What I tell myself everyday.

To all the people watching, I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me, I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask is one thing, and this is.. I'm asking this particularily of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism - for the record it's my least favorite quality, it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen." - Conan 'O'Brien

December 28, 2016

Big Problems and Small Issues I had with Star Wars Rogue One. Spoilers.



I wanted to like Rogue One. I really did. And I try to go in without reading spoilers or gossips and only watched the trailers released..

 But I left the cinema feeling hollow and unfulfilled. Twice. 

Was it a bad movie ala Transformers or Jurassic World? Hell No! Was it a decent movie worth spending to watch it twice? Yes. The 2nd time to actually get over the jarring CGness and to try and absorb the story. So.. was it great? No. 
It is a mediocre story covered with amazing sets and visual effects well executed . That is the problem.
Or as Nerdwriter1 puts it...



Its an amusement park ride. Not a movie.

That was what I felt like when watching Rogue one. A very well-executed amusement park ride. 


Why? From the windswept opening scene to the trading outpost with the unique inhabitants to Yavin 4's Rebel base, the sets and art direction are gorgeous and detailed.  The X-wing, Y-wing were just how we remembered it....even the ruins of the Jedi Temple at Jedda felt right in that universe unlike the prequels.....The vistas and planets draws us into their worlds. It has a immersive sense of epicness to the movie. 

But its precisely because its pandering to our nostalgia and our willingness to be there. Even the final act feels like it was on some tropical paradise with coconut trees and beach...like we were on holiday.. 

If this was an amusing park ride, I will there with all day with the fast pass. BUT this is suppose to be a movie. 

Which brings me to...

Story. Oh? You meant movie executives recommendations.

I believe somewhere between the script and the various reshoots once laid a good war movie. Ala similar in tone to "A Dirty Dozen" or "Saving private Ryan."

But the story felt rushed. We were hurried from one location to the next with vague explanation along the way. But nothing felt concrete or at stake. Example... we saw the destruction of Jedda during the Death Star 1st test run.. but we do not see or feel the consequences of the destruction to the population. It made the rescue of the little girl by female lead character inconsequential. Just tens of thousands of death glossed over.
Even in a New Hope, after the destruction of Alderaan, Obi-wan had to sit down and chillingly summerise this...



We have time to feel his discomfort.. The little moment to breathe, to gather what is at stake. 
We do not get this luxury in this movie.
eg...Who is Saw and what is the relationship between him and the female lead that made him just give up and die? Why was he so upset? (pls dun say I have to watch the cartoon to find out..) 

To me, the plot is a bit convoluted. The rebels have extremists and opposing factions inside it. Its trying to reflect current worries and be sophisticated. Which is fine if that is what its going for.. But if you raise that question, you need to address it. Their conclusion is screw the debate and just do it. But then once the rebels found out about the mission, they launch a full scale attack on it? What happens to those that didn't agree to it in the 1st place? Did they offer battleships or financial aid? If not, why are they still in the movie. 
Don't make any sense. Also wouldn't they already be suspicious when the suicide squad left in the imperial shuttle? How would they react..

They try to add some real world reflection to the story but do not deal with the consequences of that.

Brad Bird once said that he has a piece of paper stuck to his computer so that he does not lose sight of what the movie he is working on is about.

 And this to me, is an example of them not agreeing on what the movie is going to be. 

Characters were Weak Sauce. Not because there were too many, but we don't know who they are. 



Even after watching the movie twice, I didn't care for most of the main cast of characters.Main reason is I could not empathise with their situation or their plight because I did not know them and there was little camaraderie between them.. I do not mean I need to know their backstory or how they got there. I just need to know their personality.

Thing is it doesn't take much time for them to interact..case in point...



The female lead (Felicity Jones) came across as sullen and petulant. I had more sympathy for the little girl who saw her mum died and her dad captured and forced to live with a stranger who brought her up. WHERE is that story? I only one statement from her to Saw when she met him at his hideout. Again..this goes back what I said about the plot being convoluted.  If you do not have time to tell that story, cut it out. 

The male lead (Diego Luna) is serving as the reluctant knight in shining armour to her. Thats it. Why does the female lead always need a love interest...c'mon..

