Media FX Review of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
by Noell Wolfgram Evans, feature writer for Digital Media FX Magazine
been three-years since the last Star Wars installment played across
the silver screen. This summer we discover that it's been worth
the wait. 'Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones' is a great
Saturday matinee adventure film. It's loaded from one side of
the screen to the other with everything a movie could hope to
have: action, intrigue, adventure, suspense, romance and fun.
From start to finish it's an enthralling ride filled with enthusiasm
and surprises through images never before seen. There is a wonderment
at the base of this film, an engagement at the story being told
and an amazement at the way that it unfolds before our eyes and
ears. George Lucas, the Star Wars creator, loves these worlds
and characters and this love shows. With it's effects and inventive
staging, 'Attack of the Clones' raises the bar not just for the
Star Wars series, but for all digital effect films that follow.
the Clones' picks up the Star Wars story ten years after the events
of 'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace' (1999). There is
unrest in the Republic with a civil war seeming to be an unstoppable
conclusion. Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) is no longer the Queen
of Naboo, but now a respected Senator from that planet who travels
to Coruscant (the 'capital' planet of the Republic) to debate
in a key governmental issue. After an attempt is made on her life,
her old Jedi friends Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin
Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to protect her.
At this point,
the plot must be starting to sound like an episode of 'Spenser
for Hire' as if thought up by a producer on C-Span but the script,
by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales, keeps things lean and mean.
We are given as much information as is needed to assure that the
actions of the characters make logical sense but we're not beaten
over the head with exposition. And we don't need to be; this is
after all 'Star Wars' and not 'All The President's Men' (this
is not to say that these movies are not smart, but rather of a
attack on Padme's life is followed by a riveting chase through
the sky streets of Coruscant. It's during this chase that we really
come to understand the dynamic of Anakin and Obi-Wan. We've seen
them together before but as they zip through the city, their student/teacher
relationship comes to life.
not only opens up what may be the main relationship in this prequel
trilogy, it also serves as an announcement of what the film hopes
to accomplish effects wise. To say that this chase is the first
real use of digital effects in 'Attack of the Clones' would be
a lie as the movie doesn't have a scene without some sort of digital
touch. The chase though is the first time that Lucas opens the
bag and lets everything out. The Visual Effects team at Industrial
Light and Magic (ILM) uses this scene to make a statement, and
it's a powerful one. As Anakin and Obi-Wan fly through the city
you can't help but wonder at the effects in the scene but that
wonder is soon taken over by the excitement of the action. This
is the true magic and power of the effects in the film, they serve
the story as completely as possible. Although there are over 2,100
effects shots in the film, each is used to forward the action
of the story; there are no 'effects for effects sake'. Everything
that's in this film (and there is a lot of 'everything') is there
to serve the story. This is because scenes were meticulously plotted
out and planned by Lucas along with Erik Tiemens and Ryan Church,
the Concept Design Supervisors. They put together hundreds of
key-frame production illustrations that served as detailed blueprints
for the film's artists and technicians. This process worked because
the film is in fact not a film at all but a digital production.
long pronounced a desire to be able to put onto the screen the
exact images that are in his mind and then have those images look
exactly the same to every filmgoer. Through digital filmmaking,
this desire can become a reality. 'Attack of the Clones' is not
the first film to be shot digitally, but it is certainly the largest.
In using Sony 24p progressive scan digital cameras (with specifically
made Panavision lenses), Lucas gave himself an incredible amount
of freedom to create and manipulate the action within the movie.
Shooting digitally gave Lucas the power of a painter, able to
go into a scene and touch up or add to or subtract from it items
that may not be completely working. It also allowed Lucas the
ability to not only shoot longer (a digital film cartridge can
hold 50 minutes worth of 'film' while a standard 35mm cartridge
can hold only 10) but he also had the ability to see immediately
what had been shot. He could watch a playback and know with certainty
if what he was trying to attempt in the scene worked.
a key factor on this film in particular because of the number
of effects that were used in the film. 'Attack of the Clones'
was shot on location and soundstages in Sydney, Australia where
the most prominent object on each soundstage (regardless of the
scene) was the bluescreen. Action was shot against these bluescreens
which were used to create mattes into which all of the effects
were placed. A number of these 'effects' were actually parts of
or entire sets. While some scenes occurred in complete digitally
created environments, some scenes still required sets that needed
to be built. Those that were built though were only partially
done so; no set was built higher than the tallest actor in the
film, Christopher Lee who stands 6' 3". This extensive use
of bluescreens allowed the filmmakers to grow and expand scenes
with all numbers of environments, objects and inhabitants. Among
these were the important all-digital characters of Dexter Jettster,
Watto and Jar-Jar Binks. While the film was populated with digital
creations, these three had to play key roles with important pieces
of screen time and interaction with human actors and they do it
with incredible clarity and realism. Jettster especially stood
out as he seemed to inhabit his ill-fitting clothes, not just
be created in them. His actions were fluid and his mannerisms
reminded you of your Uncle Joe, particularly as his mustache bristled
as he thought. In his all-to-brief scene he was a wonder to watch.
