Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D Review

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  • Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D film still

Score

There are creaky aspects to it, but this remains one of the slickest popcorn movies of the past 15 years.

"An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory... I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?"

À la recherche du temps perdu – Marcel Proust

As an adult, French Modernist author Marcel Proust bit into a madeleine cake and was transported, via a ground-rush of involuntary memories, to a long-forgotten day in his youth when he was given the same confection as a treat while ill. The memory provoked emotion of such power that it informed his best-known work, the seven volume 'Remembrance of Things Past' that consumed him until his death.

But imagine, instead of moving on from madeleines to the alcopops of youth, the red wine and posh cheese of middle age and the milky tea of his dotage, Proust had been gnawing ceaselessly on these stale tea-cakes for 30 years. Had obsessed over their every detail, bemoaned any change in the recipe, evangelised them to anyone who would listen. Imagine, in other words, that Proust had lost a little bit of focus vis-à-vis madeleine cakes.

Now imagine the madeleine mad  madeleine-retentive, if you will  Proust being offered a small, delicately flavoured sponge cake with a distinctive shell design similar in many ways to his favourite tea-time snack. But  brace yourself Marcel, old boy!  just a little bit updated for the changing tastes of the marketplace.

Instead of a whacking great literary masterpiece, this would more likely produce nothing more that an over-excited (and, considering the constant snacking, rather heavyset) man-child frothing about somebody messing with the unhealthy childhood obsession he has carried into what passes for his adult life.

Simon Pegg and the rest of the mewling George Lucas Raped My Childhood brigade, we're looking directly at you...

The Phantom Menace, the first of director George Lucas' three Star Wars prequels, is a film that is almost impossible to judge on its own terms. It arrived steeped in lore. Every frame of the original trilogy had been pulled apart (not least by Lucas himself), every aspect of its production documented to a near-atomic level, every thematic nuance extrapolated to an often dismaying degree.

It could well be the most scrutinised series of motion pictures ever made, which meant any subsequent addition to the canon was going to have its work cut out in pleasing the faithful. You don't just slip a new book into the back of the Bible and hope for the best. Some people were never going to be happy, but to paraphrase John Cleese, some people don't deserve to be happy.

In 1999, big-screen science fiction was in something of a funk. The CGI revolution that many imagined would slash the practical production costs associated with the genre and allow filmmakers to attack "ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion" had not come to pass. Post-Jurassic Park, pre-Phantom Menace highlights ranged from laughable (Space Truckers) to execrable (Event Horizon) and back again (Lost in Space). These were bonehead films. They lacked in scope, subtlety, logic and a cohesive design aesthetic. They didn't even feature Brian Blessed chatting gibberish or any racially insensitive talking kangaroos.

But enough of the negative baggage. This is not intended as a rear-guard defense of The Phantom Menace, but a plucky search for its abundant qualities. So let's put the madeleines down, empty out our bile-sacs and clear our palates before we consider Uncle George's very own spacetacular take on The Baby of Mâcon.

From the opening moments, it's clear that we're in a much-changed universe from the original trilogy: sleeker, darker, more mysterious. The space-fi gee-whiz of A New Hope has been dialed back in favour of steely blue politicking and capable Jedi hardcases doing what we've always wanted to see Jedis doing  namely kicking ass and taking names.

The tone is elevated, the plot more involved than the mere rescuing of pasty-faced princesses (though there's plenty of that too) and the characters are immediately more ambivalent. It's already a welcome and intriguing departure from the blow-dried, Point-A-to-Point-B simplicity of the Hamill triptych.

But it's not all trade treaties and dour religious zealots. The Phantom Menace is also one of the slickest popcorn movies of the past 15 years. The scope, sweep, action and sheer pace of the thing are all finely calibrated to produce the very acme of big-budget action filmmaking. The pod-race, for example, is one of the most thrilling and extended pieces of pure cinema imaginable, marrying state of the art CGI tech with old-school narrative editing techniques to produce a sequence of unmatched tension and nut-grabbing momentum. The space battles, too, are still unrivalled in their elegance and magnitude, far outstripping anything we'd ever seen before.

There are creaky aspects to the film, nobody could argue with that. The core narrative surrounding the young Vader could have been handled with a little more panache and Lucas makes a bit of a blunder by going back to Naboo for the film's last act  action films should never go back, only forward. And that Binks fellow is a bit of a goon, even if the sheer, unalloyed disdain he provokes from Liam Neeson is clearly the reason he/she/it was included in the final cut.

And now it's all back in 3D. One more dimension for the fanboys to get all hot and bothered in. The rest of us might just get the chance to give the film its fair due, unencumbered by the hoopla that surrounded its initial release. Either that or we can all slope off down the pub after the pod-race. It's all good.

Anticipation

Like the prospect of meeting an old friend you parted on bad terms with 13 years ago, you go in hoping the old magic outweighs the simmering bad vibes.

3

Enjoyment

The politest way you can describe the 3D is 'subtly effective', but it won't alter your view of the film for the better or for worse.

