Thursday, August 23, 2012

False Equivalency

I'm not talking about the one in politics, though that one does exist. That's right, I'm ranting about Star Wars again. Ah, it's been far too long.

I've been following The Spoony Experiment since I saw Spoony cameo in a Nostalgia Critic video. Now, I do know of Spoony's status as a Lucasfilm Hateboy, but he usually keeps his hateboyishness contained to articles directly connected to the films, and the last Star Wars film-related article was a write-up of Sith during its release, where his criticism amounted to "It sucks, but at least its heart was in the right place." Whatever, Spoony.

Aside from this, like NC, I found his reviews hilarious and engaging, even if it was negative against something I liked. I laughed through every second of his Final Fantasy VIII review, but in the end it inspired me to pick the game back up and I legit enjoyed it, even though every flaw he pointed out was true. My heart went out to him when he announced a long absence was caused by depression. I was sad when a spat (the details of which I'm still unclear about because of my aversion to social media sites) caused him to split from Channel Awesome.

One of the threads of his show has been an ongoing series on the Ultima games, of which I've never played myself but were foundations of his childhood. Over the years, he's shown how the games were something he could be proud of until the modern video game age, where it slowly but surely decayed due to bad development culminating in Ultima 9 which amounted to repeated "Betrayals" according to Spoony.

He then goes into a soliloquy, directly relating to the framing device of the games' villain taunting him throughout the reviews, about the number of childhood pillars that have crumbled in recent years. Of course, I knew it was coming, but I was hopeful until the words came out of his mouth: Star Wars (Indiana Jones was also on that list, but I've said all I need to say on that).

And it killed me because it is in no way similar.

The thing is, in Ultima's case, it does seem to be true. Again, I've not played the games, but everything I saw about 9 (and I admit it could be skewed) showed evidence of a game that the company just needed to get out bugs and all because they spent too long on it already, kind of like Duke Nukem Forever. It did not seem like too much care went into it in the end.

And there are certainly many more examples of franchises ruined because of executive meddling, speed of release outweighing quality of product, and other such issues. "Batman & Robin" comes to mind (though it's still very much a guilty pleasure for me, it had no business being in that particular film series).

Star Wars is not one of them. It has never been one of them, despite how it may strike some "fans" on the surface.

Just taking a look at one of the myriad behind-the-scenes featurettes on I-II-III will show just how much hard work, dedication, and flat-out fun went into these films. "The Beginning" for Phantom Menace, in particular, is an eye-opener. Everyone on those shoots wanted to make the very best movies they could, and it shows. And they took as much time as they needed ("[TPM] WILL come out in May!" notwithstanding). That Sith feels a little rushed has more to do with having only one film left with which to wrap up the story threads than any kind of technical deadline.

One of my standing links is to the blog "A Certain Point of View", and I've referenced certain specific articles from time to time. I would be honored if any of my rants even approaches the quality that blog demonstrates in its sleep. And yet, I find myself having to challenge a few of that author's notions.

The first is that I-II-III does, in fact, do a lot of things different. It's a compliment to Lucas that he was and is always willing to throw the audience a curveball. To that I say: perhaps on the surface. However, I have long maintained that it's all the same, at least in spirit. All Star Wars, Episodes I-VI, are childishly silly on the face of it and deeply philosophical once you scratch the surface. He also blames the Expanded Universe forgetting the "silly" part for 16 years as responsible for the fans forgetting the "silly" part by the time Phantom Menace brought it back in full force. It may have contributed, sure, but they still had the movies to watch and see firsthand just how ridiculous it looks and sounds. So how could anyone who loves Star Wars go off on a rant against Phantom Menace or the other films?

Well, as much as it still boggles my mind, my first suspects are a combination of Nostalgia and Film Schools.

Nostalgia is how the silly childish stuff hooked them as children, and as they got older they saw the deeper layers and tuned out most of the silliness. Because they over-analyzed IV-V-VI, they expected I-II-III's depth to smack them in the face. Instead, Jar Jar Binks smacked them in the face. It takes years and multiple viewings to see the true depth in any of the six films, and most of the hateboys wrote it off right away and refused to give it the thought the real fans did.

