Tag Archives: Star Wars

When fan films attack: From amateur to auteur with the amazing ‘Anachronism’

The term “fan film” has a dirrrty pejorative feel to it, doesn’t it? Summons up images of amateurish acting, cheap props and manic dream fulfillment in which someone’s favorite fictional characters have the ultimate fight/coupling/poetry slam denied the audience by the source material. It’s a sea of lightsaber duels and sword battles re-imagined with replica arms and Ren-Fair clothes.

Most of these make me cringe, despite some impressive budgets and actual film school training being brought to bear. A lot of fuss was made in 2003 about the short film “Batman: Dead End,” which was the first really slick fan film I ever saw. It had a budget, it had someone knowledgeable behind the camera, and it had access to some pretty spiffy costumes.

It left me colder than Dr. Freeze’s jock strap. Because no matter how nice the budget, at the end of the credits, it’s still amateur hour. Oh, and because Batman ends up in some kind of “Aliens vs. Predators” showdown in a Gotham alley. Seriously.

Over at TheForce.net, things start to look up a little. George Lucas apparently takes a very friendly attitude toward not just parodies of his fan-favorite films, but also of serious stories set in the Star War universe. Again, most of these give me the willies. I am partial, though to the ones that go for broke in the parody department. The best of these is “Death Star Repairmen,” the story of what really happened the day Luke turned off his guidance system and Used the Force.

Oooh, and also don’t miss Ryan vs. Dorkman, a meta-contextual showdown of two digital artists whose real-life Internet sparring led to one of the best fan-made sword duels ever. (And yeah, the list of Best Fan-Made Sword Duels is incredibly short, but this stands taller than those other ones stacked on top of each other.)

Really, check that link out. The last minute is not just inventive fight choreography but clever and intriguing uses of the Force that I wish I had seen in actual Lucas films.

OK, but the reason I’m posting this now is because I’ve had my jaw dropped today by a little tiny indie film: “Anachronism.”  It’s hard to call it a fan film, since none of the characters are based on famous licenses. But it has its heart in super-fandom by being a sci-fi tale with a steampunk heart courtesy of Jules Verne; the only thing missing for maximum geekdom is someone in a cape and cowl.

It’s the story of two curious children exploring the seaside and discovering, as one often does on holiday, a metallic squid. From the opening scenes of quiet character details to the haunting and apt final image, it’s a 15-minute wonder that held me rapt, not least because amateur films just shouldn’t be this good. If you can handle a dash of science fiction with your Victorian character drama, please give this 15-minute short a whirl.

“Anachronism” comes from a Vancouver studio and probably had some funding from some Canadian arts board or two, judging from the end credits. Details are fuzzy about the maker, Anachronism Pictures, but whoever these guys are, they’ve elevated the bar for makers of amateur films.

As Remy the rat said in “Ratatouille,” when told that anyone can cook: “Yeah. Anyone can, that doesn’t mean that anyone should.” We’ve known for a long time that content creation in the modern age is open to anyone, and yep, YouTube proves that even though everybody is doing it, not all content is created equal. Here’s hoping that efforts like “Anachronism” push other fan-filmistes to pick up their game.

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How the Disaffected Star Wars Fan can enjoy the Clone Wars cartoon

The trailer for season two of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” hit the Internet today, sporting a new bounty hunter villain …

No word on whether this new character will actually be clutching a fistful of dollars.

…and a love interest for Obi Wan.

Obi and New Girl sittin' in a tree! J, E, D, I, I, N, G!

Regular Retort readers may already know I have no real love of the Prequel Trilogy, so when the first of these post-Revenge of the Sith animated projects began to trickle out (featuring not the original Star Wars setting with Han and Leia and asskicking, but the new ones, with Anakin and trade disputes and whining) I sniffed my haughtiest sniff.

But in 2003 Genndy Tartakovsky, maker of Dexter’s Laboratory and the delicious-like-sake Samurai Jack, hit Cartoon Network with this:

This ain't a showing of "Chorus Line."

The first Star Wars: The Clone Wars project bought my attention because it gave us Jedi like this …

He's about to get medieval on their asses.

… who could do this …

Black Droid Moan

… and this …

"I have had it with these motherf%$#@ bolts on this motherf%&*@ droid!"