3

In Retrospect

Still unsure of the basic mechanics of the plot, drags in places and that Binks chap wasn't just a bad dream, but when it soars, it soars.

3
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View 15 comments

Gerard

2 years ago
The Phantom Menace backlash explained perfectly and a sensible review. I loved it and won't be surprised if it takes the no.1. spot this weekend.

Paul Weedon

2 years ago
An excellent review, and one of lamentably few rational discussions of the film to be found on the Internet at the moment. Good stuff.

ABA

2 years ago
I'm going to cut out the middle man and just mail George my bank details.

Seargent Sausage

2 years ago
I'll take the execrable Event Horizon over this any day, thanks.

Rev

2 years ago
"In 1999, big-screen science fiction was in something of a funk."

Apart from The Matrix, of course.

Jason Land

2 years ago
5 word review: Crap apart from Darth Maul.

Pete Hawkes

2 years ago
There isn't a review of the The Phantom Menace (or the other prequels for that matter) that nails it as much as Red Letter Media's video review. It also helps that it's totally hilarious. An hour seems a long time to invest in watching a review, but it's absolutely worth it. As much as I agree with the points made in this review about the hysterical reaction of fanboys, the RLM review shows why, all that aside, the prequels really are a load of old tosh...
http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/star-wars/star...

Ed Whitfield

2 years ago
There’s something substantially worse than fanboy ire and that’s the contrarian who occupies the phantom intellectual high ground that only exists in his imagination. You’ve read a book, Adam. Congratulations. The only problem with this review is the content. Someone with a critical faculty this blunt should pursue other interests. I’m all for generating debate but not, please, at the expense of honesty, else it’s trolling in disguise. If you honestly can’t see that TPM lacks the most basic constituent elements that made the original films work (and they’re all old now so there’s been plenty of time to reflect) – coherence, character and story, then it’s time to say goodbye to the preview cinema in Soho and hello to the remaining volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu. And don’t tell us it’s a different type of film. What is Star Wars if it isn’t a good old fashioned matinee action adventure? I’ll tell you: Misconceived.

Matt

2 years ago
Its hard to criticise this film in any detail without coming over like a fanboy. Im not a fanboy - I remember when the original Star wars were just enjoyable films, that took you off somewhere for 2 hours - nor do I have an issue with the idea of the prequels. But i revisited this film for the first time in about 10 years last month, and I was frankly staggered at how bad it is - it's a poor excuse for a film - half-baked, poorly edited, poorly directed, badly written, ill-conceived, and worst of all: just boring.

Throughout its entire run time any moments of good (Pod Race, Darth Maul (all 3 minutes of him)) are almost immediately undone by something that makes you wonder what the hell Lucas was thinking. So Darth Vader built C3PO, and R2D2 saved a ship they were all on (and then the other prequels: Yoda's mates with Chewbacca, Boba fetts dad is all the stormtroopers, etc etc. Rather than make his universe bigger, Lucas has made it seem like the Galactic equivalent of Royston Vasey, where the same characters keep popping up to push along whatever story it is he's struggling to tell.

And then we have dialogue along the lines of "Icky Icky Poo", "Yousa in big Do do", "Yippee" (twice), comedy fainting, farting, standing in shit. Can anyone remember the delivery of the lines "We are brave your highness" or his mum's pleading "Anakin"? Reminded me of the acting in my school nativity play. The only difference is we were 6 years old.

Looking at it now, the battle at the end feels more like a load of blokes in a field engaging in some sort of Looney Tunes Roadrunner escapade, rather than a climactic battle sequence. Fellowship of the Ring came out 2 years after this, and showed us that entertainment Popcorn movies don't have to be stupid. That film's visual influence is still felt now 11 years later. The only thing this film has as a legacy is I used the DVD to prop up a wonky table the other week.

Yes the original trilogy is dumb. But at least its dumb and fun. As I say - I'm not a fanboy, I just don't like being taken for a ride by Hollywood, because they think the audience is too dumb to care.

Joey T

2 years ago
What is this "Star Wars" you all keep talking about?

Brian

2 years ago
What never ceases to baffle me is people who hated the film 13 years ago still stalking the internet to express their hate of it today. They were hear in 1999, they were hear in 2005 after the release of the final prequel, and they never went away in the years since. For the love of god get over it and move on. Leave Star Wars to the fans. Live is too short to spend it hating. Go find something you love instead and devote your free time to that.

Bad movies come out every single week. Find something new to hate already.

Lave The Phantom Menace to the Phantom Menace fans.

JBottomley

2 years ago
Thank you LW Lies for rationally taking the film itself into account as opposed to just saying "oh god its awful" and " its not as good as the originals". I am tired of seeing the same old rubbish in reviews. I personally enjoyed the film and think your review is a good one.

Jason Land

2 years ago
What the guy above said.

kenny

2 years ago
I double what the guy above said.

uncle george

2 years ago
it has fans??? That's incredible.

Oh and it's here not hear - although this sort of explains why you are defending this tripe.
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