Reflections in Film: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides
On Stranger Tides

History: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl premiered in 2003, based, absurdly enough, on a ride down at Disney World, but the idea was sound despite the perception that the conceit of a pirate movie (like westerns once upon a time) was thought dead and gone. Brilliant writing, better acting, and great cinematography was all it took to put pirates back on the silver screen and back into popularity.

Pirates was cast very well with Johnny Depp as the perpetually drunk and crazy Captain Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush as the villainous and classic pirate Captain Hector Barbossa, Orlando Bloom as the naive, pirate hating Will Turner, and 17 year old Keira Knightly as pirate loving, society restrained Elizabeth Swann. Rounding out the cast, Jonathan Pryce as Governor Swann, Jack Davenport as Commodore Norrington, and Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs all were perfectly cast for their characters. Pirates was full of colorful, well rounded, and excellently performed characters.

The story was straightforward and filled with extremely humorous dialogue and plenty of rousing, swashbuckling action. The film also knew when to be silly and when to be serious, and Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa was often at the heart of the most emotionally heavy scenes. He revealed the full extent of the curse of the Aztec gold to Elizabeth in dialogue and gripping story before the effects revealed his skeleton form. He brought the sword fighting to a stand still when Jack’s last pistol shot echoed through the Isla de Muerta cave and he realized he could feel, but only until death took him.

Pirates was such a risky venture at the time that they did not plan on sequels, and thus when it exploded at the box office and the studios revealed that they could make more films that would be profitable, everything made for the first film had to be recreated for the sequels, down to ships and Captain Jack’s wardrobe, none of which had been saved.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, the second and third films in the franchise, formed a single storyline and were filmed concurrently. It was an epic four hour adventure on the high seas that advanced the character arcs of all of the major characters and quite a few of the minor ones. The film introduced the character of Davy Jones, played by Bill Nighy, as well as brought to the story Will’s father (only mentioned in the first film) Bootstrap Bill, played by Stellan Skarsgård.

The humor of the first film remained, as did the fun and adventure, but it took a back seat to heavy, epic story lines and character development. The scope of the films expanded to Lord of the Ringsesque territory, as did the action and CGI sequences, though the effects didn’t ever completely overwhelm the storytelling. Despite that, many people didn’t like the “complexity” of the plot twists. Personally, I absolutely love the films, and think that the plots are still actually fairly simple and easy to follow, though why who is doing what sometimes gets a big tangled, but Gore Verbinski, director of the first three films, did a magnificent job of keeping track of and paying off almost every single plot point.

Also of note, Hans Zimmer created perhaps one of the most iconic film scores of all time as he overproduced Klaus Badelt’s score of Black Pearl and completely took over the musical parts of Chest and End. His music is fun to listen to completely outside of the movies, the scores being every bit as fun and epic as the films they were written for.

Hype: As a huge fan of the Pirates films, I was excited for a fourth movie, but given the way that At World’s End sort of brought the sea-faring house down, I wasn’t entirely sure how a fourth film could find an authentic way to continue.

The third film left off with Captain Jack half-heartedly pursuing his beloved ship and also contemplating a quest for the mythical Fountain of Youth, so it was pretty obvious what the story would be, and also given the completed story arcs for Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (also given the actors themselves bowing out of the franchise) it was clear that any further movies would be mostly about Jack and probably Barbossa.

Once more of the story was revealed, mainly through trailers, and the new character of Black Beard the Pirate was announced, along with mermaids and a privateer version of Barbossa, I was definitely intrigued and excited. Most of all, going in, I was curious as to the tone (as it was still unclear) and I also wanted answers as to why Barbossa seemed to have unilaterally given up the pirate life in exchange for formal employment by the King of England. I also wanted good treatment given to the Fountain and the mermaids.

The Good: Once again, the casting was spot on. In addition to the returning cast, Ian McShane was cast as Black Beard and there could be few other more perfect actors to play the notorious, and for once, completely historical pirate. Black Beard could have been over the top, or completely lame, but he was chilling, mysterious, and evil, and all of that is due to the great acting of McShane. Penelope Cruz was cast as Angelica, a former lover of Captain Jack, and she brought the character to life and played her well, despite being very pregnant during most of the shoot.

Once more, the effects were great, but not overwhelming, and Hans Zimmer continued his strong tradition of great scoring. The locations were picturesque and the story was simple and easy to follow.

I won’t spoil the plot points of Barbossa’s decisions, but suffice to say that the man has been and always will be the classic pirate in every way. His story arc was perhaps one of the best parts of the plot. As promised, more of Captain Jack’s sordid past was revealed and explored, and his character development, begun in Dead Man’s Chest is continued in this film in different, but still progressive ways, as compared to At World’s End.

The Fountain, and its rituals, were written well: it was everything that an Indiana Jones quest is all about, and just as legendary. The mermaids were handled very well, and actually contributed to the film in several significant ways, and weren’t just eye candy. Also, suffice to say, don’t ever make mermaids angry. Ever. “All I hear is the nesting of seagulls.”

The Ugly: For me, On Stranger Tides lacked something and it took me a while before I was able to put my finger on exactly what was missing, but I eventually realized that this film was not fun. It was enjoyable, satisfying, and well done, but it was not fun. I had watched each of the three films in the days leading up to my excursion to the theater, and I had honestly forgotten how hilarious Curse of the Black Pearl was, and even the other two, while epic and heavy, never forgot the mad-cap fun that was Pirates. While Tides tried a time or two, the only moment in which it came close was when Jack [did something daring at the beginning of the film which is slightly spoilerish]. There was no clever and humorous back and forth dialogue that was the heart, and bread and butter, of the first three films, and there was hardly any levity at all. For a film franchise built on a theme park ride and birthed in fun and humor, this fourth film was quite a departure.

The Personal: I love pirates and the sea, and one of the best parts of the entire seafaring saga for me was the attention to detail that the creators paid to their art. Very many allusions and references are made to classic pirate lore, literature, and legend, and in the fourth film that continued. Black Beard was shown to be a practicer of Voodoo, and though this is not historical, it was accurate in how it was portrayed and how it functioned, even down to the original idea of a zombie. Everything else about Black Beard was fairly spot on to the historical accounts of him. Even the mermaids were closer to their original origins in the different myths about them and classic stories (being man eating, vicious and tricksy creatures) than to modern ideas. For me, all this depth and detail is part of the immense attraction of the pirate films, and On Stranger Tides certainly delivered.

