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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Star Wars: A Tragic Tale of Shakespearean Tragedy

            Looking at the Star Wars series as a whole it paints a fairly sad picture. A man driven to madness by the death of his family, seeks out and systematically destroys everything he loved leading up to his death as he sacrifices himself to kill his cruel mentor. This is because the story is not Luke’s, but Anakin’s; it is about his eventual transformation into the monster Darth Vader, and his eventual redemption through death.

            One of the defining elements of a Shakespearean tragedy is that everyone dies at the end. This is almost true from Anakin’s perspective, as the only living remnants of his old society is his son, who he has recently tried to kill, and his daughter who he has never met. In some ways the end of the old Jedi order can be compared to the end of Chivalry in the middle ages, brought on by the advent of new technology like crossbows and guns. This is best evidenced in Return of the Jedi when it is not a knight’s sword (a lightsaber) that slays the dragon (the Rancor) but cunning and a rock.

            The loss of chivalry pervades the films. In the brief period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope the Jedi have been entirely forgotten, and the Force is thought of as a misguided religion, alike to Greek mythology today. The lightsaber is thought of as an “elegant weapon for a simpler time” as the age of its use has passed, as evidenced by the three active users in the galaxy.  This loss of chivalry is also a notable element of Shakespearean tragedies as revenge leads to disaster and murder, an antithesis to chivalry.

            Anakin is a tragic hero as he displays both good and evil, though ultimately forfeits himself to the dark side. This is one of the critical elements of Star Wars that makes it such a perfect example of a tragedy, things appear black and white with the light and dark side but still have grey characters creating a realistic environment. There were many points when Anakin could have turned back, and the final tipping point is when Mace Windu threatens Palpatine and offers him the chance to help or betray him. Of course for the rest of the series to take place he needs to choose the evil option. That is when the true tragedy begins.

            His train wreck begins with one assisted murder, but leads to the death of billions. Darth Vader is portrayed as truly evil, but in reality he is regretting his actions, but unwilling to do anything about his current situation, being essentially powerless, watching all the destruction fly past him, obeying as he is told like Palpatine’s attack dog. He is not the villain in a retrospective look, even if his initial appearance sets him out to be, a reverse of the typical tragic hero, but it only seeks to reinforce the nature of his descent, and the difficulty his life has been.

            Vader is not traditionally thought of as a hero, and especially would not have been in 1983, but now with the whole story told he is a hero transformed into a villain through circumstance, but also his own choices. This is what makes him the traditional tragic Shakespearean hero, one whose villains make him one of their own, and whose choices define him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just for the Hell of it

The Navidson Record (1993): The peak of physical storytelling, shot with such purpose, and such expertise that it could only be shot by one man, Will Navidson. The film, or maybe documentary, mainly consists of Hi 8 cam shots, but the editing makes the story so engrossing. The depths of the house unexplored, truly amazing. What is even more interesting than the film though is the response to it, the amazing critical response and analysis which comes with the film. One has to only read one of the dozens of essays about it to realize just how much effort people put into it, and to realize just how important it is not only in the history of film, but in the history of human storytelling. A true masterpiece, and if I had to name my favourite film I think this may just have to be it.

It’s the postmodernism in it that truly makes it, the long still shots of darkness, of silence, of nothing. The music too, adds the little touches which draw the viewer in, and make it so much of an experience. The opening shot of one man and some lemonade sets up everything so perfectly, the pacing of the film, some would call it slow, I simply call it tension building. Everything about it is amazing, from the low quality of some of the cameras to add to the realism, to the dialogue which seems so unscripted it could very well be real, despite the fantastical events. Though there is nothing saying it isn’t real, all evidence points to the events being entirely possible, if extremely unlikely, and that is what puts it above the standard film, the level which people are willing to go to prove or disprove it, the sheer effort that is involved in the Navidson Record.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

X-men: Just About First Class

X-men: First Class recently came out, and is the fifth film in the franchise, and the third good one. Interestingly enough they decided to not go for the entire remake thing, but made something which almost fits in to the series, if you ignore a few parts of some of the films, like the prologue to X3 or the non blue Hank McCoy in X1. Accepting that this may upset some fans, and I have heard quite a few complaints about it, it's still a really good movie. Maybe not revolutionary, or the best quality film making, but as good as one can expect from a superhero movie.

The actors chosen fit their parts extremely well, with Kevin Bacon making for an excellent villain, who is assuredly not a Nazi, despite many claims to the contrary. Magneto's slow decent from hero to villain is done excellently, with the fact that there is no real 'turning to the dark side' moment, as opposed to some other trilogy I know of. And that is what they're trying to do with this film, set up for a new trilogy, which if I know my superhero movies, will have a good second film and then all go to crap.

The characters are portrayed well, if differently from their comic book interpretations, another thing which tends to piss off fans, but you can tell by the way they're making this film that they were trying to appeal to a wider audience, not just the small group of diehards. The soundtrack was good, and fit the film well, and the background to the film, the Cuban missile crisis, was extremely well done, and gave some scope to what would otherwise just have been a personal story.

That's not to say the film was perfect, some of the cinematography was below par, shots lingering far too long, and some jokes which kind of fell flat. The passage of time was also really not shown, and what should have been months appeared to be a couple of days, maybe a week. Also the mutants they chose, were in general kind of terrible, I mean Banshee? Darwin? Riptide, the guy who creates tornadoes whose name is never mentioned in the film. These guys are no namers, the only really entertaining mutant, Emma Frost, gets shoved away in a holding cell for about half the film.

But overall it was a good film, and a good revitalization of the series, much need after the near travesty of Origins: Wolverine and 3. The action scenes were one of the highlights, and Magneto's scene in Argentina at the bar was one of the best curb stomp battles I have seen in a while. So go see it if you haven't, and if you don't like it, well as Wolverine says "fuck off".