Seen at the Movies: With the release of Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas’ galactic saga is supposedly at end, and it’s none too soon for my endurance. This installment, which prepares the way retrospectively for the first three to be released (a long, long time ago, in the cinematic dark ages of 1977-83), has considerably more punch and forward momentum than the last two. It’s undeniably satisfying to see the final metamorphosis of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, and to see the pieces laid in place for the continuation of the story in Episode IV A New Hope—which many of us persist in referring to simply as Star Wars. Yet the problems that have plagued this round of digitally driven chapters (starting with The Phantom Menace in 1999 and continuing through Attack of the Clones in 2002) remain. As the heroine Padmé, Natalie Portman is equally encumbered by massive hair rolls and deadening dialogue, while Hayden Christensen’s Anakin is fatally insipid. There’s a fundamental disconnect between this snit-fit-throwing boy and Darth Vader—is it just the mask, for example, that transforms Christensen’s adolescent vocalisms into the booming cadences of James Earl Jones? Anakin’s transformation is confusingly and unconvincingly motivated, which is real letdown for the entire series.
Though prodigious work is done by the film’s technical crew, including visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Roger Guyett, and the indispensable sound designer Ben Burtt, the non-stop effects and HD format tends to render a numbingly smooth surface. When Padmé and Anakin survey the city skyline view from their spotless pad, the images of shiny spires and airborne traffic may as well be an enhanced frame of The Jetsons for all the visual impact the shot has. Production designer Gavin Bocquet’s team does come up with some effective new bits, such as the look of half-organic droid villain General Grievous, and the multi-hued light saber duels remain a visual highlight. Trisha Biggar’s costumes for the Jedi knights have a billowy elegance, though one wonders why Anakin is attired in black long before he switches to the Dark Side. But Padmé is a sartorial nightmare, clad in so many layers of Vegas-y chiffon that one comes to expect a slow strip like the one Portman performed in Closer. I don’t know what to say about the work of director of photography David Tattersall; I know all this technology doesn’t render a cinematographer superfluous, but it can start to give that impression. The film does end with a beautiful shot that brings the Star Wars series full circle, however.--John Calhoun