So, one would think film school of all things would prepare them to see the depth and properly analyze it. And yet, it does just the opposite since film school tends to be elitist. True Art is Angsty, after all, and any sense of child-like silliness is considered "low-art." Ironic, since the internet culture is all about childlike silliness, but this is more in the absurdist fashion. Star Wars is silly, but it's rarely absurd.

This is not to say that the Star Wars films aren't flawed. They certainly are. But the superfans and hateboys have shown willingness to ignore the same flaws or worse in many other films, including IV-V-VI. Clearly they aren't that bad.

One more point I want to make at how skewed film schools can be at film appreciation and comprehension, I want to share my story about a film class I took and the discussion had regarding "The Sixth Sense."

Now, as much as the twist in this film is as widespread knowledge as that of Luke Skywalker's parentage, Albus Dumbledore's fate, and the true meaning of Charles Foster Kane's dying words, I'm still putting a spoiler warning on the odd chance you haven't seen it, since it is quite well-crafted.

My Film Studies professor was convinced that Malcolm Crowe was not a ghost and that Cole Seer could not really see dead people. Her explanation? Cole was being abused by his mother, and the "ghosts" were delusions. Furthermore, the former patient that killed Malcolm was actually Cole grown up and getting revenge for not being taken out of that horrible situation. Her evidence? All the signs were there, since M. Night Shyamalan's wife is a child psychologist and thus knows the behaviors. Plus, Ghost!Malcolm moved things, broke windows, etc. And as we all know, ghosts can't interact with the physical world.


First of all, Mrs. Shyamalan is a child psychologist and the signs of child abuse were a Red Herring. What most people don't realize is that "I See Dead People" was in itself supposed to be a twist in the plot before the trailers spoiled everyone, so naturally the evidence was going to be piling up in an opposite direction before the reveal.

As far as the "Ghost's Can't Interact" thing? Both myself (as a trope fiend) and another young woman in the class (as an occult scholar) pointed out that in many mythologies, ghosts and spirits can in fact tangibly interact with the world of the living under certain circumstances. A huge part of the film "Ghost" was Patrick Swazye learning how to do just that, and do I even need to bring up poltergeists in literature and film (including one movie called....oh yeah, "Poltergeist")?

However, we were shot down by the professor. "The Sixth Sense" can't be a simple ghost story because ghost stories are low art, and this film was good.

And I think this is what's happening with a lot of the hateboy critics out there. Whether this doctrine inspired their hate or their hate inspired this doctrine is hard to say. What is clear is that 99% of those who publicly hate on I-II-III show the same level of film comprehension as my esteemed film professor with Sixth Sense: little to none. They can't see the forest for the trees.

Which is sad because from a technical standpoint, faults and all, I-II-III are wonderful examples of both storytelling and visuals. And they're a whole lot of fun. Remember when movies were fun? Most importantly, they are a set of films that stay true to the story and spirit of where they came from, not a rushed-out-for-profit affront to the mythology.

1 comment:

  1. I thought I had responded to this, though maybe I was just composing a reply in my head! :P

    Really well-written post, and the most important point is in your last paragraph: these movies are *fun* to us. Lately, I've felt myself evolving in my reaction to the haters--whereas before, I might've read their bile-filled stuff and gotten annoyed, I now just kind of laugh, disregard, and move on. No matter what they say, how many videos they produce, how much of the internet they poison, they simply don't possess the power to erode my (or millions of others') love of these movies or rob me of the joy I get from them. They've lost before they even open their fanged (virtual) mouths. Maybe I'm being foolishly optimistic, but I feel like they'll die off or find something else to hate, kids will continue to discover and love Star Wars, and everything will be fine...the Force Ghosts of Yarael Poof and Yaddle will appear on a railing and smile at us!

    Anyways, good job, Adam.