The pilot was "Who"? "Why is he doing this?" "Why did he defect?" .. and he is dead...


dude.. I got it the 1st 10 times..

Donnie Yen's character was annoying with that constant repeating of the same catchphrase... Would a temple monk do that? Who is that? It would have been awesome if he was just being Ip Man in here...stoic and cool like a old kungfu master or something..



Wasted opportunity right here but that would just grab everyone's attention away.. so they have him as a lame ass jedi monk with implied force powers because of prayers?

Ironically It was the secondary characters that I could relate to. 

Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikklesen and the robot voiced by Alan Tuduk. And this is purely from their on screen performance alone...why? Because they feel fleshed out.. I know them. 

One group more then any other that I wanted to know was the other disgruntled and weary rebels that went on that final suicide mission. 



They seem a lot more interesting then the main characters with the short screen time they have.. Heck the whole movie should have just been about them...Kinda like these guys... 


Basically if they are going to die, make me feel for them... again don't need to know their background.. just who they are..The movie desperately needs a scene like this...


I actually even liked the main evil dude in the white cape. His motivation and personality was clear. And his death was appropriate.


The 3rd Act.

For an IP this big with so much at stake, Gareth Edwards and the scriptwriters were always going face an uphill task with the direction and tone of the movie.  It feel like the decisions were controlled by movie executives and group surveyed to death. And they have the budget to reshoot and pixelfuck massage the movie until the release date is upon them.

Disney is trying to cater to the biggest demographic possible. But unlike the earlier Pixar movies which has a clear focus of what it wants to be., Rogue One came across as being unclear and muddled. Especially in the final 3rd Act.

The action felt rushed. The x-wing battle while exhilarating felt tacked on...like some movie executives say "We must have a space battle. Because its a star wars movie and fanboys might complain if there isn't one. 
Their deaths all felt rushed. Which again is inconsequential. There was a few shots in the trailers where the leads were running on the beach with the death star plans in hands.. Those shots felt more personal and closer to the action. Their final obstacles were to face white cape dude in the memory storage vault, and to jump through a rapid open-close exhaust. Why? It feels like a obstacle in a game. And then they end up on the comm tower. Detached from the rest the action. 

I am really interested to know what caused the heavy re-shoots and change of story from Disney. 



CGI Tarkin and Leia.


CGI Tarkin and Leia completely took me out of the movie. This was in the depths of the uncanny valley. I did not know how did we go from Apes and Benjamin Button to this...



The results wasn't too bad if he wasn't in the same scene as real human actors... 


Makeup artist Dave Elsey's test for young Grand Moff Tarkin from one of the prequels.

CG Princess Leia


I will not discuss the ethical or moral issue of doing this because it is a moot point. Studios will attempt to do this as long as they have the rights to it. It is too lucrative not to. From a technical and business standpoint, I can understand them pushing the envelope internally within ILM. more money for them to keep people employed plus the novelty factor. And potentially exploring the lucrative feasibility for full CGI replacement of icon characters they can control with.

I just want to leave you with this image below. Great casting, acting, makeup/hair etc without the need to digitally recreate Mon Mothma.


Summary.

There are other issues like Vader standing with his light saber taking out rebel soldiers at the end...It is an awesome scene to remind the audience how powerful Vader is and how terrifying he can be. But it felt wrong because he is a Lord.. He won't dirty his hands with puny rebel soldiers unless he has to. Or at least shows he wants to. What could make that shot much more chilling is to have him appear with stormtroopers but he just pushes them back...as he steps forward.

There are lots of other nitpicks and I will add more when I digest it.. But there are a lot of very cool stuff too.. I was grinning like a kid to see Red and Gold Leader after so many years. No CG. Just unused footage..

Obviously it is easy to criticise a movie after its made. But it is in no way disrespect to the film makers and artists making this movie. They are always going to be dealing with a massive studio system with multiple levels of approvals and opinions. ala The Marvel Syndrome.

My fear is that these actions actually might have accumulative long term damage to the Star Wars brand. I can forget about the prequels but with this movie and the Force Awakens, you can see the pattern they are going into. To make safe bets in the movies and stay close to the source while releasing a Star Wars movie every year. Which can lead to audience fatigue if the stories and characters become stale and safe. Ironic since it was the willingness to try new stuff that allowed the original Star Wars to succeed.

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