Thursday, February 3, 2011
Red Letter Media and The Final Star Wars Review
Red Letter Media grew in immense popularity with the release of their review of The Phantom Menace. It was first released on YouTube in seven parts on December 10th, 2009, the first part to this date has accumulated over two and a half million views. Though Red Letter Media is made up of more than the Plinkett Reviews, it has become one of the main reasons they're so well-known. They're known as Plinkett Reviews because of a character known as Harry S. Plinkett, the name, though clearly a pun, is attached to a much more complicated character who reveals strange and dark aspects of himself during each review, including domestic violence, nearing 150 years of age, and an admitted offender of bestiality. Created by Mike Stoklasa, an independent filmmaker in Milwaukee, he gained a lot of press after The Phantom Menace (TPM) Review. It was reported on Slant Magazine, Blastr.com--a Syfy envisioned blog--Slash Film, and most famously on Aint It Cool in "Quint Renders a Verdict on THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS at SXSW." Eventually it even spurred an absurdly lengthy 108-page rebuttal. Not to say that the reviews aren't absurdly lengthy, but 108 pages? Really? Get an editor. It's also not as approachable as a well-crafted, expertly-edited film. Put another way: Is it faster to watch a movie or to read a novel?
As their popularity grew, many were excited for their Attack of the Clones (AotC) Review, which was uploaded on YouTube April 3rd, 2010. Due to the elaborate nature of the reviews, both in material and video editing, the build up for those who discovered TPM Review early was intense. Again, Mike Stoklasa received a lot of attention for creating the character and, specifically, the reviews of Star Wars' New Trilogy. Despite the lateness in these reviews, as The Phantom Menace was released on May 19th, 1999, ten years did not provide the insight that these reviews possess. Upon the release of the AotC Review, Stoklasa was interviewed again by the A.V. Club, giving him an opportunity to speak through his own voice. The AotC Review gained enough attention to even be discussed by The Huffington Post. On YouTube the video accumulated about one and a half million hits, though at this point Red Letter Media began hosting them on their own site, which is likely why it didn't receive as many hits as its predecessor. At this point the review was so big that it even caused tension with Cartoon Network and Lucas Film with the first YouTube part being claimed as copyright infringement and being removed from YouTube, but after a large fan revolt and pointing out The Fair Use Policy, the video was allowed back on.
Finally, at the end of 2010, in time to celebrate with the new year, the Revenge of the Sith Review was released on December 31st, 2010. Though not on YouTube, the review stirred up additional reports from Filmmaker, a magazine on independent films, as well as on the A.V. Club again, Slash Film again, as well as ComicBookMovie.com and Nuke The Fridge.
Only having been out for about a month, now, I think it's finally safe to give this review a little review. For starters, it's the longest of the Review Trilogy, coming in at 110 minutes, TPM being only 70 minutes and AotC being 90. This final installment is nearly as long as A New Hope, and might as well be considered a feature film in itself. This all to say, the length is by no means a weakness. Once again, Stoklasa is very thorough and breaks down Revenge of the Sith, the New Trilogy of Star Wars, and George Lucas very well. These reviews would be too long if they were fanboy rants, but as you would see in many other reviews I've already linked to, this is not the case. In the review, Stoklasa intelligently breaks down even the use of the camera in the New Trilogy, and pinpoints subtle flaws that even the most thorough viewer and irate faboys have never found. The most important dialogue scenes--nay, almost all dialogue scenes--take place on a couch or by a bed, two people standing and talking, or one person getting up and walking. He plays example after example after example, reiterating his point and emphasizing its redundancy and the basic cinematography of shot-reverse shot film making. At times the review loses the Plinkett tone that had been so prevalent in the previous films. In the first review, it was perfectly subtle at times. "Obviously you've never suffocated a hooker who was stuck in your crawl space." Other times it was a bit overwrought, like in his basement when the camera strangely and for no reason keeps panning back to a tied up hooker.
In the second review, AotC, the storyline got a little out of hand with "Nadine," the same hooker from the first one. She appears at the end of most of the nine parts, with an alternate storyline progressing along with the review. Though a bit too much and taking away from the review, at times it had some strength, when Plinkett approaches Nadine with a trash bag, claiming she needs to see something, and then pulls out a bloody copy of Episode II: Attack of the Clones. (Which was sold on ebay, signed by Stoklasa and the actress who played the hooker, Jocelyn Ridgely.) Not to mention one of my personal favorites, "...imagine if someone has dumped five different puzzles into a pile on the floor, mixed them all up, and told you to put them all back together in one hour or they were going to stuff you into an old fridge filled with flesh eating cockroaches." Suddenly we're gifted with a shot of two women in his basement over scattered puzzle pieces pleading "Why are you doing this to us?!" Only to have him respond, "Fifty nine minutes!" I have only to turn to some of my friends with my Plinkett impersonation and say, "Fifty nine minutes," and we all erupt in laughter. Not to mention the analogy of both these aforementioned situations paints a dark and horrific picture that still somehow relates to the fans' response to the New Trilogy. A line like "Why are you doing this to us?!" pleads the very same thing we did so many years ago when we watched these fuck fest films. Stoklasa relates us to tortured whores, and considering how much these films made...well, you get the idea.
