William Matheson's Journal
Dec. 23rd, 2016
05:02 pm - Review: Rogue One and the Movies
Last night I went to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with some good friends from high school. Before I get excessively vituperous, let me say that experiences are always better with friends and I'm glad we had the outing we did. That being said, it may be a very long time before I go to the cinema again, if things continue the way they are going. Rogue One may be my last movie seen in a theatre.
As far as the film itself goes, I'm glad I've seen this movie. Some of the emotional moments stick with you afterwards. I think it hit a lot of right notes.
But I was also bored with the story for most of it and there's so many shooting sprees and so much action that you become numb to it. Most movies today are like this, they pump in as much gee whiz as they possibly can, and while the gee whiz is something, it's like going to a meal where all they serve you is cotton candy. You can only take so much. Or, put another way, there isn't enough kablooie in the world to make you get the same wow that you used to, back when effects were expensive. They also tend to play it safe by making mostly sequels and reboots, and if it's not one of those, they'll just get Tom Cruise.
As I write this, I'm imagining the Imperial Probe Droid from Empire Strikes Back. Terrific effect for 1980; a meanacing, floating piece of techno terror. And they got a whole bunch of scenes out of it, and it was an important plot point. But now there's no real scarcity in special effects, and I can't imagine any of today's producers having the same kind of patience and restraint to make such scenes.
Inasmuch as Rogue One is a 2010s mainstream movie, it's amazing it touches my heart at all. When I finally started to care about the characters, it was pretty good. But the early parts were random and disjointed and could have used a few more rewrites.
And some parts are just downright sloppy and ridiculous. For instance, at one point there is a Star Destroyer just parked above a city. Really, just hanging in mid-air, with no apparent means of support. Even if there were some amazing antigrav tech at work, if it fails you lose a capital ship and all the forces you had deployed in the city below. And it had nothing much to do with the plot, except to signal to the viewer that the Imperial Forces were there. There are much more satisfying and plausible ways to signal that.
The writing was also lazy, or at least not adequately vetted by people who know the existing Star Wars canon. Little things will drive you crazy. One example is how people in the Alliance will refer to it as the "Rebel Alliance" even in formal situations. If you go back and watch the original films, you'll see they are more often than not the "Alliance", not "Rebel Alliance" and definitely not "Rebels". And of course, the Imperial people will almost always say "Rebels" or "Rebellion" and very seldom say "Alliance". In the sources I read it was officially named "The Alliance to Restore the Republic", although this is never spoken in the films.
So it's not the "Rebel Alliance Headquarters", it's "Alliance Headquarters". And if you're commanding the Alliance Fleet, you're "Admiral Fisheye of the Alliance Fleet". (Also, while you may well have a radio handy, are you the officer on listening watch picking up random new signals? Where's your Uhura equivalent?)
And then there's the matter of integrating the story with the original Star Wars of 1977. Great movie, but "A New Hope" is a lousy title and that title was nowhere to be seen on the original release. So of course they find a way to call attention to that lousy title instead of leaving well enough alone. But I digress.
It should be noted that they lift a great deal of clips from that first movie and even recreate a few of the actors with Spirits Within-style CGI. That in itself is not necessarily offensive, but they do it sometimes when it's not crucial to the plot and in those cases it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Some characters were needed more than others. I'd argue you could make this movie without bringing back any of the characters besides perhaps one or two Alliance leaders. No need to bring back any of the household names. It's so obvious that they're just doing it because they can and so that people will be like, "Oh wow, there's so-and-so!"
More problematically, the plot integration with the 1977 movie is not smooth. I predict Disney retconning the early scenes in some future release to make them fit with Rogue One, but why couldn't they have just told a story that fit with what was already there? Especially when you could have told a good story? There are enough pieces here that with a bit of trimming and reworking, you could have a very good movie.
If you want to know, the biggest problem with what they did do is that Vader actually sees the Corvette carrying Princess Leia leave the system from which the Death Star plans were obtained. This completely trashes the opening above Tattooine. Not only was there apparently no faux diplomatic mission upon which they intercepted the plans, but why would Vader even deign to debunk their cover story? He would only need to say the equivalent of "I saw you!" but in a Vader way. (Incidentally, the dialogue for Vader in Rogue One is sub-par. He would have been better if left out but still mentioned by other Imperials.)
Basically, the whole feeling of the start of ANH is that of the plans being intercepted in a low-key way from spies working in secret while the ship is employed in a diplomatic mission plausible enough that they had hopes of keeping the Imperial Navy off their backs. The ending of Rogue One is anything but low-key. They could have written a character-driven 007-in-space kind of film to fit the existing canon, but they did not.
And now let's move on to Cineplex, which is apparently in the business of making waiting for Netflix the most appealing way to see a movie. Not only do you pay $18 for the privilege of enduring a three dee eye max presentation with glasses that hurt your nose and the volume up loud enough that you need earplugs, but you are bombarded with advertising and trailers for 23 minutes. The advertising isn't even particularly good - it's the same stuff you see on TV, but blown up or belaboured to the point of viewer discomfort. And then there's some stuff that's downright despicable - universities selling higher education as a consumer product, for one. And there's worse than that.
I don't need to see Sex Panic agitprop every time I go to see a movie. This time around there was a self-appointed male feminist bullying someone who made a lewd comment underneath a gal's swimsuit photo and he demanded the commenter delete the post before she sees it, lest her head explode. Then he called the commenter a name (related to his race, no less!) and huffed off.
Remember kids, bullying is cool if you're the outraged left. Also, risqué comments are like a handgrenade to a girl's fragile little self. Of course she had no idea what she was doing sharing such photos among her e-quaintances, and of course she should be shielded from any possible consequences. And what that commenter was doing was Sexual Violence, or at least very far along the slippery slope, because this message was brought to you by People Against Sexual Violence. I am against sexual violence too, but these people are crying wolf, and I will not be returning to the theatre to be subjected to their propaganda.