Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action
In the last few years, Netflix has expanded its reach into the world of animation, offering an unexpected challenge to some of the big-name studios in Hollywood. Along with animated TV shows like Hilda and Bojack Horseman, they have also entered the arena of animated features, recently producing last year’s Oscar-nominated film, Klaus.
This fall sees the company’s release of the Pearl Studios feature film Over The Moon, directed by two men who once worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Glen Keane was part of the company’s character animation division (developing characters such as Ariel and The Beast), while John Kahrs is known for directing the studio’s Oscar-winning short Paperman.
With Over The Moon, they tell the story of a Chinese girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang). Uncomfortable at the prospect of her widowed Father (John Cho) remarrying, the studious girl holds onto the story of Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) the immortal Moon Goddess who never forgot her one true love.
Using her ingenuity, Fei Fei builds a rocket, hoping that if she meets Chang’e, she may provide her with the means to change her Father’s mind.
Glen Keane has often focused on characters that seem to be stuck between two worlds, and Fei Fei fits the bill. On one hand she inherits her father’s tendencies towards math and science, while embracing the Chinese legends her mother taught her. That mixture of combining logic with legends is intriguing, but it unfortunately feels like it gets lost as the film progresses.
On any serious journey like this, one needs all manner of sidekicks to help and/or irritate the lead. In Fei Fei’s case, we get a big-eyed bun-bun named Bungee, and on the moon we have a glowing green dog-creature named Gobi (Ken Jeong). There also is Chin (Robert G Chiu), Fei Fei’s overly-energetic stepbrother-to-be who never seems to run out of energy. While they prove helpful in some situations, most of the time they feel like they exist to distract the younger audiences.
In terms of secondary characters, Chang’e is one whom it feels like we could have gone deeper into regarding her emotions. We see her characterization being almost like a superstar with a diva-like persona, but also see that despite seeming to be loud-and-proud, there is something lurking beneath the surface that she may be trying to hide. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem willing to explore much in this regard, let alone her relationship with her pet rabbit named Jade. Even Jade himself feels shuffled into a corner, when he could have played a much larger role in us understanding how Chang’e has weathered the centuries being alone.
It’s also never explained how the “kingdom” of Luminaria Chang’e rules over came to be. Looking like a luminescent space Oz, we’re told nothing of its development, let alone more information on the luminescent beings whom inhabit it and the moon. It probably could have added an extra 10-15 minutes to the plot, but it mostly feels like what we see is just meant to enthrall us visually in the hopes that we’ll just end up totally enamored with the on-screen journey.
I was also surprised when the film led off with a song, and then piled on another one right after it. The songs in the film are okay, jumping into a number of different styles, but none of them really stuck with me once it was all over. One near the end had potential, but the structure and lyrics just don’t have the kind of memorable feel of songs from such popular fare like The Little Mermaid, or Frozen.
At times, Over The Moon’s story structure reminded me of Meet the Robinsons and Up, and while those films had flimsy subplots and sometimes annoying supporting characters, they were supported by decent storytelling to lift up the visuals, and support the lead character’s journey of self-discovery.
In the case of Moon, the film surprised me with its hope that Fei Fei’s emotional journey and the flashy visuals will distract viewers from the fact that the foundations of the story are incredibly flimsy. It feels like Keane and Kahrs try to over-compensate too much in the areas of emotion and visuals, throwing the balance of the film out-of-whack in a most unexpected way (I’m used to the opposite in animated films, where mindless slapstick and pop-culture references hope to chase off pesky emotional stuff). Most films would have a solid story foundation, but I found that to be severely lacking once the film picked up momentum and got us to the moon.
The film was also one of the final projects for screenwriter Audrey Wells, who is said to have written the story as a gift to her husband and daughter as she lost her battle with cancer. Knowing full-well that same feeling of loss, it does feel sad that such a heartfelt gift sadly does not hold up to being something as powerful as it could be. The story gives us little pockets of emotional moments, but when strung together into the final product, the unevenness of the story really stands out.
Over The Moon will surely entrance and entertain some, but to me, it is sadly a misfire from two filmmakers who were instrumental in making me realize the power of emotional storytelling in animation, and a mother who wanted to leave something emotionally beautiful for her family. Both Keane and Kahrs have shown their talents for doing emotional directorial projects in animated short format, but it feels like they attempted to translate those skills into a feature, and came up short. In conclusion, there are small bits here-and-there where things click for the film, but in judging it as a whole, it shoots for the moon and misses.
Final Grade: B-
As the second season of The Mandalorian hits its third episode, its strong season premiere and decent second episode have brought us back into the series in a big way. Can the third episode improve on what has come before?
After managing to ferry his passenger from the last episode to her husband, Mando is informed that there are Mandalorians near the spaceport where his ship is. What he finds is quite a revelation, but is a key to him hopefully being able to reunite the child in his care, with the Jedi.
If you thought the previous episode was short, The Mistress has it beat by clocking in at just 35 minutes. The length of these most recent episodes makes me wonder if episodes 2 and 3 were meant to be one story, but were split in two due to how much was going on.
Bryce Dallas Howard returns to the director’s chair, showing us once again that she knows how to pull at our emotions, and get us pulled into the action. This episode has much more action than her last episode in season 1, and makes me eager to know what more she could do for the series.
