Friday, January 15, 2016

Not quite the silliest film ever - but close

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, January 13.)

I awoke one morning last week to the news that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was on track to become the highest-grossing film of all time, beating Avatar’s box-office record.
If you needed confirmation of the American journalist H L Mencken’s famous dictum that no one ever went broke under-estimating public taste, there it is, right there.

As it happened, only the night before, misled by positive reviews from critics whose opinions I normally respect, I’d gone to see the latest Star Wars movie. It turned out to be an absolute stinker. The Force may have awakened, but I was nearly put to sleep.
What made matters worse was that I’d persuaded a friend – possibly the only man on the planet who hadn’t seen any of the previous Star Wars movies – to come with me.

After sitting through two hours and 16 minutes of unrelieved silliness and tedium, I felt obliged to apologise to him for wasting his time.
I also felt compelled to explain that Star Wars films weren’t always like this; that the first ones were extraordinarily exhilarating and imaginative, taking movie goers to a place they had never been before.

He looked at me sceptically, and I could hardly blame him.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens demonstrates one of the immutable truths about Hollywood: namely, that when someone stumbles on a successful formula, it will be thrashed until it’s limp and lifeless.

Hollywood just doesn’t get the notion that you should quit while you’re ahead. The three original Star Wars movies deserved an honoured place in film industry history. Now their memory has been defiled by a series of lame, imbecilic follow-ups.
Inexplicably, the latest attempt to breathe life into the corpse has been generally well received by critics. Either they were all on drugs or they were seduced by the nostalgic appeal of seeing Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher back together in the roles that made them famous in 1977.

Tragically, the latest movie’s success at the box office will only encourage Hollywood to keep cranking out more of the same. The Force Awakens is the first in a trilogy proposed by the Walt Disney Company, which bought Star Wars creator George Lucas’s company for $4 billion in 2012.
I won’t waste more of my time seeing any of them. As with Sir Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, once is enough.

The Force Awakens is hackneyed and shopworn. In many respects it’s a lazy rehash of the first Star Wars film, from the famous bar scene – literally fantastic in its original form, now a cliché – to the predictable climactic sequence in which the good guys pinpoint the one vulnerable spot in the Death Star and have only seconds in which to destroy it before they themselves are obliterated.
The script is indescribably silly and banal. Admittedly the original film wasn’t exactly Shakespearean (Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-wan Kenobi, complained about the unbearable “rubbish” dialogue that was presented to him each day), but the scriptwriters for The Force Awakens seem to have operated on the assumption that it didn’t matter one jot if the words they gave their characters were totally meaningless and uttered merely to fill gaps in the action.

As for the acting … oh, dear. The producers chose a complete unknown, British actress Daisy Ridley, for the main female part. A big risk? No, because the role requires nothing of her. They could have cast a cardboard cut-out in the part and saved money.
Even worse is the unfortunate black actor John Boyega, another unknown whose prominent role in the film is entirely pointless. If there were any justice in the world, his cringingly hammy performance would ensure he never worked again.

Alas, the reverse will probably turn out to be true. H L Mencken will be proved right again: Boyega will become a superstar.
That the producers chose two newbies for key roles tells you something. They weren’t being daring or audacious; it’s simply that they knew the parts were fundamentally absurd and required no acting skill.

Speaking of which, how sad it is to see an actor of Harrison Ford’s calibre humiliating himself by lending his name to this infantile hokum.  Like Alec Guinness, he must have been seduced by the money. Chewbacca out-acts the ageing Ford by a convincing margin.
Carrie Fisher, on the other hand, heroically attempts to preserve her self-esteem by at least bringing an air of dignity to her role as Leia.

The other notable resurrection from the original cast is Mark Hamill in the role of Luke Skywalker, who appears briefly at the end. Hamill was never more than a C-grade actor and he’s given no dialogue whatsoever in the latest film. It was the only smart decision the producers made.
Is this the most ludicrous film ever? Not by a long chalk. That honour still resides with Avatar, which grossed more than $2 billion. Mencken again …

1 comment:

Vaughan said...

Forrest Gump still takes the biscuit for me as the worst movie to win widespread approval.