That’s right. A Jedi removed the bolts from a droid using his mind. These were not your father’s Jedi. These were a bunch of magic ninjas who said, “You know what? We can do a lot of cool moves with this Force thing. Let’s really push it and see what this baby can do, eh?” The series almost redeemed the Prequel Trilogy in my eyes.

But could lightning strike twice? Last summer, a feature-length, non-Tartakovsky Clone Wars hit theaters bearing Tartakovsky’s influence, but with decidedly fuglier animation choices:

Yoda and Batboy: Separated at birth?

Yoda and Batboy: Separated at birth?

Not just moxie -- *space* moxie!Reviews were pretty tepid, and by the time the boys and I sat down to watch it on DVD, I had gone lukewarm on the whole thing. I have to admit that as I watched, I found it more endearing than I expected: It made a little more hay out of its characters than the live-action movies. For example, Anakin gets an apprentice, the spunky Ahsoka (left), requiring Ani to develop as a leader and giving him a chance to be more than the whiny hanger-on he appeared to be in the Prequel Trilogy. Also, the clone troopers are treated as more than cannon fodder, building a few new key characters under those generic masks. Commander Cody and Captain Rex turn a troop of faceless clones into a “Band of Brothers” episode. (Of course, clones are still cannon fodder. Plenty make messy exits. But now, I actually cared if some of them were going to get Private Ryan’ed into oblivion.)

The movie kicked off a half-hour series on Cartoon Network, and I found my admiration growing. Characters had things to do! Choices weren’t easy! Dialog was crisp! Or funny! Or both! My kids and I howled several times at the memorable lines now coming out of the lowly B1 droids, those Laurel & Hardy everybots of the Star Wars universe. We still repeat a line said by one exasperated droid seen scrubbing down a dirty holding cell:

“No doubt about it,” he mopes. “Worst job in the droid army.”

Even robots have a rat race! In the episode “Mystery of a Thousand Moons,” we even get to see what happens when B1s get abandoned by their evil bosses and reprogrammed by scrappy street kids with a sense of humor:

Grapes not included.

I was thoroughly enjoying this show, but couldn’t put my finger on something eating away at me. Something was wrong about it somewhere. Was I just not allowing myself to enjoy a Star Wars story again? Was my inner geek too bitter and pouty to let me have this moment? Then my friend Tim put a fine point on it:

“It would be great,” he said, “if it just weren’t about the most evil guy in the Star Wars universe who was about to go kill all the Jedi babies.”

Bingo. The problem here is that we’re still looking at the conflicted and conflicting Anakin Skywalker being turned into a hero on a regular, episodic basis. We’re cheering for him at every turn, even when he’s being disobedient and flirtatious with the Dark Side. But we all know, just a few months in the future from where these characters sit, Rex and Cody and their buddies are going to rat-a-tat-tat a bunch of Jedi, and Anakin is going to Do His Part for the Revolution by practicing infanticide on little kids with rat-tail haircuts and shaggy burlap swaddling cloths.

It doesn’t click. You can’t reconcile these two characters, not when Anakin is clearly meant to be sympathetic and heroic. It’s difficult to enjoy these stories, knowing in the back of your head that all of the derring-do is going to net a big, fat goose egg in the big, fat picture. All of these victories? Soon to be pointless. All of the relationships? Soon to be betrayed. All of the emotion? Soon to be wasted.

But it’s too good of a show (and for me, too necessary a catharsis) to ignore. How to enjoy it then? Do like I do. Pretend you’re not looking at Anakin Skywalker, but another Jedi completely, one named Bananakin Sky-Walter or something. This story could fit anywhere at any time in the Star Wars timeline. Whatever comes next is a big surprise — no telling how this conflict will play out! Whatever you pretend, shut down that part of your brain that tells you what you already know about the story. Shut. It. Down.

It’s asking a lot, I know. But storytelling is all a game of pretend, after all. My way, it’s not just a one-way street of pretending coming at you from your TV — now you get to send some back for a change.

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Four-word review of “Star Wars”

Vader before the brewski; Guinness still has a head.

Vader downs a Guinness.

