Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman,
Editor's note: DVD Journal staff member Alexandra DuPont received an invitation to see George Lucas's Episode I: The Phantom Menace on the evening of Tuesday, May 11. After a brutal jalapeño-eating contest that left many of our employees begging for cartons of cold milk, one other DVD Journal staffer won Alexandra's prized second ticket for the hush-hush screening. The rest of us had to stay home and feign an interest in this week's new DVD releases.
The following is Ms. DuPont's exclusive review for The DVD Journal. The Phantom Menace is scheduled for nationwide theatrical release on Wednesday, May 19.
Attention, fellow geeks:
Those of you waiting in line for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace are, in my opinion, setting yourselves up for a grave disappointment. Either that, or you're about to brainwash yourselves into the short-term, delusional embrace of a sub-par cinematic product -- which is even worse.
I. (Parenthetical "About the Author" remark)
I write the above with a troubled heart, fellow geeks, for I am one of you. Had I not been spirited into a special preview screening, I'd be right there in line with y'all. (Well, maybe not with those industrial-strength geeks who've been waiting for a month in front of Mann's Chinese in Hollywood, but still....)
Like many of you, I was in the age 5-13 bracket when Episode IV of George Lucas' mythological saga came out in '77. Like many of you, I have wasted literally hundreds of dollars during my mid- to late 20s on Star Wars-themed games, books, comics, soundtrack albums in every permutation, toys, and assorted other gewgaws and tchotchkes. Friends give me Star Wars toys as default holiday presents. I purchased the Phantom Menace soundtrack the day it came out and listened to it continuously until Tuesday night's screening, trying desperately to convince myself that it didn't sound like John Williams' reactive, meandering score for Hook -- which it often does. I have wasted enough time over the past two years on the Internet studying rumors, pirated pictures, and assorted factoids about Episode I to add up to perhaps a solid month of continuous time. I read the tepid novelization of The Phantom Menace by Terry "Sword of Shanara" Brooks in a day and a half.
I am, in short, in the upper percentile of obsessives putting money in George Lucas' coffers. I am a true "fan." And I am disappointed. And perhaps angrier than I should be. For The Phantom Menace fails not only by the lofty standards of the Star Wars series, but by the standards of good cinema.
Allow me to explain exactly why.
II. But first, a word of praise
I should note that none of this failure is the fault of the myriad coffee-and-adrenaline and perhaps fear-fueled ILM technicians who created the film's visual effects, set design, costumes, et. al. Those poor wretches did their jobs with great vigor and an obvious love for their craft, and deserve some sort of combination of an Oscar and a Purple Heart for their efforts (I do reserve one or two criticisms for sound-design legend Ben Burtt, but I'll get to that in a bit). The Phantom Menace is, for the most part, astonishing to look at: lush dreamscapes abound, and many of the vistas, aliens, droids and vehicles are the sort for which the word "wow" was invented. (The film's "destroyer" droids, which roll up like particularly nasty Transformers, deserve unfettered praise.)
III. Where the blame squarely resides
On the shoulders of writer-director George Lucas, I'm afraid. Lucas has failed, both in plotting and in direction of actors, to lend a critical sense of urgency to the proceedings -- to create the strong narrative drive that's masked his flaws as a storyteller in the past.
With the exception of a couple of key sequences, The Phantom Menace feels almost formal; each character underplays his or her passions to the point that the viewer asks herself (or himself) "These characters don't seem to care -- why should I?" Of all the things that could be wrong with The Phantom Menace, this is the deadliest sin, because it actually makes the film -- dare I say it? -- a little dull.
IV. A "spoiler"-packed plot synopsis
The Trade Federation invades the planet Naboo with an enormous army of droids, after first trying to kill two Jedi Knight negotiators, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor), who escape to the planet below. The malleable alien leaders of the Trade Federation are propagating all this violence at the clandestine urging of "Darth Sidious" (who is obviously the Emperor of the later films).
The escaped Jedi (Jedis?), after picking up an amphibious comic-relief character named Jar Jar Binks, gather the Naboo Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and flee the planet on what looks like nothing so much as a chrome-plated SR-71 Blackbird. They are diverted en route to Tatooine, where they pick up Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), an immaculately conceived (!) slave boy who is just ridiculously strong with The Force.
Qui-Gon Jinn, sensing a potential Jedi in the kid, bets on Anakin to win a "pod race," which lil' Skywalker does with gusto. Qui-Gon's wager frees the slave boy but separates him from his mother, leading to one of the most passionless farewell sequences ever filmed. The enlarged group now travels to the galactic capital, where everyone gets in stately, dull arguments -- which, by the way, belies Lucas' recent defensive claims that The Phantom Menace is "just" a kid's movie; the stuff in the Galactic Senate plays like C-SPAN. Then they all go back to Naboo, where there's a three-pronged land-air-lightsaber battle to liberate the planet.
V. (Parenthetically: A second note of praise)
Before I tear this flick to shreds, I should let you know that the film's 15-minute "pod race" sequence is the first (and perhaps only) bit of The Phantom Menace that feels like the Star Wars of old. Lucas has at least one "obstacle course" sequence in each of the Star Wars films -- the Death Star trench, the asteroid field, the speeder bikes in the forest -- and they're all show-stoppers. He's come up with a doozy here, something that nearly tops them all: a sendup of NASCAR racing and the Ben Hur chariot race, with tiny sleds pulled by giant jet engines evading canyon walls and Tusken-Raider snipers. Many people will tell you this sequence is worth the price of admission. I disagree -- but you may not.
