Political Film Society - Newsletter #229 - July 1, 20055

July 1, 2005


Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the SithStar Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith, directed by George Lucas, is yet another installment that glorifies war in the minds of filmviewers as the only way to settle conflicts. The plot of Episode III has been well understood for several years. Annekin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christiansen) begins as a sensitive Jedi knight, and at the end of the film, Annekin becomes Darth Vader. After he accomplishes a perilous rescue of Palpatine (played by Ian Diamid), Supreme Chancellor of the Federation, from kidnappers, he declares his love with Padmé (played by Natalie Portman), whom he wants to marry, especially when she informs him that she is carrying his baby. Rejecting his role as a Jedi knight in defense of democracy, he later wants the superior powers to be derived by casting his lot with Palpatine, who plots a coup de chef d'état. The heart of the film, thus, is how Annekin is persuaded to accept the Faustian pact. The first step down the path of betrayal occurs when the executive council accepts Annekin as Palpatine's personal representative but, to his chagrin, without the power of a Master. Lucas, who in other episodes of Star Wars disparaged democratic values, extolling efforts of warriors who act on their own without approval from legislators, now warns of the danger of allowing too much executive power. Indeed, as U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, noted one day after the film opened, "The leader of the Senate breaks the rules to give himself and his supporters more power." He was referring to the fact that Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican, threatened to abolish the filibuster, the only tool by which a minority can stop a majority from ramming through questionable judicial nominations and other legislation.  MH


War of the WorldsIn 1938, Orson Welles frightened radio listeners with War of the Worlds, based on the 1898 novel by H. G. Wells, using the mokumentary style that he later perfected in Citizen Kane (1941). Some listeners panicked, believing that Martians had actually arrived and were triumphing over humans, though Welles hoped to arouse some concern about the Nazi juggernaut, just as Wells was lampooning "the white man's burden" of British imperialism. The plot in which aliens invade earth with superior force has since become a film genre, with several remakes of the radio drama, including the 1953 film The War of the Worlds, a 1978 rock opera, a television series that ran from 1988-1990, and such retakes as The Thing (1951) and Independence Day (1996). Now in 2005, director Stephen Spielberg has decided to put his War of the Worlds forward as a scary film with an ending that is predictable for those who indulge the genre. Aside from superfluous special effects, the only originality is the reaction to the invasion by divorced dockworker Ray Ferrier (played by Tom Cruise) and his two kids (played by Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), on loan for the weekend, in an implausible on-the-road trek from Bayonne, New Jersey, to Boston. Of course, on-the-road films constitute yet another genre, most recently in The Day After Tomorrow (2004). The road trip, however, has a subliminal message, namely that humans in crisis do not band together to respond rationally; accordingly, shock and awe prevail in scenes that recall the 9/11 clouds of debris, an atom bomb hitting Hiroshima, 1992 L.A. rioters, a sabotaged airplane crashing into a house, dead bodies floating down a Rwandan river, refugees marching along escape routes, deportation trains to Nazi camps, the sinking of the Titanic, and aimless military action without a strategic vision. Alas, director David Michael Latt promises yet another remake, entitled H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, later this year in case filmviewers are not satiated already with remakes of retakes. The question to ask is why Spielberg would demean himself to give the impression that he has run out of ideas when he could have been bolder, as the only possible clue of his political wisdom is the muffled line of demented redneck Harlan Ogilvy (played by Tim Robbins) that "All occupations fail." MH