Review: Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace 3D
PLOT: Two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jin, (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) uncover Sith treachery when they're sent as emissaries to the peaceful planet Naboo to mediate a trade conflict. They narrowly escape death, and end up stranded on the planet Tatooine, where they meet a young boy, Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) with a strong bond to The Force.
REVIEW: I honestly haven't seen STAR WARS: EPISODE I- THE PHANTOM MENACE in over ten years. I saw it in theaters when it originally came out (I was seventeen- too old to have really gotten much out of it), and probably one more time on VHS, before moving on. Having been an old-school STAR WARS fan (who isn't?), I was actually kind of looking forward to seeing this on the big screen again, even if it's one of the lesser entries (along with the other prequels).
However, the years have not been kind...
While the hype might have tainted my perception of it a bit in '99, thirteen years later, the flaws in the film are much more apparent. I know it's always been a bitter pill for STAR WARS fans to swallow, but honestly- I haven't give it much thought over the years, as I always just kind of dismissed the prequels as films for kids. But are they really? That's a defense George Lucas has used to death over the years, but really- is a complicated plot about trade federations, and political machinations really the thing that's going to get kids all amped up? Rather, this feels like more of a concession to the older audience than Lucas will admit.
Too bad it didn't work, as the story is dull, dull, dull. The one thing that THE PHANTOM MENACE really lacks is the old time sense of adventure and fun that the original films had. That, and the romance, as it's truthfully kind of dull to watch a big-budget adventure film where there's no love interest (yes, I know that the relationship between Anakin and Amidala was being set up, but as he's all of seven years old here, there's not much too it- not that there was in the next two films).
Most critically, the idea of showing Anakin Skywalker's childhood- before he became Darth Vader is probably one of the worst ideas in film history. Who cares what he was like as a child? The sense of mystery is what made Vader such an incredible villain. It's not helped by young Jake Lloyd, who's been heavily criticized for his performance. To that end, I don't think you can blame him. He was seven, and Lucas' awful dialogue (“that's so wizard! Yippee!”) didn't do him any favours. I don't think Lucas has ever been much of an actor's director (outside maybe AMERICAN GRAFFITI). Pros like Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor have no problems, but Lloyd is adrift. It also must be said that Natalie Portman, who's now acknowledged as one of the best actresses of her generation, isn't much better than Jake Lloyd as Amidala, nor was she very good in the other prequels. That said, it's awfully strange seeing her here as a teenager, not to mention a thirteen-year-old Keira Knightley as her doppelganger.
As for Jar-Jar, well, I'm not even going to go there.
That said, THE PHANTOM MENACE isn't all bad, as there are some good things about it. I've always liked Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan, and the climatic Duel of the Fates set-piece with the bad ass Darth Maul, is still a stunner. The podrace is also well conceived, if highly derivative of the great chariot race in BEN-HUR. Liam Neeson, back when he was still a respected character actor, and not the full-fledged megastar he would be once he hit his late-fifties, is also very good as Qui-Gon, despite the awfully goofy dialogue about things like miticlorians, and Jedi virgin births.
As far as the 3D re-release goes, I don't think anyone would dispute that this is yet another Lucasfilm cash grab (which the early box office figures suggest is a success), and the conversion is nowhere near as sharp as I thought it would be. Thirteen years ago, on 35mm film, THE PHANTOM MENACE looked gorgeous, but on digital it looks washed out, and the dark tinting thanks to the 3D specs doesn't help matters. The third-dimension is all but absent through most of the film, save for maybe the podrace, which looks like it got extra attention, but the rest is as bad a 3D experience as any post-converted film that's hit theaters recently.
Certainly, if you're a hardcore STAR WARS fan who happens to like the prequels, it might be fun to see THE PHANTOM MENACE back on the big screen, but if you hate them, this isn't going to change your mind. If, like me, you've been on an extended hiatus from the prequels, again- the film has not improved with age, and if anything it's worse. This is really only for the hardcore fans and kids.