VI. Anyway, it's not a terrible storyline, but...
...it has the potential to meander. There's none of the plot escalation of Star Wars: A New Hope, where a dead-end farmboy and an aging general and a mercenary AND two droid fugitives get stuck on a giant space station, then find that they have to destroy it before it simultaneously wipes out an entire planet and an entire resistance movement. Nor does it contain anything like the larger plot escalation of Episodes 4-6 taken together, where there's an Empire to vanquish, a father to redeem, and a sister to find.
To succeed, the more picaresque, travelogue-ish plot of The Phantom Menace (which was written, annoyingly, as if a sequel were a foregone conclusion) needs to be played with colossal, everything-to-lose stakes at all times by the actors. They need to growl their lines and get sweaty with fear to convince us that Naboo and Anakin are worth saving; if they don't, we're going to have trouble caring, because an escalating sense of urgency is not really present in the plot mechanics.
VII. But George Lucas is not an actor's director, it seems...
...because everyone in The Phantom Menace says his or her lines plainly and formally and sometimes woodenly -- except for the computer-generated Jar Jar, who speaks loudly and incomprehensibly. I'm not even remotely exaggerating here, and I should note that I enjoy the stilted formality of the dialogue in Episodes 4-6, the foreigness of it. But this drab delivery is particularly painful during the crucial scenes between Anakin and Queen Amidala (his future bride, according to fan mythology); I swear to God a slight pause is edited in between their exchanges of dialogue -- an effect used to generate profound unease during the opening scenes of Kubrick's The Shining, but which generates a decidedly different sort of unease here.
And the Jedi are entirely too stoic for their own good when they're not swinging their lightsabers, which isn't nearly as often as you'd like. Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn is supposed to be on the outs with the Jedi Council because he's a brilliant, impulsive hothead who defies their orders; why don't we get to see that human flaw? McGregor, as young Obi-Wan, fares better, but only because he's allowed to cut loose at the end while fighting Darth Maul (Ray Park), Darth Sidious' demonic henchman. After the too-brief final fight, however, even Obi-Wan is sent back to dullsville, denied the opportunity to grieve for his fallen comrades.
Another example: I had to fire up a tape of The Empire Strikes Back after the Menace preview screening on Tuesday night -- just to cleanse the palate, as it were -- and I noticed that both Empire and Menace contain sequences in which starships with damaged hyperdrives try to evade a battleship blockade. In Empire, Han Solo and company bicker and sweat and howl with fear, and it's sexy and funny and cool; in Menace, everyone glares stoically before sending a bunch of R2 units outside to do the dirty work. Then they glare stoically some more.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea....
VIII. A list of ten other flaws, big and small, in The Phantom Menace:
1. On Tatooine, our gang finds the parts it needs to repair their chrome-plated SR-71 Blackbird in a junk shop. Without bothering to see if he can find the parts he needs elsewhere in town, Qui-Gon Jinn and the junk dealer strike a punitive deal (similar to the one that Lucas struck with theater owners, I hear) that could leave the whole group stranded on Tatooine for years if Anakin doesn't win a "pod race" he's never won before. Crikey -- haven't any of these gits heard of comparison shopping?
2. Midi-chlorians. In Menace, as explained by Qui-Gon, midi-chlorians are particles that reside in all living things and act in a sort of spiritual middle-management capacity, allowing one to communicate with The Force. Anakin has a whole bunch of them in his blood, which is why Qui-Gon wants to train him.
My criticism here is twofold: First, this concept is Star Trek-ish bullcorn par excellence -- "midi-chlorians" sound like something the crew of the Voyager would pump through the ship's sensor array to create a tachyon pulse to open a space-time yadda yadda wormhole yadda yadda whatever. And Lucas contradicts himself: As Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker is a Force-wieldin' badass in later life, but he's also largely mechanical -- so he hasn't got hardly any midi-chlorians left in him! By quantifying The Force biologically, Lucas shoots himself in the foot as our generation's foremost mythmaker. It's a sloppy, mildly disastrous bit of screenwriting, and it makes one pine for the story-doctoring hand of Empire co-scribe Lawrence Kasdan.
3. Jar Jar Binks. Lucas has always dipped into the well of archetypes for his characters. Unfortunately, he seems to have (unintentionally, I presume) modeled Jar Jar Binks after an archetype I'd just as soon forget: The funny-talkin' "jigaboo" comic-relief character found in old Hollywood films.
I know, I know: "Jar Jar is an alien, you PC nimrod," you say. And maybe you're right. But let's think about this for a second: A clumsy, silly character, voiced by a black actor, who talks in convoluted pidgin English and essentially declares himself to be Liam Neeson's slave in the first fifteen minutes of the film? Frankly, it made me a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, kids probably won't pick up on it.
4. And on a related note, weren't R2-D2 and C-3PO supposed to be the comic relief in all six films? They share the screen for, I swear, 30 seconds in The Phantom Menace. Those 30 seconds are amusing enough that you miss the duo even more.