The environment of this episode is probably the wettest we’ve encountered yet, and makes for a nice change-of-pace. We see a population largely made up of sea creatures such as Mon Calamari and Squid Heads, let alone how this area has fared after the fall of the Empire.
The Mandalorians our lead encounters manage to be quite surprising in their depiction. Led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), they reveal some additional information in regards to Mandalorian codes, and the history of the warriors. One can definitely sense some apprehension when they do things that seem outside of the code that Mando has lived by for much of his life, but it is notable that this does not stop them from offering help when Mando needs it in several instances.
This episode also continues the “you have to do us a favor” theme from the previous episodes, as Mando is recruited to help deal with some post-Empire loyalists. Howard’s directing of the event is incredibly exciting, and blends drama, action, and a little humor into the mission.
The Mistress manages to bring us some new revelations amidst an action-oriented episode, making it feel like a short-but-sweet storyline. I like episodes where we learn more about the galaxy, and this one where we learn a bit more about Mandalorian codes and post-Empire actions, delivered very well. The introduction of some new characters here leaves the door open to not only the possibility of us seeing them again, but knowing there is even more about The Mandalorians that has yet to be revealed.
Final Grade: B
After a strong season 2 opener, The Mandalorian has gotten us excited to follow the series’ helmeted lead and his young companion, as they set off on a personal mission, and encounter harrowing adventures along the way.
With the second episode, the Star Wars galaxy opens up a bit wider, but just in smaller increments.
The Mandalorian continues his quest to find more of his kind, to help return The Child where it belongs. When an expectant mother needs passage to reach her husband, Mando begrudgingly accepts in exchange for information that might help him.
However, the journey comes with extra stipulations, and leads the group into more than they bargained for.
While starting off in a familiar locale, this episode takes us to some (supposedly) new territory, while keeping much of the nostalgia to a bare minimum. We also get to encounter some new surroundings and creatures, that might put some viewers on edge.
Speaking of creatures, for those who didn’t feel there was enough of The Child in the last episode, this one should be greatly entertaining. We get to see it go through quite a range of emotions, and get in a few, humorous moments of troublemaking that almost make him seem “gremlin-like.”
The mother of the piece is probably not going to win a lot of people over (amphibious creatures in Star Wars seem to grate on most peoples’ nerves), but we do see that she can be resourceful when necessary, while also concerned in regards to herself and her unborn young. What could have become a stereotypical “annoying passenger” with an urgent issue, is nicely kept in check for most of the episode (even if she speaks “frog” most of the time).
One highlight is an aerial sequence in which Mando encounters some X-Wing fighters. While we saw them briefly in the first season, this one showcases Industrial Light & Magic’s technological advances in recent years. Somehow, they’ve managed to find a nice balance between the visuals of the starships we saw decades go, while placing them into some picturesque scenery with real-world detailing.
This episode also brings a new director into the fold, with Peyton Reed (director of Ant-Man) at the helm. Reed brings what feels like a nice, old-school simplicity to the story. There aren’t a lot of wide-open vistas once the main part of the story begins, and the camerawork feels both intimate and claustrophobic for much of the episode (with one scene even feeling like Reed is borrowing from the Spielberg book of framing).
On the whole, the story does prove to show us more of how Mando operates, but just feels average. A much shorter side-adventure (clocking in at only 41 minutes!), The Passenger takes its time a bit more than most episodes, stretching out its storyline in a way which might bore some of the younger viewers, but felt like a nice breather compared to last week’s episode. At this point, the episode could just be allowing us to catch our breaths, before next weeks episode ramps back up to speeds and excitement we’re well used to.
Final Grade: B–
When The Mandalorian premiered last fall, it felt like a return to what Star Wars creator George Lucas enfolded into his early trilogy.
The Disney+ show chronicled the journey of a lone warrior in a sci-fi mixture of westerns and samurai tales, while adding some humor and heart to the mix. It was a story idea that managed to make me excited for a bucket-headed bounty hunter that wasn’t named “Fett,” and revealed a new spin on a familiar species, that soon ended up becoming a hit that caught The Walt Disney Company by surprise.
Now, almost a year and thousands of “Baby Yoda” products later, we return to following a new season of adventures with Mando and The Child.
Following the events of last season, Mando is continuing his quest to find other Mandalorian warriors who can help him return The Child to where it belongs.
His journey leads him back to Tatooine, and to the small town of Mos Pelgo, presided over by a man named Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant). The visit is interrupted when a massive Krayt Dragon threatens the town, leading to Mando providing his help, in exchange for some special items Cobb has obtained.
As soon as I heard of the familiar outer-rim planet, I had flashbacks to the rather average first-season episode, The Gunslinger. I was underwhelmed by that episode’s storyline, and what felt like an attempt to give us a pretty heavy dose of “nostalgic anesthetic” related to some familiar locales.
In the case of The Marshal, writer/director Jon Favreau fortunately has a much more entertaining and interesting narrative to work with, allowing most of the nostalgic bits intertwined within the episode to work in the service of the storyline…though I will say there were a few areas where my eyes opened real wide upon recognizing some unexpected surprises.
