Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D (2012)

Sent to resolve a taxation dispute with the Trade Federation, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) instead find themselves under attack as Viceroy Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) orders an illegal invasion of the planet Naboo. The Jedi – along with exiled native Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) – escape with The Queen (Natalie Portman) and depart for Coruscant in order to find favour with the Galactic Senate. Forced to stop on Tatooine for repairs, the Jedi happen across a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) with whom The Force is unusually strong. Their discovery does not go unnoticed by Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), however, the political alias of a burgeoning Sith power.

Thirteen years ago, in a galaxy uncomfortably close to the bone, a loyal fan-base snorted in derision at a movie so apparently terrible that it not only made a mockery of their decades of devotion, but tarnished the memory of their once-hallowed original trilogy as well. Betrayed by the man to whom they had given years of their lives, a considerable sum of money and their first cinematic love, a generation found themselves sorely disenfranchised by the infamous phantom menace.

Except, they didn’t really. In the subsequent years, these individuals have upgraded their collection first onto DVD and then onto Blu-ray, continued to invest in expanded universe games and novels, and returned to watch the film’s two sequels, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. There is still great affection for George Lucas’ brain child, and where a generation was once inspired by the original trilogy, so too has a generation been enchanted by the new series of films. The franchise has endured, despite the continued resistance of a select few.

With Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace returning to cinema screens following a 3D overhaul, old wounds might once again begin to itch, however, as those once slighted by the film’s 1999 release question why they would ever wish to see the film again. After all, it is the same film, riddled with the same flaws, simply retrofitted in 3D. This is true, but with over a decade to let the old scars heal, I urge you to revisit The Phantom Menace and make peace with a film mired in unjustified contempt.

It’s ridiculous, after all, to think that George Lucas has somehow done his fans wrong by not making the movie that they wanted to see. It’s a shame to think that the man himself has been worn down to the point of retiring having been unfairly vilified by a group of people who just happen to have grown old and cynical faster than he can make movies. The Star Wars films have never belonged on a pedestal, their iconic status ultimately bestowed on them by misguided audiences determined to adopt the franchise as their own, resulting in a sense of entitlement that would see them become their beloved franchise’s own worst enemy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say the film is perfect, or even particularly great. Indeed, the problems with The Phantom Menace – and the prequel trilogy as a whole – have been well documented: the overly exclamatory dialogue that is rife with exposition, the embarrassingly wooden acting as actors grapple with excessive green-screen and a plot that gets too bogged down in pseudo politics to allow for any real momentum or character development. The truth is, however, that many of these criticisms can be just as easily levelled at the other films, and if we can overcome clunky dialogue and awkward plotting for them – anyone who denies there’s political jargon in A New Hope simply isn’t listening hard enough – then what’s stopping us here? Surely it can’t just be nostalgia alone?

Because – as I have already argued – there is so much to love in The Phantom Menace, particularly now that it has been spread over an extra dimension. The pod race, the lightsaber battles and the space dogfights are on a par with anything the series has to offer, and with the benefit of stereoscopy this is clearer than ever. This is one of the best conversions I have ever scene, the screen opening up to a degree reminiscent of the finest 3D experiences. Coruscant is quite simply breath-taking, while the underwater world inhabited by Naboo’s Gungan quotient dazzles as it looms into view. There is a size and scope to Lucas’ creation that is utterly cinematic – from Darth Maul to Sebulba, Mos Espa to the Galactic Senate – it’s pure genre entertainment.

But as ever, The Phantom Menace‘s biggest asset has never been the films admittedly stunning visuals. The film’s score is arguably one of John Williams’ finest; as the Star Wars theme blasts out over the opening crawl, it is impossible not to feel time rewind and yourself regress back to childhood once more. But unlike the film’s narrative – which riffs quite obviously (and unfortunately) on Return of the Jedi – this is no rehash. The usual leitmotifs are blended with a more diverse soundtrack, as the true operatics of this space opera come into play, crescendoing with the film’s piece-de-resistance: Dual of the Fates. Throw in Ben Burtt’s characteristically impeccable sound design and you have a film that is tantalisingly close to being note-perfect.