For whatever minimal flaws these reviews may have, RotS has probably the fewest. As I said, the Plinkett-tone has almost completely fallen away, with only a few twisted jokes thrown in, though they don't tie in as well with the review. A good example is Plinkett suddenly whispering, "I like to fuck my cat," and then a horrifying clip representing this bestiality. Hilarious to us, and though it gives a metaphor for what these films have done to us, the viewers, especially to someone as obsessive as Plinkett, the power behind the metaphor isn't as strong. At times it even feels as if the voice is different, not as dry or full of strange grammatical mistakes, "That don't make no sense." To add to this toned down element, they balanced what was too many bits with Nadine into three very solid scenes to end their much lengthier parts (now unhindered by YouTube's ten-minute limitations). Though it's fair to say the amount of jokes dwindled, I think it's important to note that the insight doubled. Not only that, but many of the running gags, i.e. "and Kevin Bacon" or a reference to his ex-wife, were eliminated. Which, for me, was a relief. They were only funny the first time because they weren't simply nostalgia gags, but a punch line, and though they had a little nostalgia value, it was not enough for them to keep them into the final installment. And for Stoklasa's ability to recognize that: I thank you.
It is also a great end to an elaborate series, considering they are just reviews. Not counting the final Nadine skit in the reviews, it ends with Luke putting technology aside, using the force, and destroying the Death Star. What a better analogy to use than one that involves an allusion to the Old Trilogy? Though they weren't perfect, they are far more iconic and linger in our hearts in a way that the New Trilogy deliberately waters down with diarrhea in order to sell it to as many groups of people as possible. And where the Old Trilogy started with a creative spark, the New Trilogy started with an emptiness in George Lucas' wallet. These reviews may reopen some old wounds, but they sew them back up better than the fanboy rants and angry nerds ever could: with intellectual breakdown. These reviews provided a closure that had not yet been achieved. They discussed, in painstakingly accurate detail, everything that was wrong with these films. Whether or not you agree with every complaint, the overarching and most powerful points remain. It gave a voice to all those angry fans who couldn't find the right words all those years ago, and could only express it in simplistic yells, "JAR JAR SUCKS!"
Plinkett has reviewed much more than what made it famous, including a more concise, twenty-minute Avatar Review, and a twenty-five minute Baby's Day Out Review. This also doesn't include the entire set of Star Trek: The Next Generation movies, which beautifully outline the sloppy action style of the films in stark comparison with their beautifully crafted episodes, as well as character contradictions (specifically in Picard). There were even articles written on some of the other reviews, including one by The Sly Oyster. Unfortunately, these reviews are not as noticed as those of the New Trilogy, left out entirely on Red Letter Media's Wikipedia page.
Not only are there more reviews, but Red Letter Media has more films and accomplishments to offer. Their twitter page is a great source of advertisement as well as their Facebook page. They have three feature films including a new one released called Feeding Frenzy. It received numerous and positive reviews. There are also countless film shorts on the website, including my favorite: The United States of Nooooo!!!
Red Letter Media is painfully aware of its success with the reviews of the New Trilogy and how many of its fans are only of the surface. Some of their best videos to date are Plinkett talking to Palpatine (who is wearing sunglasses) where they draw attention to fans' impatience for the Episode III review, starting with this one and becoming a recurring theme with a Christmas Episode and one where Plinkett shocks Palpatine with his review of Star Trek(2009). Plinkett and these reviews will remain infamous not only because of their popularity, even among celebrities such as Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek) and the creator of LOST, Damon Lindelof, but also because of their insight. As Simon Pegg said using Twitter many times to promote Red Letter Media, the reviews are "effing brilliant."
I'll leave you with a link to several more articles below, knowing full well you're not interested in reading everything I've linked to here in this entry. At the very least, check out Red Letter Media's Website and Plinkett's section with all his reviews. Though the Star Wars ones are the most famous, and this new one certainly is brilliant, do check out the others, which are also very good, though I will say he was a bit too nice to the newest Star Trek film, not digging into all the plot holes like he does for Star Wars, which seems unfair even if the film is significantly more entertaining. Nevertheless, they're all very insightful and these reviews are a great example of intelligent analysis and some of the best critical thinking skills I've ever seen. Finally, as a friend of mine once said: "I don't care if he never makes another review. He MUST keep talking to Palpatine!"
Some fans are embittered by the reviews. Though, really, whether or not you're a fan of the New Trilogy, these films make you face the faults and demand that you admit your love is of the other world, not Lucas' genius writing. Also, Plinkett even has his own YouTube page, though it is not viewed much and hasn't been updated in three years. Even more recently, the Red Letter Media got attention from "The Totally Rad Show." They are very excited and intrigued by them for good reason. And Jocelyn Ridgely, the actress who plays the hooker in Plinkett's basement, was interviewed recently by Geek Propoganda.
Finally, check out my earlier blog entry on the consolation of fans with Red Letter Media. A shorter, less thorough entry more focused on why fans of the New Trilogy shouldn't hate Red Letter Media and their Plinkett Reviews.