There’s something very interesting about the posters for the re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, ‘restored in glorious 3D’. Apart from the fact the Star Wars font has been put in 3D and ‘3D’ is font size 4 billion, the characters that feature prevalently on the poster and those omitted are particularly fascinating. Darth Maul dominates, with Yoda, R2D2 and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the background. There is absolutely no sign of the characters that have the most screen time and who featured heavily on the posters for the original release in 1999.
Qui-Gon is AWOL, Queen Amidala is absent, Anakin is out of sight and there is absolutely no sign of Jar Jar Binks – they say whenever you write or say his name someone dies, so I shall limit this. It’s as if they – and by ‘they’ I mean George Lucas, because you can guarantee he has his fingers in absolutely every aspect of the marketing process – has listened to the fans and removed all these characters that we found so abhorrent and kept two classics – Yoda and R2 and, because he has to feature light-sabres kept OB1 and Maul, who is at least a part of the Menace in ‘The Phantom Menace’.
It’s an ominous sign when a filmmaker chooses not to feature any of his main characters on the poster for his movie and as if he too has come to terms with the fact that they all suck! It also says a lot about why he thinks we’re going to go and watch it; and I’m afraid this new, shiny feature, the one that features so prevalently on the poster – ‘3D!’ – is as lacking in the movie as a story, protagonist and characters that we understand, believe in and care about.
The Phantom Menace tells the story of… Here’s where the problems begin. From the complex, convoluted and frankly baffling credit scroll – hey parents, enjoy explaining taxation and trade routes to your kids! – to hammy dialogue, annoying characters, bad acting and overkill on CGI, the film is a cavalcade of crap!
Most damning is the fact that there is no protagonist; there is no one that we can stand aside, who will lead us through this new universe and we can watch develop. Qui Gon (Liam Neeson) gets the most screen time, but gets cast aside as the film moves on. OB1 (Ewan McGregor) spends most of his time hanging in the shadows and moaning and while he gets the big moment at the end, the moment doesn’t have any real pathos because he hasn’t grown from something to something new. Anakin (Jake Lloyd) was the most obvious choice as a protagonist but he doesn’t come into the movie for forty minutes then hangs on the periphery, never really aware or able to understand exactly what is going on – much like any child or most of the audience. Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) is always cast as the love interest and never the marquee attraction.
I’m not going to spend too long dissecting The Phantom Menace as a movie, it’s been done to death, with the guys at Red Letter Media being the outright authorities on it. We salute you, Mr. Plinkett. You all know the story of the film, instead we are here to see whether anything new is brought to the table to get you into the cinema to see it again…
The unique feature of this release is the 3D, so I aim to focus on this. Sadly, but somewhat expectedly, there is not a great deal to say. Granted the Lucas Film logo did look awesome in 3D, and there was real depth to the iconic credit roll, but after that 3D moments were few and far between. There were a few nice bits, for example at the end of the pod race when Sabulba’s pod gets destroyed – it looks like little pieces of his pod are flying out of the screen; likewise in the space battle when Anakin destroys The Trade Federations ship. But other than this there were absolutely no moments when 3D let its presence be known in a way that made you feel that this was what the movie was lacking all along.
This is the seventh – yes, that’s correct, it may be some kind of record – I have watched The Phantom Menace in its entirety – and am still here to tell the tale(s). The first was at the cinema in 99’ on opening day. It was followed by the realisation that a little part of my childhood was forever tarnished.
The second was on VHS – I know, it’s kind of hard to remember what they are, but strain and it’ll come back. I remember thinking that perhaps it needed a second viewing; I had to be missing the many subtleties Lucas had inserted. But no, this time was followed by a sinking feeling. Third time, Sky Movies Premiere – vomiting. Fourth time – ITV Network TV premiere, destruction of my Star Wars collection. Fifth Time, DVD – it was Christmas, my brother put it on, don’t judge me – absolute disbelief at how bad it could be. And then the sixth time was this Christmas on BLU-RAY – numbness followed.
And now, 3D. By this stage I have long accepted the film for its many, many, many shortcomings; while watching Phantom Menace in 3D and quickly realising that the 3D was in short supply, I started to appreciate the Phantom Menace for what it is – ‘a good bad movie’, just like The Room or Troll 2. I got great amusement from the unintended moments of hilarity and dialogue that states exactly what we already know or what a character is about to do, and executed like someone was doing it as a line reading.
However, unlike movies like The Room and Troll where you accept them for what they are because of their low budgets and talentless filmmakers, Phantom Menace leaves a sour after taste. This was a mega budget movie with the very best artist in every field of filmmaking and helmed by a man whom this was his baby, the very essence of his oeuvre. And yet, despite this and all the great people around him, at no point in the development process did anyone spot any of the million problems that left and continue to leave cinema audiences perplexed. You will always be left thinking, ‘what might have been?’
Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace remains the greatest disappointment in all of Cinema – yes, yes The Godfather 3 is a close one – and this new release does not exploit 3D the way you would expect a cinematic visionary like Lucas to do. Instead it is just another testament to how lazy Lucas has become in his later years.
So until next year and the release of the God-awful Attack of the Clones – by far the worst in the series – consider my Star Wars prequels rant and Lucas bashing over!
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 3D is on general release from today.