Final Score: 2 and 1/2 out of 5 really angry mermaids

Reflections in Film: THOR

Thor: God of Thunder

Thor
Thor

History: Not having been a comic book reader or fan, my first knowledge of Thor was in the context of the Viking myth of Asgard, Valhalla, and a pantheon of gods, of which, one was Thor, the God of Thunder. But, once Iron Man debuted and the general public became aware of Marvel’s pantheon of gods, it was revealed to me that one such comic book hero was based on the Viking myth. Other than that, I knew little, except that he used a hammer, and was generally considered to be pretty hard core.

Hype: I really enjoyed Iron Man, and Iron Man 2 to a lesser degree, but once I heard that Joss Whedon, master of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, was to write and helm Avengers, I have grown interested in all of the Avengers, and not just Iron Man. I re-watched the Hulk movies (and was disappointed that they weren’t much to write about), but this summer was very excited for Thor and Captain America. I went into the theater expecting the same level of writing, effects, and sense of story that Iron Man had delivered.

The Good: Casting. In a word, the casting of Thor was excellent. You could not ask for a better All-Father Odin than Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth was fantastic as Thor, Tom Hiddleston was excellent as Loki. The supporting cast was well chosen, with veteran presence coming from Stellan Skarsgård, and Natalie Portman playing a fairly easy role as the scientist girlfriend. Even Rene Russo’s fleeting screentime as Frigg, wife of Odin and mother of Thor, fit well. Everywhere one looked in this film one saw quality actors.

Overall, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki stole the film. He was fantastically devious and totally realistic/consistent. It took me half the film to remember that Loki was pretty much orchestrating everything, but because of the way things were set up, Thor really made it easy for him to do pretty much everything he did. I liked him way better than Thor, and the fact that I liked the villain more than the hero says something about how badly this film was written.

The Ugly: Plenty. I wanted to like Thor so badly, but I just couldn’t. The budget for this film was very small, and it seemed like most of it was spent on making it 3D. I have said it many times, but special effects, especially these days, can more easily ruin a film than anything else and modern studios just don’t get that effects DO NOT make a movie. By now the CGI thing is so tired that the audience just doesn’t care and isn’t wowed, but the execs continue to push for big effects because they think that is what will draw audiences. Unfortunately, they are right, but only if they want a big opening day payday and don’t care about anything after that (which, sadly, is also often the case with execs). An audience will pay for the spectacle once, but will pay several times for story. Case in point: Titanic and Dark Knight both had effects but also had much stronger stories, the former appealed to the romantic in every housewife and the latter appealed to pretty much everybody as it broke Titanic’s records. Exceptions do exist, but my point remains: story will trump special effects, and Thor would definitely have benefited from better story.

Lack of proper character exploration was another weakness in this film. Natalie Portman is some sort of scientist studying some sort of phenomenon, but we are never really told what or how or why it matters. She is all excited about her research and notes, but the significance is lost on the audience. Second, pretty much as soon as Thor dropped to Earth, she started going all gooey over him, and it completely contradicted her strong scientist character to have her all gaga over his well defined physical appearance. On the other side of the strange love coin, I have an extremely hard time figuring out why a god such as Thor would immediately become enamored with the first human female he encounters on his exile. Thor strikes me as the kind of dude that has several girls on several planets.

Furthermore, scope killed this movie where it stood. Everything that happened on Earth happened in a sleepy western town in the desert. Everything that happened in Asgard happened in the transporter room or the throne room, or on some ice planet that no one cared about (even the characters in the movie didn’t care about it). The movie felt restricted and small. Iron Man traveled the world twice in as many movies; Thor was cast down to exactly one spot on Earth.

Given the fact that this movie was supposed to be about a god learning humility, it could have been perfectly justified and probably a bit more likely to have Thor quest around the Earth learning humility from the down and out and the wise gurus of the Earth. Instead, he acted like a jerk and hung out in a coffee shop, a pet store, and a scientist crash pad.

Speaking of Thor acting like a jerk, that is pretty much all he did. He was a jerk in Asgard and jumped at the weakest incitement to try to start a war. And then he was a jerk to his dad when he was called on his arrogance. And then he acted like a jerk on Earth by beating up nurses and doctors (honestly, that was the exact moment when I started to not like Thor) and few soldiers. And then he did one semi heroic act (I say semi-heroic because he supposedly sacrificed himself to save everybody, but there were only about 10 people in the little diner that the old scientist evacuated, and the rest of the people who were “in danger” were his god-pals and Foster, so I didn’t really see the peril inherent in the situation), was killed for it, was reinstated as a god, and then continued to pretty much act like a jerk. I really didn’t see any character development in what was supposed to be film entirely about his character’s development.

Lots of other things made this film superfluous, for instance, the annoying intern who managed to have the best line in the film. No, not the one about “pretty cut” or “freaking me out” or “Facebook” but: “I’m not dying for six college credits”. Also there was the whole thing about Thor sneaking into the S.H.I.E.L.D.’s desert compound to try to recover his hammer and basically beating up a bunch of people for no reason (not to mention endangering Jane Foster for no reason). Finally, there was Thor’s total bewilderment of some Earth things but not others (ie, pet stores but not cars). It was inconsistent. Either he is a god or he isn’t, but he couldn’t be that selectively clueless.

Finally: the whole thing with the ice planet and stuff, I don’t get it. I know that Thor has to be shown being completely reckless and arrogant, but the ice planet ended up somehow being a part of the plot and it seemed odd and out of place. It was one thing too many in a film that was already going many different directions and it didn’t seem necessary at all.

At that is just the few things I have highlighted that made Thor a less than stellar outing. There were many more.

The Personal: I barely connected with this film. I should have been able to connect much more strongly. A movie about intense and fundamental personal change within a strong character should have been a movie to connect with and project oneself into, but this movie was so poorly done it was like watching a gaudy spectacle happen with detached interest at best.

In the final analysis, Loki was more relatable than Thor because he was the non-favored son who was stolen from his real parents and was lied to all of his life. He radiated real confusion, pain, suffering, and a loss of identity, all of which are visceral and human emotions that one encounters all to often. I connected with his pain, and understood his conflicts. I think he should have reacted better, but he in fact acted according to character, and thus was devious and angry. Also, he was actually somewhat cathartic as a character: I am a younger brother who many times has wished I could take my favored older siblings down a notch or two in the eyes of my parents. Loki actually succeeded, so I like him for that, despite the fact he was sort of evil.

