Monday, May 30, 2005

Building a Better Prequel: Part 2

  • animation powers: refreshed by 3 day weekend

The hero's journey. In the original trilogy the hero was Luke and his journey was to go from a dorky farmboy to a cool Jedi. In the prequels Anakin is the hero and his journey is to go from annoying, but good hearted, kid to the biggest meanie in the galaxy. I enjoyed Luke's journey. Anakin's needed some improvement.

As I said before, I would not have had Anakin be a young kid in Ep 1, but rather a young lad of 14. Episode 1 would have found Anakin as a nice enough kid who showed signs of being strong in the force; no midcloreans would be mentioned....EVER. The pod race could have been kept; him building The droids, from the start, should have been in the service of Padme. Also in Episode 1 the seeds of love would have been planted with Anakin and Padme making their growing relationship more believable.

By Episode 2, which would be six years later making Anakin 20, Anakin is showing great promise in the force but all the "chosen one" talk is going to his head. He's becoming too full of himself, arrogant and reckless. His mother would die in this episode possibly due to General Grievous (who remember I suggested be around from Ep 1 on) or perhaps Darth Maul (I wouldn't have killed him in Ep 1). Anakin wiping out the Tusken Raider camp didn't work for me because when he did that he crossed the line. He killed them all out of hate. How do you come back to the good side from the that? He gave into the dark side and to the dark side he should have remained. So.....

I would have Anakin face off with the killer of his mother toward the end of Episode 2, showing signs that he is unable to control his anger, his hate and desires revenge. This would be the first moment that he walks the line between good and evil. Walks it, doesn't cross it. Obi Wan would be present during the battle perhaps injured and on the side lines. He would verbally try to keep Anakin from giving in to the dark side. Anakin would lose an arm, his adversary would get away and he would marry Padme in secret at the end. And he would not be a whiny baby at any point in the film.

Episode 3 would be mostly the same as what's on the screen. However before Anakin fully goes to the dark side I would want to show more conflict. And instead of a bland "I will be your apprentice" ok now I'm evil. Have him act out in hate, fully letting it consume him, and at THAT moment he has given himself to the dark side. The arrest of Palpatine sequence could be restaged so that Grievous or Maul is somehow present. Anakin strikes his adversary down with all his hate and his journey to the dark side is complete. Like the Emperor's words to Luke in ROTJ. And it would be nice foreshadowing for ROTJ. The audience will have seen in Ep 3 that if you give in to hate and kill someone in hate, you go to the dark side. So seeing Luke going ape shit on Vader, the audience will think "oh he is lost....he's going evil happened to his's happening to him".

I wouldn't have had Sidious call Anakin, Vader....EVER. Because at the end of the film during the battle on Mustafar (and I saw some animatic boards that suggested this was considered) I'd have Anakin jump over Obi Wan, Obi slashes off Anakin's legs, Anakin falls over the side of a cliff and is hanging on by his robotic hand. All the dialog could be the same between the two. Anakin asks Obi Wan for help, Obi refuses and then suddenly Anakin falls. Obi looks over the side just as a nearby volcanic explosion kicks up smoke and distorts his view. Anakin is not in site. Obi Wan assumes he is dead and leaves.

We never see Anakin or Vader...nothing after that scene. Yes fans were foaming at the mouth to see Vader again and they would cry big salty tears if he wasn't seen. No sorry...for the sake of storytelling NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Now poor Padme will have still been force choked by Anakin and can now barely breath. Obi Wan fears she may not last long and they rush her into delivery. With Padme near death she somehow manages to deliver twins. And they are NOT named. Padme dies. A bit later instead of Bail Organa saying "I'll take the girl. We always wanted to adopt a girl", we cut to Bail with a child in his arms. Obi Wan says "The child must be kept safe" Bail replies "Master Kenobi I will guard this young one with my life. What of the other child?" Obi says his line about taking him to live with his relatives on Tatooine.

This ending would preserve the surprises of Episode 5 and 6. Could someone watching the saga for the first time figure it out...maybe. However that is why I would have dropped the mention and or showing of Vader. So in Ep 4 when Ben is telling Luke that Vader killed his father, the audience would say "Vader didn't kill him, Anakin fell and died. He must be lieing to Luke to protect him from the fact that his father went to the dark side". But by Ep 5 when Vader reveals himself, the audience will say "Ahh he must have somehow survived and the Emperor turned him into all makes sense know......very tricksy..."