The story goes all-in with the Western aesthetic, with Mos Pelgo being the small town at the mercy of the elements and marauders (let alone local creatures), and Cobb is the man who attempts to keep the peace.
As the town’s savior, Cobb’s characterization came across as surprising, and very involving. While a little rough around the edges, he is a person who manages to seem pretty cool and collected when dealing with Mando, but also has some trepidation when dealing with unexpected surprises. We also learn a little about his backstory, let alone how the fall of the Empire affected the small community he is a part of.
The Child takes a backseat for most of the episode, which becomes more of a “creature-feature,” with quite a number of Tusken Raiders (aka “Sand People”) being utilized. The Gunslinger showed us that Mando could communicate with them, and we get to see a bit more of their culture, often against some rather picturesque vistas.
The big baddie this time around is a Krayt dragon, a creature that has been a part of Star Wars lore for years, and is depicted here as a massive threat that may seem familiar to some creatures in the films Dune and Tremors, with maybe a bit of Moby Dick in how the plan is hatched to bring down this sand-swimming monstrosity. Plus, if you have an “ear” for nostalgia, you may pick up on a familiar sound emanating from its maw.
The Marshal is an entertaining action-adventure tale, that manages to tell a good story, while also not letting too much of its nostalgia get the better of it. The addition of more information about Tatooine and its creatures helped draw me in, and Olyphant as Cobb Vanth was an entertaining character to meet for the first time. Series creator Jon Favreau brings us back with a solid first episode, leaving us hungry for what is to come in the next episode.
Final Grade: B+
Though Roald Dahl’s The Witches was adapted into a feature-length film in 1989, the famed author was heard to have greatly hated the direction the adaptation took (word was, he even found fault with the 1971 adaptation of his book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). One has to wonder if director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the author wouldn’t be slipping him notes on this latest adaptation.
Moving the story’s setting to the American south in the late 60’s, the film’s lead boy (played by Jahzir Bruno) ends up in the care of his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) after losing his parents. When the boy encounters a strange woman one day, grandma claims he encountered a witch, and takes him into hiding at a fancy resort hotel…not realizing it is the planned meeting place of numerous witches, and their leader: The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway).
Bruno plays his role of the unnamed lead pretty well, showing a traumatized young boy who is coaxed back to life by his Grandma, but then must deal with a new problem in his life. Unfortunately, there seems to be a strange difference in attitude and energy once he becomes a mouse, as if he’s gotten an adrenaline rush from the change. Maybe if the film had shown him at these same energy levels as a boy, it might have worked better for me.
Octavia Spencer was one of the highlights of Pixar’s Onward earlier this year, and she does well playing a grandma that can be caring, but also doesn’t put up with much guff. There also is a strange malady the story afflicts her with that never feels like we fully get a payoff on, let alone her being referred to as a healer almost as an afterthought.
One role that I think many will be most curious about, is the latest iteration of The Grand High Witch. Unlike the more serious take in the 1989 adaptation, Hathaway’s characterization ping-pongs from creepy to campy at times, with enhancements that rely a little too heavily on Zemeckis’ computer-generated imagery. Even so, there are some images shown that I could see terrifying little kids (in much the same way Zemeckis terrorized us with Judge Doom in Roger Rabbit), let-alone some close-up shots that I feel were indicative of a possible 3-D theatrical release before COVID-19 happened.
The screenplay crafts a much different world than the book, one where the main target of witches are out-of-the-way minority children, while under the guise of wealthy, beautiful women. It feels like the story could have explored this social topic a little further, but the film seems to be in a rush to get us to the more memorable parts of the story. Throughout the film, “the bones” of Dahl’s story are pretty much intact, and I even saw a few things from the book that surprised me.
One of the things that the viewer may find rather annoying, is that the story is largely told with a narrator. It almost feels like the story was forced down this path to help along younger viewers, but it is probably the most “overkill” thing in the entire film.
There also is an over-reliance of computer-generated effects at times that can take the audience out of some scenes (did we need a CG cat, Bob?), let alone some effects scenes that feel like they needed a little more time to be perfected. It does seem odd that we have what seems like a real-looking mouse, and yet when the lead is turned into a mouse, he becomes a bit more, “cartoony” in appearance.
Much like with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one can just imagine a bunch of “1989 vs 2020” debates regarding which of the adaptations of this work is better. While I had my trepidations about Zemeckis making this film (his 2018 release Welcome to Marwen left me very nervous about his future), I was surprised by how entertaining it was for most of the time. It does manage to stick to the basics of the story, while never straying too far. And for those who are fans of Dahl’s work, don’t be surprised if you find a few little ‘easter eggs’ hidden within the film.
Even with the film being passable however, I still will wonder what the film could have been like, when Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, The Shape of Water) was attached to direct it as a stop-motion project over a decade ago.
Final Grade: B-
Over the years, transformation in animation has fascinated me. Whether they be whimsical or sometimes violent, just something about things being turned into other things just draws my attention.
Upon seeing a trailer for the Netflix release A Whisker Away in early-summer 2020, it’s story seemed a intriguing.
After encountering a strange mask seller at a summer festival, Miyo Sasaki finds a cat mask she got from him, has the ability to temporarily turn her into a cat. When a boy at her school named Kento Hionde finds her in her cat-form and takes her in on the assumption that she’s a stray, Miyo begins to lead a double-life. By day she attends school with Kento, and for a few hours every evening, she visits him as a cat. As things in her human life begin to weigh heavily on her mind, Miyo begins to ponder if life as Kento’s pet may not be so bad after all.