Final Score: 1 out of 5 thunderous Viking hammers.

SWD: Strained Relations

The next 15 minutes or so of screen time encompasses one entire day on Coruscant for Anakin Skywalker. He is conflicted at every turn, and is pulled in several different directions by those he loves and respects. More than anything, this section of the film is meant to show that Anakin feels out of control and at a loss for a solution to the burden being placed on his shoulders. Ultimately, the solution he grasps will be the promised power of the Dark Side.

I will plug the novelization of the film again at this point because Matthew Stover does an outstanding job of making us feel the pain and internal struggles of Anakin in a way that makes his outbursts and neurotic behavior in the film take on meaning and depth. This section of the movie is a valiant try at a brooding, political, personal drama, but it simply falls flat due to heavy handed directing, cardboard acting, and clunky dialogue.

I am going to discuss each of the scenes in this day separately, though they do tell a contiguous story. The final scene of the day, a night at the opera, I will handle apart from the others as it requires a bit more unpacking than the rest.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (00.33.17-00.42.39)

SCENE 1, Early Morning. Location: Yoda’s chambers. (00.33.17-00.34.41)

I really like the film noir look of this scene. The slatted blinds and the bright shafts of light filtering across the dark faces of Yoda and Anakin is a classic technique. It enhances the dark nature of their conversation, and helps to set the mood of the coming day: a few bright spots on an otherwise dark canvas. This is an almost perfect example of a character moment: brooding music, suggestive lighting, and deep, emotional problems. For a scene that is mostly two characters sitting and talking, it feels like more is happening, and that is a good thing.

It seems that after his bad dreams, Anakin stayed up all night, and in the early morning has turned to Yoda for guidance, despite having rejected Padme’s suggestion to ask Obi-Wan for help. The discrepancy there doesn’t make complete sense: why reject Obi-Wan and go to Yoda? The only possible reasons I can think of are these

1) in universe, Yoda is definitely seen as more wise and powerful, so maybe Anakin wanted to go straight to the top, 2) Anakin didn’t want to put Obi-Wan into an awkward position by revealing his code breaking by asking for help or 3) George Lucas remembered, very late in the game, that Obi-Wan had said something about training Anakin “as well as Master Yoda” and that Yoda seemed to know about Anakin, but to this point in the sequels they have shared less than 10 minutes of screen time together, so there needed to be a seen in which Yoda was “training” Anakin.

Despite the flaws revealed here about the screenwriting, I feel comfortable with a hybrid of choices 1 and 2 to contextualize this curious scene. It still doesn’t fully explain Anakin’s reaction to Padme earlier, but it certainly seems plausible. Ultimately, Yoda’s advice to Anakin is to learn to let go of things. If nothing else, George Lucas has certainly shown that to be one of Anakin’s primary flaws, so this is actually a payoff of two movies worth of conflict. (Yes, I did just say that George got one right.) This also helps to set up the allure of the Dark Side power that Palpatine will offer later: Anakin can save his cake and eat it, too.

SCENE 2, Morning. Location: Briefing Room. (00.34.41-00.35.41)

After communing with Yoda, Anakin rushes to a war briefing that has just ended. This scene is a good example of exposition done well. During the initial war report, which reminds the audience that there is a war, there is a visual of planets and information which is the remains of someone’s holographic powerpoint. It is rule #1: give the audience something to look at while you talk to them. Then, the conversation naturally flows from the exposition to setting up the next scene: Obi-Wan mentions that Palpatine is making a move for more political power, and oh, by the way, Palpatine wants to see Anakin about something.

Not only is the Jedi’s problem with Palpatine power grabbing introduced and made clear, but also Obi-Wan’s problem with Anakin’s relationship with Palpatine is brought up. Lastly, Anakin’s naiveté about said relationship is revealed, because for the first time he is sensing negativity about it. Obviously, up to this point, Anakin has considered himself lucky to be on the Chancellor’s radar, and despite his assertion in Attack of the Clones that Obi-Wan feels like a father, it is really Palpatine that is his surrogate father. The Palpatine/Skywalker relationship is very much a manipulative one, but Anakin, like all who fall into a bad relationship in innocence, won’t realize it until too late, despite the warnings of friends.

SCENE 3, Noon. Location: Palpatine’s Office. (00.35.41-00.36.46)

The major problem I have with this scene is the way it begins: a long tracking shot in the interior of the office in which nothing is said. And then the characters start talking. It is awkward and silent and slow. I feel like the editor should crop the first eight long seconds.

Palpatine asks for Anakin’s trust, and then reveals that he is going to ask the Jedi Council to instate Anakin as one of their members so that Anakin can represent Palpatine’s interests on the Council. Politically, this is a smart move, but as Anakin points out “the Council elects their own members, they’ll never accept it” (00.36.36). But, Anakin fails to realize the political significance of what is going on between the Chancellor and the Jedi. More than anything it seems like he got caught up in a situation he never wanted and doesn’t understand. Not to elevate this part of Revenge of the Sith beyond its reach, but this almost feels like Gladiator, in which Russell Crowe’s character wanted nothing of the political scene after Caesar’s death, and wanted only to be a soldier or a farmer. Anakin here feels like the soldier being asked to be an in-between, and he doesn’t know why.

SCENE 4, Afternoon. Location: Jedi Council Chambers. (00.36.46-00.38.19)

Anakin has returned to the Jedi Temple where apparently the Jedi Council was already informed of the Chancellor’s request and is now informing Anakin of their decision: to whit, he is made a member in name, but not rank. He sits on the Council but has no standing as a Jedi Council Member. Again, all Anakin sees is the facade of events, and is slow on the real inner intrigue. He lashes out at the seeming slight at not being made a Jedi Master without realizing that this has nothing to do with him. I give Anakin the benefit of the doubt here, because while it seems like he shouldn’t be this naive, it is understandable that as this is happening so quickly that he would be still trying to catch up. Furthermore, he is probably still more than a little concerned about his pseudo-prophetic nightmare. The hits just keep coming and he hasn’t had time to recover from any of them.

After his outburst, a bit more exposition is slipped in while significant looks are exchanged around the council chambers. Seriously, the non-verbal dialogue of this scene is pretty good. Without having anything said, the audience has a definite idea of what Mace Windu, Yoda, and Obi-Wan are thinking. Somehow this scene manages to be terrible and terrific all at the same time.