Revisiting Star Wars Episode I you will quickly realise that Jar Jar Binks is nowhere near as annoying as you remember him to be, that the midichlorians do little to demystify The Force and that the laughable Yoda puppet has been mercifully replaced with a decidedly more palatable special effect. Of course it could have been improved; the opening could be more exciting, the dialogue written by literally anyone else and Jake Lloyd replaced with someone who could actually act – if only Max Records or Dakota Goya had been around in 1999 – but even as it stands, The Phantom Menace is far from the mess your unfounded prejudices would have you believe.

Imagined as the cinematic equivalent of a Saturday morning serial, The Phantom Menace serves its purpose completely. While the film may be juvenile, flawed and inconsistent, it is nevertheless a beautifully crafted, ruthlessly imagined and wildly entertaining piece of children’s entertainment. Not a travesty or a betrayal, just a perfectly serviceable slice of science fiction. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Ten 2012 Movies I Could Take Or Leave…Preferably Leave

With the year mapped out and the requisite drool reserves allocated to each of the releases I am most highly anticipating, I am left with a near-equal list of movies I don’t care much for at all. The cinematic landscape for the coming year is awash with bile, as Judd Apadow returns with another hateful bromance, Christian Bale’s career survives to let him grumble another day and G.I. Joe gives Development Hell the slip for a completely unnecessary second instalment. While other critics have their evil eyes set firmly on the upcoming 3D rerelease of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (let it slide, world. It’s time to make peace), I have other, decidedly less enticing things on my mind. Namely: Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill.

Man on a Ledge

Hollywood has had its fair share of the-clue-is-in-the-name film titles, with Snakes on a Plane, Cowboys & Aliens, We Bought a Zoo and (*spoiler alert*) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford all springing immediately to mind. Man on a Ledge, however, manages to be so remarkably uninteresting that it instantly stands out from the crowd. We’ve already seen Man on Wire, after all. Sam Worthington wasn’t even interesting in 2010, the year in which he inexplicably starred in all of the movies, only Avatar surviving uniform dismissal by virtue of director James Cameron’s extraordinary vision and all of those flashing pixels. How he has been chosen to front another movie after the dismal Clash of the Titans is beyond me, even if all Summit Entertainment expect him to do is stand on a ledge. I bet he doesn’t even jump.

Jack and Jill

The latest Katie Holmes movie is never something to get particularly excited about, there was nobody camping overnight to see Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but Jack and Jill takes this barely concealed indifference to a whole new level. Joining Lady Cruise on this occasion is Adam Sandler. And Adam Sandler. Apparently labouring under the delusion that The Nutty Professor I & II (along with every other Eddie Murphy movie produced in the 90s) was actually funny, Sandler has cast himself in the dual roles of Jack and Jill Sadelstein for little reason other than to herald some impending apocalypse. Shoot me please. In one eye for every character played by Adam Sandler.

Safe House

I’m sorry, but is it just me or have we seen this movie before? Like everything else in his back-catalogue, Ryan Reynolds stars as a low-hitting ubermensch who we – the imperfect masses – are supposed to root for simply because he is adrift in a completely fictitious job. Watching Ryan Reynolds under normal comedic circumstances is always trying enough, but the prospect of sitting through two joyless hours of him trying out his serious face opposite Denzel Washington (WHAT ARE YOU DOING, DENZEL WASHINGTON?) is nearly too much to bear.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

I don’t know about you, but when Nicolas Cage was first cast as the flame haired, leather-coated vengeance demon Johnny Blaze, I caughed a little bit of sick into my mouth. I’m sorry, what?? Naturally, the first Ghost Rider movie – with its boring story and Eva Mendez – was utterly terrible, and for the past four years we have been permitted the right to pretend that it was never in fact allowed to happen. Tasked with essentially rebooting the franchise, however, the filmmakers have somehow managed to make the same mistake AGAIN and have returned Cage to the role for another go at the character. Also, after Drive Angry, shouldn’t this really be Ghost Rider 3?