So there you have it. More or less what I would have done if George Lucas had of returned my phone calls when making the prequels. They were not terrible films, but they could have been greatly improved. But in the end, what's done is done.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

When Dark Lord Speaks, Everyone Laughs

  • animation powers: tucked away in my sock drawer

Part 2 of "Building a Better Prequel" will be done shortly, but in the meantime here are some pretty funny sites to check out regarding a certain sound byte...spoken by a certain dark lord at the end of Ep3.

.....warning there could be possible spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the movie........ listen to the whole rocks

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Building a Better Prequel: Part 1

  • animation powers: weakened by action shots

There is quite a lot in the Star Wars prequels that I like, but there is a lot that could have been better. People talk about wooden acting and bad dialog and quite frankly that doesn't really bother me; the original trilogy has its fair share of both.

The problems with the prequels, in my opinion, comes down to these points

  • absence of charismatic characters
  • the removal of Jar Jar
  • a mostly annoying hero (Anakin)
  • a love story that feels forced
  • no real villain that people can really love to hate

With some other points inbetween ;) There may be spoilers in here so watch out!!

First off is absence of charismatic characters. There needed to be a Han or a Lando. Someone really fun to watch with whom the audience could identify. The Jedi are kinda even tempered and not very excitable, because to do so would make them kill children and choke the ones they love. So the Jedi needed characters around them that would be interesting and fun that would counterbalance the oh so serious tone of the prequels. Lucas tried this in Phantom Menace by adding Jar Jar: distant cousin of Goofy and Daffy Duck. Jar Jar could have actually been a cool sidekick in a Chewbacca kinda way but Lucas decided instead to make him a total bafoon. Axing Jar Jar is probably something most everyone would agree upon.

Bail Organa would have been a good pick to fill the bill of charismatic character who hangs around with Jedi. As it is we don't see a lot of ol Bail, but he must be a cool guy because at the end of ROTS he takes himself a Jedi baby. Yeah give the baby to the guy who's had maybe 5 minutes of total scene time. Developing Bail from Ep 1 would have given audiences a fresh character, who was previously just a name, that has a direct tie to one of the major players of Ep 4-6. Perhaps he was a former hero of the Republic who has gone into politics, who happens to be on Naboo and ends up tagging along with Padme, Obi Wan and Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon....if it were up to me, his name would be Qui-Gone Bye Bye See Ya.

Qui-Gon Jinn why the hell are you here? Lucas should have rolled the Qui-Gon character into Obi Wan. This would have helped with Obi Wans character arc. As it is Obi Wan doesn't have a strong arc through these films. In ROTJ when ghost Obi is telling Luke basically "I screwed up....its really all my fault..I'm sorry" he is a tragic figure. I envision Obi sitting in exile consumed by guilt and regret...I was reckless I was arrogant and now the whole galaxy is paying the price. Therefore Obi Wan should have been the one who finds Anakin, is surprised by how much the force was with him and takes it upon himself to teach him the ways of Force; like he told Luke in ROTJ. It would have given Obi Wan a strong character arc because the prequels should be as much about the decisions and mistakes Obi Wan makes as much as its about the ones Anakin makes. It should have been Obi Wan's arrogance and insistance that Anakin was the chosen one, that makes him take Anakin away and train him. Not some dieing promise to his master.

Speaking of Anakin, he should have never been a little kid in Episode 1. Yes I know Lucas was wanting to show how a nice little annoying kid could grow up to become the most hated person in the galaxy, however it causes a problem. Namely the love story with Padme. It just doesn't work. Had Anakin been say 14 in Episode 1 then the hints of love could have been put in motion and it would have felt believable. By Episode 2 you would actually believe that they loved each other enough to get married in secret. Lucas could have done the pod race and all that stuff with an older Anakin and it would have made no difference. Also I would have NEVER EVER EVER have called him Ani......EVER.