True to plot, Grievous is the red herring bad guy whom the Jedi are chasing while the annoyance in the Senate chambers is the real villain they should be examining. How the Jedi could be this stupid is still staggering.

This scene also illustrates something else more fundamental about Revenge of the Sith: it can’t decide if it is a personal drama, a political thriller, or an action adventure, and nailing down genre is vital to a film’s success. Because this movie is multiple things it feels distracted, undefined, and ill-contrived. It is all over the place, and here it is clear: Anakin is having a moment, there is political stuff, and oh yeah, something about Wookies. One wishes someone had made up their mind about what kind of movie this was before they made it.

SCENE 5, Afternoon. Location: Jedi Temple. (00.38.19-00.40.15)

After the council meeting, and now outside the chambers, Anakin vents his frustration to Obi-Wan while Kenobi tries desperately to salvage an increasingly deteriorating situation. Clearly Kenobi understands everything that is going on here, and is just as conflicted as Skywalker, but on much deeper levels. Obi-Wan reveals the catch of the council appointment to Anakin: the Jedi want him to spy on Palpatine just as much as Palpatine wants him to spy on the Jedi. Anakin rails against the Jedi and against Obi-Wan, and somewhat justifiably. He simply wasn’t prepared for this level of infighting and is ill-prepared to handle it. The Jedi are losing some of their high morality, and Anakin knows it. Having been a late inductee into their monastery, he maintains an outside perspective of sorts. Unfortunately for Obi-Wan, this means most of Anakin’s angst is going to be leveled at him as Kenobi is the closest most obvious avatar of the Jedi in Skywalker’s life.

Obi-Wan might have clearer insight, but he doesn’t know what to do anymore than Anakin does. The difference, however, is that Obi-Wan trusts the Jedi and Anakin does not. Thus, Obi-Wan has some external strength, peace, and stability while Anakin holds to none of the supports that he possesses. Anakin would have been much better off if he simply trusted someone, whether Obi-Wan, Padme, or Palpatine, but he doesn’t trust anyone much at all except himself, and he is very inadequate. While in Attack of the Clones he tried to ignore it, here he can no longer deceive himself, and he doesn’t know how to make up his perceived lack of power.

SCENE 6, Late Afternoon. Location: Republic Gunship en route to Staging Area (00.40.15-00.41.16)

Here Obi-Wan travels with Mace Windu and Yoda to a staging area where Yoda will meet up with the clones and Wookies he will lead in a reinforcement campaign to Kashyyyk. Obi-Wan is discussing his misgivings about Anakin’s “assignment” and Mace Windu is reasserting his misgivings about Anakin.

Personally, I had been waiting for this moment ever since Phantom Menace: “with all due respect, Master, is he not the chosen one?” The prophecy and Anakin’s status as a chosen one was the drive behind everything Qui-Gon Jinn did, and the reason why the Jedi decided to train Anakin. It was all but forgotten until here, and it is brought up to question whether or not their judgment had, in fact, been correct. This is all well and good, but isn’t it a bit late for this? Why didn’t they ask and answer this question 11 years ago? If the prophecy is such a galactic deal, and the ultimate fight between good and evil seems to be that big of a deal, then you would think that this would have been a priority of the Jedi Council. Only now does Yoda admit that the chosen one is “a prophecy, that misread could have been”. I wrote at length about my problems with this prophecy as a plot device during my analysis of Menace and Clones and here I reiterate that it should have either been a huge part of the story, or eliminated entirely, but when just hinted at and occasionally referenced, it is confusing and pointless and, ultimately, is a dangling, unresolved plot device.

The look on Windu’s face after Obi-Wan claims that Anakin has never let him down is priceless. Really, Obi-Wan, really?

SCENE 7, Early Evening. Location: Padme’s Apartment. (00.41.16-00.42.39)

This day ends where it began, essentially, in Padme’s apartment and between Anakin and Padme. Ostensibly he has returned to tell her of his appointment as a Jedi Council member and as Palpatine’s closest friend, but little else. (This scene begins exactly like Scene 3 began: with a long, silent tracking shot with an awkward silence. Again: should have been shortened. Don’t make the audience wait to find out why they are watching any particular scene.)

Anakin admits that he thinks this situation is bad, and that it is eroding every value that he claims to uphold. However, when Padme says the exact same thing, he yells at her. Hypocritical much, young Skywalker? Seriously, that exchange just makes him seem like a jerk, and does nothing to help the audience like their psychopathic, murderous, naively conflicted, wife abusing hero.

At least it makes sense seconds later when he refuses to agree to speak to Palpatine on Padme’s behalf; “make a motion in the Senate where that kind of request belongs”. Sure, he is being a jerk again, but at least it naturally flows out of his frustration at being the solution to everyone’s problem. He is obviously and rapidly losing control.

The scene ends exactly like it ended nearly ten minutes ago, with Padme and Anakin embracing. But this time, Anakin is not focused on Padme, he is looking beyond her, focused somewhere else. I can’t argue that there is no character development in this film, because there is, but it is very clumsily done.

The sun sets, but Anakin’s day is not quite over. He still has an opera to attend.

(00.42.39)

SWD: Only A Dream

May the 4th Be With You! On this international day of Star Wars, I am working the entire day on SWD: Revenge of the Sith. “Hold on to your butts!” – Lando Calrissian.

Having somewhat dubiously saved the day, Anakin spends a troublesome night with his wife, and the focal point of the plot is revealed. These ten minutes mostly focus on Anakin and Padme, but in the middle there is a short scene with General Grievous. I will discuss that first, and then move on the heart of the segment.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (00.24.52-00.33.17)

Grievous, having apparently escaped from Coruscant, lands on an unidentified planet, Utapau, and immediately makes contact with Darth Sidious. All of the imagery and set dressing here is meant to foreshadow the way Darth Vader interacts with the Emperor, and as I have already talked about that at length, I won’t elaborate here.

Immediately Sidious tells Grievous to move the Separatist leaders to Mustafar. This is said as if it has meaning, but because the audience doesn’t really know the Separatist leaders, or care about them, and don’t know where or what Mustafar is, or why it matters that they be moved, this statement is meaningless to the audience. In fact, the only reason the Separatist leaders need to move to Mustafar is because Palpatine is about to have Kenobi and his Clones descend on Utapau and doesn’t want the leaders caught in the crossfire. So, why not already have them on Mustafar and avoid an unnecessary communication? Why not have Sidious chew Grievous out for letting the Chancellor escape and at least let the audience have a laugh because they all know that Sidious is Palpatine? It is even unclear why Grievous wasn’t in on the plot to kill Dooku (making Grievous’ confusion here amusing). Nothing is said that wasn’t already obvious or unnecessary. In my opinion, all dialogue must be relevant and plot related and absolutely necessary, and this dialogue is none of those things, which makes this a wasted and pointless scene.