5. The film's villains, for the most part, aren't set up properly. Every decent action film, from Die Hard on down, has a bit where we get to see how nasty the bad guy is before he and the good guy(s) go mano a mano. But The Phantom Menace denies us the guilty pleasure of foreshadowed nastiness, most notably in the case of Darth Maul, who has only one too-brief sword battle with Qui-Gon before the final, climactic duel, which is stunningly staged but lacks the length or dramatic beats of, say, Luke's battle with Vader in Empire.
The Trade Federation aliens are also set up improperly as heavies; their droid invasion of Naboo is all but bloodless, and frankly feels more like a coup, or perhaps the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force. It should be noted that the only truly successful villain, the rival pod racer Sebulba, is also the only one who gets a nasty little introduction.
6. And about those Trade Federation aliens: They may be the lamest creations in the Star Wars universe since General Nadine's hairstyle. In addition to some very poor, Planet of the Apes-esque mouth animatronics, these aliens suffer vocally from what I can only guess was a pretentious conceit of sound-design genius Ben Burtt: Their lines (I swear I'm not making this up) appear to have been spoken by Vietnamese people who knew barely a lick of English and pronounced the words phonetically. The overall effect is not unlike watching those imported Jackie Chan movies where Chan dubs his own voice. Scenes where these aliens are supposed to be nervous or fearful fall shockingly, thuddingly flat.
7. Certain scenes in the earlier script drafts that would have added emotional resonance to the piece have been inexplicably cut. Among them was a scene where Anakin loses his temper and clocks a kid, hinting at the Dark Side to come, as well as at least one disagreement between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan that set up an intriguing philosophical rivalry.
I fear these cuts came from the same part of George Lucas' sensibilities that thought that having Greedo shoot first in the "Special Edition" of Star Wars was a really good idea.
8. I'm also sorry to report that the (non-digital) action photography isn't really all that dynamic. Frame composition is very flat, almost television-like in places, making certain settings feel just a bit stagey and contributing to the distancing effect initiated by the actors. Several early reviewers have commented on the failure of the film to draw them in, and unimaginative composition is a partial culprit.
9. The final land battle is between computer-generated amphibians and computer-generated war droids, and on a couple of occasions it felt, well, computer-generated. See the "distancing" comment above. At one or two key climactic moments, I caught myself pining for A Bug's Life -- kind of like how watching The Black Hole makes me pine for the original Star Wars.
10. Finally, and perhaps most horribly, there's the matter of John Williams' score. As a Williams-score collector, with perhaps twenty CDs in my possession, I'm sorry to report that the music here is, with a handful of exceptions, strangely lifeless. It lacks the Star Wars series' signature bold leitmotif, and it's choppily inserted into the climactic battle.
IX. Two final observations while leaving Tuesday night's preview screening, one of which will haunt me forever (well, for a while, anyway)
The first was an audience member trying to explain away his lack of involvement in the film with a comment along the lines of, "Well, it was the first film, so we don't really know the characters yet..." Oh, good: By that rationale, we shouldn't have been caring about John McClane until Die Hard 2.
The second observation was a bit sadder. Exiting the theater, my fellow DVD Journal staffer and I passed a line of valiant geeks camped out, tents and all, waiting for advance tickets to go on sale the next day. Someone had rigged a projection unit, and people were watching the original Star Wars film right on the wall of the theater.
Exiting the preview of the Cultural Event of 1999, I looked at them and the flickering image of Darth Vader on a rocky wall with bad sound, and I thought about who had the better filmgoing experience.
-- Alexandra DuPont
12 May 1999
"Phantom Menace" talkback
I just wanted to say that I thought your review of phantom menace was extermely well written and very concise. I haven't seen the film yet, I'm going to see it on opening day mostly for the fanfare and revelry, but my expectations have been suitably adjusted given what I've heard lately.
I respect the fact that you defend your opinions *and* your status as a die-hard fan. I fear the flood of "If you didnt' like it you're not a real fan" tirades in the coming weeks. For christ's sake, Lucas is no god. He's a crusty old ego maniac who hasn't tested his mettle and proven himself in more than 15 years.
I'm still pretty sad, tho, I thought Lucas' vision were a lot different than its seeming to be.
Having high hopes for episode two,
Just wanted to say that your Phantom Menace review was really thorough and well-written. I enjoyed reading it. Sadly, the review confirms my fears about the film. Sigh.
The Jacksonville Film Journal
your review sucks!!!!
I can't refute any of the other reasons u dont' like it, but they did show the farewell scene between anakin and his mother on tv. All of my friends and including me all agreed that scene was very well made and very emotional. Furthurmore, having a 9 year old actor crying is hard enough as it is
I just read your review and it was terrifically thought out. I enjoyed watching the film and was totally drawn into it. But as soon as I left the theater, I began figuring out a laundry list of narrative flaws in the film. So I'm a bit ambivalent. You hit the money in many of your criticisms. Thanks for the reality check.
One more thing: Will you marry me?