The original trilogy had Darth Vader. The prequels has......who? Darth Sidious? A scary chin? He doesn't become the visible bad guy until Revenge of the Sith. In Ep 4, almost from the start it was established that Vader would be the villain to Luke's hero. Who is Anakin's villain? Inner conflict? All the promotional material for The Phantom Menace made one believe that Darth Maul would be the Vader of the prequels. And as the film chugged along it seemed that way. Maul mostly stood around and did nothing until the battle at the end; just like Vader in Ep 4. Surely in Ep 2 he would be further developed as Vader was in Ep 5. But then Maul was suddenly sliced in two and falling to his death and that was the end of him. Ok that was kinda.....disappointing. In Attack of the Clones we have Count Dooku, who mostly stood around and did nothing until the battle at the end. He actually lives to see the first 15 minutes of Ep3 where he is killed. Then there is General Grievous (3rd movie, 3rd bad guy). Unlike Darth Maul Grievous doesn't make it to the end of the film. He is killed about half way through. Oh Grievous we barely knew ya.

Lucas himself has said that Grievous represents what Anakin will become: part living tissue, part machine. Oddly enough Anakin never really squares off with the General. But with that idea in mind, General Grievous should have been introduced in Ep 1 as the leader of the droid armies. It could have been Grievous, rather than the Tusken Raiders, who was responsible for the death of Anakin's mother. This would give our hero his villain and provide a logical path to the dark side: hate, anger, revenge. And in the end Anakin would become the very thing that he despised. A part man, part machine monster.

Next time: Part 2 including how Lucas should have ended Ep 3

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Dark Side And You

  • animation powers: fueled by the Force

I, like many a fan, went to see Episode 3 opening night. I had gotten caught up in the hype and was really jazzed about seeing this final installment in the saga. From what I had seen in the trailers I thought for sure that this would be the film that challenged Empire as the best of the Star Wars films. I was prepared for it to rock my world.

After seeing it my world remains to be rocked. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed the film. It was by far the best of the prequels. I wanted to love it. But once it was over I decided I couldn't give it my love and that it would best if we were just friends. I might hang out with the film again and we might do things together but I just didn't feel I could give it the unconditional love it so deeply wanted.

Right now I will say that there are spoilers ahead. So proceed at your own risk.

I think Lucas shoved too damn much into this film. Sequences felt too rushed while others just seemed tossed in for no real reason. Why were the Wookies in this film? I'll tell you why, because Lucas thought the fans would like it; same reason that Fett was in the last one. The events with the Wookies were throw away. It was cool to see them, but they never really did much. Tear apart some battle droids. Play a pivotal roll in the ending of the war. Something.

Then there is General Grievous. A character first introduced in the Clone Wars animated series. In the animated series he is a badass Jedi killer. In the film, he's a chicken shit who runs away constantly and needs a cough suppressant. (apparently in the animated show Mace does a Force crunch on the General's chest which is the reason for the cough, however one shouldn't need to do research before seeing a movie). Grievous is introduced, hunted down and promptly killed. The events with Wookies and the tracking down of General Grievous only serve as a means of getting Yoda and Obi away from the Jedi temple before Anakin goes all crazy up in there. Frankly it could have been handled better. While neither the Wookies or Grievous ruined the film, it makes for weak storytelling.

It would have also been nice to see Anakin going ape shit in the Jedi temple. Like with the slaughter of the Tuskain Raiders in AOTC, Lucas doesn't feel we need to see this happen. I would have loved to see Anakin, approach the Jedi he once called friends, and slice them in two. "Hey here comes Ani. Ani we ordered some pizza you want some....hey dude what's your problem....we got you some bread sticks.....snap-hiss....Hey man calm down man.....vvrooomslice slice slice slice. It would have rocked. And for the recorded I fuckin hate it whenever anyone calls Anakin "Ani".

One of the things that really jarred me was how quickly Anakin pledges his allegiance to the Emperor. Unlike in ROTJ, where we see Luke really conflicted as he walks the line between good and evil, Anakin shows no conflict. Yes he has had those moments leading up to this point but now it was do or die time and he didn't even bat an eye. Anakin watches Mace die ...says "What have I done?" then turns to Sidious...."ok I will be your apprentice who should I kill first" Wow just like that....

