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Commentary & Reviews
Attack of the Clones

John Shirley
Episode II
film | digital

Paul Levinson's
10 Reasons
to like the Clones

Monday 17 June 2002

Attack of the Clones: From Z to A

by Kathryn Cramer

I took my son, Peter Hartwell (age 4), to see Attack of the Clones Saturday night, a dubious parenting decision perhaps, though he was not the youngest boy in the audience. His obsession with the robots that have invaded the preschools of Chappaqua — horrid little plastic things called Megazords, Bionicles, and Transformers, all of which I refuse to buy him — was driving me batty. Our trip to the local multiplex was my attempt to raise the level of discourse. At this juncture, the Star Wars series is much more closely in dialog with the kids' SF action figure market than is it with print science fiction.

Peter paid closest attention to the creatures and robots, coming up with colorful names for them even if they were never named in the movie. He hid behind me during the scary parts, was bored during some of the political discussion, squirmed during the love scenes, generally seemed to have a pretty good time, and at the end pronounced it "Great!". Whether I have solved my Megazord problem or simply made him a more receptive audience for Star Wars tie-in toys, I won't know until later.

John Shirley, in his review, makes some very good points about the acting and the script. I remember some time in the first half hour wondering whether the lines were being rendered so flatly on purpose so as not to upstage the merchandise. And as to the script, some of my favorite clunky moments were when Yoda or Obi-Wan would state the blatantly obvious as though it was a profound Jedi truth. Also, during fight scenes, I sometimes wished these guys would shut up and fight since they had been given such dopey things to say.

It ends the way the middle volumes of overblown trilogies often do: abruptly and inconclusively, so much so that I was afraid Peter would be upset by the lack of an ending. In several places I thought there were jaw-dropping plot holes, but in the midst of all this pageantry and spectacle, I'd be hard pressed to make the case that plot matters here, so they're probably not worth discussing.

I did not see Episode I, but frame by frame, this was a much prettier film than the initial three: pretty, but quite visually uneven. This, for me, is where it gets interesting. Shirley (in the digital format review) hypothesizes that "Lucas and his staff owe a debt to the science fiction illustrators of their youth," but the influences seem to me much fresher and more specific than hazy childhood memories.

I was told by an auction-going book dealer that George Lucas had bought, at auction through intermediaries, really a lot of SF art. Regardless of whether the rumor is true, the influence of SF's cover artists is much more evident in Attack of the Clones than that of SF's writers. It is a very painterly movie and I kept feeling that I'd seen that painting before. Seeing AotC felt to me very much like going on a tour of Howard and Jane Frank's house with its vast SF art collection.

When I tried to pin it down to specific paintings, I couldn't, only specific artists. (This may be because I'm not an expert.) Lucas has too much money and sense to engage in direct visual theft, it seems, but instead appears to have had his people copy what is called in software lawsuits the "look and feel." While I have no idea if any of SF's artists served as paid consultants, the strongest influences seemed to be Frank Kelly Freas, Michael Whelan, and (of course) Vincent Di Fate. Other artists whose influence I thought I noticed were H.R. Giger, Jim Burns, John Schoenherr, and maybe Richard Powers. I'm sure there are more to be found. I saw the movie only once. My intuition is that AtoC is visually uneven because Lucas had his people refer to specific painting or groups of painting for the look of specific scenes. Exercise for the reader: Play name that artist while watching.

Other notable influences are from film and TV. There is, as Paul Levinson remarks, a very Blade Runner car chase scene. Also, between Anakin, with his flapping black cape and saber, and the way people die in the movie, uttering a few dramatic lines and then dropping their heads back, I was reminded strongly of the Zorro TV series, though I don't think Anakin ever uses the light saber to monogram. And then there's The Jetsons: the most direct origin of this pale blue and gray city full of air cars. Not much here having to do with a literature of ideas, I thought.

It's very convenient for the movie's ratings that light sabers instantly cauterize all wounds, as do explosive devices (which mess up hair and remove limbs but draw no blood), and monsters' claws (which function like paint brushes, making red streaks on the heroine's back). Also, our protagonists seem to have extremely tough skins which don't scrape, bruise, or chafe. Despite the movie's very high on-camera body count — more on the level of the Indiana Jones or the more violent James Bond movies than the first three Star Wars movies — I doubt whether enough red stuff actually flows in the whole 2 hours 20 minutes to fill even one donation bag. Hence, I guess, the PG rating.

As we filed out of the theater, the father in front of me asked his 7-year-old son what was his favorite part. The boy replied, "The part where the guy's head gets chopped off!" With this in mind, I asked Peter what his favorite part was. I liked his answer better: "The battle with the monsters, especially the part where Anakin rides the balloonasaurus!" My kid knows an inflated dinosaur when he sees one!

But we had fun.

Kathryn Cramer is a magazine editor (The New York Review of Science Fiction) and anthologist (Year's Best SF 7).

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