fellow inmates under his command, Irwin orders them to rebel by striking not directly at the warden, but at symbols of his authority...
...The myth of rebels pitted against the armies of an evil empire is that of the American Revolution filtered through Star Wars, the most influential movie of the last 25 years...
...Instead, we are subjected to an irritating New Age score...
...Jackson, by deleting those moving words, eliminates the alternatives to warfare that the novel praises...
...He manages to convey at least some of the drama and sweep of Tolkien's story...
...The lead character in The Last Castle, however, has a pettier and more disturbing plan...
...Many fine actors, including Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman, and John Cleese, appear all too briefly, offering pinched, hurried performances that cannot capture the richness of the novel's personae...
...Look at the two biggest blockbusters, whose sequels are already in the making: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring...
...This scene is an insult to the real people who stood up to HUAC and were exiled or imprisoned...
...They murder his underlings, blow up the prison, and raise its flag in a suicidal gesture of defiance...
...A second reason is that an obsession with pushing the plot along sacrifices character development...
...Nevertheless, Director Peter Jackson and his crew pro - vide a much more entertaining product than the inept Columbus does...
...It can only be destroyed if cast into the fires where it was originally forged...
...He receives a standing ovation from the press, and cows the government into conciliation...
...For those of us who believe that patriotism requires struggle and the courage of one's convictions, the film is a cop-out...
...In most pictures of this genre, the convict tries to escape or do away with his persecutor...
...Once more, extraordinary actors like Ian Holm and Cate Blanchett falter, not only because plot remains the principal concern but also because Jackson distressingly mistrusts them...
...Still, in several respects Jackson is unnecessarily reductive...
...It also poisons the patriotism typical of the vintage Hollywood comedies the movie attempts to evoke...
...Only Ian McKellen, as the wizard, overcomes him and gives a convincing performance, with a sparkle in the eye and a weary yet determined authority...
...Jackson is a professional craftsman who knows how to render a vivid narrative...
...For instance, in the novel Gandalf tells Frodo that the creature from whom Bilbo stole the ring told Sauron who has it now...
...It recycles the conventional showdown between a noble prisoner, the disgraced General Irwin (Robert Redford), and a sadistic warden (James Gandolf ini...
...He never allows anyone to express anger, suffering, fear, or even pleasure without burying the emotion in redundant camera tricksóslow motion, helicopter shots, grotesque closeups, and digital effects that make them grow taller or paler or more bestial...
...Never mind that in reality The Majestic, set in 1951, is as depressing as it is treacly...
...Yet the cinematic version emphasizes dark conflict far more strongly than the original...
...The faux Irish, African and Indian wails also drown out the acting at key moments, preventing empathy and lending a contemporary tone that jars with the antique rhythms of speech in Tolkien's chronicle...
...But the movies that perpetuate the distorted myth are still faring well at the box office...
...In practically every instance, sequences of affection and protection are overlooked so that acts of violence can come to the fore...
...Tolkien's expansive trilogy...
...The second and third parts have already been shot and will be released at the end of 2002 and 2003...
...He has wisely chosen to adapt here only The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of J.R.R...
...Tolkien's work brims with lore, yet the screen version, weighted down by such repetitions, feels more expository...
...Frodo exclaims that it was "a pity" his uncle didn't kill the creature when he had the chance...
...Although film can flash back and forward just as easily as fiction, the director is relentlessly linear...
...The unintended irony is that the script they create is less saccharine than The Majestic...
...At the outset of the film Appleton, suspected of being a Communist, flees to a small California town whose denizens mistake him for one of their long lost sons...
...I'm astonished that it too wasn't held back from release, or buried entirely...
...The film's use of music is perhaps its worst blasphemy against Tolkien...
...At one point, in a move that should have had an unintended awful resonance with today's audiences, he commands a soldier to crash a helicopter into one of the prison towers, killing everyone inside...