Keep up the good work,
I am very sad. After reading your review, I am very sad to have realized that everyone is going to miss the point. I am puzzled to wonder if maybe you stopped comparing the movie to the other star wars films, you may have actually been entertained. Did you take in account that there has never been a history of dramatic emotional acting in star wars? Didn't you know that the movie was going to be different than the other films? I'm not saying it's brilliant, but it told a story, one that I have been waiting for a long time to hear, and when I finally saw it the other night ( ah, the lucky few of us) I was not disappointed. How could I have been, when I didn't know anything about it. Of course it doesn't have any Empire to vanquish, father to redeem, or sister to find. That hasn't happened yet, and it happened over the period of 3 films.
The problem With the film is, everyone wants it to be star wars. It's not a Star Wars movie, but a Star Wars themed film which begins a saga which will lead to episode 4. In Star wars when it was released, was there any Father to redeem, or sister to find. Had you forgotten that star wars was nothing like Empire ( empire was dark) and Empire was nothing like Jedi ( Jedi was light hearted) so why should this film be any different. It was a whole new film. That's what sucked me in.
I AM SO RELIEVED THAT IT IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT!!!!!!!
Thank god the film didn't re-live what we've already seen. It is visually amazing and the story, I thought, was good. I wasn't sucked in like I was after the original 3, but I wasn't let down by that.
THIS FILM WAS NOT MADE FOR DIE HARD FANS!!!!!!!!!
The movie was made for a completely new generation of viewers. I chose to be one of them, rather than try and re-live the original experience. It's not about living up to something, and it's not about pleasing YOU. It's entertainment. It's just a movie. Let it be what it is.
As for the Force issue with Liam and Vader.........Who cares. use your imagination. Maybe Vader has gotten so powerful with the force by then that he can sustain himself. Maybe that's why Luke could beat him.
FOR GODS SAKE IT"S A FANTASY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let it be a new film. Don't try and make more than it is. If you do, you will think it's less than it is, which I suppose is what you already did
( Looking forward to reading your review for pt 2 )
You have no right to criticize the genius of George Lucus. What he does is some thing of great beauty. You are a sad, sad person and I take pity on you. You have no life seeing that you can write such filth. And another thing, John Williams put more life into music then you do in your internet writings. I do not know what you were listening to, but Star Wars Episode One, is one of his best scores. Duel of the Fates and Augie's Great Municipal Band are the most delightful music on that soundtrack. I am deeply offended that people like you are allowed to see such things that I can only dream about and then you have the audacity to say blasphemistic things...........how dare you.
"George the Mighty"
I normally dont write to critics regarding their reveiws but, after reading your review of the Phantom Menace, I really must say that I completely disagree with your nit picky opinions about what I felt was an amazing film. Something that all people should realize going into The Phantom Menace, is that the film is the first of three that will lead into the classic films that we all know and love. It is insane to compare the film to a potential stand alone movie like "Die Hard". No sequals were originally planned for the first film until it became a major success.
It is also silly to compare scenes from Empire with scenes from The Phantom Menace. This is a completely different film with completely different characters. Is Han a Jedi? How about Leia or Chewbacca? Qui Gon and Obi Wan may seem stoic at times, but aren't Jedi supposed to be?
Can you see how stoic Luke became in the third film after completing his Jedi training?
Your comments about R2 and C-3PO are insane!! I think the scene was a strong start to their long friendship. You obviously went into this film wanting more of the same. Who wants a rehash of the original trilogy? Not me!
I appreciate your brutally honest review of "The Phantom Menace". While reading your article, it ocurred to me that you wasted no time in figuring out plot lines, in depth character analysis, etc.etc. What may have contributed to your lofty expectations for such a film, may have been your lack of intelligence. Your explanation of how you read Terry Brooks novel, and listened to John Williams musical score sums up why your parents probably never left Christmas presents behind unlocked doors. Your impatience is astounding. More over, your overall inability as a moviegoer to just have fun. Surely, by now you understand that movies like this can never truly achieve the greatness of the original predecessors. Truly, for most, "Star Wars" is a cross generational influence incapable of being explained.. I almost hesitate questioning you, because I myself haven't seen the movie. But I do know one thing Miss DuPont, you are not 5 years old anymore. Has it even entered your mind that maybe you've grown up a bit since 1977? I am roughly the same age as you, and the film "Star Wars" borders on the same level of passion that yours teters on. Miss DuPont, there is no doubt that your review depicts "Star Wars" as a kids movie. How long did it take you to figure that one out? George Lucas is the last one you should be blaming for the disaster that is as you put it "The Phantom Menace". Better yet, why don't you just ask him to abandon all hopes of directing the second installment. In that way, you can save your last breath in trashing one of the few people who has brought joy and wonderment to millions of fans like myself. Your review lacks the most important feature, I believe the word is called "innocence". Please feel free to respond, I know I can't be the only person in the world that feels this way in reference to your pitiful review.
If "The Phantom Menace" leaves them feeling cheated, they might want to dwell a bit on what they expected of it in the first place -- and if they shouldn't try looking for it somewhere else.
You're awful, angry and bitter. See you in line on the 19th! :-)
That's one hell of a Phantom Menace review!!!!!!!!