The Three Stooges

Having no doubt acclimatised to Development Hell during its decade-long stay, The Three Stooges aims to update the mid-20th Century sketch comedy of the same name for contemporary (read: even stupider) audiences. Boasting a plot that, for all intents and purposes, makes you want to kill yourself, the film focuses on Moe, Larry, and Curly, who inadvertently stumble into a murder plot, and wind up starring in a reality TV show while trying to save their childhood orphanage. I’m not even joking. Did I mention that it stars Sean Hayes from Will & Grace?

Battleship

Do you remember Battleship? It was the tactical, grid-warfare game that you could play on a page of squared paper if you really wanted to; the one that the Grim Reaper challenged Bill and Tedd to during their bogus journey. Do you remember the aliens? No? Oh, wait, that’s probably because there were no aliens. Hear that, Hollywood? NO ALIENS! Regardless, an upcoming adaptation housed at Universal Pictures is set to pit Liam Neeson, Rihanna and their boat against a myriad of extra terrestrial invaders. Naturally, the filmmakers were inspired by the financial success of MICHAEL BAY’s Transformers trilogy, and therefore, naturally, the film is going to be headache-inducing nonsense.

Snow White & The Huntsman

While most might laud Snow White & The Hunstman as fairest of them all in this, the year of the seven dwarves, I am forced by my utter hatred of this infernal darker is better movement to side with Mirror Mirror, however soul-shittingly awful it might appear to look. While it is impossible to get too riled by the absense of happy-clappy show tunes (the original fairy tale was, after all, a completely different beast), the rampant miserableness and unfathomable presence of body armour on show in the film’s trailer nevertheless have my heckles up. There’s already one Twilight movie due this year, we really don’t need another.

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

The release of a new Ice Age, Blue Sky Entertainment’s flagship property, has always ranked pretty low on my must-see list. About as historically accurate as The Flinstones, the franchise proposes a history in which early man appears only initially, dinosaurs dawn AFTER the ice has melted, and a saber-toothed squirrel has continued adventures despite having been frozen in ice at the end of the first instalment. With nothing left to do but pair off the remaining characters (who wrote this, JK Rowling?), the ice age itself having ended whole movies ago now, this is one series of films that is practically begging for an extinction event.

The Dark Knight Rises

Oh shoosh, you must have seen this one coming. While it might indeed be the hype and the inevitably of the automated acclaim that I am dreading more than the actual movie (nobody’s suggesting this will be worse than Jack and Jill), there is still no denying that I would like nothing more than for Christopher Nolan to trot off back into the shadows and take his blasted interpretation of Batman with him. Now three movies in and not a single superhero in sight, I have spent the last – oh I don’t know, how long has it been since the last one? – listening to fanboy after fanboy ejaculate over every smidgeon of news pertaining to Bane, Catwoman and when the teaser for the viral for the trailer might hit. I just don’t care.

Halloween 3D

Torn arbitrarily between whether to include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D or Halloween 3D on this list that nobody will read (or if they do, they will unlikely get past the previous entry), I finally settled on the latter on account of how unscary I have found the entire franchise to date. At least the story of an inbred maniac who wears the faces of his victims held interest over the course of a few movies (and even the requisite remake), Halloween, however, has been tedious from pretty much the beginning. A man named Michael Myers – ooh, the guy who played Shrek? Wearing an inside-out Captain Kirk mask? Scary – stabs babysitters with a knife. The end. Any acclaim received by the original Halloween movie was courtesy to John Carpenter’s direction, and John Carpenter’s direction alone. The fact that this one hasn’t even started filming yet just says it all.