Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" Retains Its Innocence"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 31 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Running time: 136 minutes (2 hours, 16 minutes)
MPAA – PG for sci-fi action/violence
PRODUCER: Rick McCallum
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Tattersall (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith
COMPOSER: John Williams
Academy Award nominee

SCI-FI/FANTASY/ACTION/ADVENTURE with elements of a thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Pernilla August, (voice) Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie, (voice) Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Terrence Stamp, Brian Blessed, Andrew Secombe, Ray Park, (voice) Lewis Macleod, Steven Spiers, Silas Carson, Ralph Brown, and Samuel L. Jackson

The 1999 film, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, is the fourth release in the Star Wars film franchise. It is also the first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, a series of three movies in which the stories take place before the events depicted in the original Star Wars trilogy: Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). The Phantom Menace has been recently re-released as a 3D feature.

Back in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was highly-anticipated release, and although it was a tremendous success at the box office, the movie received mixed reviews from professional film critics and reviewers. The Phantom Menace received criticism from Star Wars fandom, some of it intense. However, I am a fan of The Phantom Menace, and it is my favorite of the three prequel films. My feelings about it are similar to a statement that Ewan McGregor, who starred in the film, made, and that is that The Phantom Menace is just a little fairy tale about a group of people running from one side of the galaxy to the other, having adventures. And I like going along with them on these adventures.

Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are two Jedi Knights who must help Queen Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) save her planet Naboo from the Trade Federation, which is determined to take it. Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) is a Naboo outcast who joins the Jedi on their quest. After the group escapes from a Trade Federation-controlled Naboo, they land on the planet Tatooine, where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a boy with the potential to be a powerful Jedi. Dark forces, however, hunt them in the guise of Darth Maul (Ray Park), an apprentice of the Sith, the Jedi’s ancient enemies.

Directed by George Lucas, The Phantom Menace is the first of three prequels to the original Star Wars movies (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). Lucas doesn’t give his cast the room to stretch their characters, and his dialogue is mostly wooden and awkward. It is often painfully obvious in how unpolished both the acting and the writing is. Neeson has the most room to roam, but McGregor’s talent is sadly wasted. The driest performance has to be that of Lloyd as the young Anakin Skywalker, he his moments. Jar Jar Binks is a computer-generated character, and while Best does excellent work in creating a unique voice for the character, Jar Jar is an annoying character.

Other than that, TPM is a blast. In a way, it is like a fairy tale in which the cast runs from one hot spot to another, barely staying ahead of the bad guys. In the pod race sequence that occurs in the middle of the film, one can see Lucas’s ability to craft scenes of breath taking intensity that match the best car chases and chase scenes with the flair of the movie serials of Hollywood’s bygone era. Maul’s attack on Qui-Gon and, later, the final battle between the two Jedi and the Sith apprentice are exciting and beautifully staged. In fact, the action sequences are so good that they make up for TPM’s duller moments.

Although it doesn’t recall the excitement of Star Wars or have the dramatic impact of The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is fun. It doesn’t try to be quality filmmaking so much as it dares to be quality, lightweight entertainment. And at that, it is very good.

7 of 10

2000 Academy Awards: 3 nominations: “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing” (Ben Burtt and Tom Bellfort), “Best Effects, Visual Effects” (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, and Rob Coleman), and “Best Sound” (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, and John Midgley)

2000 BAFTA Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, and Rob Coleman) and “Best Sound” (Ben Burtt, Tom Bellfort, John Midgley, Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, and Shawn Murphy)

2000 Razzie Awards: 1 win: “Worst Supporting Actor” (Ahmed Best, the voice of Jar-Jar Binks); 6 nominations: “Worst Picture” (20th Century-Fox), “Worst Director” (George Lucas), “Worst Screen Couple” (Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman), “Worst Screenplay” (George Lucas), “Worst Supporting Actor” (Jake Lloyd), and “Worst Supporting Actress” (Sofia Coppola)


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