ORBzine - 1999.08 TPM Review Response

ORBzine - Feedback - August 1999

From: Gerthein Boersma Subject: Re: [@rassm] TPM review [controversial views aired!!!] Date: Sun, 1 Aug 1999 14:05:18 +0200

Editor: Well, I was hoping by this stage someone else would have joined in the debate ...

All right, here's my review of Kane's 'review'. I've written it as something of an article, complete with silly pun-in-the-headline, so that it can be thrown into the next installment of the *.rassm universe's barrel of stinky fish which you call RASSMag. Enjoy!

Hard SF Reviewer soft on real arguments;
a review of a review of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
by Gerthein Boersma

Sub-Walt Disney, sub-Steve Martin, sub-kindergarten. John Kane, RASSMag's reviewer of choice for The Phantom Menace, obviously thinks that the new Star Wars movie is beneath him. Tasked with writing a controversial (wouldn't it have been moreso if it were positive?) TPM review for the sick and underfed cousin of the *.rassm-family, Kane's all-slams-no-substance litany ultimately gives us a better understanding of the way this 'Hard sci-fi' reviewer does reviews than it does of the pros and cons of the actual movie itself.

First of all, even though English is only my second language, I found the rather original grammatical structures employed by Kane to be jarring and annoying, making most of his review a pain to read. His run-on sentences tend to deteriorate into an incomprehensible mess; gems like "The second movie was, although not quite up to the same mark - too many silly heroics, and a slug even Clarke has unwound far enough to have a dig at, had some basic connection with reality; at least the bad guys, who ought to have won - what, overwhelming force doesn't count for anything any more? - actually did." show up with alarming regularity.

Still, his grammatical structure is pulitzer-prize worthy when compared to the 'structure' (I use the term not loosely, but downright inaccurately) he applies to his reasoning. In Kane's mind, even nonsensical arguments add up to inescapable conclusions. The reviewer condemns the much-loved Empire Strikes Back rather originally, by saying it has 'silly heroics' (the consensus that ESB is by far the most realistic of the films is apparently of no matter to Kane) and -- get this -- because of that space slug, presumably because it defies physics. Conversely, his slam of Return of the Jedi is actually refreshingly predictable. That's right folks, the Ewoks did= it.

And yet, to this inane argumentation, Kane adds the conclusion that "You can see, as he grew increasingly free of the highly competent Japanese influence, the downward trend to sub-Walt Disney take shape." We can see indeed... 'silly heroics', Ewoks, space slug.... it's all clear to me now.

Kane then goes on to a brief explanation of how he as a Star Wars roleplayer has had many adventures on the side of 'what is good about Star Wars'. Too few details are provided for the reader to come to the same conclusion, so I suppose we're going to have to take Kane's highly objective word for it that these stories were pure greatness. And yet, this paragraph is apparently supposed to give the reviewer some credentials so that he can launch into his upcoming critique of TPM with some degree of impunity. It's bad enough that this person, who earlier on admits to rarely seeing movies in the theater, wants us to assume he has authority based on him having seen the originals, having read some of the books and having played years worth of sessions of the WEG game. What's worse is that where most reviewers are content with simply focussing on the job at hand and just reviewing a film, Kane apparently wants us to believe that he personally could have done better. With his writing? No dice.

When Kane isn't daring his readership to reach awkward, non-sequitur conclusions based on lame and insufficient argumentation, he is making ridiculous overstatements of points he probably deems too obvious to substantiate. "Any fiction that tells you not to think, just feel, is in it's (sic) own small way a crime against civilisation.", he blurts out. The only thing missing here is Kane comparing Lucas to Hitler and the Jedi to the Nazi's -- oh well, maybe next time.

Kane then issues the hollow complaint that Star Wars doesn't linger on the technical aspects and internal workings of the universe it creates, to which one can only respond "Well, duh!". If you, like me, always thought that the matter-of-factual hinting at vast structures underneath the actual story was one of Star Wars' main strengths, that merely touching upon them gave the impression of a larger universe, a real universe that doesn't stop in its tracks to moribundly explain to the outsider "how it all works", then, Kane suggests, you've been wrong all along. Following this telling misunderstanding of what makes Star Wars tick is another one of Kane's patented ludicrous conclusions, which is that Star Wars doesn't exploit its potential as a 'children's stories designed to help them grow up'. Because of course, many children's stories are known for and have benefitted greatly from the detailed analyses of political machinizations and social structures that they contain.

When he finally gets to the actual review of TPM, it is marred by hollow blanket statements ("The average mental age of the characters in this movie is approximately seven"), laughably poor analogies (the Neimoidians are "playground bullies jerking on the end of Palpatine's string" -- how many bullies do you know that are effectively marionets?), annoying self-contradictions (Kane calls the 'virgin birth' both tasteless and corny, conveniently forgetting that it cannot be both controversial and clichEd at the same time) and him using the term 'sub-' some more (on Jar-Jar, mostly).

While sputtering about how the pod-race doesn't work like racing in real life (another 'Duh!' moment) or how Anakin's family circumstance "sucks" (period), the reviewer actually manages to completely miss some of the real flaws of the film. Take, for instance, his praise for Yoda: although Lucas has turned the muppet we once loved into a bitter, nay-saying, baby-snatching cultist, Kane points out that he, at least, was 'himself'. Other valid targets are similarly ignored: Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan was underused, certainly, but not so much so that a reviewer would be excused for not mentioning him at all.

Or perhaps he just didn't care about the real flaws -- the awkward pacing, the lack of sustained tension; I've aired my views before, so I will not detail them here again. No, John Kane is one of those reviewers who thinks coming up with a new way of saying "This sucks, that sucks" for every other sentence constitutes 'critique'. One can almost hear Kane chuckle with glee as he comes up with empty one-liners such as "what [Lucas] has done is take his own creation and piss on it from a great height" and "Lucas should be spaced for this abomination".

Oh well, at least he managed to amuse himself. As for the rest of us, we can but shake our head and sigh before we space (pun!) his article, recognizing it for what it is: a sub-review.

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