So on the recommendation of several people and the general praise the movie received, the wife and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy last evening. For the most part I enjoyed it knowing before hand that it was a light-fare science fiction romp based on a Marvel comic.
I never thought 70’s and late 60’s sentimental pop music would fit in with a sci-fi flick, but fit it did. The plot was simplistic enough for the type of movie it was. Bad guy(s) with power pursue an object that will get them more power – a ragtag collection of galactic misfits with repressed hearts of gold try to stop them. Darth Vader wants the stolen plans to the Death Star, a motley collection of supposed misfits attempts to thwart the evil Empire’s plans (and save the space princess).
Guardians is a lot lighter fare than Star Wars ever was. Planets are threatened with destruction but the bad guys really only create a lot of havoc… and a few deaths.
Even though I prefer my science fiction pretty stark and moody (Dark City being the finest science fiction so far made) there are several parts of the movie that I thought shined through. I loved the walking tree, Groot, who could only say, “I am Groot”; and you knew he was going to be the sacrificial character (the Obi Wan). And you knew through his actions, no portends through dialogue.
I was a little disappointed in the Raccoon character, Rocket. Raccoons are my favorite wild animal and I imaged one that was given intelligence to have a different sort of personality than a wise-cracking cynical criminal. The criminal part I get, but I was expecting a gentler touch.
Anyway, none of those things really matter. But I do have a significant complaint about the movie. I call it the “George Lucas gets addicted to CGI” problem, or, “Michael Bay is the God of Action scenes” problem.
Let me turn the readers attention to, yep, you guessed it, the original Star Wars of 1977. Just keep the dogfight over the Death Star in the finale in mind, and then bring to mind the clutter of computer animated debris that made up the opening dogfight over the capital Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith.
If that last is not possible to bring to mind, perhaps my point is made without going further. The battle over the Death Star in the original Star Wars (or even the similar one in Return of the Jedi) is surprisingly, by today’s standards, stark. You are given the knowledge that there is a lot of fighting going on, but usually the focus is on two to four ships at most. You are given a shot or two that shows the x-Wings arcing down to attack the Death Star, and then shots of individual pursuits with the com chatter between the pilots.
It may be they simply didn’t have the technology or it wasn’t feasible back then and if they could have they would have smothered the screen with as much as possible. But for whatever reason it was superior.
More is only more if, in that situation, less is not more; if less is more then more is less.
Who does not remember what a Tie-Fighter looks like? or the Milennium Falcon? x-Wing? Star Destroyer? I cannot recall a single craft from Guardians of the Galaxy already. And it is not because I am now an old fuddy duddy who cannot appreciate things the way I used to. I am more of a space opera, science fiction worshipping nerd than I ever was as a child.
The problem is this stuff seems to be handed out to CGI departments who must be paid by the pixel and have no more interest than to stuff the screen and maximize their paycheck. The space sequences in this film (and it is not the only one,) are just one long computer generated mash of indistinguishable ships whizzing and blurring and making five times the noise of the Death Star sequence and with no soul.
If you bore me with a space fight – you have done something wrong. I am your eternal, devout fan – you are committing an error.
We’ve already had our heads sheered off – we’ve been whiz-banged enough. You can’t top the top top, toppy top. Michael Bay can’t out action Michael Bay, he can only get ridiculous. It is pure sensationalism and we’ve been tapped out.
Would Hollywood even understand such as I am talking about? Go for some style, hell, go for novelty. Get rid of your CGI department, keep a couple nerds for brush-ups. Hire a model company and a real good artist, spend some time on design. But don’t delegate the task. Choreograph the dogfight – WITH A WRITER, NOT THE CGI DEPARTMENT.
There is one exception to the less is more argument. That would be Joss Whedon’s SERENITY. In the climax to the movie we have ships galore. Basically the authoritative government has blockaded a planet with a plethora of ships, the crew of Serenity entice their enemies, the Reavers, into giving chase and when Serentity breaks through the outer cloud layer the government armada finds itself overwhelmed by scores of battleships piloted by crazed, bloodthirsty lunatics.
Mayhem abounds. Now Whedon knows how to do a space battle (as did Lucas once upon a time). Firstly, the entire thing is over within a minute or two. Second, there is a clear objective in mind. Serenity must get to the surface of the planet. Serenity has been given enough screen time that we can make her out from the mayhem. Third, Whedon goes for novelty. I do not recall any space ship spinning so out of control like that as it falls, whips end over end through the air. I don’t know if it was done with models or not but that is one of the best space sequences I have ever seen. It was unique, memorable, clear (man, you really got the sensation of the back end weight of that damned ship, didn’t you?) as was the original Star Wars sequences. No one remembers the modern space fights.
And you have to give us some character to the ships first. The Millennium Falcon was practically a character in her own right before she saw her first battle. When they enter the Mos Eisley spaceport hanger she looks worn and dirty (to match her scruffy and hairy pilots) and Luke exclams, “What a piece of junk!” One of the characters in Guardians of the galaxy makes the comment that the character’s space ship is a pig pen… I was given no evidence of such a thing.
One last thing. Stop with the expert fighters. I am bored beyond recognition of everyone (and this extends beyond science fiction) being an expert martial artist. I thought the fight sequence between Neo and the 3 dozen or so Agent Smiths in Matrix Reloaded was kind of cool (for the first minute) I have been bored since (although, again, Whedon’s Serenity is an exception, although there were only two experts in that film).
Want to know a cool fight sequence in a science fiction film? The fight sequence in John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE. No expert moves, just two guys beating the piss out of each other for over six minutes.
The “everybody is a deadly weapon” is the same thing as the space battles. Apparently two normal people just aren’t very interesting when they fight. So you have these people who are total ass kickers until they meet a bad guy who is an even more awesome ass kicker who is topped by an even more awesome ass kicker until arms and legs are flying in choreographed precision.
It is just boring. There is no tension in those scenes anymore.
A good contrast here is the lightsaber duels between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogies. Despite the heightened speed and expertly choreographed moves, there is more tension and excitement in the duel between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars than there is in all the prequel saber duels put together.
What is the problem? For certainly there is one and it is not just George Lucas. Is it a completely shallow culture that can only sit there passively while the computer animation department throws a bunch of half digested junk at them? I am sure there are such people. Is there enough of these people that these things make money no matter what and who cares anyway? I’d hate to think so.
I hate to get on such a rant for a movie that had some really good things in it but somebody somewhere has to tell these people THEY ARE BORING ME! The sequences that are supposed to excite bore. Do we have to nail Michael Bay to a fence and let the vultures eat his flesh?