After watching the film, it felt like a better concept was shown in the minute-long trailer that had first intrigued me. Once I had thought about what I had watched, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the film was a beautiful mess.
Part of the mess happens to lie in how the characters are depicted.
After a rather confusing opening, we get to see Miyo in full-on “crush-mode,” loudly hip-checking Kento in the morning, and becoming a drooling lovesick wreck at times, while Kento himself just seems to quietly find her actions annoying.
The film slowly attempts to chalks up Miyo’s quirky behavior to problems within her family, as she struggles with being a child of divorce. One would expect we’d get some deep drama as she adjusts to life with a new stepmother, but the filmmakers jettison some much-needed introspection in favor of her “obsession” with Kento.
Kento also isn’t very well-developed either. We only get a few faint bits of information about his personality, let alone his struggles to find an identity that may not be what his widowed mother wants him to be.
The film’s inability to work on developing the characters’ back stories, let alone give us some more time understanding Miyo’s struggles being both human and cat, prove to be some of the most frustrating parts of the film. The filmmakers want to take the easy way out, hoping these tiny-yet-unsatisfying glimpses into Miyo and Kento’s lives will allow us to connect-the-dots, and buy that these two kids belong together no matter what.
It also doesn’t help that the film’s youthful characters and cat-like imagery, put me in mind of a few much better films from Studio Ghibli. At times, it feels like that studio’s feature films Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns served as major inspirations for this tale. Unfortunately, if there was inspiration taken from those two films, it was mainly the style of those films over the deeper substance of bettering yourself, or working to understand who you are.
If there’s something positive I can say about the film, it is that the background paintings are really eye-catching! There’s some top-notch artistry on display here, though it largely shines in the third act when the film finally throws us into a whole other world.
What is strange at times, is it feels like most of the scenes are set up to show us more of the world surrounding Miyo and the others. Camera angles most of the time tend to draw our focus to the environments, shoving characters to the side or into the background, as if the characters are more of an “afterthought” to what we are seeing.
In conclusion, A Whisker Away is a beautifully-rendered production, that attempts to tell a flimsy “young love story.” It’s attempts to make us care and root for Miyo never becomes engaging enough, and the characters around her barely register enough to get us fully-invested in the overall story. It also isn’t a good sign that as I watched the film, I kept thinking of numerous ways the story could have been improved. When I start trying to improve on what I’m seeing, it’s a good sign that the film has some problems.
Final Grade: C
Currently available on Netflix. Rated TV-MA for Language and Smoking
Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.
On June 4th, 2004, an armored bulldozer rampaged through the small mountain town of Granby, Colorado. Heavily-fortified with steel and concrete, the dozer caused millions of dollars in property damage over a few hours, before it’s driver Marvin Heemeyer, took his life.
The story was national news for 24 hours, and then the newsfeed was taken over by the death of former President Ronald Reagan the next day. After that, there was no additional coverage or follow-up as to why Heemeyer had done what he did.
Director Peter Solet and his brother, were two people that became interested in understanding more about what led up to that fateful day. Now after almost a decade, that research has been released in the form of the documentary, Tread.
A former Air Force pilot with a knack for welding, Marvin Heemeyer ended up owning a muffler shop in Granby. Some claimed he seemed friendly and reliable, and made enough to support his hobby as an avid snowmobiler.
Where things started to go downhill was when Marvin purchased several acres of land in town. According to audio cassettes he recorded months before his rampage, the purchase seemed to begin a chain reaction which led to a number of prominent people in the community deciding to make things difficult for him. Eventually, Marvin started believing that God was telling him what he could do to “level the playing field.”
Along with Marvin’s voice utilized via audio cassettes, there are a few people he knew that also give some additional insight into him. However, they are little more than local acquaintances, and only take up a very small amount of screen time.
Most of the interview time happens to go instead, to a number of people and prominent family members in Granby, whom Marvin claims “wronged” him. Most notable about the local people interviewed, is they seem relatively calm, with nary a harsh word towards Heemeyer, and some even contradicting his feelings and verbal tirades. Most seemed relatively unaware he was harboring such deep grudges towards them.
Much of the film contains re-enactments of some scenes, with the more interesting ones occurring once Marvin decides to purchase a bulldozer from a California auction. This leads to the more action-oriented finale of the film, where parts of the rampage are recreated with a replica of the bulldozer (though thankfully, not filmed anywhere near Granby).
While the story of what led to the events that fateful summer day do make for a good story, it feels like Solet (who is also the writer), narrows his focus a little too much, deciding to only gather information on Marvin during his life in the town.
We do learn about Marvin having family and spending some time in Florida with friends, but none of them are interviewed or provide additional insight regarding him. We don’t know what he was like as a child, or if maybe something in his past or his time in the Air Force affected his thinking. There are points where we see pictures of him with weaponry as well as him speaking about God giving him his task. These are extra character avenues that had me wondering what others had to say regarding these circumstances.
