Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace 3-D
Chasing Amy's reference to Star Wars (Warning: Contains Adult Language and violence. Parental Discretion is Advised)
Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, Terrence Stamp, Pernilla August, Ian McDiarmid, Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie, Ray Park, Kenny Baker, Andrew Secombe
Voice Cast: Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Brian Blessed
Synopsis: The evil Trade Federation, led by Nute Gunray is planning to take over the peaceful world of Naboo. Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to confront the leaders. But not everything goes to plan. The two Jedi escape, and along with their new Gungan friend, Jar Jar Binks head to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala, but droids have already started to capture Naboo and the Queen is not safe there. Eventually, they land on Tatooine, where they become friends with a young boy known as Anakin Skywalker. Qui-Gon is curious about the boy, and sees a bright future for him. The group must now find a way of getting to Coruscant and to finally solve this trade dispute, but there is someone else hiding in the shadows. Are the Sith really extinct? Is the Queen who she really says she is? And what's so special about this young boy?
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence
Clerks- Star Wars Politics
Qui-Gon Jin and Obi Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul (Warning: Possible Spoiler if you haven't seen this movie)
Jar Jar Binks in 3-D
Oh dear, where do I even begin with this film? I remember when I first saw this movie back in 1999, I thought it was arguably one of the most over hyped pieces of commercialized garbage that I've ever seen in my life. Do I still feel that way after seeing it several years later in 3-D? Well, lets get into that now. As I stated in my hub, "Star Wars 3-D", I've always considered myself a long time fan of the original trilogy.
Heck, even to this day, it's one of the few series of movies that I've came to love as a child, but adore even more as an adult. I think what made the original trilogy such an epic masterpiece was not only the brief homages it paid to earlier science fiction franchises like "Flash Gordon" and etc, but George Lucas also took references from Akira Kurasawa's movie, "The Hidden Fortress" as well; while also invoking universal themes that anyone could relate to. Another thing that made the original trilogy great was that it had an interesting cast of characters, who each could have easily warranted their own solo film, as each had their own unique personality. Plus, the original had arguably one of the most engaging character story arcs in all of cinematic history.
Unfortunately, "Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace" lacks all of these traits. First of all, I just want to point out that I'm not going to make any references to the expanded "Star Wars" universe that's been portrayed in comic books and novels, as my review will solely focus on this movie. Now, the bigger question lies on where do I begin to criticize this movie, as it's literally a cluttered mess in itself.
I guess I could start off by saying that it lacks a central character to follow. Don't get me wrong, some movies can be pulled off quite well without a centralized character like "Pulp Fiction", "Snatch", "Inglourious Basterds", "Rashomon" and etc. However, when it comes primarily to science fiction/fantasy archetype films designed to appeal to both adults and children, then it usually helps if you have a centralized character. The reason why I say this is fairly simple.
In the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker was the centralized character. Sure, there were other major characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia and etc. However, it was always Luke's story, and the plot only moved forward whenever he did; which allowed the audience to suspend their disbelieves in the name of cinematic fun. The story line for the original trilogy was presented in a fairly simplistic manner to allow children to understand the films perfectly, while still invoking many complex universal themes that made the original series appeal to adults as well.
In this prequel series, there is no centralized character. And to make matters worse, none of the characters are fully developed, and they lack any kind of distinctive personality. Again, this is where the prequels often fail, and if you can't establish your main characters well, then it makes it very hard for an audience to ever feel fully invested into your movie. Sure, the special effects are great as to be expected, and could easily still hold up to this day, but even CGI can't make up for p*** poor character development in a movie; especially if those same said main characters come off as bland and uninteresting.
Another thing that bothered me was the acting and obvious miscast of Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), but I'll get more into that in a minute. Although I don't blame any of the actors for their efforts in this movie, but I'd be lying if I said their performances were great, or even at least halfway decent. Unfortunately, most of this has to do with the mediocre dialogue that George Lucas wrote, as it definitely lacks any kind of sense.
