Seen at the Movies:

Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones

has a few good moments supplied by an Alec Guinness-channeling Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and by Christopher Lee's juicy villainy in the role of Count Dooku. There's an amusing recreation of Luke Skywalker's Tatooine desert home, some good action in the final stretch, and a lot of Baroque digital splendor throughout. Did any of this keep me from being bored silly by most of the movie? Sorry, true believers in the Force and George Lucas, that sputtering spring from which it emanates: no. First of all, what's with Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker and his fluffy disco hair? I know the director is stuck in 1977, but this is ridiculous. And what about Trisha Biggar's ungainly, ever-changing costumes for Natalie Portman's Padme Amidala? The character is pictured below in what Liz French described as her Aztec sun goddess and Cher incarnations. The film also offers her up in Shakespeare in Love and Maria von Trapp modes, along with many others. (At least, since she's been demoted from queen to senator, she's out of her Episode I Kabuki makeup). Oh, and incidentally, the love scenes between Anakin and Padme are excruciatingly written and acted—Luke and Leia's parents are real automatons. How we're meant to get from Anakin's WB-style hissy fits to the Darth Vaderian depths of Episodes IV-VI is a big challenge facing Episode III.

Attack of the Clones is something new in the world of studio blockbusters: an all-digital film. Shot by David Tattersall with a 24 frame high-definition progressive scan camera from Sony, the movie looks pretty good overall, although I detected some of HD's unearthly sheen, and an occasional smeariness in some shots. As yet, it's just not as satisfyingly textured as film. But most people probably won't notice, especially since so much of the movie is digitally constructed, anyway. Production designer Gavin Bocquet has both the advantage and the curse of seeing anything he designs realized here—the backgrounds, both created from scratch and embellished from such locations as Tunisia, Italy's Lake Como, and Seville, Spain, are lavish and various, yet a certain visual flatness persists. As always, the ILM effects armies led by John Knoll, Pablo Helman, Ben Snow, and Dennis Muren put in an enormous amount of work, but I found the most impressive technical aspect of the film to be the legendary Ben Burtt's sound design. Burtt, who is also credited as Clones' editor, has worked on all the Star Wars movies, and his contributions here are as imaginative as ever. Listen to the marvelous screeches and roars of the gladiator-arena monsters, and to the completely original explosive sounds during an asteroid-belt battle sequence. Just be sure to cover your ears when the dialogue scenes roll around.--John Calhoun

Seen On Broadway: Roundabout Theatre is currently presenting the work of an interesting young playwright—Arthur Miller. The Man Who Had All the Luck, Miller’s first play, ran four performances in 1944; now it’s back, in a revival first staged last summer at Williamstown Theatre Festival. The hero, David Beeves, has an unusual problem—everything goes right for him. He rises from auto mechanic to successful businessman in record time, even as disaster visits his friends and family. Eventually, his good fortune becomes an intolerable burden, driving him to ever-riskier behavior. An original idea, to be sure, but it’s hard to build a drama around a nearly totally passive character; also, Miller in 1944 was far from being the writer he later became. The script suffers from too much sermonizing and mechanical plot twists that earn unwanted audience laughter. Still, the Roundabout has done a good thing in letting us look at this lost play, and Scott Ellis’ production is first-class. As David, Chris O’Donnell shows much more skill than he ever needed in films like Vertical Limit. Samantha Mathis does a lot with the underwritten role of his wife. Also good are Mason Adams as his crotchety mentor, James Rebhorn as his deluded father, and Sam Robards as the lonely immigrant who befriends him. Allen Moyer’s settings have a nicely plain, homespun quality, and he has dug up a sensational-looking vintage automobile. Michael Krass has created some marvelously detailed period wear. Kenneth Posner’s ever-so-slightly-heightened lighting underlines the play’s fable-like qualities. Eileen Tague’s sound design provides several highly convincing effects, although I could have done without Tom Kochan’s incidental music, which leans heavily on Aaron Copland for inspiration. The Man Who Had All the Luck is not for casual theatergoers, but for fans and students of Arthur Miller, it’s a must-see, warts and all.--David Barbour

