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The Phantom Menace; I Wanted to Like it, Really I Did!

  • Aug 9, 2004
Pros: CGI is outstanding

Cons: CGI is outstanding, acting is flat, not enough battle scenes.

The Bottom Line: In the end, The Phantom Menace fails to live up to the hype leading up to its release, or the standard set by its predecessors.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

As I stated in my review of Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones: Usually at the end of a movie I like to sit and bask in the afterglow of the story just told. I like to let my mind wrap itself around the positive energy the movie transmitted into my neural receptors, the energy that puts a bounce in my step, and makes me feel glad I’m alive! That energy that instills the feeling in me like I can do anything and face the world knowing that I am a better person for having just witnessed something miraculous and life-affirming play out before my eyes.

Not so with Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace! While better in every respect then the awful Star Wars II Attack of the Clones, I was nonetheless disappointed in the film. It’s not that the story wasn’t compelling, which it was, but not overly so; and not that the special effect were not topnotch; they were. It was the human characters that left me empty. Like Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace, the movie left me feeling totally emotionless, indeed I had to suppress a yawn at the end.

Like most diehard Star Wars fans I highly anticipated the release of The Phantom Menace. After reading and listening to a multitude of reviews on the movie I was determined to see the movie and judge it for myself. Were the antagonist CGI parodies of the Chinese in speech and mannerisms? They were. And was Jar Jar Binks a parody of the old step-and-fetch it minstrel character of the early 1920’s that Black Americans detest? He was.

The Story

Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace is the first installment of three prequels to George Lucas’s famous Star Wars film trilogy. Star Wars Episode I take’s place 30 years before Star War - Episode IV, which was released in 1977.

In this episode, the Republic is coming apart at the seams, in a plotline that more or less parallels modern day American politics and the transformation of ancient Rome from a Republic into an empire. The movie opens as the peaceful democratic planet Naboo, governed by the young, but wise (and elected) Queen Amidala portrayed by a very young looking Natalie Portman (Where the Heart is, Cold Mountain), is being blockaded, harassed, and finally invaded by the greedy Trade Federation. Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn portrayed with quite dignity by Liam Neeson (Rob Roy, Schindler’s List) and Jedi Knight in training Obi-Wan Kenobi portrayed by Ewan McGregor (Emma, Down with Love) are sent to the planet as emissaries for the High Chancellor, elected head of the Senate. They are there to help mediate a settlement to the dispute, but are ambushed by the Trade Federation and drawn into the conflict. The Jedi’s mission consequently becomes one of rescue.

The leaders of the Trade Federation (read Chinese) are nothing but pawns and puppets of an evil Sith lord and his shockingly red & black apprentice (the Sith we learn always come in pairs: master and apprentice), Darth Maul portrayed by Ray Park (X-Men, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever).

Meanwhile the Queen’s chief advisor and representative in the Republic’s governing body the Senate, the fatherly and seemingly benevolent Senator Palpatine portrayed by Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars Episode VI – Return of Jedi, Sleepy Hollow), is quietly manipulating the queen to do his bidding. That is to depose the weak High Chancellor of the Senate and replace him with himself (hummm sounds like Hitler’s rise to power).

After much ado, the Jedi Knights escape Naboo with the Queen in tow, but have to set down on Tatooine, “the planet of the Huts,” to make repairs on their damaged ship. This is where they run into young gifted Anakin Skywalker portrayed by British actor Jake Lloyd (the future Darth Vader). They also stumble upon the very, very annoying Jar Jar Binks (body by CGI, voiceover by Ahmed Best). Jar Jar is a stupid, clumsy lizard like creature who has been exiled from his underwater city because f his clumsiness. The climax comes when the two Jedi’s battle the evil Darth Maul, while the Queen attempts to retake her planet.

My Thoughts

In terms of technical prowess and achievement The Phantom Menace, which easily contains more computer-generated (CGI) special effects than most movies, is spectacular. The computer generated digital characters, landscapes, and battle scenes are remarkably realistic. But there is almost too much techno wizardry; indeed at times the effect overshadow the movie—and the central characters—and I felt like I was watching a cartoon. Whereas with the first three installments, there was a blending of effects with live action, in The Phantom Menace the human characters almost seem like an afterthought. There is little emotional connection to flesh and blood, and hence little to care about in the film. There are no memorable characters (other than Jar-Jar, and we would just assume forget him), there is no passion, and very little thrill, or suspense; again it was akin to watching a cartoon, rather then a human drama unfold.

The greatest failing by far of The Phantom Menace is this lack of human connection; this lack of emotional content. I was left feeling cheated. I am sorry but Jake Lloyd cannot act, double for the woman portraying his mother, whoever she was. He was not at all believable; his character was boring, and he wore the same expression on his face throughout. It was as if the performances were phoned in; Neeson, McGregor, and Portman simply go through the motions reciting their lines with all the emotion of grass growing on the hill of Naboo. And yet these are talented actors, what gives? Script, direction, or maybe it was difficult to perform in to a blue screen, where the characters and sets would be added until later, digitally.

And there was zero chemistry between the lot of them. To be sure there was conflict between the characters, but it wasn’t at all believable; it wasn’t developed adult dialog and hence left me feeing cheated.
In the end, The Phantom Menace fails to live up to the hype leading up to its release, or the standard set by its predecessors. What happened between the first trilogy and this movie; time and, age, and quantum leaps in special effects? I only hope that Episode III – Revenge of the Sith due out next May, some sort of parity is achieved between the real and not so real world of CGI. I would recommend this movie only if you plan to watch the other two movies of the trilogy.

Related Reviews:

Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8

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review by . February 08, 2000
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The acting in this movie was very bad. My favorit charictor in the movie was Jar Jar Binks, but even his ears went through people because the acter's never even stoped to look at how to do this. A discrase to Star Wars.
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Vincent Martin ()
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I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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"I have a bad feeling about this," says the young Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor) inStar Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menaceas 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 theStar Warssaga who can't help but secretly ask themselves: Sure, this isStar Wars, but is itmy 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 theStar Warsmovies,The Phantom Menacefeatures 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-breather Darth Vader. There is still way too much quasi-mystical mumbo jumbo, and some of what was fresh aboutStar Wars22 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 inBen-Hurlook 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...

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Director: George Lucas
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Release Date: May 19, 1999
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: George Lucas
DVD Release Date: March 22, 2005
Runtime: 2hrs 11min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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