For example, there was a bit of a joke at the beginning when Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) said, "The negotiations will be short." This was said in context to the two Jedi Knights being sent on behalf of the republic to negotiate with the Trade Federation, to stop their blockade in front of Naboo. As they entered the ship, Qui-Gon said the line, but when negotiations went sour, Obi-Wan Kenobi chimed in saying, "You were certainly right about one thing Master...the negotiations were short." From the way the lines were set up, it's obvious Lucas intended that to be funny. Unfortunately, it comes off as nothing more than a really bad joke a friend would tell you, and you're supposed to fake laugh to keep from hurting their feelings. Needless to say, it's because of the horrendous dialogue that many of the actor's performances are hindered quite a great deal; in spite of featuring talented actors like Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and etc.
As for Jake Lloyd, I have nothing personal against the kid, as I'm sure he was a nice kid back then. And, I'm sure he grew up to be a fine outstanding young man, but as an actor? I've never thought he was that great. Granted, the only two films that I've ever seen him in were this one, and "Jingle All The Way", but based on those two movies alone, he just strikes me as a whiny, yet unconvincing young actor. Nothing he ever says sounds genuine, as it sounds rehearsed; which makes it very hard for me to suspend my disbelief when I can't buy into an actor's performance. Of course, I often wonder why Haley Joel Osment wasn't cast for this part. Not only was he one of the best child actors, at the time period, but he was still fairly close to the character's age range to play the part. I know Lucas probably cast Lloyd because he was cheaper to hire, but if I had to choose between Lucas scaling back on effects to hire a better actor, or hire Jake Lloyd to produce better CGI, then I think I'd prefer the first option. Of course, that's just my opinion on the matter.
Having said all that, I think it's important to evaluate the plot of this movie thoroughly for a minute. I know most people have probably seen this film already, but for those that haven't, I'll quickly give you lowdown on the story first before continuing. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, the Trade Federation sets up a trade blockade around the Naboo because of space taxes. To make matters worse, the Trade Federation wants to force Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to sign a contract that makes their invasion of Naboo legal. Meanwhile, two Jedi Knights are sent, from the republic, to negotiate a peace treaty with the Trade Federation. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong, as it turns out a Sith lord, named Darth Sidious, is the mastermind behind the whole thing.
Needless to say, they somehow escape due to a series of unlikely events. They run into some African American slave stereotype alien named Jar Jar Binks to help them, while saving the Queen. Along the way, they eventually meet a small boy named Anakin Skywalker, who they believe could be the chosen one to bring balance back to the force. Plus, if that wasn't enough excitement, Sidious sends his apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park), to hunt them down, and that's all you need to know about the plot without giving away too much of it.
Oh boy. Where do I begin to analyze the plot to this movie? I guess the first thing to pick apart is the complexity of it. As I mentioned earlier, part of the reason why the original trilogy was so well received was because it had a fairly simplistic story that carried many complex universal themes that not only appealed to adults, but to children as well; hence making it an epic adventure that the whole family could enjoy. Kids could easily understand who were the bad guys in the original trilogy, and the motives behind the villains themselves were very universal concepts that anyone could understand.
Whereas "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace", it seems like George Lucas isn't quite sure where he wants this film to be geared towards. If we were going by the tone of the movie itself, it's obvious that Lucas designed this movie to appeal to children and families predominantly. Fair enough. After all, George Lucas does have to worry about marketing the video games and toys to the franchise. However, if that's the case, then why are you making a plot that talks about trade blocks, and tax issues, that invoke a war? Granted, adults will understand it perfectly, but I doubt seriously most children are going to know what the big deal is concerning tax issues and trading blockades. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that children are stupid or anything, but let me ask you all this...when you were a child...did you know anything about tax issues and trade deals involving your government?
Of course, this also brings me to the film's obvious lack of logic in it's own story. I should warn readers that this might contain various spoilers throughout the rest of the review. Therefore, if you don't want me to spoil it for you, then I'd highly suggest you skip to the next to the last paragraph of this hub. If you don't mind spoilers, then please continue to read on if you like, as I have a lot of things to say here.