Meanwhile, back on Coruscant…Palpatine is explaining to Mace Windu why the war must go on. This dialogue is entirely exposition and is entirely for the audience’s benefit, and thus it is very boring. While all movies have to handle exposition at some point, this movie handles it badly, because the trick is to make the exposition interesting and not coma inducing. Think of Ocean’s 11, when Danny Ocean is explaining how impossible it is to get into Terry Benedict’s casino vaults. That scene is pure exposition, but what makes it interesting are all the visuals on the screen, the sound of George Clooney’s voice, and the revelation that the entire heist seems impossible. The audience has something to look at while all this exposition is going on, and at the same time they are thinking that Steven Soderbergh (the director) has shot himself in the foot by creating an impossible robbery. In one fell stroke, Soderbergh explained a bunch of necessary information, and got the audience very invested in his movie by making them think that there is no way the caper can be pulled off.

None of that happens here. The audience of Revenge of the Sith just has to look at some old guy and some black guy and listen to them drone on about politics or war or something. Very boring.

But then Anakin disentangles himself from Bail Organa, having been largely ignored by the politicians for whom he was supposed to be a poster boy of Good Jedi Work (again: setup, but no payoff), and meets up with Padme in the shadows.

Padme looks so relieved because there were “whispers that [Anakin] had been killed” (00.26.12). Sigh. No, there weren’t. Anakin is supposed to be a hero, and as such, very visible to the galactic media. Also, Padme is a Senator, and his wife, and you can’t tell me that she hasn’t cultivated enough sources so as to be kept well informed about Anakin’s movements. There is no way she was worried that the whispers were true. It is just like no one thought about this dialogue at all.

And, there is more exposition here, which, as it is whispered amongst heavy breathing and between kisses, is absurd. I know I just said that exposition is best when something else is going on, but it has to be the right something else. No one talks with that many words about such mundane things in the first few moments of passionate greeting after years (?) of separation. I know, ’cause I am married. All the boring stuff waits for halfway through the ride home.

But, suddenly, Padme remembers that their relationship is secret (“No, not here” 00.26.26), and she objects to Anakin snogging her in such a public deserted shadow. Seriously, she is worried about being seen and there is literally no one around. They are even behind a pillar in a dark shadow and if anyone did see them, they aren’t really identifiable. Just one more laughable bit of bad writing.

Anakin responds with “I’m tired of all this deception; I don’t care if they know we are married” (00.26.31). Um, “all this deception”? What constant deception has there been? He has been off in war; she has been alone on Coruscant: neither has had to actively deceive much. I know that Lucas is trying, desperately, to set up big problems here, but as the problems don’t really exist, it is so much smoke and mirrors and the audience knows it. Believe me: an audience knows when it is being scammed.

And Padme reveals that she is pregnant. And Anakin responds by looking murderously blank. I don’t know if this is the acting or the directing, but nothing in what is said or emoted here makes me believe that Anakin is happy about the “happiest moment of [his] life” (00.27.27).

After the Grievous interlude, the action shifts back to Coruscant and Padme’s apartment, where she is being the stereotypical pregnant woman: super consumed with her baby and hormonally in love with her husband. The dialogue here is really cheesy, but I actually buy it because it sounds authentically like two young people in love: they say dumb and cheesy things that only they think are cute. The audience might be groaning, but at least they recognize two people in love. I honestly would prefer a bit more adult and romantic language here, but Lucas needs all the help he can get, so I will cut him a break and move on to the dream.

This whole thing with Padme’s pregnancy is a bit odd and ill conceived; it is introduced and handled in a very heavy handed way, and Anakin’s troubles are not adequately explored. He gets a very general dream about Padme giving birth. Lucas doesn’t reveal the whole picture here, because Anakin jumps right to Padme dying in childbirth when all that the audience has seen is what looks like a normal, physically tumultuous birth. He freaks out about it, and we are supposed to understand that this is why he eventually turns to the Dark Side, but really he just comes off as paranoid and a little nuts. And, since he is a confirmed psychopathic killer, the audience has trouble really caring. Padme comes off as the sensible one when she has a hard time herself taking Anakin seriously.

Padme finally speaks aloud the fear that she and Anakin both have: that when the baby is born, the Queen will make Padme step down as Senator and the Jedi Order will expel Anakin. Really? Since when would a legally married, duly elected Senator be unfit for public office if she is pregnant? I get that Anakin has a code that he is breaking, but is there some sort of no pregnancy clause in the Republic constitution? They are acting as if this whole thing will be one big scandal, but I don’t really see it, and for the audience to buy that this is a big enough deal for Anakin to turn evil over, then it really needs to be set up, and there is absolutely no set up at all.

Lastly, given the impossible situation that they have created for themselves, rational and level-headed Padme looks for solutions and thinks of the wise, mentor guy that they both know and respect: Obi-Wan Kenobi. Maybe he could help, but for some reason Anakin gets all scowl-y and declares “we don’t need his help” (00.33.08). For the love of the Force, why not? I know that Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship is supposed to be strained and whatever, but that has not been shown. Up to this point, Lucas has actually been going to great lengths to show that these guys are real pals. For Anakin to reject Obi-Wan at this point, and so strongly, makes no sense.

But, their baby is a blessing, and all evidence to the contrary, who’s to argue?

(00.33.17)

SWD: Damage Control

May the 4th Be With You! On this international day of Star Wars, I am working the entire day on SWD: Revenge of the Sith. “Hold on to your butts!” – Lando Calrissian.

Having dispatched Count Dooku, George Lucas sets about extricating himself from an increasingly embarrassing situation. Unsurprisingly, he makes an absolute mess of it. However, there is one scene in these next ten minutes that I actually do like.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (00.15.06-00.24.52)

Palpatine makes a show of trying to leave Grievous’ increasingly doomed starship as fast as possible, but Anakin, somewhat naturally, is more concerned with saving his partner (who has conveniently slept through Anakin’s latest murder). I am uncertain how being thrown into a balcony, and having it crush your legs, would necessarily knock a person unconscious, but convenient occurrences are nothing new in the prequel trilogy. Despite being mysteriously unharmed, Kenobi remains unconscious. Palpatine tries desperately to get Anakin to leave said sleepy Jedi. I think he is trying too hard, and it is a wonder that Anakin isn’t more suspicious, but then, I suppose Skywalker has more on his mind at the moment.

