Yeesh. Yeeeeeesh. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeessssshhhhhhh.
Just a few days after the premiere of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," a handful of fans gather for a roundtable discussion of all things Lucas. With the understanding that no topic was off limits, the conversation quickly turns to a debate over all manner of controversial subjects: abortion, gay rights, Iraq, religion.
This is the premise for "The Audience Strikes Back," and what a clever premise it is. You get the right group of fans - intelligent, well read, well spoken - and you have the makings for something special, a documentary not only about fandom, but about people.
But it was not to be. Writer/director Patrick Beacham instead wanted "Audience" to be his personal soundboard for every gripe, complaint, and moan to cross his brain in the past ten years, so he made this, not a documentary, but a mockumentary, in which unbelievable characters spout phony monologues for two straight hours. It's emotional and dramatic dishonesty crammed into a bad film with bad actors saying bad dialogue. Yeeeeeeessssshhh.
Beacham's inspiration was his disappointment with "The Phantom Menace." Like many fans with an unhealthy imbalance of priorities, Beacham saw the movie's flaws as nothing less than a complete personal betrayal, the raping of a childhood, the collapse of everything in which he believed. To Beacham, the prequel trilogy RUINED HIS LIFE. And "Audience" is his best attempt at cinematic revenge.
And so he stocks his film with characters who loathe every inch of the prequels, with the exception of a gay couple who liked "Episode III" enough, you know, for a fantasy movie. The reaction to the prequels essentially range from "they're forgettable, and I'll ignore them" to "they've destroyed the original trilogy and I will never be the same." Long speeches on the prequels' problems come across not like the normal complaints of a fan, or even average moviegoer, but the crazed manifesto of an anti-Lucas lunatic. I wonder if most of the script was scrawled in soggy notebooks late at night since the night Beacham first saw "Episode I," unable to sleep because GEORGE LUCAS DESTROYED EVERYTHING. Some of Beacham's arguments sound like they belong on the IMDB message boards.
As their discussion begins, nobody here behaves like any "Star Wars" fan you have ever met. Instead of speaking in the familiar verbal shorthand fans share among themselves, they provide clunky exposition on character names, scenes, and even movie titles, all in case the viewer is new to "Star Wars" and needs to catch up. You throw eight fans of anything together, you'll see an instant common bond, a desire to share an obsession with someone who understands. We get none of that here, as each character drones on and on but without any actual passion for the topic.
(Beacham's multiple gripes about Lucas' wooden dialogue earn massive irony points, as "Audience" is riddled with awkwardly written exchanges, dialogue that sounds lifted from cheesy infomercials, and character quirks that become laughable. Oh, and watch the guy with the guitar: every time he has something meaningful to say, he picks up his trusty ol' six-string. Never plays it, though.)
Struggling to add seriousness to the proceedings, the screenplay has each character reminisce on the first time he or she saw the original "Star Wars." Strangely, none of the responses are a simple "I saw it when I was a kid and thought it was fun." Instead, every one - every single one! - of the characters links the movie to a life-changing event. A dying relative, a problematic childhood, etc. To Beacham, "Star Wars" had the importance of life and death itself, and how could anyone else not see that movie the same way? Plus, it allows him as a writer to concoct a string of overbearing monologues - ham-fisted soliloquies that are then performed with all the gusto of a community theater audition. Yeeeeeessshhhh.
Once Beacham finds his supply of GEORGE LUCAS IS THE REASON LIFE SUCKS rambling exhausted, the conversation moves on to meatier issues. Problem is, the filmmaker doesn't have a firm handle on any of these subjects, so instead he has his characters throw out some basic talking points. There's nothing deep about an abortion argument, or a tirade against the Bush administration, or a lengthy debate on Christian fundamentalism. Most of this stuff has all the insight of the brainless comments left by anonymous blog posters.
(When a character begins talking about her long-ago abortion, we marvel at the flippant nature of her dialogue and delivery. Who talks like that? Through this one scene, Beacham shows a weirdly limited worldview: "What, aren't pro-choicers just ecstatic about all their abortions?")
In one scene, the right-wing conservative lashes out against violent video games and internet porn as the root of all of modern society's ills. But Beacham doesn't have a firm grasp on the topic, and his cheapjack cast (which supplied additional ad-libbed moments) is unable to breathe life into it. The filmmaker just wants to have a right-wing guy and a left-wing guy yell at each other for a couple minutes, so, you know, just throw something in there about "Grand Theft Auto" and call it a day.
The whole movie is like that. Complicated issues handled without wisdom, grace, or interest. To get us involved with the characters, the script tosses us a few self-revelations - one of them has kept a huge secret from her husband, another is working out some daddy issues - in the hopes that we'll think they've all bettered themselves by day's end in some "Breakfast Club" style. We don't buy it. Not once.
Beacham has called his film a mix of "12 Angry Men" and "My Dinner with Andre," which would only be accurate if "Andre" was written by a junior staffer at Ain't It Cool News and "Men" was all about how Henry Fonda doesn't like Jar Jar Binks. And then a high school drama club starred in it. And a sweaty guy sits next to you and yells about how GEORGE LUCAS IS WHY I CAN'T GET A GIRLFRIEND.
You get the point.
Video & Audio
"Audience" was filmed on HD video, so at least that looks nice. The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer is crisp and clean, with solid colors. There's a definite "video" look to the cinematography that cheapens the movie, but the transfer does its best to makes things sharp. The stereo soundtrack is serviceable, with decent dialogue levels. No subtitles are offered.
Beacham and co-producer/cinematographer Paul W. Gentry team up for an extra-rambly commentary track. The two are full of praise for just about everything that fails (oh, how they love their bad acting), and Beacham's notes on the film's rushed origins help explain where things went wrong.
Beacham also pops up for a director's introduction (6:55). The filmmaker - who looks and sounds like Ned Beatty doing a Carl Sagan impression - repeats some movie-origin facts, while the look in his eyes when he details his "Phantom Menace" letdown is kinda spooky.
A blooper reel (5:42) is your typical flubbed line stuff, although the matching director's introduction (0:46) hypes it to be - and nope, not kidding - the BEST BLOOPER REEL EVER. Awesome!
A single deleted scene (2:11) asks the movie's unnamed hostess to deliver an excited speech about Darth Vader, which is as terrible as it sounds. Also, the actress struggles to say "Grand Moff Tarkin," which is funny. Again, Beacham introduces the scene (0:57), explaining why it was cut. (Surprisingly, it's that he felt its message was "too overt" for the movie. Wow.)
A batch of twelve concept graphics (presented in two on-screen "pages") reveal 3D CG sketches of character and camera placement. Which is to say: Beacham needed a computer program to figure out how to film people sitting at a table. Ouch.
A strange inclusion is a promo film (6:45) Beacham made in the 1980s for a still-unpublished sci-fi book called "The Things That Are Thor's." The promo film is so absurd in its stern earnestness that it almost feels like a parody of bad science fiction, but no. It's the real deal. Once more, Beacham shows up for an introduction (5:50). He also pops up for a detailed discussion (2:55) of the book's spaceship design, complete with blueprints. Here's a tip: Spend less time on your blueprints, more on your book.
Two of the film's overlong trailers (7:04 total) and a batch of other previews (11:11) round out the disc.
All extras are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, except the "Thor's" promo film and the bonus trailers, which are 1.33:1 full frame.
A second disc is also included: a CD containing 24 tracks from the film's cloying score. Um, thanks?
Oh, how I absolutely hate this movie. What could have been a fascinating two hours with genuine people is instead an amateur hour examination of Beacham's misplaced obsessions. Skip It.