First of all, the plot makes absolutely no sense to the point that you can't help but wonder if Lucas actually read his own damn script. If anything, the film comes off as a reenactment of a first draft, as the film lacks a lot of logic here. For starters, lets go over the basic premise of the Trade Federation's dispute with the Naboo. We have no idea who the Trade Federation is in the movie, nor are we ever told what the big deal is about the taxes that the federation is so p***ed off about. And, we're never fully told how this has anything to do with the Naboo. I mean one would think that the "Trade Federation" would be happy with taxes because I can only assume they do a LOT of trading with other planets considering their name. But then again, maybe their p***ed off because the taxes aren't in their favor, and they're forced to pay those heavy tax fees for frequent trading with the Naboo. If that's the case, then why not just organize a simple blockade, or a meeting with Queen Amidala. I'm sure those would be more acceptable options than war.
For plot convenience though, they do all this because of the advice of a mysterious Sith lord, whom they barely even know. We're never told why the Trade Federation trusts Darth Sidious so much, nor are we ever told exactly what Darth allegedly promised them for his services. However, he's the one calling the shots behind the scenes. Gee, it doesn't really seem like the Trade Federation" is that smart if you ask me. Hmm...maybe Darth used a Jedi mind trick to hypnotize them into doing whatever the hell he says, as it honestly wouldn't surprise me given the characters lack of logic throughout the prequel series.
What do I mean by that you ask? Well, I'll gladly get into that now. Starting with the first scene, the Jedi land on the ship of the Trade Federation, to negotiate peace between the Naboo and the Trade Federation, on behalf of the galactic republic. The two Jedi are asked to sit in a small room to wait for the officials from the Trade Federation to arrive. Upon discovering the Jedis' presence, the Trade Federation officials plan to kill them because Darth Sidious advises them to. Fair enough, but if you're going to kill someone, then why not be more practical about it? I know it's "Star Wars", but even the original trilogy used a helluva a lot more logic than this.
For example, after the Trade Federation officials decide to kill the Jedi, they send the protocol droid (who bares resemblance to C-3PO) to serve them a couple of cups of tea; which the Jedi take a sip of too. Here's an idea. Why not poison the drinks? It's simple, and practical. It's cost effective, and are you really telling me that something equivalent to rat poison doesn't exist in the "Star Wars" universe?
Plus, to add insult to injury, they fill the room full of poison gas when they lock them inside the meeting room. Good plan. Only one problem...the Jedi manage to hold their breath for the brief two minutes they lock them in there. Um...here's an idea.. Instead of locking those stupid Jedi Knights inside there for a couple of minutes, then why don't you lock them in there for hours? After all, you're trying to kill them right? Plus, I doubt seriously the Jedi could hold their breath that freaking long, and even if they can, then what's the harm in keeping them in there for hours? And if those Jedis try to use their light sabers to make their way through the metal doors, then have your battle droids constantly fire at them through the holes, as the Jedi make their way through. But for plot convenience, the Trade Federation arrogantly feels two minutes is enough, and allow the Jedi to make their escape, as they easily beat up the battle droids. Gee, no wonder Darth is able to control these morons so easily...
Another scene showing how stupid the characters are happen on Tattooine, where Qui-Gon tries to negotiate with a con artist named Watto for spare parts for their ship. In the scene, Watto tells Qui-Gon that he's the only person on the entire planet that carries the parts that he needs, and Qui-Gon never once bothers to check with the other retailers around that area. First of all, I know I'm not the smartest guy in the world. However, what kind of moron automatically believes everything that a guy like Watto says? If anything, he strikes me more as a fast talking car type salesman that would openly lie through the skin of his damn teeth to make a sale. Therefore, wouldn't it make more sense to show scenes where Qui-Gon shopped around at other places before dealing with Watto, so it would at least give audiences assurance that the Jedi aren't complete imbeciles.