Tread also perplexed me with how it ended. Once the rampage is over, the film just peters out. One would assume we’d get an epilogue exploring more of the town of Granby, and how what Marvin did affected it all these years later. We don’t even get to hear what the local citizenry have to say about Marvin, or even get eyewitness accounts from regular people who he may have serviced in his muffler shop, or who watched the rampage that day.
That to me is the problem with Tread: it feels like it’s missing some extra material to flesh out the film and make it seem a little more “balanced.” While we do get some good insight about Marvin Heemeyer, it feels like the filmmaker is really just in a hurry to give us the cliff’s notes version of his life in the small town, and get us to “the money shot” as quickly as possible.
Final Grade: B
With recent developments revolving around COVID-19, this country has found itself in a deadly game of tug-of-war. With people demanding their “freedom” to do whatever they wish in the face of a pandemic that (as of this posting) is still infecting and causing deaths with no signs of a readily-available vaccine, I couldn’t help but feel that even here…I was thinking of a Twilight Zone episode I hadn’t seen in years.
It turns out that on Social Media, some others were thinking the same as I was…leading me to craft this little Retro Recap of the Season 5 episode, The Old Man in the Cave.
In an unnamed town with nary a working automobile or electricity, we see a number of disheveled people huddled around some boxes of canned food. One person claims the food is “pre-bomb,” and safe to consume. However, another says they should wait to hear what The Old Man has to say about the food.
Eventually, a man named Goldsmith (John Anderson) returns to the townspeople to deliver a message from The Old Man in the Cave. Along with advising them all to prepare for inclement weather (which could spread radioactive contamination), Goldsmith says the Old Man has proclaimed that the canned goods are toxic, and are not to be consumed.
It is then that the camera whip-pans, and we find Rod Serling standing in the street, delivering his opening monologue:
What you’re looking at is a legacy that man left to himself. A decade previous, he pushed his buttons, and a nightmarish moment later, woke up to find that he had set the clock back a thousand years. His engines, his medicines, his science, were buried in a mass tomb, covered over by the biggest gravedigger of them all: a bomb. And this is the earth 10 years later, a fragment of what was once a whole, a remnant of what was once a race. The year is 1974, and this…is The Twilight Zone.
As the townspeople begin to dispose of the cans, a Jeep pulls into town, with four armed men. One of them gets out, and introduces himself as Major French (James Coburn). He claims that the town is now to be placed under a Constabulary, and expects full cooperation from the people.
When Goldsmith speaks up against this declaration, French threatens to hang him for insubordination if he doesn’t cooperate. Claiming that there are only around 500 people left alive after the bombing, French says that his command is the new way to retain order in a lawless country. Upon seeing the canned goods, French inquires why the townspeople haven’t partaken of them yet.
Hearing about how The Old Man in the Cave cautioned the town against this, French laughs, telling how he’s heard tales of other “cults” the meager populations across the country have gathered into, and assumes that this is more of the same.
When Goldsmith offers scant details as to the identity of The Old Man in the Cave, French demands they find out more about the town’s reclusive benefactor.
French, his men, and the townspeople are led to the cave, which is sealed shut by a metal door. When French asks how the Old Man can survive inside the cave, Goldsmith claims he does not know…only that notes and messages are given to him, and this information he relays to the townspeople.
French’s men then use a hand grenade to blast open the door, but the metal holds strong. Yelling through the door to The Old Man that ‘this is just the beginning,’ French and his men return to the town with the citizens…where they then start passing out the canned goods to the townspeople!
Goldsmith claims that the canned goods could be poisoned by Strontium-90 (a radioactive isotope), but French calmly eats from one of the cans, and feeling no ill effects, once again claims the stoic man is overreacting.
Goldsmith however, does not relent. He claims that they don’t know where the cans came from or who processed them. If the food has been poisoned by radiation, they’ll be dead in 10 days.
But French’s words and actions, are more than enough to cause the starving townspeople to ignore Goldsmith. He again pleads with them as they begin scooping up the canned foods, before one of French’s soldiers breaks into a store with the words “contaminated” on the door, and starts passing out liquor bottles from inside!
By nightfall, the townspeople (sans Goldsmith), have opened the food and drank from the liquor supplies. During this time, French has a conversation with a man named Jason (John Marley), before Goldsmith comes over to him.
French taunts Goldsmith for not partaking in the food and spirits, claiming he (French) has helped these people, and inquires why the stubborn Goldsmith does not “unbend.”
“You came as intruders,” says Goldsmith, “But now you’re murderers. Only God knows how many people will die because of tonight. The Old Man in the Cave warned us about this food dozens of times. He warned us.”
The talk irritates French who then loudly calls for attention, claiming Goldsmith has lied to the townspeople, and has made up The Old Man to hold sway over them all. Soon, he has riled up the townspeople, and they take Goldsmith back to the cave, demanding he open the metal door.
Once again, Goldsmith pleads for reason, claiming that they should think logically. Though they have suffered hardships over the past 10 years, The Old Man has succeeded in helping to keep them alive. He claims they shouldn’t need to intrude, but his words fall on deaf ears, and he consents to their demands.
Activating a hidden switch in the nearby rocks, the metal door opens, and the townspeople and soldiers rush inside. What they find causes them to come to a halt.
There is no Old Man…only a large computer, it’s lights blinking, and the sound of information processing through it’s system.