I was sorry to read your review. You have obviously lost all sense of the innocence and childhood within you. I feel sorry for people like you. Most of us are still in touch with our inner child. You are obviously not, and I pity you. I pity you. For that, and also because you're probably one of the most hated reviewers in the world now. People like you should have their 'opinions' taken away before they can tell others of them. God I hate critics. All you do is try to spoil others' fun. Well good luck to you -- I'm just sorry for you that you'll never know a level of being and enjoyment that most of us do.
May the Force be without you.
I just sent you review to 8 of my friends who are all planning on seeing the film on Wednesday morning with me. Of all the reviews that I've read since seeing the film for myself on Tuesday night, your is the one that most accurately describes my own reaction to the film.
Thanks for putting together such an in-depth and thought filled review and analysis.
Darth Sidious is not the emperor in the later films, it is senator palpatine.
"Midi-chlorians. In Menace, as explained by Qui-Gon, midi-chlorians are particles that reside in all living things and act in a sort of spiritual middle-management capacity, allowing one to communicate with The Force. Anakin has a whole bunch of them in his blood, which is why Qui-Gon wants to train him.
"My criticism here is two fold: First,this concept is Star Trek-ish bullcorn par excellence--"midi-chlorians"sound like something the crew of the Voyager would pump through the ship's sensorarray to create a tachyon pulse to open a space-time yadda yadda wormhole yadda yadda whatever. And Lucas contradicts himself: As Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker is a Force-wieldin' badass in later life, but he's also largely mechanical -- so he hasn't got hardly any midi-chlorians left in him! By quantifying The Force biologically, Lucas shoots himself in the foot as our generation's foremost mythmaker. It's a sloppy, mildly disastrous bit of screenwriting..."
You are presuming too much, attacking the plot with the same Star Trekkish scientific logic that you accuse the concept of having. How do you know that force ability was related to the *total* number of midichlorians in his body and not the density in each cell? Perhaps force ability is related to how concentrated midichlorians are in his cells and not to how many cells his body had, with midichlorians in them.
Just because a person has lost a limb or two wont decrease his force potential because of that many fewer midichlorians! :)
I read your review of the Phantom Menace and suggest reading a review from the Ain't it Cool website that first tore into Episode I and then did a 180. You should go into this movie through the eyes of an 8 year old and remember what it was like when you first saw this movie as a kid. Heck, right now I look at Return of the Jedi and see the Ewoks and laugh with contempt and disgust. But I look back when I saw this movie when I was 8 years old and remember that I thought the Ewoks were cool and funny and truly believed that they could conceivably turn the tide of war against a battalion of stormtroopers. George Lucas is so good at telling a story that captures you as a kid but yet doesn't take itself too seriously, he's even admitted that this was his intention. He isn't trying to please the former children who saw Star Wars when they were 5 or 6 and have now graduated from college and expect every movie to have dialogue and acting comparable to The Godfather. He is using this first prequel to capture those kids who are our little brothers and nephews. When I bring my niece and nephew to this movie I know they will be shell-shocked and will fall in love with this movie. I will approach this movie not expecting to see Pulp Fiction in space but an adventure that will set the audience up for so much more in the next two episodes. George can't tell us everything in the first movie, so be patient and the time will come when things get darker and more reminiscent of Episode V.
There is no way any film ever made will ever live up to what us mid twenty early thirty something's have built Star Wars to be in our minds!
But take joy because all those 5 - 13 year olds will get to grow up with all the movie excitement, fanfare and toys that we did. And if any one tries to touch their trilogy in two decades, I'm sure they'll be just as disappointed as you were.
May the force be with you!
I will see you in hell!!!!!!!!
My god, I just read your article and I don't know if I wanna see the damn movie now because you seemed very honest and convincing so thanks for the review. There are still suckers who are gonna enjoy it like Leonard Matlin and Roger Ebert. What a shame! Anyways I am still gonna see the movie just to satisfy my curiosity!
I'm glad everyone doesn't fear change as much as you.
I liked your review, and I don't like the flames you have gotten on AICN.
I just got back from the movie. I have to say, as a hard-core fan, I loved it myself. I thought it had the best plot of all four films and, although short on information desperately desired about Anakin, set up the next film beautifully.
What a nice anti-Hollywood twist to not have the bad guy (Maul) make any pithy, let's-reveal-something-about-myself-and-my-purposes statements during the final battle.
On JarJar -- I thought he was funny, the whole theatre I was in laughed at him, and the 9-year-old to my left couldn't stop praising him on our way out.
Take care, and although I disagree with you about the film, don't let the nasty people on AICN dissuade you from publishing your review of Episode II three years from now.
We are of the same blood; or perhaps, we've just got the same amount of midi-chlorian as Qui Gon might suggest. I just got back from a screening in S.F. for a charity benefit (my friend shelled out the 500 dollars, thank god), and I heartedly agree with your well written, honest review. All I can say is, the next two better be damn good, and Lucas better either a) prove us wrong or b) listen.