But then again, I guess Lucas was in too much of a hurry to introduce Anakin Skywalker, who pops out of nowhere, and virtually has nothing to do with the plot of the first movie; other than it helps set up the sequels.
In the film, Watto claims that he can't accept Republic Credits, so the Jedi have nothing to barter with him. However, if that's the case, then why can't these Jedi morons take a hint from the original "Star Wars" film. In the first movie, Obi-Wan and Luke had to hire a rogue pilot named Han Solo to escort them where they needed to go. Are you telling me that things back in Anakin's time are that much different than Luke's time? Here's an idea. Why not do the same damn thing? Have Qui-Gon find another rogue pilot, who will take Galactic Credits, to fly him and the Queen to their destination. After all, it's easy to assume that a rogue pilot on Tattiooine would be interested in Galactic Credits for their services, as they could use those same said credits throughout the galaxy; hence making the whole elaborate "Star Wars" Nascar plot device completely unnecessary.
And, don't even get me started on the pod racing scene, as that whole scene could have been achieved within two minutes tops. However, in the damn prequel, it takes almost ten minutes; which is completely unnecessary. Plus, to add insult to injury, they do add extra footage to the very same scene with the 3-D re-release. Oh god...you really don't make it easy for me to like you.....George.......
Another thing that doesn't make any sense is why the hell Anakin builds C-3PO, in his spare time. His whole rationality is because he wanted to build him to make his mom's life easier, but how can a protocol droid really help a slave? Wouldn't it have made more sense to have Anakin end up being the creator of R2-D2 instead, as he'd be a lot more practical use for them to use on a slave planet. As my understanding is, Anakin's job, as a slave, is to help fix things around Watto's place. If that's the case, then a droid like R2-D2 would make the most logical sense.
Of course, the thing that really gets to me is not only how the movie tries to portray Anakin Skywalker as something of a "Jesus Christ" figure, in some elaborate Jedi prophecy, but the whole concept of midi-chlorians in general. As I stated earlier, the movie started off with a war between the Naboo and the Trade Federation, over tax issues. However, our protagonists don't arrive on Tattooine, to meet Anakin Skywalker, until midway through the film; which is exactly when the whole Jedi prophecy is even brought up. Meaning that not only does this prophecy come completely out of nowhere, but it doesn't even have much to do with the main story arc about the war.
As for the midi-chlorian nonsense, I'll get into that now. As I stated before, I loved the metaphor behind the "force" in the original trilogy so much that I honestly didn't want to know how it worked. No, the mysticism of fantasy meshed with science fiction works perfectly in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. However, George ruins this concept by coming up with a scientific analogy that the "force" is really nothing more than the number of microscopic bacteria (known as the midi-chlorians) in one's bloodstream. Oh well, I guess George wants his "Star Wars" movies to be more science based. However, if that's the case, then why does he choose to somehow portray Anakin as some sort of "Jesus Christ" figure in some elaborate Jedi prophecy?
In the film, it's explained that Anakin is born without a father, as the midi-chlorians somehow form a baby inside his mother's tummy to create him; similar to how God allegedly impregnated the Virgin Mary with his son, Jesus, as told in various Biblical scriptures. From there, Anakin's mom talks about how much of a damn saint her son is, and how he allegedly doesn't know about the evils of the world. Gee, that's rather surprising considering that one would think he would know about the evils of the world, since he's growing up as a freaking slave on a planet ran by the dangerous Jabba the Hutt. But then again, logic isn't obviously accepted in George Lucas' universe, so I'll let that one go.
Aside from the various plot holes and lack of freaking logic this movie has, it's also incredibly boring for a "Star Wars" movie. Nothing seems to be at stake throughout the first half of the movie, and the Jedi seem to come off as damn near invincible to the point that it's kind of hard to ever feel fully vested into them. Anyway, I could probably go on like this all day about the plot holes to this movie, but I don't want to bore any of my readers more with my ranting.
