A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 72 – Ewoks: Caravan of Courage

Ewoks: Caravan of Courage – May 11th, 2010

Why yes, we do own the two Ewok movies. These were made for television in the mid-1980s and are two adventures featuring a bunch of everyone’s favorite teddy bear aliens, the Ewoks. Tonight we’re doing the first, the story for which was written by Lucas. It has some problems, but I’m going to try to be kind. After all, made for television in the 80s? I’d be foolish indeed to expect Return of the Jedi, here.

One of the first obvious issues is that these were made for kids. Specifically. And as I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace, making a movie for kids means subtitling has to be kept minimal. And it was made for kids and for television. So instead of subtitling, we get a voice over narrative for the Ewoks. Now, did they plan on subtitling and then decide to cut costs? What were the options here? I’m sure Andy will comment on this too. It ends up coming off as if there’s something missing. I blame it entirely on the majority of the characters in the movie being Ewoks and speaking in their own language. Sure, the Ewoks are cute and have kid appeal, and yeah, the plot of the movie hinges on the human kids who are the main characters initially being unable to communicate with the Ewoks. But that makes it awkward.

Quick plot summary! A family of humans has crash landed their tiny little shuttle on the forest moon of Endor. While the parents are off trying to find a transmitter, their kids are supposed to be safe on the shuttle. Unbeknownst to them, their kids have been discovered by a bunch of Ewoks and due to the fact that they can’t hear the narration and haven’t seen Return of the Jedi the language barrier means they end up getting in a fight and getting carried off to the Ewoks’ village. Eventually they make friends with the Ewoks, who help them find out that their parents are being held prisoner by some big monster, and then the Ewoks put together a rescue party (the titular “caravan of courage”) and everyone gets a special item and off they go to have adventures and save the day. Huzzah.

It takes a little while to get to the whole caravan thing, which is annoying, but eh, what can you do, right? Got to set up the whole situation with the humans and the Ewoks and our friendly narrator. Once the caravan gets moving, the pacing goes down hill. It’s almost like they planned for the movie to eventually be split up into half hour episodes or something. Every few minutes there’s a minor emergency and Mace gets himself in trouble and then one of the Ewoks (usually Wicket, who is the Ewok lead and played by Warwick Davis) saves the day. Or they meet up with a new member of the party and have to convince them to join the caravan. But I can sort of understand why it was done like this. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was written intentionally episodic both for the purpose of re-editing for a shorter format and because people seem to think kids can’t pay attention to something that isn’t done like this.

And you know what? Aside from the special effects, which are a mixed bag at best, and the narration? My biggest complaint would be that the kids playing Mace and Sindel can be a little on the annoying side. But they’re child actors, and Mace at least is pretty much written to be a total jerk the majority of the time. It’s not the actor’s fault that his character does something boneheaded in pretty much every scene. And I honestly thought I remembered Sindel as being far less watchable than she was. Maybe I’m mixing this one with the next one (directed by Andy’s uncles – we’ll be watching it tomorrow), but I really didn’t mind her in this. Overall, I rather enjoyed watching this tonight, cheesy 80s special effects and awkward narration and all. Don’t expect to see something on the same level as the original trilogy, because that’s not what this was made to be. It was made to be a fun little extra adventure for the kids who loved the Ewoks. If you acknowledge when it was made and what it was made for, you might well enjoy it like I did.

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May 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Wars Ewok Adventures: Caravan of Courage

May 11, 2010

Star Wars Ewok Adventures: Caravan of Courage

I remember watching this made-for-TV movie when it was first broadcast in the eighties and being disappointed in it. The chronology of the whole thing is a tad mixed up in my mind. You see – my uncles wrote and directed the second Ewok movie which came out a year later. So I had perhaps more exposure to Ewok related things than your average twelve year old as a result. I had a couple of novels of Ewok adventures which I quite enjoyed. They were tales only of Ewoks – no humans or starships – just fantasy adventures. Then there was the animated Ewok television show, which took some of its stories from the novels I had read. And there were these two live action movies. I don’t actually remember if I knew when I watched the first movie if I had been told that my uncles were already working on the second one. (Though I’m sure the second one was in production by the time the first one was broadcast.)