French demands that the people need to kill their ‘tyrant’ if they are to be free of it, and Goldsmith quietly watches as the townspeople destroy the machine.
Some time later, we see the town, with it’s citizenry strewn about it’s streets, unmoving…including Major French and his soldiers.
We then hear movement, and see Goldsmith, walking about, quietly looking at those who have been poisoned by the canned food and liquor. As his eyes fall upon French’s corpse, he speaks aloud.
“When we talked about the ways that men could die,” says Goldsmith, “we forgot about the chief method of execution. We forgot faithlessness, Mr French. Maybe you’re not to blame. Maybe if it weren’t you, it would have been someone else. Maybe this has to be the destiny of man. I wonder if that’s true. I wonder. I guess I’ll never know…I guess I’ll never know.”
As Goldsmith walks further among the dead, Serling delivers his closing monologue:
Mr Goldsmith: survivor. An eyewitness to man’s imperfection, an observer of the very human trait of greed, and a chronicler of the last chapter. The one reading, ‘suicide.’ Not a prediction of what is to be, just a projection of what could be. This has been…The Twilight Zone.
And that was The Old Man in the Cave.
The episode does leave several questions unanswered, such as the relationship Goldsmith has with “The Old Man.” The image of the perfect-and-clean machine sitting in a cave feels quite “artificial,” let alone we do not know how the computer stays powered on. Did Goldsmith craft it? Did he know of it’s capabilities prior to the bombing, and hid it in the cave? There are a number of questions here that Serling chooses not to answer, instead focusing on the battle of wills between Goldsmith, and Major French.
Throughout the episode, Anderson’s portrayal of Goldsmith is one that never wavers in his “faith” (or the chiseled, placid look upon actor John Anderson’s face). Though he does give-in and open the metal door in the end, he presides over the townspeople mainly like a priest trying to keep his “flock” alive in these troubled times. He will offer words of encouragement, but he will not strike back at those in the town who come against him.
It is notable how Serling has given these people a man-made savior in the form of the machine, but unlike man himself, it is not prone to emotions like selfishness or greed…just giving calculations and information that is able to keep the people alive, even through the worst of conditions. It’s information looks to be a help to everyone in the town, and survival is not based on a caste or class system.
It is also notable that some in the beginning of the episode, defend The Old Man. It’s prediction at the start of 80% inclement weather shows it doesn’t always get everything perfect, but has gotten enough right to keep the people willing to listen to Goldsmith for over 10 years. There is talk about how the people attempted to grow crops in areas that were deemed unsuitable by The Old Man, resulting in dead or mutated vegetation that most likely made them put more faith in the machine’s messages.
The portrayal of Major French could easily have been turned into a belligerent tyrant, but Coburn imbues his character as a man who is looking for logical answers to Goldsmith’s hold over the people, even as he and his men are brandishing weapons.
We even find out that French went to college and that he seems well-studied, with a personality that is more realist. French has to see The Old Man in order to believe Goldsmith. He has to taste the food before he’ll believe it to be poisoned. Without the proof, French believes he is justified in his actions, and that he is “helping” instead of “hurting.”
The Old Man in the Cave is an episode that uniquely blends together faith and logic, leaving the viewer to ponder the events of what has happened. In the end, with The Old Man destroyed, Goldsmith is on his own, with the viewer to assume that he will most likely try to get by as best he can, but now runs the risk that without guidance, he may die soon.
Much of the episode feels pretty simplified in where it’s going, with the townspeople’s mob mentality putting me in mind of other instances in The Twilight Zone, from the episodes The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, or The Shelter. Unlike those episodes, the violence here does not reach the nightmarish levels we’ve seen before, as the people here are merely looking for hope, guidance, and a possible break from the miserable life they’ve lived after the bombs fell.
Much like Serling’s underrated episode from season 4 titled He’s Alive, The Old Man in the Cave is a story that shows there are themes made almost 50 years ago, that can still resonate in today’s time, but just under different circumstances.
Times may change, but there are certain elements of humanity it seems, that are everlasting…and in some cases, some of those elements can still prove dangerous to many.
Movie Musings: Palpatine’s three key manipulations to becoming Emperor (aka “It wasn’t all Jar Jar Binks’ fault”)
“All democracies turn into dictatorships–but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it’s Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea. What kinds of things push people and institutions in this direction? That’s the issue I’ve been exploring: how did the Republic turn into the Empire?…How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship?” – George Lucas , from the April 21, 2002 edition of Time Magazine
Of all the incidents within George Lucas’ prequel trilogy for his Star Wars saga, the one that has come to light in recent years, has been the constant talk that Jar Jar Binks was responsible for the rise of The Empire. Plus, thanks to a small bit in a Robot Chicken sketch on Cartoon Network, a rumor developed that the dopey Gungan was not only a secret Sith Lord, but the true “Phantom Menace.”
Regarding these fan-theories, I find the secret Sith Lord one to be ridiculous. As for bringing about the rise of the Empire, like most things that people think are so simple, there’s more to that story than people realize.
As we’ve seen from our own real-world political systems, it is often a number of people being manipulated, to get some of those in power what they want. With this post, I hope to shed a little more light on the political chess game of the prequels, and hopefully show ‘a certain point of view’ some may not have considered before.*
Let us consider Palpatine’s first major move to become Emperor. It would involve someone from Naboo…but not Jar Jar.