Before I conclude with my final rating, I'll go over a few other problems that I had about this movie first. One of them is obviously Lucas' direction of this film to shoot it entirely in front of a blue screen. Granted, I know it's his money, and he has a right to film these movies exactly the way he wants. However, sometimes what we want isn't always what works best in creating a movie. Take Ed Wood for example. In his mind, many of his films were deemed masterpieces, but when they were released, that obviously wasn't the case. Case in point with George Lucas. Don't get me wrong, I'm not comparing George Lucas to Ed Wood, but there's something to be said about how sometimes collaboration can help make a film immensely better.
If you were to honestly watch the behind the scenes interviews of the prequels, you could almost tell that many of Lucas' staff didn't agree with most of his plans for the first prequel, but it almost felt like they were scared to say ANYTHING to the guy; which isn't a good sign. I know many science fiction nerds will say that how awesome the special effects are, but sometimes CGI can take away more realism from a movie than it's intended to add. Take the underwater submarine scene for example. The Jedi Knights are forced to take a submarine through the center of the planet of Naboo, to reach Queen Amidala before the Trade Federation does. Throughout the scene, they're being chased by various underwater giant creatures, and coincidentally neither Liam Neeson, nor Ewan McGregor, have any emotions whatsoever. If anything, you'd swear they were probably just stuck in rush hour traffic or something, as the only indication that made it seem like they were ever in danger was the over reaction of Jar Jar Binks. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect the Jedi Knights to act like cowards during that scene, while screaming like a bunch of little girls. However, I do expect them to show SOME EMOTION during that scene, so I could buy into it. To be fair though, the CGI during that scene was very well done, but if I can't buy into the fact that the characters are actually in danger, then you've failed as a science fiction movie to make me suspend my disbelief.
As for Darth Maul, I have some conflicts with Ray Park here. For starters, I get so sick and tired of people claiming he's a great actor for that one part, where he says next to NOTHING at all, yet he's deemed a great actor? Don't get me wrong, it would be different if he'd made a strong presence felt like Max von Sydow does in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", but Ray Park is rarely in "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" at all, and whenever he does show up, he's either just standing there looking like a bad a**. Or, he's doing choreographed stunts that almost any other stunt man could do. Therefore, I fail to see why anyone would call Ray Park a great actor. Sure, he plays his part rather well, as he's not forced to read off Lucas' p*** poor dialogue too often in this movie, but he's not a great actor. If anything, I thought his performance was average at best, as you could have easily cast anyone in that part, and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. However, many of my gripes with Darth Maul lie with George's script, as the character is more of a plot device to move the story along rather than an actual character; which is kind of sad, as a strong antagonist would have done wonders for this movie.
As for the 3-D aspect of this movie, I wouldn't bother seeing this film if you want to see it in 3-D. Trust me, you barely even notice it if at all, and the extra footage they add don't do anything to enhance the story, as they're mostly during the pod race scene. Oh and by the way, the puppet Yoda is replaced with a CGI version in this latest re-release. I know that may not seem like a big deal to some people. However, I would like to point out that according to various sources, George eventually plans on editing out the puppets from the entire "Star Wars" series upon each 3-D re-release. Meaning that the lovable puppet Yoda that many "Star Wars" fans might have fell in love with during "Empire Strikes Back" will be gone, and replaced with a CGI counterpart upon it's eventual 3-D re-release. Kind of sad really, but it's his series, so he does hold the right to do whatever the hell he wants with it.
In the end, this film is all about style, but offers nothing in ways of substance. Back when I was younger, I thought this movie was the most over hyped film of all time, and surprisingly not much has changed since then, as I still feel exactly the same way. Therefore, unless you're a die hard "Star Wars" fan, then I'd probably just stick to watching this movie on DVD/Blue-Ray if you've already have a copy of it. Trust me, the 3-D to this movie isn't even that noticeable at all. Overall, I guess I would have to give this movie a one out of four, as the special effects are the only thing worth giving this movie any points for.