George Lucas has truly pushed the edge of the digital envelope, and while the strain of the new medium could be seen and felt in the prior two outings, his effects are now virtually seamless. His union of digital and celluloid effects, amazing standing sets by Gavin Bocquet and ILM wizardry and even digital enhancements of his flesh-and-blood characters establish new standards in film craft.During Christmas of 1976 I went to the movies and prior to the feature a 90-second teaser trailer ran of something titled Star Wars. It looked pretty nifty and ensured the day it opened in May I would be standing in line for the first show.The phenomenon of that first film set off an industry and film series of galactic proportions. Creator George Lucas promised eight more episodes comprising three trilogies. The first three films would actually be the middle section and in three-year intervals we learned about Jedi Knights and Wookies and amazing characters that included Yoda and Jaba the Hutt.Following a 16-year hiatus he began the second series that preceded the first on the timeline, jettisoned the idea of episodes seven to nine and once again set out on a grueling schedule. The cinematic conclusion—The Revenge of the Sith—is a reminder of the energy and playfulness of the initial films just as episodes four and five suggested creative lightning was not about to strike twice or three times.While a fitting end to a stellar series, Sith remains a galaxy short of being the enthralling, visceral delight of earlier encounters. There’s a dramatic certitude about the story that weighs heavy on its forward thrusters and a gravitas where once narrative alacrity morphed into hyper-drive.The underlying irony throughout is that the totalitarian technocratic society that so horrifies Lucas has become the essence of his personal movie empire. His passionate pursuit of cutting-edge visual effects and images so real and fantastic has come at a near devastating cost to the heart and soul that made the early films an emotional touchstone for generations. His new protagonists—Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), Padme (Natalie Portman) and Obi-Wan Kenobe (Ewan McGregor)—are bland substitutes for Luke, Leia and Han Solo and the struggle of good vs. evil that seemed so organic has become a tedious lecture underlined with pompous prose.However, if one has a forgiving heart and the ability to blind oneself to the new film’s narrative imperative, there are delights to be had for the eye and ear. Lucas has truly pushed the edge of the digital envelope, and while the strain of the new medium could be seen and felt in the prior two outings, his effects are now virtually seamless.Revenge of the Sith opens with an aerial dogfight of an intensity and operatic quality possibly not seen since Hell’s Angels. The film also has nods to Stagecoach and Yojimbo, but Lucas does not ape his inspirations; he makes them uniquely his own. He has a droll visual language that’s been present from the first Star Wars in 1977 that opened with an endless tracking shot of an impossibly large space ship and I’m hard pressed to recall a sequence as thrilling and enveloping as his futuristic motorcycle chase through the forest in The Empire Strikes Back.It’s also no surprise that someone as fastidious about sound as Lucas has textured every sequence with ambient as well as overt references. In this area he may arguably have equals but is among the masters and that attention to minute detail is invested in every frame of the picture. His union of digital and celluloid effects, amazing standing sets by Gavin Bocquet and ILM wizardry and even digital enhancements of his flesh and blood characters establish new standards in film craft.The same cannot be said for the storytelling. Even residents in remote Borneo (and one suspects Arctic penguins) understand that this final episode must conclude with Skywalker becoming Darth Vader and the birth of Luke and Leia. Lucas for good and ill wrote the scripts for this trilogy and displays a paucity of invention for the core transformation. The sweet words and temptations have a quaintly Shakespearian quality but the arched eyebrows and ominous lighting and music is pure silent screen hokum.The film is a rather elaborate rollercoaster ride with some of the most eye-popping effects ever created on screen and some of its silliest drama. It’s extreme in every respect and for gazillions that’s well worth the price of admission. The Empire survives even if its ruler often ignores the good judgment of his collaborators.The filmmakers were among the picture’s cinematographers and evince both an ethnographer’s patience and a showman’s panache. Genesis is an adroitly paced rumination with a sparse if well appointed musical score by Bruno Charier that subtly pushes the movie forward.Filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou whose previous work includes the wondrous Microcosmos, go even further back in time than George Lucas advances it in their latest effort, Genesis. This invocation of life eons before Adam and Eve is visually majestic and effortless in conveying the seeds of creation and its steady, gradual evolution.Eschewing any pretense of strict scientific doctrine or Darwinian bias, they frame their effort in folkloric terms. An African storyteller (Sotigui Kouyate) guides us through with simple metaphors that provide a humanistic context to dazzling and amazing visuals ranging from bubbling earthly cauldrons to creatures whose development appears to have been frozen long before the ice age.The filmmakers were among the picture’s cinematographers and evince both an ethnographer’s patience and a showman’s panache. There’s an intimacy to the imagery that repeatedly prompts one to wonder how on earth moments were captured for the camera.And while guilty in a few instances of dwelling too long on a handsome image or a grotesque one, the directing duo wisely adhere to the dicta that momentum is evolution. Genesis is an adroitly paced rumination with a sparse if well appointed musical score by Bruno Charier that subtly pushes the movie forward.It would be hard to find a film as primitive and primal as this effort. Yet it can only attain its vision through the most sophisticated and erudite of processes and this deft sleight-of-hand renders a truly unique and potent cinematic experience.
Written by Len Klady