The ending was another point of contention with me. From the moment I heard that Lucas was planning prequels I thought "If he is smart he will craft them in a way that keeps the surprises in Ep 5 and 6. Because its one GODDAMN story with 6 parts". Lucas, it would seem, is not smart. By the end of Ep 3 we know Anakin is Vader and we know Luke and Leia are the twins. Lucas owed it to his legacy as a film maker to keep some of the suspense in his saga. Yes the whole world knows the secrets. But what of future generations. What of that kid, twenty or thirty years from now, who sits down to watch the saga starting with Episode 1. For future viewers the impact of "Luke I am your father" is forever gone. Instead it seems Lucas again was eager to please the fans and touch on the nostalga of the original trilogy. We see Vader in all his glory looking pretty much the same as he will 20 or so years from now. Come on George. If you feel you must show Vader at least make him look a little different. More frankensteinish and thrown together...allowing for the suit to evolve over time. Hell the clone troopers look different in every damn film, but Vader more or less never changes.

I was also a little bothered by the real quick scene at the end when Yoda tells Obi something about being able to communicate with Qui-Gon. Obi says something to the extent of "wow.... really" then nothing. I was befuddled. What the hell just happened? Wait..what...he's not gonna show Qui-Gon? O-K.

The film had much that I liked. Palpatine vs. Yoda. Yoda wacking the Emperor's Guards with a flick of the wrist. Yoda wacking his assassins. Anakin vs. Obi. Grievous doing the crazy propeller thing with the lightsabers. There was cool stuff....and then there was everything else.

Next time: my suggestions on how Lucas could have improved the prequels

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

My pants are almost dry...

  • animation powers: a little moist

While in Destin we visited an outdoor shopping area called Destin Commons; we visited this place several times during the trip. We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, got ice cream at Coldstone (where I discovered Chocolate Devotion...if you ever go to a Coldstone ask for one...they toss in a brownie, chocolate chips and hot fudge...its disgustingly delicious), my wife shopped and Wonder-pea and I ran amok in Sharper Image and waved at the choo choo train.

In the midst of all the shops was a kiddie play area and next to this kiddie play area was a square full of fountains. You may have seen this kind of thing. Disney World has them all over the place. It's the kind of fountains that have no basin but rather shoot right up out of the pavement. Many times you will see little kids frolicking in these things, running around getting soaked, falling on the pavement and filing lawsuits. It looks like so, so, so much fun.

Wonder-pea loved to look at the fountains, which would shoot up at random times making for a little water ballet. I happened to notice that before a fountain would activate, a light at the base would come on. Ah-ha. The secret revealed. With this knowledge, and while holding Wonder-pea, we would get really, really close to the fountain base...then when the light would come on we would run away giggling as the water jet shot up behind us. It was so, so, so much fun.....but then I got cocky.

I put Wonder-pea down and said "Hey watch this!!" Oh she was gonna love this. I ran over to the fountain base and stood directly over it, in a heroic pose. It was a risky move to be sure, however I was not worried for I knew the secret. As soon as that light would come on I would race out of the way. I would amaze onlookers and my daughter would laugh and laugh. Surely even an animator's sidekick could move that fast.

And I couldn't have been more wrong. I was looking down at the fountain base...waiting...waiting for the light. I looked up at Wonder-pea and back down at the base. The light was on. Did it just come on? How long has it been on? These thoughts raced through my head as I tried to bolt out of the way. Big anticipation, and I'm outta.......SPLOOSH....the water jet shoots up and blasts me right between the legs. As I scampered away from the fountain I noticed that the water blast favored the front of my shorts which made me look as if I had lost all bladder control. Had the water blast favored the back of my shorts, I would have looked as though I had uncontrollable, explosive diarrhea.