Moving outside the ship, for a moment, we see that Grievous’s ship is about to endure some major hurt. I can’t help but wonder what Palpatine’s exit strategy was, assuming that he orchestrated this entire event. He arranged to be captured by his mortal enemy and his secret servant so that he could lure Skywalker in to a trap that ends with Skywalker murdering Dooku. Now, he is stuck with his budding protege aboard a ship commanded by his mortal enemy that is under attack by the loyal Republic fleet. So, what? Did Palpatine expect to simply escape from under Grievous’s nose with some ship in the hangar bay? Was Palpatine counting on Anakin to actually rescue him? Why not have a communicator to simply call for backup from the surrounding fleet? Why doesn’t Anakin try to contact the surrounding fleet? And, more to the point, why doesn’t the surrounding fleet make sure that the ship they are so eagerly destroying doesn’t contain the Chancellor of the Republic? You would think that an attacking commander would want to confirm the status of the Chancellor before blowing the ship to pieces. Stepping outside of the movie, this is what happens when a screenwriter doesn’t think through his script. Nothing makes sense, but it happens anyway.

Back inside the ship, there is a momentary return to the madcap elevator, as if Lucas hadn’t already exhausted that joke. First, it doesn’t work. Then our heroes run down the shaft. Then, in magically works. Then our heroes exit the shaft. The whole time Anakin is yelling into his communicator at Artoo, I suppose for comedic effect, but I don’t know because none of this is funny unless you are four. There isn’t even any tension in this scene because the audience knows without a doubt that every single one of these characters survives. This is the definition of mindless action.

There are two more homages to the original trilogy, first with the repelling line trick and second with Artoo’s periscope. Lucas is going crazy with the replica scenes here.

Finally, someone does something smart: the droids locate the Jedi inside the ship and Grievous confines them in a ray shield. Obviously he was under orders not to do so earlier, but now that Dooku is dead and the Jedi are “escaping” he has a different game plan, which only seems to include the Chancellor in an incidental capacity. One wonders why Darth Sidious did not give Grievous more firm instructions concerning the safety of Chancellor Palpatine, considering what happens in a few minutes.

“Wait a minute! How did this happen? We’re smarter than this!” Oh, Kenobi, you crack me up (00.18.00). This is a perfect example of a character asking a question that the audience wants to know the answer to, but in this case, the audience doesn’t mean the ray shield: they mean this entire situation. The Jedi should be way smarter than this, but they still fall for the most obvious ploys and misdirections. But, I actually like this exchange, which begins with “I say patience,” because role reversal of the student/master paradigm is a classic buddy cop technique. Anakin, the hot-headed impatient one is counseling the cool, suave one in patience (00.18.03). It is simple, and that is why it works, especially when Kenobi retorts with a perfectly deadpan yet sarcastic “do you have a plan B?” (00.18.31). This is the definition of partner repartee, not that inane “loose wire” dialogue. I wonder who wrote this section of the screenplay that was not George Lucas because it is light years beyond the stuff around it.

Anyway, the captured Jedi soon find themselves on the bridge and face to face with General Grievous. For some reason Grievous calls Kenobi “the Negotiator”. This moniker is never explained, and certainly doesn’t seem justified, given Kenobi’s easy hand to violence. What is funnier here, though, it what Grievous says next: “Anakin Skywalker…I expected someone of your reputation to be a little older” (00.19.04). I strongly suspect that this is George Lucas making a snarky reference to every critic who said that Anakin was way too young.

Then: Artoo goes nuts, the Jedi Force grab their lightsabers and slash everything in sight, and Grievous escapes through the window into space. Leaving his captured Chancellor behind to probably die. What were his instructions from the Chancellor again? Honestly, you would think that Palpatine would have made certain he would stay alive during this whole gambit, but maybe I give him too much credit.

Homage alert: escape pod POV.

With the crew gone or in pieces, and the ship about to break apart, Kenobi and Skywalker decide to try to land the ship. I really would like to know why they didn’t contact the nearest cruiser and call for backup. Even Anakin says it: “under the circumstances, I would say my ability to pilot this thing is irrelevant” (00.21.42). Maybe this is supposed to be another example of “the best star pilot in the galaxy” but when that same star pilot is saying that this isn’t even flying, I seriously doubt the premise. This is is an irrelevant demonstration of “skill” and when the character knows that, and tells the audience that, then the screenwriter really should change what happens. Especially when what happens is also ludicrous in every way.

Blah blah blah ship breaks up blah blah blah “another happy landing” – except, that is, for the tens of thousands of innocent bystanders who died when the other half of the ship slammed into the city scape (00.23.39). Perspective matters.

Blink and you will miss the Millennium Falcon’s cameo in the bottom right hand corner of the screen at 00.23.53. George Lucas has confirmed that the ship seen there is actually the Falcon, and not some random YT-1300 class Corellian freighter.

“Hold on, this whole operation was your idea…” (00.24.21) Yeah, really, hold on, what? That makes no sense at all. It was Kenobi’s idea to mount a two man rescue mission? If he was on the outer rim, how? And why? If this was his idea, the Kenobi is the most moronic general in galactic history. Bad writing. Poor planning. Careless craftsmanship.

And the rest of this dialogue is meant to remind people that Anakin the Killer is really Anakin the Hero and that the audience really should like him. Sorry, doesn’t work.

Anakin walks off to be the “poster boy” and Kenobi flies off to make his report to the Jedi Council.

(00.24.52)

SWD: Wrongful Death

May the 4th Be With You! On this international day of Star Wars, I am working the entire day on SWD: Revenge of the Sith. “Hold on to your butts!” – Lando Calrissian.

A note of apology: my last post had incorrect time codes. They are correct in this one.

This section of Revenge covers a bit of elevator slap stick action and a bit of lightsaber slap stick action. Both are mostly deplorable action scenes, but the character moments in both are even worse. I’ll give George Lucas credit, though, he is trying desperately to recreate scenes from his earlier successes, but as he doesn’t understand why or how scenes work, he gets them mostly wrong.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (00.08.27-00.15.05)

This section begins with the audience’s first look at Grievous. He appears to be some sort of cyborg, and is coughing. I can only surmise that the coughing is a foreshadowing of Darth Vader’s machine regulated breathing, but whereas the latter makes sense, the former does not. There is no reason for a cyborg to cough. At this point it is obvious that the Jedi were expected, or rather “predicted”, by Count Dooku and that Grievous is under orders to not interfere with their rescue attempt (00.08.50).

