johnlink ranks STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

I watched this movie last back in summer of 2012. I was thinking, back then, of going through all six STAR WARS movies in order for the first time. But my experiencing revisiting THE PHANTOM MENACE was bad enough that I didn’t move on. Since then, though, my son has gotten a little older. He is five now, and he is absolutely obsessed with STAR WARS. He went through the newer trilogy fairly quickly, and now focuses mostly on the originals. He especially loves THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Anyway, his thirst for knowledge about the universe has certainly heightened greatly my own awareness of all things STAR WARS. I haven’t just sat down and watched any of the movies straight through, though, and I thought I should do so before taking him to see THE FORCE AWAKENS at the end of the month.

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I watched STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999) on 12.1.15. It was my third viewing of the film, and first since 2012, making this a reranking. My original review is here.

This is a movie with a lot of problems. May of them start with the ego of George Lucas. He declares Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) – the boy who is later to become Darth Vader – to be born of immaculate conception. Lucas makes the choice to direct the films again (something he gave up quickly in the original trilogy) and his less-than-subtle fingers are all over the hammy acting choices which manage to make Natalie Portman (“No, I beg you to help us”) seem like a wooden mannequin. This is easily her worst role in a superb career. Lucas also thinks his jokes are funny, and most of them are not.

This is not an absolutely horrible movie. Liam Neeson as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn saves it from being so. After some early action, the plot has him trying to escort Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman… sort of) to the Senate to complete a trade agreement. He, along with his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) find trouble along the way and  end up on the sandy planet of Tatooine where they encounter the very young Anakin Skywalker.

In making Anaking so young, Lucas runs into another problem. In theory, the idea was to show just how young Skywalker was when he was as powerful a mind as anyone else on his planet. In the way the movie plays out, though, we end up watching a six-year-old kid doing wildly unbelievable things.

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The pod race in the film’s center serves as a microcosm of all this is both right and wrong in the film. The scene looks as good as anything in the movie (and more on the CGI in a moment), and there is a real sense of action driving the suspense. We care about what will happen, even if we suspect the outcome. And, yet, there is so much wrong with the scene. There is very little reality to be found, even within a fantasy science-fiction film. The three-lap race starts with Anikan’s racer having a misfire. It sits for more than a minute in what is a race that lasts under ten. Yet he is able to catch up. It takes a lap. He is able to approach the leader – who is supposedly a great racer – and overcome him despite such a huge deficit. In the last lap, Anikan again has his engine stall for awhile. He is able to retire and immediately catch up. Like so much in this movie, the filmmaking all serves action and suspense, and there is little to no regard to telling a coherent and believable story.

Much of the film is done in CGI, with the alien races and the droids looking particularly lifeless. Large battles of CGI fighting don’t inspire much excitement, because nothing feels legitimate. This, again, goes back to writing. Why were so many decisions made to include characters that were brainless robots or faceless aliens being major players in a the climactic conflict? The film has a superb villain in Darth Maul, but he gets an extremely small amount of screen time for a guy showing up on the poster. The marketing people knew what the coolest part of the film was, but Lucas seemed to have a hard time identifying it himself.

Jar-Jar Binks is a bad character who some have called racist. But that racism doesn’t even coins the fact that the middle level villains, the pawns in the game really, speak in obviously Asian accents to mark them as ‘other’. Our lead characters have Japanese sounding names, but are all white. The Jar-Jar Binks problem is much more basic than racism, though. The problem with the character is that he is an obvious example of pandering to children. He gets a poop joke and a fart joke. He talks in a funny way and breaks things because he is clumsy. He feels like a cheap Disney sidekick more than a character in a dangerous place. This is a movie which involves much death and a body sliced in half, after all, and yet, here is this silly cartoon character who feels pathetic from the outset.

More than anything, though, this is a movie which feels like it knows that the two sequels are set in stone. This movie doesn’t need to do anything crazy, it doesn’t need to rest the bar. It doesn’t need to worry about reviews. The money was going to come regardless. So, while this is still a fun enough film, there should not be a STAR WARS film this bad out there.

SCORES

FILM: 4; MOVIE: 7; ACTING: 4; WRITING: 2; BONUS: -1

The bonus point is for the bad CGI. Notoriously poor in many scenes.

4+7+4+2-1=16

FINAL SCORE: 4 out of 10

 

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~ by johnlink00 on December 1, 2015.

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