In the hazy memories of my youth I remember this movie being long, slow, and unbelievably boring. Watching it now I actually find that it actually does a pretty good job. I suppose in the intervening time I’ve seen a lot of TRULY bad movies, so I am more forgiving. It’s not a good movie, but it’s not the interminable slog that I remember. It’s a well meaning magical quest tale that is struggling with a number of problems.

For one thing there’s the matter of budget. Everything about this movie speaks of a massive effort to disguise the paltry budget they are restricted to. At times the video quality is extremely poor – so clearly this was not shot on film. The faces of the Ewok costumes are not articulated in any way so when they speak their Ewokish lines their mouths barely move. (Warwick Davis does an admirable job working the mouth of his mask – reaching his tongue out through the teeth and even managing to move the mouth somewhat.) The special effects are rarely special. I’ll give a pass to the rubbery wolf monster puppet and it’s stop-motion counterpart (for wide shots) because the tech of the time probably didn’t allow for anything more convincing. But the spiders later in the movie are laughably bad (visible strings and all.) There’s also very little footage of the Ewok’s treetop village as depicted in the Return of the Jedi and the Ewok cartoons. Apparently the Ewoks live in huts at the base of the trees as well. Because the budget had been blown on costumes and stop-motion and a puppets and the little fairy things there was no budget remaining to create domestic animals for the Ewoks (or so I surmise) resulting in the somewhat incongruous presence of terrestrial ponies, goats, ferrets and llamas on the forest moon of Endor.

Then there’s the language problem. The film makers chose not to sub-title the Ewoks (probably because the movie was meant to appeal to children too young to read in some cases) so there are vast parts of the movie filled with pantomime. So large are these bits that they’ve added somewhat heavy handed narration to explain the plot to us. Any time you have a narrator telling you what you’re watching at that very moment things have gone disastrously wrong. (See: The Creeping Terror – one of my favorite MST3K episodes.) On the plus side it IS Burl Ives providing the narration – so even if it’s insipid and regrettable even so it is melodious and comforting to listen to.

And the final problem with the movie is that there’s just not much to the quest involved. After their starcruiser crashes and their parents are kidnapped by a giant ogre thing Cindel and Mace set out on a journey to rescue them. They travel for a couple days they get there, and have their confrontation with the ogre. Along the way they overcome obstacles and become fast friends with the Ewoks that help them. It’s fun, but there’s really not much to it. With the result that there’s a lot of padding to get it out to the hour-and-forty minutes of a TV movie. There’s a bit at the start when Cindel is sick and the Mace almost gets eaten by a muppet in a tree. Then there’s Mace magically getting stuck in a little pond. Then the horse with Cindel on it runs away. Little episodes that momentarily imperil our heroes but don’t seem to serve to advance the plot in any way. There’s a lot of that.

While I’m thinking of it I’d also like to comment that the ad breaks are very strangely placed. If you’re making a made-for-TV movie it would seem to me to be pretty self-explanatory that you build up to an action crescendo right before an ad break and leave the viewer with a mini cliff-hanger which makes them want to stick around to see how things come out. Strangely, however, there are at least two fade-to-black breaks that come just AFTER the resolution of a little action scene. Perhaps this contributed to the pacing problems I had when I first viewed the move.

Still, despite its shortcomings, I find I no longer hate this movie. It’s a fun little adventure – sort of a Ulysses light – for kids. It has some hints of Star Wars (particularly in Mace’s costume and blaster) and some mystical magic as well. Think of it as a pilot for Willow, which I’ll admit I really quite enjoy. I’m impressed to find that it even involves a little bit of a character arc for Mace as he learns to love the Ewoks. It could never be considered a good movie, but it’s not truly awful either. Far, far better than Attack of the Clones at any rate.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment