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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Doesn't do justice to the Star Wars Universe
Yesterday for the first time since 10 years I tried to watch Phantom Menace and again I turned off my DVD with disgust. Clearly this is one of the movies that haven't passed the test of time - the prequels, and that one in particular, are a giant kitsch and once you start looking beyond giant layers of CGI you shake your head in sad contempt. Phantom Menace fails both as a movie - part of the defined art - and as an addition to Star Wars Universe.

Let's say categorically that Star Wars are not George Lucas and his movies anymore. George Lucas may have created Star Wars like Homer created Illiad, but like Illiad, it started living its own life long time ago. It doesn't matter who owns the franchise - Star Wars Universe became a living being and a modern myth fueling the imagination of people around the world. It is not just a movie anymore, although it started as a movie - it is much greater entity than that. Star Wars outgrew Lucas and in the end he was like a child tinkering with a unexpected creation in a silly way.

Books, comics, games and movies are only entry tickets to that wide universe and people keep buying them because they crave contact with it. And over the years Star Wars benefited from many great stories told in comics or games, stories that gave much us better contact than Lucas and his prequels...

Lucasfilm keep telling that only the movies are a true source of Star Wars, that what Lucas personally invents is more important than work of many writers and artists often more talented than him... I do not agree with all that. This is only the opinion of Lucasfilm and one could ask: why then they had released all that EU material in the first place? When TPM appeared in theaters I hoped it will give me as much epic storytelling and heroism as Expanded Universe... but it never came close to even standard EU products which was humiliating to Lucas. In fact, Lucas plundered EU heavily and with complete disregard when making TPM but ended with a very mediocre movie.

The dialogs were naive and annoying, the acting was wooden, the action scenes would be OK in 1940s - but not very artistic for our time, computer monsters were awfully rubber-like and unconvincing, general plot was not epic at all. After watching it I couldn't care less about Star Wars - had I not been a regular fan. But had my first ever contact with Star Wars came through TPM - I would certainly never had became one.

When I compare any of the prequels with a sci-fi masterpiece that Dark Knight Rises is (although I am not a Batman fan), with its masterful dialogs, great tension and drama delivered by actors, excellent composition I feel ashamed as a Star Wars Fan that We ended with such incredible crap instead of epic movie like Dark Knight is. I couldn't care less about storyline - but the way Dark Knight delivers that storyline is masterful. Now watch TPM again and all you find is contempt...

It would be hard to expect that Star Wars will remain consistent and immune to spirit of time or generational change: but it does not explain why we have to endure bad movie or uninteresting story. Where Lucas has failed KOTOR video game somehow embodied Star Wars mythical spirit and stole the show.

Classic Trilogy created in gray and boring 1980s was a window to another universe - it had a magic and mythical undertone. But prequels are just a CGI crap without any deep content. It seemed as in Lucas tried to get his revenge on Star Wars for growing too big and living its own existence for all these years he remained passive. The TPM is so incredibly BAD movie - especially when you compare it with best creations of Expanded Universe - that you cannot help but wonder if Lucas indeed was subconsciously trying to sabotage his own child.

I am not a fanatic of Classic trilogy and enjoyed some of the changes Lucas made to it, but regardless of how appeased I try to be toward the TPM I cannot not see how it destroys the Star Wars magic: Jedi are bunch of arrogant catholic-like monks, Force is just a bacteria in your blood, Anakin is a whiny version of Jesus and despite becoming a mass-murderer he is made by Lucas to be a true hero of six movies - not Luke - ruining the mythological archetype of Classic Trilogy which was basically a Hero's Journey.

The question is: why should I care about Prequels at all? Being a hardcore fan I am of opinion that best and most powerful stories ever delivered by Star Wars Universe are Tales of the Jedi comics and KOTOR video games. It is not even the question if they equal Classic Trilogy, but does the Classic Trilogy equals them. Knights of the Old Republic video game alone is so perfect epic story and has so likable characters full of depth and convincing visuals, that frankly, after playing you do not care that much about the movies anymore.

Similarly Tales of the Jedi which are basically the saga of Nomi Sunrider and her heroic journey beat the crap out of any prequel episodes, be it witty one-liners, great tension, epic storytelling or interesting characters.

That is why I do not care about Lucas and his failed venture in filmmaking: others took care of Star Wars and produced great stories.

MacGyver: Gold Rush
Episode 14, Season 4

Ridiculous Marxist propaganda
Macgyver is on assignment to retrieve Russian gold lost during world war II. Soviets need this gold to feed victims of Armenia earthquake. He leads joint Yankee-soviet expedition to the Arctic and one of the "scientists" is his old love Natalia, who duped him in Helsinki five years earlier (we can assume then she is affiliated with KGB) but now wants "to atone for her mistake". MacGyver's partner is retired colonel Turk West who distrusts the soviets and their motives.

