Let’s Get Some Perspective Here

Lately there have been a few flare ups on the blog, on Twitter and elsewhere having to do with my love of the prequels. I was originally considering going with yet another rant about how much I honestly love them (I’m listening to the Episode III soundtrack right now, actually).

Before wading back into the “debate,” it struck me to take a different tack this time.

Whatever Do You Mean, k?

I mean that I’m going to put the ridiculous assertions to the test by measuring, one day at a time, the much–maligned prequels against films that really and truly are terrible. If for no other reason than to give some perspective on what I think is a ridiculous claim to assail them on purported quality. There are different aspects to this, and I will pick on each one.

Today I will go with a personal favorite: inconsistency.

Reinventing the Wheel

Connor MacLeod of the Clan..Wait, What? ZEIST? What the Hell is a Zeist?

Have you ever seen Highlander II: The Quickening? If yes, try to guess where I’m going with this. If no, the price of continuing on here is to rent and endure that piece of offal.

See, Highlander was a low-budget cult hit featuring the music of Queen, a completely awesome villain named Kurgan brought to life by Clancy “I’ll see anything with him in it now” Brown, Sean Connery still trying to find his post-Bond identity, Christopher Lambert and a plot involving…IMMORTALS WITH SWORDS KICKING ASS.

Highlander was all sorts of awesomesauce. It has a befuddling 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, barely approaching Revenge of the Sith’s 80% (see what I did there?). Granted, The Phantom Menace has 57% and Attack of the Clones has 67%, but I love all four of them.

Highlander II, however,was so bad that I don’t want to believe it exists. It recasts these mysterious immortals as aliens from the planet Zeist, ignores Kurgan and has some horse crap about environmentalism worked into it. It is beyond atrocious.

In my opinion.

But What Else?

What else do you need? For all the little hiccups you might have with the prequels being “consistent” with the original trilogy, one or two require some creative allowance, but they’re not unforgivable sins.

Highlander II, however, completely wrecks any attempts at consistency. In the first film, Connor MacLeod asks Ramirez what makes them immortals. Ramirez wistfully explains no one knows why. He muses that to ask such questions is like asking if “the stars are merely pin pricks in the curtain of night.” In the second film, they’re aliens from another planet, fully aware of what they are.

It also features one of the worst villains of all time.

Here’s the Catch

But I remember a guy in one of my film analysis classes who wrote a paper about the Highlander series and he loved Highlander II. It was the cornerstone of his paper! I remember thinking he was out of his mind and that the professor should flunk him on principle.

I have no idea what he got on the paper, but I can say that I look back now on my disdain for him and feel shame. He turned to me for support at one point and I left him high and dry. He didn’t deserve that.

Why?

Because even if I could never agree with him, he had his reasons for liking the film. More power to him.

My Tribute to Irvin Kershner

As everyone knows by this point, Irvin Kershner died today after a prolonged illness. As everyone also knows, this gets notice because he directed The Empire Strikes Back. In a long career of filmmaking, there’s only one movie that will be used to define him.

It’s not altogether a bad thing to have that claim to fame. After all, he’s partially responsible for crafting an iconic piece of film that has withstood the test of time and come to be regarded as the de facto “favorite” for everyone who speaks about the Star Wars films.

In fact, earlier today when I mentioned his passing and that he had directed Empire, nearly everyone felt compelled to say, “that’s my favorite one.” Of course, everyone knows what a Star Wars fan I am, and so when I replied that it wasn’t my favorite there was a bit of a double-take.

This reaction diminishes Kershner’s accomplishment with the film.

We all know that Empire is the darkest of the original three films. We all know that Han wasn’t supposed to say “I know” originally and they changed it on set in a moment of improvisation. We all know that Empire is the film that provided my generation the permission to think they knew a whit about philosophy because they really liked Yoda.

Still it diminishes his work.

Kershner’s accomplishment was to help create a film worth watching after the original Star Wars. It’s easy to overlook what a big achievement that is.

Think for a moment of the films that have surprised you, changed the way you looked at the whole experience of moviemaking, and think then of any sequels that might have happened afterward.

Case in point, Superman. Your youthful self thought that Superman II was awesome because it had three (!) Super-villains in it; one line in particular, “Kneel before Zod!”, is a part of our generational lexicon.

But Superman II is trash. The footage (obviously) directed by Richard Donner is still worth watching, the other parts directed by Richard Lester is barely watchable. Nearly everything about the film fails to withstand the test of time.

Let’s move on down the road to the cult classic Highlander. This was a testament to what a little bit of ingenuity, an original concept and a dedicated cast and crew could produce with a bit of passion. It even had a tremendous soundtrack with original music by Queen which was some of the best work they ever did.

Then Highlander 2: The Quickening happened and made us all feel dirty. It also engendered a life-long dislike for the work of Michael Ironside, which he really doesn’t deserve as I’ve read he’s a really nice guy. Also, knowing how films really are made, he didn’t have any control over how craptacular the resulting the film would be.

To use a more modern example, and one far more mainstream: The Matrix. The sequel(s) to that unexpectedly enjoyable film are so stunningly bad that the longevity of the original’s popularity was reduced to ashes within years.

As a side note, the Matrix films also expose a truth that my friend Mike long bespoke: expectations are everything. Everyone went in to the first film expecting a serviceable action movie that would probably be little more than cheesy fun thanks to its insistence on having Keanu Reeves in it. When instead it wound up being an enjoyable post-modern hash of Messrs. Orwell, Gibson, Dick, Ellison, et al., we were amazed. But then the bar was set higher, and it was harder for the sequel(s) to satisfy. This speaks even more to the true accomplishment of Kershner with Empire.

He was skilled and confident enough to take the director’s chair for the sequel to a film that, at the time, was the undisputed champion of the world in terms of capturing imaginations, and help to produce something that was not only enjoyable but a worthwhile film on its own.

Is it the best Star Wars film of the six? That’s a matter of personal opinion and there’s no point to arguing it. Some people like apples more than oranges and you’ll find others that prefer pears. There are others who are happy with any of the choices depending on their mood, and they like each for different reasons.

The point is not whether he directed the “best” of anything, but rather that he took on the daunting task of building upon a cultural icon and leaving a positive mark when he did it. So positive, in fact, that I’m willing to overlook Robocop 2 in his oeuvre.

May you rest well, Mr. Kershner, and thanks for doing your part to make our collective childhood fun. You can be sure that you will be remembered for quite some time to come.