Video Picks & Passes

Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith: PICK






New this week on DVD, Revenge of the Sith finally taps into the inspiration of the Star Wars original trilogy. The film opens with a rescue sequence climaxing with Anakin piloting a spaceship out of orbit for a crash-landing, like Lucifer falling from the heavens. By the finale, Anakin's descent is complete as he falls in battle with Obi-Wan amid the hellish glow of a volcano planet, a veritable lake of fire.

Sounding intriguingly like a modernist theologian, the evil future emperor tells Anakin that those who seek true mastery in the Force must take “a broader view” than the “narrow, dogmatic views of the Jedi.” Unfortunately, the Jedi “orthodoxy” never finds an equally articulate spokesman. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” Obi-Wan insists, rather absolutely. And Yoda's speech on Jedi detachment goes beyond Christian freedom from excessive attachment into Buddhist impassiveness.

Ironically, such extreme detachment is contrary to the humanism with which the whole story ends in Return of the Jedi, where human attachments — filial loyalty, paternal bonds — save the galaxy, destroy the Sith and the empire, and redeem Anakin's lost soul. The grimmest and darkest of the films, Revenge may be too harsh for youngsters. For the moment, the dark side is triumphant — but “new hope” will dawn again.

Danny Boyle's Millions is an unusual film about an unusual young boy — a pious, scrupulous English Catholic lad named Damien who knows the lives of the saints like other boys know stats on their favorite footballers. In fact, the saints appear to him: Francis and Clare, Charles Lwanga, even Peter. Are these heavenly visions, or figments of Damien's imagination? The viewer can decide for himself.

What Damien has to decide is what to do with a duffel bag full of money that fell out of the sky on his cardboard-box hideout. Damien wants to give it to the poor, but that's easier said than done — and other people have other ideas about the money, including a dodgy-looking character who shows up one day.

Damien's saints don't say much particularly profound (apart from a low-key bit from Clare rhapsodizing about the infinitude of heaven) or particularly annoying (apart from an unfortunate speech by Peter endorsing the demythologized version of the feeding of the 5,000). A moral parable rather than a morality tale, Millions is a story of Christmas hope and faith in something more than Santa, which is not to say that St. Nicholas doesn't show up. But when he pops on a bishop's miter rather than the familiar Santa hat, it's clear we're not in Hollywood movieland.

Also new to DVD is Byron Haskin's War of the Worlds, loosely based on the classic H. G. Wells story. The father of all alien-invasion movies, the film offers a worst-case-scenario alternative to the idealistic visions of films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Often viewed as an allegory of Cold War fears, the film's overtly religious themes, emphasized by Catholic producer George Pal, become the defining framework in a story about divine providence and salvation for helpless humanity.

Content advisory: Revenge of the Sith contains strong, mostly bloodless sci-fi combat violence, and is appropriate for teens and up. Millions contains fleeting but clear implication of a non-marital affair, brief depiction of juvenile curiosity in online lingerie ads; recurring strong menace; some mildly objectionable language, and could be okay for discerning older kids. War of the Worlds contains much menace and large-scale sci-fi battle violence, but is okay for older kids.