*Note: This post only takes into account the films and their script information. It does not take into account the Expanded Universe.
In The Phantom Menace, Naboo Senator Palpatine (under the guise of Sith Lord, Darth Sidious) manipulated the Trade Federation to blockade his peaceful homeworld. With a security force made up largely of volunteers, their armed forces would not have stood a chance against the thousands of battle droids the Federation unleashed across the planet.
In regards to her political stance, Queen Amidala put great faith in diplomacy and negotiations, and refused to go to war. Upon hearing that Supreme Chancellor Valorum had sent two Jedi (Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi) to negotiate a settlement, she was confident the matter would be resolved amicably.
Acting on orders from Palpatine, the Trade Federation attempted to kill the Jedi, but the two succeeded in getting to the capital city of Theed, and alerting the Queen to what had happened.
Though Amidala wished to remain with her people, Qui-gon recommended she escape with them, feeling her first-person account of what was happening, would convince the Senate to help her planet.
Arriving in the Republic capital of Coruscant, Padme was met by both Palpatine and Valorum. Though the Supreme Chancellor informed her that he had called an emergency meeting of the Senate to hear of her situation, Palpatine later told Padme in private, that he doubted anything would be done.
“The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates,” he said. “There is no interest at all in the common good.”
Palpatine also claimed that some felt Valorum himself was compromised, and that he was under the thumb of the bureaucrats. To save their planet, Palpatine floated two options.
The first option, would be to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum. This would (hopefully) allow for the election of “a stronger Supreme Chancellor,” who might be able to help them.
The second option, would be to submit a plea to the courts…which would probably take more time than the Senate to come to a decision regarding the blockade.
When Palpatine and Amidala appeared before the Senate, the Queen’s words were shouted down by the Trade Federation’s members. Objecting to the ‘accusations,’ they claimed Amidala had no proof, and that a committee be sent to Naboo to find out the truth.
Valorum attempted to intervene, before his vice chair Mas Amedda had a few words in private with him.
“Enter the bureaucrats,” Palpatine whispered to Padme. “The true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum’s strength…will disappear.”
It sounded like Palpatine’s words rang true when Valorum conceded, asking Padme if she would allow the Trade Federation’s request to be accepted.
The young ruler refused, claiming she had come for a proper resolution of help, not to see her people be ignored further. It wass then that she took Palpatine’s advice, and called for a vote of no confidence in Valorum.
Following these events, Palpatine ended up being one of the senators nominated to succeed Valorum. Telling the Queen the news, he explained that their planet’s current situation could create “a strong sympathy vote,” that might sway the election in their favor.
In the end, Padme and her companions returned to Naboo, and with the help of Jar Jar and the Gungans, took back control of the planet.
As the Trade Federation leaders were led away, the newly-elected Supreme Chancellor Palpatine greeted the Queen. With a smile, he promised that they would bring “peace and prosperity to the Republic.”
Of course, within that smiling optimism, was the mind of a devious tyrant, happy that his plans were still moving forward.
Yes, Jar Jar Binks did have a hand in Palpatine’s rise to power. No, it wasn’t all his fault.
When we first meet Jar Jar in Attack of the Clones, he is in residence at Amidala’s senatorial apartment on Coruscant. Following the Battle of Naboo, he was chosen as a representative for the Gungans in the Galactic Senate.
Though he was just there in a physical manner, when Padme was forced to go into hiding due to several assassination attempts, she appointed Jar Jar to act as a full representative to Naboo in her stead.
At the time, Padme and a number of other Senators were strongly opposed to “The Military Creation Act” in the Senate. With the rise of the Separatist movement (being led by former Jedi, Count Dooku), there were fears that the powerful group could overthrow the Republic. While some felt a military act would quell the Separatists, Padme and a number of other Senators still believed that diplomacy could win out.
Of course, she couldn’t have foreseen Palpatine’s next move. This would occur due to two pieces of information, uncovered by Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The first was the discovery of a Clone Army, that was being created on the planet Kamino, for the Republic (though the order was placed through an unknown Jedi named, Sifo-dyas).
The second revelation occurred on the planet Geonosis, where Obi-Wan found the Trade Federation’s droid factories creating a droid Army, that was to be utilized by the Separatists to attack the Republic.
While some senators felt that a ready-in-waiting Clone Army could be advantageous to the Republic, senator Bail Organa expressed concern that there was not enough support in the Senate to approve such a thing in case the Separatists did swiftly decide to attack.
This was when Palpatine’s advisor Mas Amedda made a shocking proposal: give the Supreme Chancellor emergency powers. This would allow him to override the Senate’s indecisiveness, and immediately approve the use of the clone army.
“But what senator would have the courage to pose such a radical amendment?” questioned Palpatine.
“If only…Senator Amidala were here,” muttered Amedda.
These words seemed to be leveled at Jar Jar, and wanting to do right by Padme and his homeworld, he volunteered to raise the issue in the Senate. Much like how Padme had been sucked in by Palpatine’s manipulations 10 years before…now too, would Jar Jar!