Well I enjoyed it. But then again, I didn't read the script in advance, read all the rumors and spoilers I could read, collect John Williams soundtracks, or otherwise *obsess* about this film much in the weeks, months, years prior to its opening. I initially had low expectations -- what could be interesting about a prequel? Then when I saw the trailers, I thought, hmm, this could be interesting. Then I read the negative reviews, and had my expectations nicely lowered again, and then I saw the film and was pleasantly surprised. It combined elements of some of my favorite works of science fiction -- The Foundation Trilogy, Ender's Game, Babylon 5 -- and worked both as a stand-alone fun adventure and a wonderfully subtle setting-up of things to come. I disagree with you about the characters being flat or uninvolving. No, they don't act like the characters in Episodes 4-6; they're different characters, in a radically different context. I appreciated Liam Neeson's zen-like calm as the elder Jedi Master, with the one fatal flaw of being a little too sure of his own rightness. Queen Amidala was an especially strong character, fighting for her people -- I thought Natalie Portman was great in The Professional, and she has matured and was used to good effect here. The people I saw the film with were admiring the look of the royal ships, and how they contrasted with the ships of the first trilogy. This movie really fills out the SW universe with more rich detail and diversity. I was also very moved by Anakin's goodbye to his mother -- his desire to free her will, I think, play a major role in his future character. And the sequence in the Senate chamber was one of my favorite parts of the film -- very cool futuristic design, and I loved Palpatine's clever political machinations. And his line to Anakin at the end of the film was priceless.
And I thoroughly appreciated John Williams' score. He didn't just repeat himself -- he went off in bold new directions, with the chorale voices, and great fast-paced stuff during the battle sequences. Music is an important part of a film like this for me, and he did a great job, in my opinion. Of course, I have not heard his soundtrack for Hook; perhaps if I was more saturated with his work, I would feel differently.
Pretty much the one criticism I would agree with you on is the look and sound of the Trade Federation guys. They would have been acceptable if they had been bit parts -- I expected them to be blown up in the first 15 minutes. But with such a major role as they had, I would have expected something more... expressive. And yes, Jar Jar Binks and Boss Nass were hard to understand, but then again, that's what VCRs (and eventually DVDs) are for. :-)
I am trying to figure out what ultrafans were expecting from this film. A repeat of the original? What would be the point of that? Perhaps you're just *too* close to it.
Just my two cents.
Good thoughts on the movie, long live the matrix.
In your article you make the statement:"The malleable alien leaders of the Federation are propagating all this violence at the mysterious urging of "Darth Sidious" (pretty obviously the Emperor of the later films)." Man are you ever wrong. I'm not a Star Wars "Geek" by any means. I mean my first vivid memories are seeing Star Wars when I was six years old, and I still have most of my toys from then, even though they are mostly burnt and I doubt if any of my Luke Skywalkers have their right hands anymore. But I'm going to wait a couple of weeks to see the new movie, no hurry especially since it's all digital now and the video and audio quality will never fade. Plus, I kind of like to know the general plot so I don't have to pay attention to what is going on politically, and can just focus on the adventure aspect. I don't have every line memorized from the series. Well OK I do, but ... OK, so I'm a closet Star Wars Geek.
Anyway. Don't you remember the name of the Emperor in the past three movies... Emperor Palpatine. I understant that there is a Senator Palpatine in this one. Got it? Darth Sidious is just another old bad guy. My bet is that Senator Palpatine is the Emperor Palpatine from Episode V and VI.
Now I appreciate your article. You seem to have a good grasp on the ideas of Myth in Movies and basic movie construction and I'll be willing to bet that I'll have the same problems with the movie as you did. However, be honest, did you like Empire and Jedi as much as A New Hope? No. Who did? But they are still all part of Star Wars. You know some episodes of XFiles suck, but we all still love it. Love it or hate it now. When all is said and done in this set of Star Wars episodes, we will all still love Star Wars.
Nice review (except for the Emperor Palpatine thing),
I saw duh movie last night - so it was the first opportunity I've had to put your review in context.
THANK YOU!!!! You're exactly, 100% right. Well, not exactly right. If anything, you're too soft on it.
TPM is an atrocity on many levels: emotionally bankrupt, discontinuitous beyond belief, badly acted, poorly edited. It is a cold, cold film based on a concept from which all the magic has been drained away. Not only in terms of film making, but within the concept itself (scientific explanations for "The Force" instead of settling for good, old-fashioned mysticism). It is unengaging, tedious, and its story is told with the urgency of those lumbering Cecil B. DeMille costume epics - they looked great, were damn pretty to watch, but were stiffly acted, clumsily directed, and thoroughly uninvolving. The proverbial "all dressed-up" with no place to go.
My list of "slams" goes on - I am profoundly, profoundly disappointed in this film. You may recall (from our previous messages) that I'd baselined my expectations for THE PHANTOM MENACE. The final product did not even meet my baseline expectations.
Gungans were offensive African-American "Stephen Fetchit" / "Sambo" stereotypes, the Trade Federations stooges offensive to Asians. Most of the FX were only okay at best - after all this technical evolution, a few matte paintings still looked fake? And, when all is said and done,
we saw only variations on pre-established ideas. Pod Racers = Speeder Bikes, the end battle = "Return of the Jedi", etc. No real imagination, only regurgitation.
I'm told EPISODE II is a love story. If Lucas couldn't even put the necessary heart into a few specific & vital scenes in EPISODE I, how the hell is he gonna carry a whole movie that is based on heart?
Read your SWep1 review, and -
You are one nail-on-the-head-hitting bee-rilliant effin-mofo genius movie reviewer, dude. Just about said it all. Well done. Great review. Saves me the trouble of writing one.
Know what I think, if you'll indulge the ramblings of some stray net-nut whom you've never met before and who you'll probably never encounter again?
I think Marcia Lucas, G's ex-wife, had a huge and largely unacknowldged impact on his entire early career. She was a brilliant editor, and she was right in there on American Graffiti, SW, and Empire; and if you looooook at it - G started to go astray around "Jedi," which is the exact time at which his marriage was falling apart. Marcia didn't have hardly anything to do with that film. Too busy out boffing some guy ten years her junior. With her out of the picture, there wasn't anybody strong enough to stand up to G and tell him "dude, you're forgetting the humans." So Jedi became more of a film about aliens and space battles, with some startlingly phoned-in performances.
...Jedi was fucking Shakespeare compared to ep1. The man's had 16 years on his own, without a woman, and guess what? He's reverted to his adolescence. This movie feels like it was MADE by a ten year old; not in the technical aspects, of course, which are, you know, "wizrd" - but the level of emotional maturity is definitely characteristic of that age bracket. He's gone and made a film with nothing BUT aliens and space battles. It's like every good and bad thing about Jedi multiplied a hundred times, and it's woooow so painful to watch.
Anyway, great review. Keep it up for awhile.
What a great review of the Bantam Penance. It was well-written, tidy and had a good font. I bet you're really cute.
Goodness gracious gotta go....
Before seeing TPM, I glanced at your review and felt a twinge of anxiety and a flood of anger.
After seeing TPM, I ate up your review, laughed and realized one thing - you were far too nice.
Well, this was apparently the review I was looking for. I needed someone to process to or to speak on my behalf and acknowledge my observations as valid. Yours, I think did the trick on a couple of counts and as a computer animator, I have a few other thoughts about the industry as well. Here goes.
Although the following is the least of my gripe, I will mention it first to frame my perspective. I am in a computer lab waiting for my animation to process on a slow machine using the same software that Lucas' ILM has used to create their effects. On this note, I have to say, if you have the resources and misuse them, it is a shame. Thats my main gripe about what alot of folks are doing with effects- getting in on the opportunity and not on the expression. In fact, most of the software available trickles down to us from ILM. The leader of Jar Jar was obviously the same model with character modifications that was used to demonstrate 'soft-body' features of Alias-Wavefront's industry-leading package, Maya. The demo was a flappy-jowled characature of an opera singer who slings his saliva about as he belts out song- definately the leader biproduct in Phantom Menace is anticlimactic for those of us who saw the original hilarious creation in proper context and with justification for his mannerism rather than capitalizing on a novelty. Although i have thought as we all have of the priveledge of working on such a production, I am feeling that the opportunity would be only for prestige and resources and less a part of delivering something I care to mass communicate. I walked away focused on my own messages I would hope to transmit through my own ideas, which is perhaps a more grounded spiritual path, anyway. I think interactivity is the way to go and why not with the resources and vision of ILM? And why not something that gives us the same spiritual experience taking advantage of the current media?
OK, so back to the movie. Here are the points I wish to site in order to establish the true nature of the denial of the spirit which we all still recognize as living from the original trilogy.
1. And this is number one. The midi-chlorians thing- anyone who relates to SW in a spiritual way has now been dissociated from the very real message Yoda described as being a force that binds all things- we can easily tie into other systems we know with this message. Not only does the midi-chlorians explanation give us something we can disprove, but something we are to use to set ourselves apart spiritually into a caste system of spiritual hierarchy. Not that there isnt one...I believe there may be and Ive actually been wondering alot about how exactly the impressions we gather throughout our existance and course of spiritual choices impact our genetic code and how it relates to natural selection and evolution of consciousness. The problem is that giving an explicit name to something like this really eliminates the very thing that makes the movie's message accessible to us all. I like your phrasing of the quantifiable...shooting in the foot. Well put. We wont bother with the audacious virgin birth suggestion. (well, ok, just a bit) How unnecessary and what an incredibly vampire-like thing to attempt to do to people who recognize a spiritual theme in Star Wars. Yes, says, Lucas, it is spiritual, now I will make a spiritual allusion that is totally inconsistant with the archetype, the virgin birth of a would be savior who turns to darkness. That a would be good spirited Jedi would who became vain enough to defy his council and override their judgement should be wise enough to identify a potent spiritual being and alter its course by imposing direction. Actually, this could be a good lesson to ponder on in terms with tampering with paths, but the delivery of such a theme was hastily thrown at us with only a sentence and i dont think any conscious intention was compelling it. Rather, a motive to give allusion to 'that holy stuff', kind of like the cliche 'chosen one' thing.