...I can only conclude that its distributor and fans were so stirred by the closing image of the Stars and Stripes waving above a battlefield that they ignored the militancy of the general's actions...
...The difference in the versions currently being presented is that the enemy is the U.S...
...At its climax, screenwriter Peter Appleton (Carrey), blacklistedunder false pretenses, shouts down questioners during a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee...
...Twice the camera focuses on Carrey's face as he sits at an L.A...
...Harry Potter, as almost everyone knows, concerns an 11 -year-old orphan with magical powers who is invited to attend a boarding school for witches and wizards...
...The group consists of many engaging figures: a human descendant of Sauron's conqueror, a hotheaded prince, a dwarf, an elf, three of Frodo's fellow hobbits, and Gandalf, a powerful wizard...
...Sauron, an immortal who, like Voldemort, is on the rise, needs to get it in order to conquer the world...
...Set several thousand years ago, the tale begins in an Edenic land inhabited by a race of diminutive peace-loving hobbits...
...The movies I have cited are about rooting for the underdog, watching a rebellious individual or small force go up against a much more powerful adversary...
...His three-hour film has enough pace and momentum to keep an audience absorbed...
...Columbus somehow transforms a colorful tale into very grim material...
...One reason for this is his attempting an impossibly inclusive enactment of a much longer source...
...Because he knows his actions will call out overwhelming reinforcements, the general has no thought of a getaway or pardon...
...The movie's climax has little Harry confronting and defeating his nemesis...
...And the interminable, clumsily shot Ali, the first boxing epic in years, has been deemed important enough to pummel its way into the short list of Academy Award nominees...
...Apparently it did not occur to them that if that final shot had showed a different flag and the Taliban permitted moviegoing, The Last Castle might have gone over very well with prospective terrorists...
...The Lord of the Rings also seems to have been the work of artists who asked themselves, "How can I dramatize this book and make it look like Star Wars...
...This stress on nature and the leisurely life of the farming hobbits seems to mean little to Jackson, causing a viewer to wonder what the characters are fighting for...
...Bloody pictures like Spy Game and Behind Enemy Lines have packed theaters...
...But one perspective common to the two legends should receive greater play as the film sequels proliferate...
...The response to both The Majestic and The Last Castle demonstrates that the studio moguls need not have bothered altering their timetables...
...While we are treated to the graphic sight of Harry's touch crumbling the face of the demon, his headmaster's explanation of his poweróthat it derives not from skill in combat but the abiding love his dead parents bequeathed himó is foreshortened...
...Despite illustrating the insanity of fanaticism, these are human stories, loosely biographical, that neither glorify the victims nor demonize their killers...
...Tolkien has Gandalf shrewdly reply that Bilbo was able to keep the ring for 60 years without being enslaved precisely because "'Twas pity that stayed his hand...
...In a stroke of bad timing, Chris Columbus and Peter Jackson muted the warnings about our heroes' unpreparedness...
...Finally, the lavish production made me wonder whether a smaller budget might not have resulted in a more successful and faithful rendition of The Fellowship, with the armies of evil ghouls merely suggested by the clever use of light and sound...
...Tolkien's detailed descriptions are largely limited to environmental surroundings...
...Most are smothered in false hair, makeup and prosthetics that put severe limitations on their faces and bodies...
...On paper his movie may look less faithful than Harry Potter, but it is actually a more successful translation, preserving many of the book's tensions...
...Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves, advised by author J. K. Rowling herself, complied with the request...
...As he embraces these plain folk, he steers away from the evils of Los Angeles, a city that Darabont, a successful filmmaker, hypocritically savages...
...Set in a military penitentiary, it was the first production with a martial theme to be rolled out after September 11...
...The proclivities of major producers would need to change drastically for one of them to risk ending a movie with the fiery destruction of American property and the taking of innocent lives...
...Now that the Bush Administration has said we are living in a new era of prolonged warfare calling for national resolve, have we seen the last of such films...
