Unfortunately, the film doesn't meet the hype. It has most of the ingredients of the first three films: In fact, that may be it's most impressive feature. Watching the film it doesn't feel like twenty years have passed since the first one was released. If it wasn't for the digital effects, they could have been made the same year. OK, haircuts have changed, but that's about it.
And, speaking of haircuts, what is it with George Lucas and hair? The Danish pastry style of Princess Leia of the first three films was bad enough, but Queen Amidala's barrage of bizarre styles looks like the result of a mad stylist on cocktail of uppers and acid.
The effects are, of course, fabulous, and the settings and scenery equally so. Action scenes leave you white-knuckled on the edge of your seat, not least the epic lightsabre duels, and certain bits during the pod race scene are not recommended for people with heart disorders.
But all this fails to save it. Single-dimensional, emotionless characters are scattered throughout the film. The story is anorexic and seem to chiefly consist of the characters bouncing between different locations with not much happening in each. The only one who looks as though they are having a good time is Ewan McGregor who seems to be pretending he's James Bond, saying every line with a wry smile and an English accent that's about as genuine as the current Swedish prime minister's sincerity. Poor old Liam Neeson looks tormented throughout, as though he's struggling with some internal conflict of artistic integrity versus a paycheck the size of the Russian budget deficit.
All of that could be forgiven, though. Star Wars is certainly not alone in putting all its money on digital effects rather than script writing and given the actors room to perform. No, Star Wars is brought down by a far darker force.
The character Jar Jar Binks is an alien on one of the planets which our intrepid Jedi warriors land on. Through various turns of events, he is hooked up with the main characters and follows them throughout the film. Why the character was included is unclear, since he adds little to nothing, but probably he was supposed to provide comic relief and another figure for the McDonald's Happy Meal collection.
Throughout, Jar Jar appears like a throughback to the early Hollywood's portrayal of African-Americans, complete with a servile voice laced with fear, clumsy, cartoon-like behavior and more than a hint of simple-mindedness. The whole experience is disgusting and leaves a very unpleasant impression. It is very surprising that the production team could exhibit a level of na´vitÚ necessary to allow this character to be portrayed in this manner.
So, skip Star Wars and check out some other films instead. Will Smith is apparently the hottest thing in Hollywood these days and he can be seen strutting his stuff, adorned in cowboy gear, in Wild Wild West. While not exactly a sci-fi movie, anyone who has encountered Space:1889 will feel right at home with this one. Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) is plotting to take over, if not the world, then at least a good sized portion of the US. To help him, he kidnaps the most prominent scientists in the country to build the most devastatingly ugly war machine in existence and then sets off after President Grant. James T. West (Will Smith) and Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) are given the task of hunting him down and bringing him to justice; one which their non-compatible personalities renders almost insurmountable. Along the bumpy ride they bump into Rita Escobar (Salma Hayek) who does her best to distract them both.
Bizarre humour and a wild ride are the two trademarks of WWW, along with a fascination with obscenely complicated, steam-driven, mechanical machinery, such as a 19th century version of the Imperial Walkers and a railway car with more gadgets than Bond's Aston Martin. Not much room for acting skills, although Branagh struggles admirably with his version of a southern accent, and poor Hayek gets most of her screen time looking sultry in the background. Sort of a James Bond in a Western setting, full of bizarre gadgets and farcical comedy and even the odd JB-style death pun thrown in for good measure. High art this is not, but if you're looking for an action-adventure film with a fast pace and bizarre humour that doesn't require much active thought on behalf of the audience, you could do worse than WWW. To quote Barry Norman on another film: ''This is a lightweight film, and by lightweight I mean don't leave it in a draft, or it'll blow away''.
Now, for some serious action-adventure, classic ''hero, villain and beautiful damsel''-stuff, try The Mummy. Take Indiana Jones, feed it steroids for six months and you'll end up with The Mummy. Set in Egypt when the century was still young, this is the story of first a chase to find a buried treasure and then to escape it. While Brendan Fraser isn't exactly any Harrison Ford, he fits nicely in the boots of the intrepid adventurer and anti-hero. Rachel Wiesz is the damsel in distress, but with a 90's twist she also is the brains of the outfit, unlike her dimwitted brother played almost convincingly by John Hannah. The Oscar for Best Creep will undoubtably go to KevináJ. O'Connor's fabulous rendition of Beni. Imagine a pale, emaciated Peter Lorre gone cold turkey after a bout of intraveinal drug addiction and you'll have a pretty good likeness of Beni.
Interestingly, Ms. Wiesz starts off appropriately dressed for the era, then seems to loose an article of clothing for each scene change as the film progresses.
What makes this film great entertainment, apart from the stupendous effects, fast paced action and reasonably interesting plot, is the humour. There's a broad range of humour, from almost slapstick, via sitcom, to some rather nice understated humour that you have to be quick to catch. Of course, being matinee stuff, the ending is pretty predictable, but then it would have been highly inappropriate for anything else to happen.
To finish off, we turn our eye to The Matrix. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) leads a double life: in the daytime, he works as a data slave at a large software company; at night, he is ''Neo'', hacker extraordinaire. Neo has been looking for another hacker, Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), for a number of years, because he has felt that there is a greater truth to be learnt about the world and society he lives in. Through a number of fortuitous circumstances, they make contact and Neo gets an offer: take the red pill and learn the truth or take the blue pill and remain blissfully ignorant. Little does he how just how much greater that truth really is.
Special moments include Hugo Weaving's fantastic portrayal of Agent Smith, dropping wonderful gems such as ''Do you hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability'' and ''Never send a human to do a machine's job''. Not to mention his sense of style.
The Matrix is a film that keeps you guessing right up towards the end. The setting is truly fascinating and the plot unfolds in strange and unexpected ways. A great feature is the philosophical issues that this film raises: What is real and what is imagined? Add to this good acting (with Reeves almost managing an emotional expression or two), mind-expanding visuals and you've got a ride into your mind that's truly amazing. This film is not just visually impressive, it's intellectually impressive too. It leaves you initially dazed and confused, then as realization hits you square between the eyes and electrifies your mind, all the pieces fall beautifully into place.
A surprising result, perhaps, but maybe there is a lesson in there for the studios: More of the budget should be put into getting a good script, rather than paying ILM for the post-production. In any case, I'm off to see Brazil on Boston's largest cinema screen: a 19-by-34 foot behemoth. It will be a fresh breeze of satire to counter-balance the autopilot plots and crude characterizations in most modern, so called, block busters.