—from The Four-Word Film Review

Other pretty good gags from FWFR:

“Drew first blood.” (Scream)

“Inflation causes housing crisis.” (Up)

“The emperors hike back.” (March of the Penguins)

“High-sea dead people.” (Pirates of the Caribbean)

“Everything including kitchen sinks.” (Titanic)

(Thanks to the corresponding sporcle.com quiz for bringing FWFR to my attention.)

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Star Wars fans: Take the Dialog Challenge!

I’m over the heartbreak of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, I really am. I left the theater after Star Wars: Episode Worst – The Phantom Menace trying hard to convince myself I had enjoyed it. Once I realized I’d been conned, I was angry. Then, with some time and distance, I was angrier.

At last, after seeking solace from various Internet flame forums and finding only emptiness, I settled into a practical place: Star Wars was just an old flame. I’d see the next two movies, for old times’ sake, but the passion was gone, and we’d never really have our special relationship ever again.

I’ve been able to rekindle just a little of the old spark by introducing the whole franchise to my kids. My three little indiscriminate media-lovers are smitten with the whole glowing mess — the action, the sound effects, the puns, even Jar Jar. They pay no mind to discussion of trade disputes and sewer district mergers and parking meter privatization and whatever else those three episodes were about.

Their enjoyment is all that matters. I just wish we could enjoy it together.

Still, there is still one thing I just … can’t … excuse: poor characterization. I mean, characterization, the most important part of a story — more important than plot, more important that effects or finales. If you find you don’t care about the characters and the consequences of their choices, the storyteller has wasted your time.

The Prequel Trilogy should have been a feast of characterization. After all, this is the story of a good kid who was given all the chances to walk the path of good, yet chooses the path of evil instead. That’s a pretty compelling premise! What causes him to rebel like this? What is he running from? What is he running toward?

But the journey toward a full-blooded Anakin Skywalker was derailed by the banditos of excessive whizbang, clunky acting and worst of all: bad dialog.

After re-watching Star Wars: Episode III – Send in the Sith with the Oldest Boy and Younger Boy (ages 9 and 6) there’s one moment in particular that stuck in my craw, the thing I can’t let George get away with. It’s the pivotal moment early on when Anakin has defeated Count Dooku, and is holding two lightsabers at his neck.

Shave and a haircut ... two bits!

The kidnapped and restrained Chancellor Palpatine obeserves this all from just a few feet away. Remember that the kidnapping was an elaborately staged hoax by the chancellor, ostensibly for the purpose, however unlikely, that Anakin could be coaxed closer to the Dark Side. So in this scene, Palpatine needs to goad Anakin to act on hatred, not on his Jedi training.

When Dooku is at last at Anakin’s mercy, here’s how Palpatine accomplishes his dastardly plan.

Chancellor: Good, Anakin, good. Kill him. Kill him now!

Anakin: I shouldn’t.

Chancellor: Do it!

Lightsabers: Zzzoinks!

Dooku’s head: Plop!

Do it”? That’s it?

That’s all the encouragement necessary to turn Anakin against all he’s been taught? To betray the trust of his masters? Feh. Feh, I say!

I can’t leave it alone. I need to improve this scene. Not by way of a total rewrite — that’s too easy and has been done in fanfic across the Interwebs. Thus I give you:

The Dialog Challenge

Let’s say we’re on set filming this scene, everyone is tired and ready to quit, and we won’t get Ian McDiarmid back on set for another three months. George turns to us and says, “You know, that ‘Do it’ line just isn’t getting the job done. Can we give him a something else to say that’s a bit more convincing?”

I’m on it, O Bearded One.

Here are a few of my attempts, each exploiting Anakin’s emotions and desires. If you, dear reader, have any improvements or suggestions, please leave ’em in the comments. If we can come up with one line perfect enough, we can imagine it every time we watch this scene. Together we can save Star Wars! (Er, in a totally pointless, retroactive, make-believe way that can be fruitful only in our imaginations.)

10 Things Palpatine should have said instead of “Do it!”:

“Don’t tell me all Jedi are weak. Finish the job, boy!”

“Listen to you parrot that Jedi spinelessness. Give him his justice, or free me so that I can.”

“You’re the best of the Jedi, Anakin. Your way is their future. Why do you still serve their past?”

“Spare the republic from endless war — spare your loved ones.”