Seen Off Broadway: 21 Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com is Mike Daisey’s bitter, hilarious rant about life at the perpetually unprofitable online bookseller. Daisey began as the company’s least successful customer service rep, then got kicked upstairs into business development, where he spent time honing his newspaper-reading skills and composing bizarre letters to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s head visionary. Daisey easily skewers the absurdities of life in the new economy, especially the clichés of corporate-speak; if you count yourself among the dot.com disillusioned, this is the show for you. Louisa Thompson’s installation-like setting, with lots of cork board and electrical plugs, is very apt, and Russell H. Champa’s lighting is inventive at reshaping the stage as needed…Martha Clarke’s dance-theatre-music-performance thing Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited) is an attempt to psychoanalyze an entire culture. It’s turn-of-the-last-century Vienna and everyone has sex on the brain (much of the text was drawn from Freud’s casebooks). Everyday speech turns erotic and surreal, bodies intertwine, one erotic tableau morphs into another. There’s an undertow of violence and anti-Semitism, but Eros is the ruling god here. For 40 of the piece’s 70 minutes, I was intrigued—particularly by the stunning way Paul Gallo’s lighting worked its transformations, alternating seductive, diffuse stage washes with suddenly purposeful blocks of light. But this is really nothing more than a floorshow for intellectuals. Robert Israel’s blank setting and gorgeous period costumes (lots of lacy underwear, plus finely tailored women’s suits and giant period millinery) are first-rate, as well.--DB

Heard Around Town: Elsewhere on this site you can see the full list of Tony nominations. There were no giant surprises this year, although I’m very happy that design nominations went to a number of plays as well as musicals (the Tony committee has been fatally addicted to glitz in the past). Nevertheless, there were a few surprising omissions: Anthony Ward’s scenery for Oklahoma! is a first-rate lesson in how to re-imagine a classic. In lighting, T. J. Gercken’s work on Metamorphoses is stunningly beautiful and has already won awards. Was there no room for either of these? Nice to see Natasha Katz’s daring work on Sweet Smell of Success was honored—but can it really be divorced from Bob Crowley’s daring (and un-nominated) scenery? How is it that the gorgeous, chilling design of The Elephant Man couldn’t earn one single nomination? What about Urinetown, a completely original approach to Broadway musical design? Well, there are only four nominees in each category, so I guess somebody has to be left out. Still, you have to wonder what the Tony nominators were thinking. Interestingly, there’s no clear winner in any single category. There will be plenty of suspense on June 2….--DB

Heard at NSCA: Chris Conte (who recently moved from SPL in Las Vegas to Electrosonic Systems in Burbank) is busy integrating video into a wide range of projects, including Spider-Man Rocks at Universal Studios Hollywood, a new live show timed to the mega-movie release. Other projects include the Museum of Tolerance in NYC, a new museum in Jerusalem designed by Frank Gehry, and the Muhammad Ali Museum in Atlanta, GA, as well as the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, CT. The UK office of Electrosonic is working on the Bremen Space Park in Germany, a project Conte refers to as "an indoor theme park with a 3D Star Trek show." All of these projects confirm Conte's assertion that Electrosonic is more than just a video wall company…LCS (Level Control Systems) will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and they have a lot to celebrate. "All the pieces in our current product line are now shipping," says Steve Ellison, company veep for the product applications group. Current projects include Mysteries, a South African play in London, which uses the LCS VRAS electronic audio enhancement system. Chances are LCS will also play a role in the new Cirque du Soleil show being designed by Jonathan Deans in Las Vegas.--Ellen Lampert-Greaux

Heard from Bruges, Belgium: On February 20, 2002, lucky concertgoers heard the first concert in the new Concertgebouw Brugge, a hall designed for both music and opera. This dual purpose provided a challenge for the UK-based acousticians at Arup Acoustics (see www.arup.com/acoustics), whose solutions include a high proscenium opening (at 14 meters or 46') designed so that in concert mode the performers and audience seem to share one room. A series of towers create a backstage while a ceiling panel prevents sound loss in the flytower. Acoustic banners and drapes complete the adjustable elements. The concert, attended by the King and Queen of Belgium, also kicked off the 2002 Festival marking Bruges as the European City of Culture this year.--ELG

Seen Way Back When: In preparation for the 35th anniversary of what is now Entertainment Design Magazine, aka Theatre Crafts and TCI, we have been compiling lists of the most influential productions of the past 35 years. In addition to the wide range of things that will be published in the July issue, I realized that I have seen a lot of dance performances over the years, some of which I only remember in fragments, but which were certainly influential in the way I see dance in specific and design in general. Who can forget Pina Bausch's Nelken, performed in the Cour d'honneur of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, with thousands of pink carnations on a stage surrounded by a pack of German Shepherds? Or Merce Cunningham's Rainforest, with its forest of Mylar balloons, or Trisha Brown's company dancing in front of giant images by Robert Rauschenberg? Or Lucinda Childs' Dance, with stunning drops by Donald Judd, or the work of Alwin Nikolais, who was a pioneer in the art of projection, and influenced more than one generation of choreographers, as well as designers? More than any other performing arts discipline, the dance world has embraced the visual arts enthusiastically, and I look forward to more collaborations of this sort during the next 35 years in the life of Entertainment Design.--ELG