Explaining the dire situation facing the Republic, Representative Binks’ request was approved by a majority of the Senators, and Palpatine addressed the delegates.
“It is with great reluctance, that I have agreed to this calling,” he said. “I love democracy, I love the Republic. The power you give me, I will lay down, once this crisis has abated.”
And thus, the clone army was ordered to Geonosis to try and stop the Separatists. However, the Separatist Leaders and Count Dooku succeeded in getting away, and thus, the Clone War began.
Palpatine had now gained special powers beyond the Senate, and a massive army at his command…but, he was not all-powerful…yet.
As the Clone War entered it’s third year at the start of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine began to finalize his grand scheme. All he needed…was a powerful-yet-confused young Jedi.
Palpatine had befriended Anakin after the Battle of Naboo, and while Anakin seemed to believe in the Chancellor, he saw nothing wrong with the Senate giving him even more power. Unlike Padme, Anakin favored more direct action, and less diplomacy.
During a battle over Coruscant, Palpatine had tested Anakin’s resolve to kill Count Dooku, and Anakin had reluctantly beheaded the former Jedi at the Chancellor’s request. Palpatine could sense his power over Anakin…but, he needed to push him to further doubt his allegiance to the Jedi, to win him over to his side.
This would occur in several ways.
The first was Palpatine appointing Anakin to be his ‘personal representative’ on the Jedi Council. The council found this decision ‘disturbing,’ but made a concession: Anakin could serve on the council per the Chancellor’s order…but he would not be granted the rank of “Master.”
This decision infuriated Anakin, but so did a secret request by the Jedi to spy on the Chancellor for them…a request that was made in secret by his mentor, Obi-Wan.
However, what weighed most heavily on Anakin’s mind, was a vision in which Padme had died during childbirth. In Attack of the Clones, he was unable to save his mother from death on Tatooine, and vowed he would not lose Padme as well. Anakin spoke to Master Yoda of his fears, but all Yoda would tell him was that he must accept the deaths of others he cared for…something which Anakin was unable to do.
Palpatine sensed these roiling emotions in Anakin, and told him of a Sith Lord called Darth Plagueis, who it was said could save others from dying. However, it would require knowledge of the Dark Side of the Force, to gain this ability.
“Is it possible to learn this power?” asked Anakin.
“…not from a Jedi,” Palpatine had responded, sensing that he had piqued Anakin’s interests.
When next they met, Palpatine revealed himself as a Sith Lord…but as he expected, Anakin did not kill him. Instead, Anakin reported Palpatine’s identity to Mace Windu, hoping that the Jedi would jail the Chancellor, and allow Anakin the chance to find out more about what Palpatine knew. Instead, Mace felt the Sith Lord was too dangerous to live, and attempted to kill him upon their confrontation!
Fearing the loss of the power to save his wife, Anakin attacked Mace, giving Palpatine the chance to electrocute the Jedi Master with Force lighting, and throw him through a window to his death.
Palpatine knew he now had Anakin in his clutches. Promising the two of them would discover Plagueis’ secret to ‘cheat death’ together, Anakin then pledged his allegiance to the Sith Lord…and was bestowed the mantle, of Darth Vader.
Anakin even gave into Palpatine’s words that all the Jedi had to be destroyed, or they would surely try to take over the Republic. With the promise that their deaths would lead to strengthening his new powers, Anakin led a battalion into the Jedi Temple, and was even willing to slaughter children if it meant keeping his wife alive.
He then traveled to Mustafar, where he dispatched the Separatist leaders. This would mean an end to the Clone War, but the real nightmare was about to begin for the Republic.
During the slaughter on Mustafar, Palpatine called an emergency meeting of the Senate.
Appearing before them with his ‘scarred and deformed’ visage, he told how the Jedi had attempted to overthrow the Republic and kill him, and were now in the process of being ‘hunted down and defeated.’
This should have come as a shock to many in the Senate. The Jedi had been a part of the Republic for many generations, and yet the announcement that the “Jedi rebellion had been foiled,” led to cheers from many (though not from Bail Organa or Padme Amidala, who quietly watched the horror that was unfolding before them).
It was then that Palpatine declared that to ensure a ‘safe and secure society,’ the Republic would be reorganized, into the first Galactic Empire.
This declaration that signaled the fall of the Republic, was met by a look of shock from Padme, as the Senate chamber erupted into a cacophony of approval.
“So this is how liberty dies,” sighed Padme. “With thunderous applause.”
And as Revenge of the Sith drew to a close, it seemed that the Power of the Dark Side had triumphed. The Jedi Order had been destroyed, there was a massive military force at the beck-and-call of the new Emperor, and Palpatine was now the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy.
Though the Sith had taken over the Republic, it would take some time before the Empire would be defeated.
Much like how Palpatine had manipulated Anakin into becoming his apprentice, he soon hoped that Luke Skywalker would be able to replace Vader. However, Luke was not so easily swayed. Though caught off-guard at times, he proved to be stronger than his father had been, resisting the Emperor’s temptations, and even helped redeem his father when Vader threw his master down a shaft in the second Death Star.
And as we’ve seen via The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine survived to terrorize the galaxy another day…but that is another story that we can delve into at another time.
For now, I hope I have opened your minds a little further, and we can give Jar Jar Binks a little more of a break.