All of these characters were created by ILM with a particular
nod to Animation Director Rob Coleman. It should be mentioned
that they were created though with heavy assistance from the voice
actors. Dressed in partial costume, the voice actor would actually
act out their place within a scene, often with tracking markers
on them to monitor their movements. The animators and effects
artists then reference these shots to ensure that the interaction
between the human actor and their digital counterpart is as realistic
than not though, the actors found themselves alone in a scene.
For these times, cast and crew had to carefully pre-visualize
the action either through storyboards, paintings or 'scratch tracks'.
Editor Ben Burtt explains how this last item could be used to
help shape a performance out of literally thin air: "For
the "Speeder Chase," we shot some of our crewmembers
playing the parts. It was actually shown on a screen to the actors,
who then took a lot of their timing from the cut, much in the
way you might pre-record music for people to dance to so that
the timing is right. They could actually see the context where
their acting was going to be, because for many of these sequences
the actors are just sitting in front of a bluescreen while the
director is saying, 'Turn left, turn right, duck!' This gave the
actors something to help them see what it might be like."
As for the
humans in the film, while the acting was not superb, it was by
no means sub-par. The characters in this series are who they are
and each actor ably inhabits them, particularly Samuel L. Jackson
as Mace Windu and Ewan McGregor. Natalie Portman operates a fine
balance between action and flirtatious reserve while Christopher
Lee seems to be having some enjoyably evil fun as the mysterious
continues as Anakin and Obi-Wan depart on two separate but related
tracks. Separate in their missions but related in they way that
they develop their characters, particularly in the larger scale
of the story. While this film stands well on it's own, it is filled
with little intricacies that make your experience that much better
if you apply the knowledge you have from the rest of the series.
to Naboo with Padme where they spend their time falling in love.
Their scenes together are nervously flirtatious yet subdued as
they struggle to balance their desires with their respective responsibilities
in the galaxy. While they grow closer, Obi-Wan travels to the
water planet of Kamino where he discovers the clones of the title,
it's the Michael Keaton film 'Multiplicity' taken to the Nth degree.
On Kamino Obi-Wan encounters Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) who
he tracks through a thrilling starship battle to the planet Geonosis.
This battle, as directed by Visual Effects Supervisor Ben Snow,
is a fast paced, edge of your seat chase. Of course the effects
are first rate, but what really ratchets up the intensity is the
decision to use only the natural sounds of the fight. Editor and
Sound Designer Ben Burtt designed the sounds for this film (and
every Star Wars film previous). He has taken the never before
seen worlds in 'Attack of the Clones' and filed them with sounds
both familiar and exotic. Burtt knows the Star Wars universe from
a number of positions, including that of writer, an experience
he gained while working on 'Droids'.
It is on Geonosis
where the film reaches its climax in a battle between hundreds
of Jedi and two opposing armies. One of these battles has become
the lightening point of this film, a battle between the diminutive
Jedi master Yoda and Count Dooku. Yoda has made appearances in
three of the four previous Star Wars films as a puppet operated
and voiced by Frank Oz. For this film Lucas wanted to show why
Yoda was regarded as a Jedi master but to do this properly he
would need to look for a different way to represent the character.
To do this he turned to animator Rob Coleman. Coleman spent over
a year working with Yoda, trying to develop a 'new' version of
the classic and loved character. People had seen Yoda, they understood
who he was and more importantly, they knew how he was. Coleman
and his team worked not to improve the character but his capabilities.
They worked off of what had been done for 'The Phantom Menace'
in the way of digital character development and in the end they
created a character that even seemed to retain some of the 'rubbericity'
of the original puppet.
is one of the hallmarks of the Star Wars series, and one of the
reasons it has been so successful. The original 'Star Wars' (1977)
really gave us for the first time on film, a future world that
was not entirely sleek and clean, not all white with sleek starships.
This vision of the future as a natural extension of our present
life really helped to connect the film to viewers. In 1977, it
was easy to create this look because things still had to be created
by hand. In 2002 though we have the power to make what we want
within the confines of the computer. To often though when this
is done, the effects appear to be very slick and clean and this
would definitely be out of synch in the Star Wars world. And so
the digital artists of ILM had to 'dirty up' all of the effects.
It helped to not only keep things within the context of the Star
Wars universe but also helped in giving things that familiar feeling.
The best way
to see 'Attack of the Clones' is as Lucas intended it to be seen,
in a theatre with digital projection. But as there are only about
100 such cinemas in the world right now, most of us will see it
after it was been transferred to film using an Arri film laser
recorder, which basically 'writes' the digital images of the movie
onto 35mm film. In the print that I saw, the transfer did not
appear as crisp as I would have liked to have seen but the clarity
and effects still shone through
The true joy
of 'Attack of the Clones' is in the details. There are the grandiose
digitally created shots and characters but there are also the
smaller, not always obvious digital touches that really bring
the movie to life. It seems that every six months or so a film
comes out that makes a new contribution to the world of visual
effects. 'Attack of the Clones' not only contributes to this art
form but advances it immensely. In putting his faith into a digital
world, George Lucas has again raised the bar for moviemakers.
And we are happier moviegoers because of it.
On a scale
of 1 to 10 I give this digitally groundbreaking film an 8.5.
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