This incredibly naive (and yet very tricky if you know American public) story calculated to increase trust to the Soviet Union and Russians in general. The underlining theme about just how Soviets desperately need gold to feed "poor children of Armenia" is completely ridiculous to anyone familiar with realities of 1980s Soviet Union. It was so utterly corrupted and inefficient organism plagued with criminal bureaucracy that even main activity of the Soviets i.e. armaments was seriously hampered. Supposedly MacGyver found the gold after the episode, you can be sure it never reached "victims of Armenian earthquake" or even war ministry - it landed in the pockets of Moscow bureaucrats. Yet main characters keep talking about saving Armenian children and Dr. Commie (we know she has ties with KGB) is particularly concerned - up to sacrificing her own life.

This brings another propaganda ploy, that is misrepresentation of the Soviets. Soviet representatives Dr. Commie and war veteran Barenov are jovial, warm and altruist characters who love to help other people. Anyone versed in soviet history knows that only people Soviet Russia allowed outside her borders were more or less affiliated with KGB and GRU and certainly were not warm or altruist - they were ruthless intelligence operatives bent on undermining its western adversaries. If you had contact with soviet officials during cold war you could bet they were spying on you and reporting about you to Moscow. There were no ordinary Russians traveling to West during soviet times - and especially no during such important mission as retrieving gold. The main premise of Dr. Commie atoning for her earlier spying on MacGyver is a nonsense - in real world she would be a professional KGB-trained whore without any compassion.

Only other American is shown to discredit traditional America - he distrusts the Soviets and their motives, is a war veteran and accidentally main villain who's greed turns him to murder. Yeah Soviets are warm and nice people but American colonel is a murderous villain - and all this in American TV? Who's behind such obvious psy-op? This is not the only episode of MacGyver which falsifies the image of Soviets but it goes to show you how deeply America was penetrated by Marxist sympathizers, covert communism and Russian spies who undermined every effort of combating Soviets for real and brainwashed American public on every occasion. Interesting piece for analyzing late-cold war Marxist subversion inside USA.

Master of the Game

Much inferior to "Rhodes" and "Mountain of Diamonds"
After seeing BBC's wonderful "Rhodes" I thought it to be another decent series about South Africa and diamonds but it turned out to be just another soap opera - and to be frank, quite awful. The worst thing is, the first episode was great and contained everything a movie about diamonds and Africa should contain. We have solid British actors, good scenario that mixes thriller and adventure genres, and a wonderful south African scenery. I was completely thrilled and really enjoyed McGregor's path to power and reeneactment of the lawless colonial frontier. Then next episodes came and demolished what first episode established. Suddenly action moved completely to the US and storyline changed into another soap opera with unbelievable plots. American actors deepened the impression, as they clearly don't come close to their British counterparts (not that American actors are bad in general, only that in this series they are clearly of third-rate stock). Somehow producers achieved an amazing feat of making six episodes, of series about a south African diamond dynasty, with cutting out South Africa and diamonds. Instead we get a terrible mash of truly awful plot twists in a worst "guilty pleasure" manner (check storyline synopsis on wikipedia, it will give you good idea). The problem of movies like this one, is that they try to imitate life, while life beats them with own stories much more compelling - life of Africa's first diamond potentate Cecil Rhodes was more fascinating than any soap opera dummies. Thus, if you want to learn about south African diamond magnates I recommend watching opulent and well acted „Rhodes" or „Mountain of Diamonds" based on Wilbur Smith (very similar in storyline), instead of this catastrophe. Apparently only British can make a good TV mini-series these days...

Die Gustloff

Much superior to 'Titanic'
Just as sinking of 'Wilhelm Gustloff' out-do the sinking of better known 'Titanic' in the sheer size of catastrophe, the TV-made "Gustloff" beats Cameron's movie in almost every field. The film starts with life on German east and presents a wide array of characters each facing a dark perspectives flowing from inevitable Reich defeat. The chaos and fear that dominated the eastern Prussian provinces in 1945 is very faithful with historical truth. The film then goes on to showing Gustloff's voyage and chain of events that led German heroes to final fall. Each of characters is memorable: from comic Nazi official who cares only for the evacuation of fuhrer's portrait from sinking ship to stern and cold-blooded commander Harald responsible for navy intel. The romance story is interwoven carefully, without interfering with the main intrigue, and not so naive and pretentious as in 'Titanic', just as mysterious spy plot.

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