“The so-called virtues of your ancient order are outdated and irrelevant in these times. Follow your heart. You know what’s right!”

“You and I both know you’re not like them, Anakin. You can be more than a Jedi.”

“You’re not a peacekeeper, Anakin. You’re a warrior. My warrior!”

“Shouldn’t? I daresay you’ve done many things a Jedi shouldn’t do. That’s why you are destined to be the greatest of them all.”

“He’s counting on your Jedi weakness. Just as he’s counting on his Sith tenacity to see his revenge!”

“Sith will always be more powerful than Jedi. If you squander your momentary advantage, he’ll make you regret it.”

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It’s all Geek to me

Wow, Bill Amend really nerded one out of the park today.

The Foxtrot cartoonist regularly “rides nerdy,” with rampant references to D&D, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek-v.-Star Wars, and even calculus humor. Seriously, calculus humor — look it up. There are plenty of examples out there, yet Amend is probably the closest you’ll get to enjoying a math-based joke.

But today he dropped the atomic nerd bomb with a reference unrecognizable to all but a slim subset of geekdom. Fortunately, I speak Geek.

I'll bet Amend LARPs, too.

I sure wasn’t expecting a line like, “Where’d all my Warhammer miniatures go?” from my Sunday funnies. That’s “Warhammer 40K,” a tabletop wargame that requires scads, if not gobs of lead miniatures, preferably hand-painted. And sure enough, young Jason Fox is worried that his mother’s carelessness will scracth up the precious painting of his Orks and Space Marines.

I totally get it, J. Like you, I see each fallen flake of paint as a gaping wound on my little pewter buddies.

I wish more nerds knew what I was talking about. First of all, there’s the gaming aspect: Miniatures games are strategy contests like Risk on a protein shake diet, or Chess with, you know, something interesting to look at. Miniatures wage war on grids of every description. Warhammer, for instance, is set in a sci-fi/fantasy storyline where, obviously, Orks and Space Marines duke it out for supremacy. I’ve never played that one, but I am quite fond of HeroClix and Star Wars Miniatures. They’re fun alternatives to Risk or other overdone board games.

Yeah that's right: Sward-wielding Frankenstein versus Hoth Princess Leia. You know you wanna see it.

Heroclix (l) and Star Wars Miniatures; note that these are pre-painted plastic miniatures, thus denying the participant the true satisfaction of a paint job well done.

But almost better than the joy of playing these games is the painting itself. It’s small work, all deft movements and held breaths and itty bitty strokes with single hairs of a paintbrush. I rhapsodize about the benefits of miniature painting often, and when people give me the watch-out-he’s-got-swine-flu look, I compare it to fishermen tying flies — as in, hand-tying little tufts of feather and thread around hooks to resemble, uh, something a fish would want to bite. This is an almost holy sacrament of fisherfolk, and it seems everyone understands that metaphor, and the attraction of doing small work, something totally out of proportion to the rest of the day.

And so it is with me. When I get a chance (and I sooo rarely get the chance these days) I love sitting down with an unpainted lead sculpture no bigger than a knuckle and turning it into something colorful and awesome. The pieces may be useful for a specific encounter in some D&D session, or a game I’m always meaning to try,  but more often then not, I just want to see what comes out from under the brush. And while it’s fun just being a casual hobbyist, I love admiring what’s possible when you really put your mind to it. I’m glad Bill Amend understands.

Monk versus monkey! A furious-fisted Shaolin monk (my first effort) battles an elastic super-ape (in progress). Note the chipped knuckles of the monk. Humans 1, Simians 0!

Monk versus monkey! A furious-fisted Shaolin monk (my first effort) battles an elastic super-ape (in progress). Note the chipped knuckles of the monk. Humans 1, Simians 0!

I've even roped my boys into the act. The castle on the left is a Work in Progress authored by Younger Boy; on the right are two rock-like warriors (from the game Wargods of Aegyptus, another one I keep meaning to try); anyway the fellow on the far right is the work of Older Boy.

I've even roped my boys into the act. The castle on the left is a Work in Progress authored by Younger Boy; on the right are two rock-like warriors (from the game Wargods of Aegyptus, another one I keep meaning to try); anyway the fellow on the far right is the work of Older Boy.

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