Before I went to Venice my mother said to me- “Richard, you won’t see anything ugly for a week! ” Visitors to the Tower Park shopping centre outside Poole can be equally confident that for the duration of their visit that they will not see anything beautiful, unless it be on the screen of the cinema. Visits to the cinema there at Christmas time have recently become something of Miller family tradition. This year- or rather in fact now last year- there were four of us in the car as we drove Southwards over the chalk hills called “downs” which separate South Wiltshire and the coast. In winter the countryside is one of long vistas, surmounted by grey cloud, and it was shrewd of Sir Henry Channon- aka Chips- to describe the views concerned as “mournful” when or wrote in his diary of his visit to the photographer Cecil Beaton in a country house called Ashcombe ( more recently occupied by Madonna ) near which our route to Poole took us.
When we emerged from the cinema into the truly amazing environment that is Tower Park we were divided about “The Force Awakens.” The young teenager, who had already seen the film in Paris, where he lives, was thrilled by it. For him it was obviously a great night out. His father who drove us, was eager not to throw cold water on his son’s enjoyment, but was obviously himself ambivalent about the movie.
My brother and I stretched out in the back of the luxurious BMW were more critical. He was on the war path. It was he said the worst film he had ever seen. It was he said “despicable” effort which deserved no praise of any kind. My objections were moderate. I had greatly enjoyed the first two films of the series- and so was keen to see this continuation. But while the fact that this film was a continuation explained why I had joined the party with such enthusiasm, it was also the greatest challenge that the film faced, and failed to meet.
The difficulty is that if a continuation does not include references to, and visual quotations from that which preceded it, then it can hardly be said to be a continuation, and becomes just an attempt to exploit the “brand.” If one the other hand it does contain such references then it is difficult to make them interesting, and all but impossible to make them fresh.
Take the excellent bar scene in one of the earlier films in the series. It was an absolute triumph. I remember cool camera angles- and above all I remember my delight at the aliens talking in subtitles, and the whole scene made even better by the fact that it parodied similar scenes in westerns. I knew, of course, that the makers of “The Force Awakens” would not be able to resist paying tribute to the earlier triumph. But even I was unprepared for how completely their effort would fall flat. It was a disaster. But would it, perhaps, have worked if I had not seen the original? Perhaps, after all it did seem to work for our young friend who accompanied us.
For me though the film was less “despicable” than it was “mournful.” It was indeed a bit like winter landscape filled with the memories of the preceding summer but not yet with the promise of spring.
On the other hand it wasn’t that bad. There were some exciting moments, and the special effects were sometimes captivating. My advice would be to avoid the film, but to buy the DVD ( if they are still available) and wait for a wet afternoon- you won’t see anything very ugly for a couple of hours!