After checking in with Grievous, the scene shifts back to the Jedi in an homage to the Phantom Menace. I wonder how often destroyer droids approach Jedi and back them against walls. At least Kenobi and Skywalker retreat into the elevator instead of running like Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan did earlier. Also, I wonder why the droids would even approach when it appears Grievous is under orders to let the Jedi get to Count Dooku. Actually, the two Jedi, and Artoo, run into quite a few droids in the ship that seem to be on automatic “attack” mode. My guess is that Dooku/Grievous don’t mind harassing the Jedi a little (either that, or Lucas didn’t think through this scene).

Outcomes of a Real Lightsaber
Outcomes of a Real Lightsaber
Once on the elevator, the Jedi realize it is full of battle droids. Then they whip out their lightsabers and swing wildly through the droids until they are smoking pieces. The “smoking pieces” in the last sentence refers to the droids, but in reality would refer to the droids and the Jedi as there is no physical way to swing two lightsabers in that confined of a space without chopping up your comrade into little pieces. I refer you to the chart on the left.

For some reason after that the elevator stops working for no reason whatsoever. It is fairly obvious that this scene is mirroring a similar scene from A New Hope in which Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewie are about to be crushed to death in a trash compactor and they are desperately trying to get C3P0’s attention so that he can tell R2-D2 to shut it down, only this scene has none of the tension of imminent and squishy death. This scene is rather extraneous, boring, and more than a little “oh, come on!” It is sort of obvious that some pesky outside force (which I will suddenly decide to call….George) is screwing with the screenplay trying to be funny, and you just wish he would stop and let the Jedi get on with their “desperate mission to rescue the Chancellor”.

Oh, and “always on the move” makes me want to scream (00.10.01) but not as much as the “no loose wire jokes” exchange (00.11.11). This ridiculous banter is, again, supposed to show that Skywalker and Kenobi have a bantery, witty, buddy cop relationship, but the jokes and one liners are so stupid and elementary as to make them sound like little kids. Furthermore, Hayden Christensen is completely overacting his “hidden” Darth Vader in progress, so everything he says is said with a glower and that totally kills any comedic value in his lines.

Finally, however, the Jedi make it to the top of the spire and to where Chancellor Palpatine is relaxing while enjoying the space battle outside being held prisoner. I like how Kenobi bows respectfully to Palpatine and Anakin inquires about his health, but neither take a few seconds to release him from his bonds so that, I don’t know, he might try to run away while they distract Count Dooku. The devil is in the details, isn’t it? Those darn pesky little details.

Dooku makes a pointless little flip over the railing (seriously, the trope of Jedi and the Sith wantonly using the Force for pointless little CGI flips and jumps really is overused in this film).

“Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lords are our speciality” (00.12.17). Since when are Jedi arrogant? Since when do they make light of the fight between good and evil? In the Original Trilogy this whole battle between dark and light is portrayed as serious, fraught with danger and meaning, and perilous to navigate. In Revenge, and the other prequels, it is a flippant thing.

I may be picking on something that isn’t that big of a deal, but there is a complete and fundamental change in the way the Force is portrayed in the prequels versus the originals, the end result of which is that the two trilogies are no longer linked in any real sense, thematically. That bothers me most because George Lucas is the creator of the mythology in the first place, and it really seems like he simply did not bother to stay consistent within himself about the way his universe works. I could be another fanboy whining about continuity, but more than that, I am concerned about the integrity of the work itself and the work’s author: it is shabby craftsmanship.

The lightsaber battle that follows is ridiculous (Kenobi’s hair flip, anyone?), full of stupid lines, and is comprised of laughable attacks and force moves. The CGI stand-ins for Dooku and Kenobi look like a clowns, things happen too slowly to be plausible, and really, are we supposed to believe that bulkhead didn’t completely pulverize Kenobi’s legs? What the heck?! To top it off, every time the action cuts to Palpatine’s reactions, he looks like he is constipated. I wish I was making up how bad this fight is, but I really am not. It is deplorable.

The one moment during the entire farce in which it seems like anyone was even trying comes when Skywalker and Dooku saber lock and Dooku says “I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate; you have anger, but you don’t use them.” (00.13.42). This echoes the Vader vs Luke fight on Cloud City, but where Vader was using his insights to taunt Luke in order to get him to lose control, here it simply seems like Dooku is making an off-hand observation, despite Christopher Lee’s incredible delivery. I wish that Lucas had picked up Lee for a character 30 years ago for the Original Trilogy because the man is one of the best villains I’ve ever seen, and that oozes out here. But, all that happens as a result of the one good line in the opening gambit is that Anakin seems offended by Dooku’s statement and he sulks by way of lightsaber fighting.

Shortly thereafter, the fight is over and Dooku is handless and I wonder what is with the hand removal fetish of the prequels. Luke lost a hand in Empire because Vader needed to seem completely heartless and to advance the conceit that Luke was becoming Vader which was payed off in Jedi when Luke cuts off Vader’s hand and fully realizes that he has indeed become his father. It was a thematic element, and part of the beautiful writing of the Original Trilogy. The cutting off of the hands in the prequels happens so often that it seems like somewhere someone decided it would be funny to have people constantly losing their hands (and or lightsabers) and that person would be George Lucas. (btw: Not funny, George.)

Anyway, Palpatine betrays Dooku by having Anakin kill him in the culmination of the most obvious attempt by a screenwriter to get rid of an inconvenient character ever. Grievous has been newly minted as the villain, but as the film already had a villain, Dooku needed to be taken care of, so Anakin does it here. So much build up, so little payoff.

Anakin whines about “not the Jedi way” but when he murders anyway, he just seems like a shallow, hypocritical killer, and not at all someone that anyone wants to care about or feel any emotion for other than contempt (00.14.46). Palpatine brings up Anakin’s previous slaughter of the Sand People, and all that does is reinforce the idea that Anakin is a murderer and already Darth Vader and even less worthy to be revered.