The front of my pants were now soaked, my wife couldn't stop laughing and Wonder-pea had apparently wondered over to look at a plant, at the exact moment that I had looked back down at the fountain base....sigh...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Life's a Beach..then you come home

  • animation powers: rested and refreshed

I am back from the beach; both readers rejoice. So the Friday before last, we loaded up the Animato-mobile, and with hours of Wiggles music loaded into the 6 disc changer, we set off on the two day driving voyage to Destin, FL. All and all it wasn't a bad drive. Driving long distances gives me time to think. To have that inner monologue. To ponder the meaning of things. On this trip the one thing I came to realize was that dear God there is a lot of road kill! There was a squished armadillo at least every 2 miles and for an 800 mile trip, well that's a lot of squished armadillos. Sometimes there would be two squished side by side, like maybe they were on a date. "Oh your gonna love this.... its a place where we can watch the lights go whizzing we are..... isn't this nice.......ah....the blast of air we get when the lights whisk by...isn't that refreshing...wanta get closer.....oh yes I'm sure its safe...come on lets get real close..."

For such a long trip, Wonder-pea did very well. When we weren't rocking out to the Wiggles she was watching Bear and the Big Blue House courtesy of the portable DVD player. Yes portable movies. Just another one of those things we DIDN'T have as kids. I had a walk-man to entertain me on long car trips. Whoopee. A battery powered walk-man that was about the size of a Bible and played cassette tapes. Sweet memories.

So we made it Destin on Saturday and I immediately noticed 2 things when we got out of the Animato-mobile. #1 was the salty sea air and #2 was the disgusting amount of bugs that where splattered all over the front of the vehicle. I nearly vomited......once then...and then every day thereafter until I washed them off.

Now here we are at the condo, which is very nice, its been a long day and we all want to get cleaned up and get to bed. My wife is taking care of Wonder-pea and I decide to take a shower. Taking a shower is pretty much the easiest thing we humans do. It requires very little effort as a shower is quite possibly the 3rd easiest to use invention, that man has ever created; the toilet being the 2nd and the doorknob the 1st.

I'm in the shower. Water is running from the faucet I am ready for descending water action but there is a problem. On top of the faucet there is nothing to pull, push or hit to engage the shower. It is quite simply, just a faucet spewing water. Ok fine, a quick check of the water handle. Humm there is no lever or anything beyond the usual. Maybe I need to pull it forward. No nothing. Push it back. No No. Holy crap how does this thing work! I am now forcibly smacking, pulling, cursing anything on the wall that might actually make water shoot from the shower head.

Eventually I give up. Exit the shower, put on my cloths and went to find my wife.

"What's the matter?", she asks.

"I can't get the shower to come on"

"What?", she replies.

"There's turn on the shower"

So we both go to investigate. And for a few moments she can't figure it out either. Until...she reaches under the faucet in the exact area where the water is coming out...she grabs the ring and pulls it down and the miracle of water comes from the shower head.

"Are you f**ckin kicking me" was about all I could say.

"Well I do have a master's degree after all", she reminded me.

As I got into the shower I glanced at the toilet and wondered what kind of challenge that would pose later. With the way things were going, the flush handle could be a button at the bottom of the toilet bowel under 3 inches of water, who the hell knew. I took my shower that night, confident that one day I would meet the person who designed this shower and when I did I would punch him in the mouth.

Next time: learn why I wet my pants in a public place

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Vacation...all I ever wanted....

  • animation powers: beachy
Egads my blog updates have been few and far between. And they will be even fewer as next week I am heading to the beach. Yes its true...vacation!!. My favorite "v" word. We are packing up the Animato-mobile and heading to sunny Florida. Before departing I figured I would give the ol blog an update for both of you readers out there.

Animation Podcast: go check it out. Interviews with top animators in the biz. A great, great idea and first up is part 1 with Andreas Deja. Villains in animated films always strike me as the characters most fun to animate and Andreas has done some of my favorites: Gaston, Jafar, Scar

In other news, last week was Wonder-pea's 2nd birthday and a fun day it was. Her cousin's were in town and we all went to Rainforest Cafe and then to Build a Bear, where Wonder-pea built a bunny; 'cause she's crazy like that. We made her a Pooh cake (that I eat a big piece of every morning for breakfast) which she liked looking at but wasn't really keen on eating.

And finally, because this update is short, tomorrow is Friday and also Red Robin day. Yes we would go there everyday if it didn't mean we'd die 10 years earlier. What a way to kick off vacation? With some Whiskey River Chicken Burgers and a shake......tasty....