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We should have seen this coming, we really should. Even before the film hit the big screens, all the signs were there that this was going to be at the very least a massive disappointment. George Lucas had already taken the misguided step of meddling with the original films, inserting out of place CGI doodles all over the celluloid. Then there were the trailers, which gave us an unsettling glimpse of things to come. The reality was way, way worse than that, and it really shouldn't have been. This was a disgusting mess of a film that was far more nauseating than the sum of its rotten parts.
As it is for so many other people below a certain age, the first three Star Wars films are very much a cornerstone of my childhood. Everything about it was awe-inspiring to the imagination of my seven-year-old-self; the story, the special effects, the instantly recognisable visuals of the whole fantastical world in which it takes place. Even the sound effects and score are carved into my memory. When this was released in the summer of 1999, I thought that it was entirely fair to go to the cinema full of expectation, and forgive myself the childlike excitement that came with a Star Wars movie. The screen faded to a black, star-specked backdrop, and the iconic rolling yellow text outlining the story rolled into view, accompanied with one of the most rousing motifs in orchestral film scores. Thirty seconds later, I was already suspecting it would've been better to spend my money on seeing 'Muppets in Space' instead, as the film opens with an extremely boring synopsis about struggles over tax-laws and trade routes.
OK, I forgave that pretty quickly. After all, these films were preludes to the other Star Wars films, so the Empire hasn't been created yet and we needed to know how the balance of power lay. Yet it only took another five minutes to pass before I was put off my popcorn for the rest of the movie.
The plot is a fairly simple one, as are the ones to the other films. Yet it is here that we find the biggest failing of all; George Lucas has forgotten how to tell a story. Whereas 'A New Hope' had camp excitement and 'Empire Strikes Back' had a slightly pretentious gravitas, 'Phantom Menace' can only be described as dull, even though it contains scenes and set pieces that really shouldn't be.
The story opens with two Jedi, the familiar Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his mentor, Qui-Gonn Jinn (Liam Neeson) being sent as emissaries to help out with some inter-planetary negotiations during a trade embargo around the planet of Naboo, enforced by Trade Federation ships. Things go wrong, with the evil Sith lord Darth Sidious orders them killed by assassins and an army of droids to invade the capital city. The two Jedi knights rescue an outcast Gungan, Jar Jar Binks, who is indebted to him and helps them escape so that they can rescue Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) and evade the mysterious and powerful assassin Darth Maul (Ray Park). Stranded in the desert, they encounter an intriguing individual, Anakin Skywalker (whom everybody knows turns into Darth Vader at some point), and bicker over the fate of the child. Pretty simple stuff in principle, but it is so badly told that it completely falls to bits and stalls at almost every turn. And a the mention of 'midi-chlorians', the micro-organisms in a Jedi's cells that allow them use the Force, several members of the audience got up and walked out. Clearly George Lucas has also forgotten the power of the unexplained.
One of the biggest problems and audience turn-offs is the horrid CGI that is plastered all over this film. Not only do the actors struggle to engage believably with non-existent characters in a make-believe world added in post-production, but looking at it now it has aged so badly it looks embarrassing. Whereas the original films' use of models and limited post-production effects add a charm and quaint credulity to it all, Phantom Menace looks more like a gaudy screensaver than a real film. In one particular scene, Liam Neeson is required to use his lightning-fast Jedi reflexes to catch JarJar Binks' lizard tongue in mid-air, and it looks so crass and fake any sense of disbelief is instantly shattered. It's not just that specific scene, but I don't think there's a single frame of this film that isn't tinkered with digitally in some way. It's almost as if George Lucas spent most of his time with the CGI guys first, only remembering afterwards that some actors and dialogue might be needed at some point to, you know, actually tell a story. Scenes that should in theory be exciting, such as a high-speed underwater chase in a submarine away from giant, killer sea-monsters, are so unegagingly boring that it begs the question how the hell they managed to get even the most superficial parts of movie-making so wrong.
For such a stellar cast the performances are unforgivably awful. Natalie Portman speaks in a monotonous drone in an attempt to sound regal and poised. Liam Neeson is clearly struggling against the bluescreen backdrop, and Ewan McGregor's impersonation of Alec Guinness is just bad to the point of being insulting. Every single actor here sounds depressingly bored. Having said that though, it's hard to imagine even the most gifted thesp injecting any kind of vigour or emotion into a script so clunky you could beat a rhinoceros to death with it. Only Terence Stamp seems to escape with his dignity intact, and that's probably only because he's a great actor with a very small part to play.
The characters are all pretty terrible as well. Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker is beyond irritating, leaving nearly everyone whispering 'THAT'S supposed to be Darth Vader?' Lucas' direction has pushed him into the Macauly Culkin style of American kid. Perhaps he was meant to be cute. I would have thought that a young Darth Vader would be quiet, potent and disturbed. Jar Jar Binks trumps him for the most irritating character in the film, possibly of any film ever. Accusations of racial stereotyping came flooding in at Lucas, as Binks resembled the crudest portayal of Jamaican Creole. And it doesn't end there, with his tribal leader resembling the stereotypical Micronesian leader, and the most blatant bit of anti-semitism since Cyril Sneer as we encounter Watto, the greasy, money-grubbing Fagin-esque scrap dealer during one of the dullest parts of the film as the stranded Jedi play Scrapheap Challenge. And the less said about Greg Proops' appearance as an American sports commentator during the pod-racing scene the better. D'oh.
So much of this film was crafted with the merchandise dollar at the forefront of Lucas' mind. Armies made of unthreatening, slapstick droids come with dropships and cycles and tanks and all manner of other accessories that crowded out Toys R Us as soon as the film was released. Almost everything that should be secondary to the story crowds out the narrative and characters, pushing them further down the list of priorities. Even the good bits that sneak through the film are woefully underused, like the quiet and menacing assassin Darth Maul. Played by martial arts expert Ray Park and wielding a very cool double-bladed lightsabre, he's given about 5 minutes of screen time and doesn't do much at all.
I'm finding it hard to think of any redeeming features. It gets everything wrong on every level. I think a better title for it would be Anti-Citizen Kane, and for it to be shown at film school as a lesson how not to make a movie. Oh, wait, the score is pretty good, with John Williams rehashing 'Carmina Burrana' and 'The Planets' with is former works into a big Star Wars mashup. It's full of similarly rousing passages, and some spine-tingling choral work that fits the end light-sabre fight scene well (one of the only watchable parts of the film).
The year of 1999 was not kind to my earliest memories. First Phantom Menace wrecked Star Wars for me, then the abomination that was Ultima 9 was released to ruin Christmas and another chapter of my childhood sense of wonder. At least they made me immune to Indiana Jones 4 though.
Now i should probably explain for those of you that don't know, even though this is star wars 1, this is not the first star wars made. For some reason star wars 4, 5 and 6 were made first (dont ask me why, i do not know).
Anyway, this is the first "modern" star wars film, and at the time of its release, it kicked up quite a stir because it was almost carrying on a classic story that had sort of stopped for a few years. Plus at the time it was the first time cgi was really revolutionary at the time.
Anyway, this star wars is more about the origin of the sith, the jedi, what they stand for, and how the droid battles began, and i remember it was the first star wars film i ever saw, and i first saw it in the cinema with my dad and brother when i was a lot younger, and i loved it. SPOILER ALERT, the film starts off with a star ship from the republic landing on a trade federation spaceship. It contains 2 jedi as ambassadors from the republic to observe the rumours that the trade federation is building an army that they are hiding from the republic. The ship lands on the trade federation ship but is suddenly attacked by attack robots, killing the pilots, and the jedi... or so the trade federation thinks. The jedis managed to escape, and make their way back to naboo (killing people and gaining intelligence as they do so). Once on naboo, they realise that the trade federation has invaded, and must save the princess and as many of the naboo people as possible.
They escape naboo and move to a neighbouring planet tatoowine (not sure how to spell it). Sadly during the escape the engine of the escape ship is damage, but they manage to escape thanks to a droid called R2D2.
Anyway, once in tatoowine, they find a little boy called alalakin skywalker, who one of the jedi's (quin on jin, the more senior of the two) seems to think that he could make a great jedi. Anyway, they take anakin with them after the bad guys send a sith to asssasinate them.
Eventually the film carries on for a bit with a showdown between the forces of good and evil. I wont spoil all the details.
Anyway, this film is so awesome, and it ignited my interest in sci fi films in general. Its really well done, has a good plot, and is a great place to start the star wars series. I thoughly recommend it
Like most Star Wars fans, I really dislike the new trilogy. I remember the day when, as a small child, my parents let me watch Episode IV for the first time and I was immediately hooked. That's only grown more intense as I've grown older. I was 7 when the Phantom Menace was released, so my opinions of it on release are drastically different to when I recently rewatched it. At the time, the abysmal acting, over-reliance on CGI, poor plot and existence of Jar Jar Binks didn't bother me. Now though, I found it almost painful to watch. Had it been made with the same spirit as the original trilogy, with a different cast, it could have been a decent film. Instead, it feels like a purely money making enterprise; created to sell soft toys and action figures. This feeling was compounded by the recent release of a 3D version in ciinemas.
While the CGI is impressive, this is to the detriment of the plot. Even otherwise good actors, such as Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, are one-sided and wooden. And the less said about Jar Jar Binks, the better. While the concept is an interesting one, origin stories have been done so much better by other franchises. In conclusion, this is a horribly disappointing film.
You could call this one of the bigger let-downs in modern cinema history - for me it's more of a waster opportunity. The raw materials were there - from John William's majestic score, the already established worlds of the original trilogy, the story of a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi coupled with the rise of the boy who would become Darth Vader, this release had everything going for it, aside from one thing, it's creator, George Lucas, insisted on writing & directing the prequels.
Essentially retired since the first film in 1977, Lucas was a man with 3 films to his name - his uber low-budget directorial debut, the isolated sci-fi world of 'THX-1138', 1975's surprise hit 'American Graffiti' & the first 'Star Wars' film in 1977. You could say he should have stayed in retirement, having seen the modern 'Batman' & 'Lord of the Rings' releases, it's difficult to avoid the fact that these films could have been done right if placed in the right hands.
Anyway Lucas soldiered on & paid the price - delivering a series of underwhelming Prequels of which this is without a doubt the worst. There are many causes for complaint - the seemingly pointless & threadbare plot, bogged down in talk of Trade Federations & vague mentions of enemies, would be a good starting point. There just seems no point to anything happening, besides the development of the young Anakin Skywalker, the boy who will eventually mutate into the evil Darth Vader.
The direction of Lucas is a major flaw, the actors seem to struggle on but the performances are stilted & the dialogue frequently awful, perhaps only worsened by Ewan McGregor's awful attempt at impersonating a young Alec Guinness. The likes of Liam Neeson, Samuel L Jackson & Brian Blessed all feature here, all skilled actors in their own right, yet they pretty much uniformly turn in quite insipid performances.
The non-existent character development makes it difficult to feel any empathy for any of the characters, instead we lurch from one pointless scene to the next. Yoda is good value as ever, yet he is cast off by the dire presence of Jar Jar Binks the first ever 100% CGI generated character in a film, his annoying voice makes you want to press mute whenever he appears, which is far too often. The amount of screentime given to Jar Jar is the polar opposite of the film's best character - the impressive Darth Maul is pretty much relegated into the background & barely speaks 5 lines in 140 very slow minutes.
One of the main attractions of the original trilogy was the lovingly created 'lived in world', which was a labour of love for the Industrial Light & Magic staff who spent months on the sets & costumes. I still recall watching the Cantina sequence in the 1977 original & thinking it was real, the effort that had gone into the costumes was apparent.
These modern releases look like computer games, & feel like some computer nerd in Silicon Valley has knocked them up in mere minutes, gone is the 'lived in' world of the originals, replaced with a slick & anti-septic CGI created universe, completely devoid of soul. The one thing they have going for them is the impressive lightsaber sequences, gone are the slow-motion duels between 2 OAP's so evident in the original releases, replaced with slick & quick battles which will wake you up if you've fallen asleep due to endless banter about 'Trade Federations'.
My suggestion would be to avoid this like the plague - the 2nd installment is marginally better & the 3rd is a definite improvement, but they all have serious flaws from top to bottom. Stick with the original trilogy if you want to know what made Star Wars the most enduring franchise of the modern age.
****Film Only Review****
I'm not really a Star Wars fan, but since my fiance is I figured I better watch the films.
Now, confusingly, there are two ways to start from the beginning with the Star Wars thing, but it was decided that I should watch them in the order that the events happen as opposed to the order the films were released in. This did not bode well- I hadn't even seen the opening credits and already I was confused.
However, this was the only time I was to be confused, as this film has no plot whatsoever.
A jedi (psychic ninja monks with laser swords) and his apprentice go on diplomatic duty to get trade routes opened on the planet of Naboo, which is under siege for reasons that weren't explained well enough for my liking.
While there they meet with the most annoying character that I have seen for a long time, Jar Jar Binks who is the hideously misjudged comic relief of the film, in a movie that doesn't need comic relief, it being not particuarly dark or sombre in tone to start with.
So far this has been entirely to introduce this one annoying character, and then they cut to introducing another- Queen Amidala of Naboo,who is captured by the still unfleshed out "bad guys", and is subsequently rescued by the pair of Jedis.
They crash land on a nearby planet and yet another character is pulled from thin air for no reason- the little slave boy Anakin Skywalker who helps the Jedi who have no money to fix their ship by racing in a protracted floaty go-cart race (they made a game out of this bit apparently, so this can be seen as a overlong trailer for the inevitable stuff-alanche that follows any major film).
Somehow this persuades the older jedi that the little boy also has pyscic ninja skills.
There is a big tacked on battley bit, and then it ends.
Design wise it was a bit messy- the location and set dressing looked like they had about 15p, and the editing and vast majority of the costumes came straight out of the 70's which may have been a deliberate choice, but it was a bad one.
However, the assorted aliens and robots looked fantastic- with a realism that comes from some of them being puppets rather than the cliched cgi.
In particular Yoda, the little green jedi that I'm sure most will be familliar with is a real gem, from the movements that he makes right down to his hairy ears he is utterly believable.
This is all a bit of a mess, the actors can only do so much with the poor writing they have been given, and consequently the whole film falls apart- it is bad enough that it is a film just to introduce the core characters in the trilogy, but when it is purely introcductions of characters that don't seem real or likeable it becomes a terrible film.
This is a fan film- it doesn't stand up on it's own at all, which is a shame because I have since seen the second of the trilogy, and it is a lot better. It is in respect of that second film,and the puppetering that this one gets a second star, since terrible as it is without it the trilogy would have been worse, as the introductions would have got in the way of the rest of the story.
It lasted for 16 years. Looking back, that is how long my love affair with Star Wars lasted following Return of the Jedi, the last of the original trilogy.
I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the original trilogy on the big screen again in 1997, albeit, tampered with, mostly in unfavourable ways. However, I was willing to overlook this, because Star Wars was back on the big screen again. Then I heard that George Lucas was going to release a new movie, dealing with the origins of Darth Vader. I. Couldn't. Wait.
And then The Phantom Menace arrived. And I was bored. Yes, the pod racing scene was pretty cool, but that is what everyone says. The movie as a whole was hindered by political mumbo jumbo, bad acting, ridiculous dialogue, and the most annoying character ever created for the cinema - Jar Jar.
With a cast including Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, you would expect more, but they all look uncomfortable in their roles.
The special effects are pretty good, as they aren't 'massively' used.
The extras on the disc are expansive. Making ofs, various commentaries, trailers, and easter eggs for those willing to look for them!
All in all, a gorgeous looking film - just a let down after the long long wait...
The problem with the newer Star Wars films are that, because the older trilogy was such a masterpiece, they will always be compared. With this in mind, I think it's unfair to judge "the Phantom Menace" with the originals in mind. People say that George Lucas made these films having to think of new ideas and concepts, but it is common knowledge that Lucas already had a backstory for most of the characters in the '70s.
When Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi start dueling the droids at the beginning of the film, I was in awe. Also, the battle at the end of the film, with the two Jedis fighting Darth Maul is, for me, the best lightsaber duel in all six films. It was just so tense and kept you in suspense the whole time. I loved how the special effects enhanced the film. Take a moment and think; if George Lucas hadn't taken advantage of the technology that's available these days, and had just used puppets, would you not've asked why he wasn't using CGI? Of course you would've. He's just made the most of the means he had available to him at the time.
Of course, this film isn't without its faults. It has a very annoying characters in Jar-Jar Binks, but I think Lucas had ulterior motives for putting him into the film. He was always going to appeal to the younger viewers and therefore bring in more moolah. You can't really blame for this seeing as that is basically the whole point of making films. Anakin Skywalker can be pretty irritating with all his yeah's and woohoo's.
Liam Neeson plays a brilliant part in this film and Ewan McGregor shows which way his character will be going in the next two films. The film also does what it was made to do; explain what happens when Anakin Skywalker is a kid, and how the Empire comes to be. "The Phantom Menace" kicks these events off and does its job.
Everyone's favourite Space Saga returned to our screens with this film in 1999. It was set decades before the original saga & began a new trilogy of films that would show how the Empire came to be.
The film begins with Jedi Knights Qui-Gonn-Jinn & his apprentice Obi-Wan-Kenobi being sent to help resolve a trade despute which has so far resulted in the barrackading of the planet Naboo. On arrival with the Trade Federation the Jedi are attacked & have to flea the Space Ship to the planet's surface. While on the planet, they manage to rescue the queen of the Naboo & head for the Senate of the Republic with her so that freedom can be restored to her planet.
This is viewed by a lot of fans as the weak link in both the new trilogy & the complete saga. Personally, I think that this is a bit harsh. I would agree that it is probably he most child friendly of all six Star Wars films ever made, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The film has lots for everyone. dramatic moments (one of which made me cry a little the first time around). Really good action scenes which rival anything in the original trilogy & great light sabre duels. I would say that these are much better in the modern trilogy than they were in the original.
Over all it's a good film. I think it get's a lot more stick than it actualy deserves & would recommend it. For anyone who hasn't seen this (or the whole series), you really ought to.
STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE - 1999
Wow, has it really been 10 years since STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE was released ???
Erm. Yup, it has !!! It was indeed 1999 when the first of the three prequel movies was released and the world finally got to see the origin of the galaxy's greatest villain (Darth Vader) and how the Empire that "struck back" in 1980 was created ! Yes, this was the film that saw the first signs of romance between Anakin Skywalker [Jake Lloyd] and Padme Amidala [Natalie Portman] the two characters who would eventually become the parents of Lke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa. It was the movie that introduced us to the Old Republic, the Senate, The Jedi Council and a whole host of new Star Wars characters including Qui Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Senator Palpatine, Chancellor Valorum, Jar Jar Binks and of course the mighty Darth Maul !!!
As a story it is both simple and complex ... whilst the basic good verses evil plot keeps it's usual Star Wars simplicity there are a great deal of political sub plots within this movie which at times make it more confusing than it needs to be !!!
Of course no Star Wars film would be "Star Wars" without Jedi Masters, Sith Lords, Lightsabers, blasters, starships, creatures and droids and The Phantom Menace does not disappoint ... this movie is packed with amazing special effects (thanks to George Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic) and old favourites such as Artoo Deetoo and See Threepio join a host of new characters such as Watto, Jar Jar Binks, Boss Nass, Sebulba as well as an army of Battle Droids.
The most impressive character, however, is Darth Maul (Ray Park). And it is this character who appears in the movies most impressive scene the "Duel Of The Fates" finale which involves a 20 minute long Lightsaber Battle between Darth Maul and Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his Apprentice Obi Wan Kenoni (Euan McGregor).
It is a movie of grand proportions. A movie with awesome CGI effects. And it is a movie that lead to one of the largest advertising campaigns in modern cinema history !!!
However, in the 10 years since the return of the Star Wars Saga to the "silver screen" The Phantom Menace still remains one of the most fiercely debated sci-fi movies of all times ... as it was [and still is] the one movie that split the Star Wars fan community in two.
I have been a massive Star Wars fan since I first saw the original movie back in the seventies. Over the past 4 years I have been researching and writing a book about the Star Wars Saga and it's place within popular culture. It has been an amazing journey and I have met some fantastic people. But without a doubt it is the "controversy" surrounding The Phantom Menace has been one of the most talked about subjects along the way !!!
10 years ago I felt like a bright eyed kid once again as I arrived in Leicester Square for the UK Premiere of STAR WARS EPISODE 1. The months of hype surrounding The Phantom Menace had created what can only be described as "meltdown" within the online fan community and expectation was dangerously high. I felt like like the luckiest guy in the entire Galaxy that night as I had managed to get on to the official guest list for the Premiere ... I knew exactly how Charlie must have felt standing at the gates of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory holding on to his Golden Ticket !!!
I had expected a thrilling evening, I had expected to be amazed and I had expected to come out of the cinema feeling the way I had as a kid ... a long time ago in a cinema far, far away !!!
What I didn't expect, however, was to leave the premiere feeling confused.
After months of hype and dozens of "teaser trailers" I simply expected more than George Lucas had delivered. And I was not alone because the excitement within the loyal fan community very quickly turned to disappointment ... and within hours the disappointment had become very negative indeed.
An early casualty of this negative response from fans was Jar Jar Binks ... a character who to this day is opened condemned by many fans. But it wasn't just the hapless Gungan who was in the firing line as Jake Lloyd (the child actor who played a young Anakin Skywalker) was also criticised for his "cooooooool" acting style and cheddar coated dialogue. Even Master Yoda became a target because despite the superior technological capabilities of the Lucasfilm Empire the production team had used a puppet which looked lifeless !!!
But the "fans unleashed" didn't stop there ... and the criticisms continued. And while many movie goers claimed that they had enjoyed the movie just as many declared the Phantom Menace as a flop. The media response was similar ... and it seemed that the long awaited return of Star Wars was going to become the biggest anti-climax in movie history.
But was this really the fault of George Lucas ? Would it be fair to say that the fans themselves were to blame ? Or is this just an example of how too much hype can create too much expectation ? Of course, there were many Star Wars fans who loved it too ... but the feeling amongst the Star Wars fan community in general was divided. The truth of the matter was simple ... for many childhood fans of the Original Trilogy the years and years of waiting had simply created too much expectation ... had this movie won hundreds of awards many of them would have still found fault !!!
To be honest, the prequels were never (and could never) recreate the magic of the Original Trilogy. Added to this is the fact that many Star Wars fans had seen the original movies (Episodes 4,5 and 6) when they were kids themselves and in the 20 years they had waited for the prequels (Episodes 1,2 and 3) had become adults. A lot of things had changed in the world, hundreds of other movies had been watched and it simply wasn't the seventies anymore !!!
Over the past ten 10 years, however, the majority of fans I have met have slowly warmed to The Phantom Menace. One particular fan even informed me (after seeing Revenge Of The Sith) that he had infact finally forgiven George Lucas for Episode 1 !!!
As I stated earlier, my own initial reaction to the movie had been one of confusion ... but personally I didn't go as far as trying to blame George Lucas for ruining my life !!! And, whilst The Phantom Menace (in my opinion)was far from perfect there were many positive aspects to the movie too ...
Who could deny the fact that Darth Maul is possibly one of the most awesome Star Wars characters ever created ? Who could describe performances from the likes of Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson and Iain McDiarmid as anything less than impressive ? Who could criticise the movie's design department for the stunning detail added to create locations such Naboo and Coruscant ? And who could fault John Williams for his award winning musical score ?
STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE may not have been anywhere near as magical as the three films of the Original but it did mark the return of the Star Wars Saga to the movies and for that we should be grateful !!! More importantly, however, is the fact that the movie does introduce us all to the the key characters, the plot, the politics, the locations of the Old Republic which was first spoken about by Old Ben Kenobi in 1977 !!!
Most of us knew how the story ended of course before we even saw The Phantom Menace but our frustrations about how the Saga actually begins must now be balanced by the fact that during Episodes 2 and 3 the filmaking thankfully improved (and more importantly, a sense of the magic of the Star Wars galaxy returned).
This DVD is must have for any home movie collection ... the Star Wars Saga looks set to continue with the recent release of the Clone Wars movie and TV series but The Phantom Menace is the movie in which the story itself begins. If you are a fan of the Force then I can already assume you own this DVD ... if you are new to Star Wars then I can strongly recommend that you buy yourself a copy of the Phantom Menace and see where the journey takes you !!!
May The Force be with You ... Always
Oh dear. Where do I start?
When this movie came out I tried to give it my time and patience. I watched it several times and tried to like it. However, the more and more I think about it I realise just what a stinker it is.
Everyone knows the story of the Original Trilogy. Luke is Vader's son, hleps Vader find redemption, is helped along the way by sister Leia and her boyfriend Han Solo. Throw in a few sand people and ewoks, a couple of cool space battles and "the force" and you pretty much have it. Nonetheless it was engaging and thorughly entertaining for those of us who grew up with it.
Then, over a decade after Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) Star Wars creator George Lucas annouces he will go back and start at the beginning to tell Episodes I to III. Millions of fans are overjoyed.
The phrase "George Lucas raped my childhood" has been used to describe this movie and I can understand why. Quite simply this movie is huge dissapointment.
The plot basically focuses on young Vader, Anakin Skywalker, beginning the journey on the way to the Dark Side of the force. For Star Wars fans there are so many problems, the worst of which are as follows:-
1) Poor Jake Lloyd. He is now hated and despised due to his crap performance in this film. Why the hell didn't Lucas get a better actor? This is the main character after all.
2) The Pod Race. God this scene is boring. Yes, we know Anakin is a good pilot but did this scene have to be so loooooong....and what's with all the cartoon aliens???
3) Robot comedians. "Roger roger"!??? What was Lucas thinking when he invented the comedy Battle Droids.
4) The Gungans. Why does Boss Nass sound like a bloody Jamaican.
Of course the Gungans lead me on to the chief offender:-
5) Jar Jar Binks. Oh.....my.....god. What an insufferable turd of a character. I mean jesus, is this guy in any way supposed to be funny? No wonder he got dumped in Episodes II & II.
6) The acting. The movie is proof that acting against a green screen all the time is not the best way of getting great performances. All of the actors, aside from perhaps Liam Neeson, give disjointed and wooden performances. Even poor Ewan MacGregor can't get past the horrid nature of how its filmed. I remember an interview with Terrence Stamp in which he criticised Lucas for giving Natalie Portman the day off anf making him act against a blue screen and a cardboard cut out of her.
Still there are some good aspects to the movie. I really like Liam Neeson's Qui Gon Jinn anfd its ashame he did not resurface in the later entries. The villian, Darth Maul, is great, although has far too little screen time, and the lightsaber fight at the end is something special. Otherwise the movie is a bit of a stinker and should be avoided.
The DVD on the other hand is very good. It is packed with detailed documentaries, fully completed deleted scenes and some very amusing easter eggs! Unfortunately though it smacks of lipstick on a pig.
The "new trilogy" of Star Wars fans recieve frequent derision for being a mere shadow of the former glory of the series, and this is perhaps truer of none of the three than the first - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Amid absurdly high expectations, it simply faltered, with some pretty hokey script and plot devices, such as the explanation of the Force as midichlorians, a strange substance that is present in the blood of Jedis and Siths. Furthermore, a lot of people found the focus on young Annakin itself an irritation, because the lines fed to child actor Jake Lloyd were so base and cretinous. Many blame Lloyd's delivery for this, but I must defend him - after all, there's very little you can actually do with lines such as "Now THIS is pod racing".
Jar Jar Binks is also a very sore point for many Star Wars fans, because he's a very silly, goofy, annoying addition that removes the seriousness from many scenes that are intended to be serious. This irritation has extended to the point that if a film features an annoying character, it is frequently referred to as the "Jar Jar" of the film.
That said, the visual effects were utterly astounding for 1999, and sequences such as the Pod Racing scene are an extremely impressive show-off of visual effects. It's just a shame that this artistry didn't carry over into the script, which keeps Annakin out of the picture for a good hour, whilst rather laboured discussions about diplomacy and very shallow character development takes precedent. Notably, Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon-Jin character was very likeable, but alas was just sorely underdeveloped, and thus his final battle with Darth Maul (another horribly developed character) has no gravitas, pathos or emotion behind it.
Lucas had immense pressure to produce something worthy to the original films, but nevertheless, it's difficult to view the film as anything above a middle of the road sci fi opera that has astounding visuals. Fortunately the new trilogy did improve, particularly with the third installment, but it takes little away from just how rickety and disappointing this film was.
Lucas had a lot to live up to, but you can get used to this movie. It's got Liam Neeson in it after all. And an excellent starter villain, Darth Maul. There is perhaps not enough mystique about the Force, and the production is a little too bright and garish to be a prequel.
But basically, it's a prequel movie, and a chance to explore some earlier aspects to the later films, which have the high, concluding drama in them. It's like the early Harry Potter films.
The special effects are everywhere, and the charisma of the characters, like the rapport between young Obi Wan and his master, nearly get lost in them. Another unfortunate element is the young Anakin, who just doesn't seem suitable for a young Darth Vader. But then, maybe Lucas wants a big contrast between what can be youthful, and what can become broken and twisted.
Lucas has clearly gone for the kids angle. This is almost 'Star Wars for kids', this film. Jar Jar Binks is a kids cartoon figure, likeable enough. The robots are a bit silly. The later films are going to be more complex as we deal both with internal and external struggles.
Let's get used to it, and love it for what it is. Some good doses of action, and a good introduction. Binks people provide some humor but not quite enough originality in the battle perhaps. Some interesting ideas from Naboo and the queenly virtues Amidala must display. But she looks a little wooden here too, unfortunately. There could have been chemistry between her and even a young Anakin, and in the second movie too. We get an explanation of the Force, which is ok, but a bit rushed and 'forced', excuse the pun.
There is a lot missing without a character such as Han Solo, but we get by for the moment without him. Things get pretty dramatic towards the end. The soundtrack is great for mounting tension. The sabre duels have a maturity in their necessity: but Darth Maul seems a little random and unintelligent to engage two Jedi's at once. We could have seen a little more of the nature of his evil beforehand...
The Star Wars potency is too large to be blemished by this film, which is still good.
For those who grew up with Star Wars in the seventies and eighties this film was always going to be something of a divide among fans. Generally well received but not to everyones taste. It has the right ingredients for a Star Wars film, all the characters are present and correct, step forward Obi Wan and young Anakin. There are are also some delightful new characters who add to the new feel of the film. Where is falls down though is with the CGI effects. They are great yes and blend in really well, but one misses the rawness of the men in suits, like in the old Cantina sequence. The new effects almost take away some of that much needed nostalgia which is quite a shame really. Performances are solid, especially from Ewan McGregor who steps into Guiness's shoes with ease and pulls off a convincing and sincere turn as teh great Obi Wan. There are also impressive turns from Liam Neeson and newcomer Jake Lloyd. The pod race is a super scene which heightens the senses and gets the viewer on the edge of their seats. Is it Star Wars as we know it? Yes and no, is it worth watching , yes! There is very little that needs to be said to put off a true Star Wars fan so relax and enjoy this visual feast it is worth it
The Phantom Menace is simply Star Wars remade. Made the way George Lucas would have made A New Hope if he'd had the technology. There are so many similarities between it and the previous 3 Star Wars films it's unreal.
1)Opening with a space battle. Hmmm! Didn't Star Wars open like this?
2)Jedi meets with student. Again we've seen this before.
3)Pod racing, made me think about Luke's speech on Beggars Canyon.
4)To the Tatooine spaceport. Mos Eisley, anybody?
5)Droids in a workshop. Like father like son, Luke fixes 3PO and R2!
6)Attacking a green planet. Endor? where were the Ewoks?
7)Jabba's slave girl. Seen that outfit somewhere before? Leia wore it!
8)Jedi fight Sith Lord (pronouced syth-si, OK Samuel Jackson?). Kenobi vs Vader on the Deathstar, or vs Luke on Cloudcity or the new Deathstar)
9)Attacking a big space station. The trench sequence?
10)Being presented with medals. The end of Star Wars?
OK. George Lucas has ripped himself off and conned the punters. Neeson and McGregor hold the film together but Jake Lloyd looks way out of his depth in every scene. Darth Maul (played amazingly well by martial artist & stuntman Ray Parks) was killed off too easily and he should have been used a lot more. All in all - what a waste of time and money. It could have been so much more. George, you must redeem yourself.
So, this is where it all begins! In 1999, twenty years after Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was first released at the cinema amidst a wave of fanatical behaviour, followed by episodes V and VI, George Lucas' considerable enterprise starts off the prequel trilogy with Episode I: A Phantom Menace. The film was eagerly anticipated for so long, with die hard Star Wars fans queuing, sometimes for days, to be one of the first to get a glimpse of the new film. This was to set the scene for the following two films, and the episodes, all 6 of them, would tell a chronological tale. Phantom Menace was met with much excitement, and raving reviews. It also met with criticism, and there was disappointment amidst all the eagerness.
A dispute between the Trade Federation and the Galactic Republic has led to a blockade on the planet Naboo. Two Jedi, Master Qui-Gon Jin and his fully trained apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi, are attempting to resolve the dispute with Viceroy Nate Gunroy of the Federation. The Jedi team up with native Jar Jar Binks in rescuing Queen Padme Amidala from the Federation's clutches, and ask for help from the senate.
They meet a young Anakin Skywalker, whom members of the Jedi council think may prove to be a great Jedi if controlled, and together, the two Jedi take Anakin on as a Jedi apprentice. The tale heads towards a battle between the Federation and the Republic, and as the main battle commences, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have Darth Sidious' apprentice to deal with, the mysterious and dangerous tattooed Darth Maul.
The Cast and Performances
Liam Neeson takes the role of Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jin. He does well in the role, but I did not feel that he was as effective as he possibly should have been.This may be a reflection on the script more than his performance. Ewan McGregor takes on the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Episodes IV, V and VI, this role was performed marvellously by Sir Alec Guinness, so big boots to fill, and I feel McGregor does very well. Natalie Portman made a name for herself in the role as Amidala. Her performance as a young queen is commendable, and this was to improve as the tale unfolded in the further two episodes. Iain McDiarmid is full of screen presence and charisma in his role as Senator Palpatine, as is Terence Stamp as Chancellor Valorum. Keira Knightley has a brief supporting role as one of Amidala's maidens.
The combination of Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker and Jake Lloyd as her son Anakin is very good. She realises she must let Anakin fulfill his destiny, and the young actor brings a certain mature innocence to the role. Samuel L Jackson is one of those actors who doesn't stop. Here, he plays Mace Windu, a member of the Jedi Council. Reportedly, he was unsure about the role until he was told he'd be sitting next to Yoda, then he jumped at the chance! Obviously a big fan! Frank Oz lends his voice to the character Yoda, as does Brian Blessed in a supporting role.
Ahmed Best gives a strange take on the humanoid Jar Jar Binks, a character I was a little confused about. Perhaps Lucas wanted a little comic element in the film to increasethe enjoyment factor. Comedy he got, although I'm not sure it added to the film. Ray Park is outstandingly menacing as Darth Maul, with the red and black tattoos covering him and his double-edged lightsaber, the actor is known for playing acrobatic roles, and has also played Toad in the X-Men films. The actor is very good here. A nthony Daniels and Kenny Baker are in their fourth film as C3P0 and R2D2 respectively, reprising their roles from nearly 20 years previous. The remainder of the cast support well.
In terms of enjoyment, I was so keen to watch this that there was nothing I criticised at the time. I went with a bunch of mates from work to the cinema, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Hindsight, however, is a different and wonderful thing. I have since watched the film a number of times since its release in 1999, and I have to say I am disappointed in some ways. The special effects appear too contrived in places, and not nearly realistic enough, although quite a few are extremely effective. As I have mentioned above, the character of Jar Jar Binx is a little lost on me, and I didn't see the point, although he was comical. Sidious and Maul are very well done, and the score reflects the evil nature of their presence, and the music heightens during the fight scenes, which are choreographed very well.
There are long scenes in the film where the views are lovely and the mood I am sure is being set, but I felt that the film needed to move along a little quicker in places. Too much time was spent on the introductory scenes, and maybe the first hour or so of the film could have been edited a little heavier, but ultimately I thoroughly enjoyed the film for what it was. It made me hungry for the second in the prequel trilogy, entitled Attack of the Clones, and I still give this movie a thumbs up, despite the hangups I have about it. It is a top film, well made, and brilliantly directed and produced. I merely have a couple of gripes that I feel would have made it a more constant enjoyment without getting bored at points.
"I have a bad feeling about this," says the young Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) in Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace as he steps off a spaceship and into the most anticipated cinematic event ... well, ever. He might as well be speaking for the legions of fans of the original episodes in the Star Wars saga who can't help but secretly ask themselves: sure, this is Star Wars, but it is my Star Wars? The original elevated moviegoers' expectations so high that it would have been impossible for any subsequent film to meet them. And as with all the Star Wars movies, The Phantom Menace features inexplicable plot twists, a fistful of loose threads and some cheek-chewing dialogue. Han Solo's swagger is sorely missed, as is the pervading menace of heavy-breathing Darth Vader. There is still way too much quasi-mystical mumbo jumbo and some of what was fresh about Star Wars 22 years earlier feels formulaic. Yet there's much to admire. The special effects are stupendous; three worlds are populated with a mélange of creatures, flora and horizons rendered in absolute detail. The action and battle scenes are breathtaking in their complexity. And one particular sequence of the film-the adrenaline-infused pod race through the Tatooine desert--makes the chariot race in Ben-Hur look like a Sunday stroll through the park. Among the host of new characters, there are a few familiar walk-ons. We witness the first meeting between R2-D2 and C-3PO, Jabba the Hutt looks younger and slimmer (but not young and slim) and Yoda is as crabby as ever. Natalie Portman's stately Queen Amidala sports hairdos that make Princess Leia look dowdy and wields a mean laser. We never bond with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's day is yet to come. Jar Jar Binks, a cross between a Muppet, a frog and a hippie, provides many of the movie's lighter moments, while Sith Lord Darth Maul is a formidable force. Baby-faced Anakin Skywalker looks too young and innocent to command the powers of the Force or wield a lightsaber (much less transmute into the future Darth Vader), but his boyish exuberance wins over sceptics. Near the end of the movie, Palpatine, the new leader of the Republic, may be speaking for fans eagerly awaiting Episode II when he pats young Anakin on the head and says, "We will watch your career with great interest." Indeed! --Tod Nelson