Allow me a side track here: I recently read, and forgive me, I don’t remember where, that a mother had decided not to show her kids the prequels or the Clone Wars cartoons because the “hero” of new Star Wars is a murdering, psychopathic teenager who turns evil, and, really, is that the kind of person you want your child to emulate? Back in the day we had Luke who, as a young man, took responsibility, beat back evil, and redeemed and loved his hitleresque father. Which would you choose to set before your kids as a good role model?

Food for thought.

Palpatine, having been “rescued”, now tries to find a way to leave his death-trap trap.

(00.15.05)

Arizona and the All·Stars of Baseball

Last week Major League Baseball opened voting for the Mid Season Classic of baseball, the All·Star game, hosted this year by the Arizona Diamondbacks. I’ve been thinking a lot about the All·Star game, and two recent articles on mlb.com incited me to actually write my feelings out.

MLB columnist Anthony Castrovince writes that fans should be allowed to cast votes for the pitching staff of each team, while columnist Alden Gonzalez makes a case for keeping balloting as it currently exists. Read both articles, they are good ballpark food for thought.

My first thoughts are about who actually plays in the All·Star game, and how they are chosen. There are 34 roster spots available on each All·Star team, filled with pitchers and position players, usually around 10 of the former and 24 of the latter. Currently, each fan can vote 25 times for a list of 10 players for each team, nine position players and one designated hitter. This reflects the most recent change in the All·Star game which allows for a DH regardless of the league affiliation of the hosting team. The second most recent change to the All·Star game is that the winner of the game secures home field advantage for the World Series, either the National or the American League.

After fan voting is complete, the players/managers/coaches themselves vote for the pitching staff and second string position players. Lastly, the manager of each All·Star team selects about six players or enough to reach a final tally of 33. The 34th member of the All·Star team is a final fan ballot which selects from 5 players from each league selected by the All·Star team manager. Last minute substitutions due to injury, or in the case of pitchers, recent starts, is decided by the Commissioner’s office and the All·Star managers. Obviously this is a lengthy and complicated process.

Personally, I think that each fan should have the ability to vote once for 17 players. This would include 3 starting pitchers, 3 relief pitchers, 1 closing pitcher, 3 outfielders, 4 infielders, 1 catcher, 1 designated hitter, and 1 other player from a position of their choice. The remaining 16 players could then be voted for by the players, coaches, and managers, and the 34th player could be a final fan vote. Allowing fans multiple votes only exacerbates the annual problem of ballot stuffing, in which large market teams such as New York and Philadelphia can overwhelm the balloting, creating an extreme margin of votes. In every voting political system (that I know of) that is comprised of general elections, each voter can only vote once. I don’t see why this isn’t applicable to baseball. Fan involvement in the All·Star selection process is important, but right now I think the fans have a little too much power, and not enough available selections.

Beyond player selection, I have other concerns with the current format of the All·Star game: I remain ambivalent about the outcome of the All·Star game deciding home field advantage for the World Series. While it is nice to actually have the All·Star game mean something, at the same time, I don’t think the All·Star game is supposed to mean anything. As far as I know, the Pro Bowl (football’s All·Star game) is widely ignored by the football fan community. I watched the game last year, and the stadium in Hawaii was only half full. This is partly because the game is the week before the Super Bowl, and so none of the players from the teams in the Super Bowl participate, and partly because the game means nothing. Also, football players are so afraid of getting hurt that many refuse to play, and while this is an understandable reason to decline, fans want to see their favorite players play. I can’t say much about other sports’ All·Star games, but my general impression is that the fan reception is not much better.

However, baseball usually enjoys a large and positive fan reception to their All·Star game, mostly because 90% of the voted upon players actually play (unless they are injured, or as a pitcher, have recently pitched). I have never seen an All·Star stadium not full to capacity (and sometimes beyond). Also, the All·Star game is played in the middle of the season and in the middle of the summer. It isn’t buried in the dead of winter, after all is said and done. This breeds fan interest. It is played in the heyday of winning streaks, hitting streaks, and when most of the players and teams have hit whatever groove they are going to hit. Conversely, if a team or certain players aren’t playing well, it is also a time to step back, breath deep, and put the past few months behind them and remember when baseball was fun.

Ultimately, the All·Star game is a showcase of all the great players, both favorite and deserving (based on performance). It is every player a baseball fan wants to see in one place at one time (with some exceptions due to unequal balloting and the like). The bottom line is that there are many built in reasons to see the All·Star game without the home field advantage for the World Series being decided by the outcome. Home field advantage should be decided purely by the win-loss records of the teams involved, exactly like it is for each round of the playoffs prior to the World Series.

Moving on to another aspect of the game, I think what makes a baseball game boring for most people is the endless dance of pitching and hitting in which the pitcher takes forever to select a pitch, and the batter does everything to work the count for the best pitch to hit. The pitcher steps off the rubber, stares in at the catcher, steps off again, and then finally is ready to pitch. The batter steps out of the batter’s box, adjusts his helmet, his gloves, steps in, wiggles his bat, steps out, ad nauseam. This is actually what pitchers and batters are supposed to do to win games.

But those that watch the All·Star game want to see action and movement. Making the game count means that the players will revert to their tactics for winning baseball games. Making the the game an exhibition frees the players up to play the game for fun: by throw flaming fastballs and sweeping curve balls, by swinging at the first pitch and swinging for the fences, by making outrageous leaps and dives in the field. It would make the game dynamic, quick, and full of towering fly balls, screaming liners, and all the things that make baseball enjoyable to the wider audience of folks who like a day at the ballpark, and not just to those who wallow in the minutiae of the game, laboring over a scorecard and each pitch.

Generally speaking, getting people to watch and enjoy any sport is wrapped up in getting people to enjoy the game and helping them feel like they are a part of the game. Football does this well by televising the game with all sorts of cameras that put the viewer into the action, by commentators that know the game well and can make each play selection understandable to the viewer, and by a game that is predicated on multiple instances of quick action in which something is accomplished on each play. Baseball does this better at the ballpark than on TV, but it can be helped by altering the way the game is played, and the All·Star game is the perfect opportunity to shift the focus from winning to playing, and thus upping the energy while making it less vital to go all out for the sake of a win, while at the same time letting fans have a say in who makes the team so that they are excited to see their ballot choices take the field.

I think that if the player selection process was streamlined and expanded for the fans, while at the same time making the All·Star game more of an exhibition than a must-win game, it will remain fair for the leagues, and exciting for the spectators.

Either way, my votes are in for 2011, and I can’t wait for the Midsummer Classic from Arizona!