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November 11, 2002

After further review...

...the play does not stand as called.

He walked. Just -- not at that particular time. He walked later. :)


At one end of the spectrum, you have Will Sudderth. Shannon and I disagree on whether he actually walked for the first time -- Shannon had been holding him by his arms and had helped him gain considerable momentum, so if I hadn't been there to catch him it might have looked more like a belly flop than self-propulsion. But it's hard to argue that he took his first steps today.

At the other, you have my dear friend Amanda Gunn -- excuse me, Dr. Amanda Gunn, who just defended her dissertation and passed with flying colors. Amanda, hon, you rock.

November 6, 2002

Washington? Um, OK...

Vastly overstated.

Election 2002

Lessons I'm taking away from this election:

  • My politics are quite out of the mainstream, apparently.
  • In an off-year election, such as Reagan in '82 and Clinton in '94, the President's party is supposed to lose ground. Give credit to Bush and/or his handlers -- he had serious coattails. Almost every candidate he worked hard for won. (The Great South Dakota Proxy Battle between Bush and South Dakota's other senator, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, is still up in the air.)
  • Corollary to the previous point -- Bush's popularity is real. More Americans respect him than not. I'll attribute that to (1) America's increasing fiscal conservatism and (2) the lingering post-9/11 effect.
  • I've read some blogs lately in which Bush is derided as the "President-select" or the "usurper in chief." Sure, guys, whatever floats your boat. But as Cokie Roberts said this morning on NPR (RealAudio), now he's got a mandate that he didn't have after the 2000 election.
  • On the other hand, some Democrats have seen other moderate Democratic candidates -- those who supported Bush on Iraq and tax cuts, for example -- lose. The lesson they're taking from this is that they've got to have backbone and stand for something. Whether, in drawing a distinction between themselves and the Bush administration, they push themselves so far left as to be unelectable by a conservative public remains to be seen.

In other nightmarish news, my wife just called to let me know that she accidentally turned the channel to Teletubbies and now Will is rapturously watching television. No. No. A thousand times, no.

November 4, 2002

I never get tired of this

It's a great thing to have a son. Especially such a happy one.

Parental units and others who would like a bigger version (suitable for desktop wallpaper, Mom and Dad!) can click here. (Right-click on it and choose "Save Picture As..." to download it to your computer.)

Yes, this was his Halloween costume. No, we don't dress him like that regularly.

November 3, 2002

Episode II, IMAX-style

Opinions of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones ran the gamut from giddy relief to aggressive disinterest to outright loathing. Projecting the same movie onto a 7-story screen won't change your opinion one bit. But if you liked Episode II, or at least were distracted by the pretty pictures and flashing lights enough to overlook the plot and dialogue, watching the newly-released IMAX edition is a treat.

Edited Scenes
The good news for folks who only tolerated the plot and dialogue is that apparently Lucasfilm had to edit out some segments in order to fit into the maximum IMAX running time. So the following scenes are either shortened or cut entirely:

  • The meeting between the Jedi and Chancellor Palpatine after the assassination attempt is gone (which takes out a lot of the separatist and Count Dooku backstory).
  • The "my-how-you've-grown-Anakin" routines by Jar Jar and Padme are cut, picking up the scene when they're sitting around the coffee table and Anakin's arguing with Obi-Wan.
  • The whole "frolicking-in-the-fields" bit between Anakin and Padme? Blessedly gone.
  • No reference survives to Anakin having nightmares about his mother except for when he and Padme decide to leave for Tatooine.
  • Owen and Beru are never introduced, leaving the audience wondering who these guys on the Lars homestead are.
  • Anakin's confession to Padme about wiping out the Sandpeople is shortened.
  • Palpatine's inner circle manipulating Jar Jar into casting the vote for emergency powers? Gone.

Ordinarily, exposition is the kiss of death to drama. But the character bits and backstory that lie on the cutting room floor for the IMAX edition, while speeding up the story significantly, also make Episode II more of a cartoon. You have less of an idea who these characters are, and less reason to care about them or understand the decisions they made. On the other hand, some of the dialogue in these scenes is absolutely execrable. So it's an acceptable trade-off.

This is especially true given that most people seeing the IMAX edition will have already seen the original. So accept the slight "CliffsNotes" effect as a means of getting to what we really want: gigantic projections of cutting-edge computer graphics. And here's where Episode II does not disappoint.

Pretty Pictures
One of the problems with watching a fast-action drama on an IMAX screen is that your peripheral vision is essentially useless. On the other hand, the huge image makes it much easier to focus on background details -- and doing so reveals that Industrial Light and Magic cut very few corners, if any, in developing the environment for Episode II.

My friend Laura derisively described Yoda during his lightsaber battle with Dooku as a "spinning rat on a stick." The larger screen reveals that in fact the animators didn't hide too much behind motion blur -- most of Yoda's flips and spins are -- while not "realistic" -- fully animated with leaps, crouches and turns.

More breathtaking is the final ground battle between the clone and droid armies. This is where ILM shone -- no matter where your eyes focus, you see an impressive variety of technology and troop movements that suggest that ILM actually blocked out the entire battle. On the IMAX screen, a crashing background vehicle becomes more than decoration, but a player in this massive battle. The crash-landing of a Trade Federation battle cruiser creates a literal fog of war, and the sight of clone troopers and Jedi plunging into the dust cloud is unearthly.

A word of warning: the asteroid hunt between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi was impressively loud in a normal THX auditorium. In the larger IMAX setting, with intimidating amplifiers that wouldn't be out of place at Walnut Creek, the "seismic charge" explosions are actively painful.

It Ain't Art, But Gosh, It's Fun
By any artistic standard, objective or subjective, Episode II is not a "good" movie. But it's a fun one, especially if you can easily access your "childlike sense of wonder" or your appreciation for nostalgia. Bringing it to IMAX makes it more of a technological experience than an actual movie, and that somehow helped me suspend my disbelief in the dialogue and plot even more.

I liked Episode II for the same reason I liked Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which had similar plot and dialogue problems -- a believable, unearthly world was built. By immersing viewers more deeply into that world, Lucasfilm's IMAX experiment is a success.