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Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D
Directing: C
Acting: C+
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B+

Maybe The Phantom Menace gets a bad rap that's a tad unfair. Maybe it's a little strong to say "absolute power corrupts absolutely" when it comes to George Lucas. Now that 13 years have passed since the release of this film, arguably the most highly anticipated film of the 1990s, perhaps history puts it in a new context. Is it really that bad?

Well . . . it's not great. And there are plenty of things to consider on both sides of this argument. In this film's defense: kids love it, just as the older audiences who hate it loved the original trilogy. Objectively, the first movies were just as corny, in their way. Jar Jar Binks was just an Ewok for a new generation. But why is it that we forget how much the Ewoks were hated and still heap all the hate on Jar Jar?

Well, because Jar Jar sank to new depths of suckitude. But I say this knowingly as an adult -- one of millions who wanted to love the new movies in the same way the first movies were loved. I do wonder: would I have hated the Ewoks had they been first introduced in my adulthood? I never hated them. I always thought Jar Jar Binks was almost unbearably stupid. Kids don't seem to think so.

The key is to be as objective as possible. Were the original films, objectively, that much better? Not really. But here's the kicker: George Lucas really can't write dialogue worth a shit. Most people would agree that both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were written better than the original Star Wars, and one need look no further than the fact that in the latter two films, he collaborated with other writers on the scripts. Not so much with Episodes I-III. And by the time The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, Lucas had been so rich and powerful for so many years, he could do absolutely whatever the hell he wanted with these movies. There was no one around who could say, "You know, this doesn't really work."

Few movies take truly talented actors and turn them into jaw-droppingly wooden performers the way The Phantom Menace does. Lucas writes them clunky dialogue and then somehow coaches them to dumb down their delivery. And now we get to see it again -- in 3D!

This is one movie where 3D really makes very little difference. In spite of its bevy of flaws, The Phantom Menace is still best appreciated on the big screen, mostly because of George Lucas's obsession with making special effects as spectacular as possible, and from that perspective the effects can speak for themselves without an added third dimension.

The thing is, it's still a Star Wars movie. It's the worst of the bunch, but it's still entertaining. Lucas waited so long to make the prequels because he wanted the necessary special effects technology to be available -- and he took full use of them. Granted, they do look a little dated, and honestly they never looked all that photo-real even at the time. (Peter Jackson was far more successful with effects technology at his disposal with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) What's more, he has a tendency to cram too much visual information into a given frame.

There's no question that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment. This is a benefit to its re-release: since you've seen it before, you can't possibly be disappointed! Honestly, not even Jar Jar Binks, so clearly created with the sole purpose of captivating children (which generally worked, actually), is as annoying as he was the first time around. His biggest flaw, really, is in his CGI rendering. This is the difference between the analog charms of the original trilogy versus the lifeless computer animation of the prequels: a character like Jar Jar does not look like he was actually there. Why? Because during filming, he actually wasn't.

There's a whole lot of politics here for a movie meant to pander to kids, unless that was meant to be the element that appealed to adults -- but just ended up being dull. But the pod race! Space battles! Giant fish monsters! Let's face it: dumb or not, this movie still appeals to the kid in all of us. And that kid doesn't care how badly written the script is any more than your kids do.

Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd and Ewan McGregor demonstrate how being still makes them look like better actors than any lines George Lucas might write for them to speak.

Overall: B-
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