...Just as tellingly, the one major incident that is barely shown involves Harry's efforts to save ababy dragon from destruction...
...government...
...He wants to die spitting in the faces of those who have humiliated him...
...We see the ancient King Isildor cut off the finger of the hateful Lord Sauron three times...
...The picture ends tragically as the climactic disaster catapults my disparate characters onto the same page of history...
...Unfortunately, the ring corrupts anyone who owns it, turning him toward villainy...
...Studio heads reshuffled their schedules, postponing the release of violent films they believed would not find an appreciative audience in the current climate...
...I am of course deluding myself if I think anyone will hand over the millions necessary to realize this narrative...
...After all, one of the fascinations of the book is its refusal to tell us what the creatures look like...
...Both are fantasy sagas based on popular British novels that again tell of a small, inexperienced resistance battling the mighty rulers...
...No one takes the Soviet threat seriously...
...citizens, each of whom becomes a passenger on one of the downed airplanes, with four of the suicide terrorists...
...Sixty years earlier, Bilbo Baggins, one of the few residents to have ventured beyond the homeland, acquired the ring of power, which had fallen into many hands since Isildor possessed it...
...All in all, the film feels as if it were directed by Lord Voldemort, the drainer of souls...
...If the films of the last few months were a test of our alleged newfound values, we failed...
...In Darabont's vision of the '50s, there are no Communists in California...
...My central players speak in counterpoint with Arabs dedicated to peace and Americans who are irredeemably intolerant...
...Another recent release, The Last Castle, was also touted by some as a classic for our times...
...The movie essentially portrays guerrilla warfare as heroic...
...None are reproduced, not even the famous verse epigraph that introduces the trilogy...
...The upshot of this lack of subtlety is that Appleton's choices are easy...
...Today most viewers expect to follow a single protagonist who achieves a concrete goal they endorse...
...Rowling and Tolkien both suggest that their monsters' power grew because the defenders of the good had become lax...
...Each eventónot to mention the book's wonderful good humor and delightful digressionsóreceives only a fraction of the screen time it requires...
...It remains to be seen, naturally, whether the junior alliances against the great forces of darkness that surface in The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter will continue to hold appeal...
...So the warrior aspect of the plot tends to be accentuated at the expense of its warmth, pathos and humor...
...When the makers of political blockbustersólike RolandErnmerich, who directed Independence Day and The Patriot, or Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Downó take on 9/11, they may begin by showing the World Trade Center towers exploding and the Pentagon's walls coming down...
...The American appetite for witless hero worship, blazing spectacle and hands-on fighting is as healthy as ever...
...The novel is digressive, filling us in on a vast historical background as it goes along...
...The novel contains many songs that reveal a magnificent variety of personality and culture...
...The result is jerky and episodic, with expositions so slapdash they sometimes actually contradict Rowling...
...Once a student at Hogwarts, Harry becomes less interested in studying the rudiments of his craft than discovering the secret of the sorcerer's stone, a powerful item hidden in one of the academy's secret rooms...
...This is the most confusing of the adaptation's scenes...
...Almost from the moment it was announced that this novel would be made into a film, its seemingly infinite number of fans clamored for a literal adaptation...
...He has intelligently pruned and even skipped episodes ancillary to the main plot...
...It begins six months before the disaster and contrasts four U.S...
...It is notable that the Hollywood he curses is teeming with Jews, while the population of the Utopian village, with the stereotypical exceptions of a wise black janitor and a malevolent cripple, is free of diversity and conflict...
...Certainly after September 11 we ought to identify less with destructive insurgents...
...War, moreover, is only one of Tolkien's subjects and Jackson, besides focusing on it almost exclusively, strips the dialogue of its moral scope...
...Since that day I have been fantasizing about making a movie that could clarify its horror and offer catharsis...

Vol. 85 • January 2002 • No. 1


 
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