2. What else of importance? The capitalize on the kids bandwagon, with no real substance is downright bad. A princess with a handmaiden, graphic violence- darth Maul gets cut in half, Neeson gets stabbed, the whole martial arts band wagon with absolutely no character development. At least we like Darth Vader because he is such a bastard. We can follow his thoughts because he expresses his anxt. Anxt is bad, but at least it is something felt because of something we are struggling with surrounding something we cared about. And one thing about Jar Jar- i know as a kid Mr. Rogers bored me to tears. I think its wrong to baby talk babies because it encourages kids to relate to us in a silly way and becomes a tool for manipulation, and is also a device adults use to bipass the pitfalls of cryptic communication with a fertile personality. ( I want whoever is watching me to think I like babies, but im glad this aint mine) OK, some baby talk is alright coming from a parent because smiling and pleasant voices and tones indicate comfort and love, but it becomes a sort of meme at this level (I hope noone is bringing their infant to SW to get them the love of Jar Jar). Jar Jar and the Japanese sounding Federation guys with poorly designed heads are the worst token tributes to acknowledging ethnic diversity that Lucas could try to run the bases of his target marketing and political kudo-gathering with. Are we dealing with some kind of mid-life spiritual crisis? In his interview in Time, he seems very aware that his movie carries spiritual firepower, and perhaps his impotent flick is an unconscious rebuttal to the masses who demand that he feed their souls. Id rather he not feel obligated to catch the ball, and be at peace with finding someone who is ready to carry the torch and break in a new direction with a fresh vision.
3. Im ready to close here, but will tick off a couple of other points. The stars, the shallow answers to origins for the sake of giving us something, again that we can quantify and readily talk about only within the significance of the StarWars schema, rather than a universal truth that is learned over time and experience. And the utter purposelessness of the characters, who deliver little in the way of pieces to a timeless message. Now we are seeing a sequal complex. Its kind of like what happened to Rush and U2. They become self conscious and cease to be inspired by life, and more focused on imitating what brough the success. Ive done the same thing and the fear of not having becomes greater than the will to see what will happen. Its a lack of faith and the pitfall of self awareness. I do think perhaps someone will take all of the negative response and salvage the vision for posterity.
Andy McIntire (writing from a University computer in Athens, GA)
I couldn't have agreed more with your review of The Phantom Menace. Like you, I was carried away by the fantasy of the Star Wars saga, and relished in being taken away to another galaxy. What a wonderful escape. It's so hard to nock the effort, and I enjoyed it, just beacause it was Star Wars, but after such a let down to us loyal fans, you just have to vent. I know right where you're coming from. You'd think Lucas would of had enough time to bring this one closer to perfection, not to mention better than so-so. I was so glad to hear that Neeson was in this one, yet they failed to utilize him as they could have. One other gripe. Samuel L. Jackson as a Jedi master; please...
I love the guy in a lot of stuff, but not in this series. Just had to say what a fine job of reviewing you did, and from one fan to another, lets hope the next two make up for this dismal effort.
Very commendable and well-written. Do you know of any 12-step programs for recovering Star Wars junkies that are feeling the negative effects of this movie? :)
If you know of any organized attempt to let Lucas know that we, as fans of his saga, DEMAND that he not direct or write the screenplay of the next two films, let me know. I would offer my support wholeheartedly...
May the Midichlorians... oh whatever...
You are 100% right on all counts and really quite brilliantly articulated and pinpointed so many of the features that made Phantom Menace bitterly disappointing. It is scary to me, the "My director right or wrong" mentality. It's BECAUSE I love Star Wars so much that I can recognize that this movie, for all its visual niceness, sucks and sucks in many ways. I swear to God I wanted to leave when Liam tells l'il Anakin about the midi-chlorid-whatsits. That was just about the most stupid, insipid, x-files wrap-up, asinine, blasphemous thing George Lucas could have possibly done. STUPID STUPID STUPID. It reduces the mystic quality of the force, which is what drove everybody batshit with glee in the first place, to what, genetic luck? Anyway. You are right, your nay-sayers are wrong, and also stupid. Such it is and so shall it be.
I saw your link on AICN and followed it to your review. It was very well written. I agree with every point you made. I don't have the time to go into detail, but thought I'd at least commend your talents.
I'm so sad to say that I agree with 95% of what you wrote.
Hopefully this one warmed up Lucas's curmudgeonly skills to actually pay attention to something besides ILM's job, like his own: the script and the actors.
Another recommendation for improvements: wouldn't it have been more chilling if the Trade Federation guys didn't speak English? Not only would this have solved the problem of the bad speaking effects, but it would've made them seem even more foreign and diabolical instead of bumbling Charlie Chan-like villians.See you in line in 2002,
Other possible Lucas characters for the Second movie of the Star Wars prequels:
Quince Slumpwalk: Kenobi's adorable 4' tall furry "house slave." Possible Quince line: "Oh, yes, Massa Kenobi we do like the Force, don't we?"
Milos Evic: A villain that drives ethnic tribes off his home planet. Possible Milos line, (with Slavic dialect): "Ve vill not surrender."
Spics Hubcap: A lovely comic sidekick to Kenobi. He is a very greasy desert mammal. Spics' possible line: "Senoir, Kenobi, we must get the land speeder up on blocks if we want to get the right parts."
Sands Towelhead: A nomadic camel rider. Possible Sands line: "Please step back and away from the Slurpee machine." Or: "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist and a Gommorrean."
Jew Jew Kamps: A hooked-nose banker who barters for C3P0. Possible Jew Jew line: "My people have suffered enough. We need to remember the Holocaust where 15 million of my people died. Your droid would be a small recompensation for the horror that my people have been through." Or another Jew Jew line: "Oy! What a droid!"
Something to think about.
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