American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It is not what's there on the screen that disappoints me, but what's not there. It is easy to hail the imaginative computer images that George Lucas brings to "Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones." To marvel at his strange new aliens and towering cities and sights such as thousands of clones all marching in perfect ranks into a huge spaceship. To see the beginnings of the dark side in young Anakin Skywalker. All of those experiences are there to be cheered by fans of the "Star Wars" series, and for them this movie will affirm their faith.
But what about the agnostic viewer? The hopeful ticket buyer walking in not as a cultist, but as a moviegoer hoping for a great experience? Is this "Star Wars" critic-proof and scoff-resistant? Yes, probably, at the box office. But as someone who admired the freshness and energy of the earlier films, I was amazed, at the end of "Episode II," to realize that I had not heard one line of quotable, memorable dialogue. And the images, however magnificently conceived, did not have the impact they deserved. I'll get to them in a moment.
The first hour of "Episode II" contains a sensational chase through the skyscraper canyons of a city, and assorted briefer shots of space ships and planets. But most of that first hour consists of dialogue, as the characters establish plot points, update viewers on what has happened since "Episode I," and debate the political crisis facing the Republic. They talk and talk and talk. And their talk is in a flat utilitarian style: They seem more like lawyers than the heroes of a romantic fantasy.
In the classic movie adventures that inspired "Star Wars," dialogue was often colorful, energetic, witty and memorable. The dialogue in "Episode II" exists primarily to advance the plot, provide necessary information, and give a little screen time to continuing characters who are back for a new episode. The only characters in this stretch of the film who have inimitable personal styles are the beloved Yoda and the hated Jar-Jar Binks, whose idiosyncrasies turned off audiences for "Phantom Menace." Yes, Jar-Jar's accent may be odd and his mannerisms irritating, but at least he's a unique individual and not a bland cipher. The other characters--Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme Amidala, Anakin Skywalker--seem so strangely stiff and formal in their speech that an unwary viewer might be excused for thinking they were the clones, soon to be exposed.