Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reformed Judgement: The Phantom Menace (1999, George Lucas)

It was a happy coincidence that yesterday was "Star Wars Day" and I had episodes one through three on my DVR. I think we all know that I am not much of a Star Wars fan, leaning more to the Star Trek side, but after hearing Weird Al's "The Saga Begins" I thought I'd give Episode One another look. I have not seen it since it opened in theaters.

I have to tell you, it is not as bad as I remember, and I don't think it worthy of the derision heaped upon it. It is a fairly well done fairy tale... Knights with awesome powers, a little kid with great talent, a queen in danger, a lurking evil, political intrigue; it has all those classic elements.

I do have a few problems with it. I think the "virgin birth" of Anakin Skywalker is a bit crazy. I also thought an elected queen for the Naboo was weird, especially when she has an entourage that includes a body double. All this screams dynastic tradition to me. But both of those things can slide. It is a fairy tale. "Long ago, in a galaxy far away" is the same as "once upon a time."

The best part for me was Obi-Wan Kenobi. As a kid, I think I was the only one who loved him. He was my primary action figure. I was not a Han or Luke fan. I was a Ben fan. I am glad they made him a bad ass. How could he not be? Aside from Yoda, he was the only Jedi to make it to Episode Four.

So, if you have not seen this in a while, or at all, you should give it a shot. This is a Trek fan talking. Removed from all the hype surrounding it by more than a decade makes it is less disappointing. Hell, even Jar Jar Binks is more palatable when you do not constantly hear how he has ruined Star Wars.


Thomas Pluck said...

I watched all 3 prequels a year ago when they debuted in HD on TV, and I still don't like them much. The first one has its moments, and surely the best scenes in all 3 have Obi-Wan in them. The writing and structure have all suffered, and resemble video games more than a movie.
This holds true for a lot of movies post-Temple of Doom, which seems like an amusement park ride.

I prefer Jedi over any prequel, but some things they got right. The execution was mostly hamfisted and I think it was a mistake for Lucas to direct; he needed someone he respected to stand by and tell him what didn't work.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I imagine someone else directing could have helped a lot. Many artistic people, I believe, need a way of focusing their vision. Writers need editors, and direction is an art of its own, just like editing. I get the feeling that Lucas does not take criticism very well, and having a strong director fucking with his Vision would be too much.

Is it a great movie? Nope. It definitely has a lot of corn in the recipe. I just think that separated from all the people waiting in line for a month for tickets, and then saying Lucas raped the corpse of their childhood, it is not as bad as we want to remember it is.

Unknown said...

I never hated this movie at all, when it first came out it actually blew my mind. I was working at the local movie theater at the time and we had a showing the night before it came out and we all loved it. The new score was fantastic, I immediately bought the soundtrack. The effects were superior and Darth Maul kicked ass. Last summer I watched the entire 6 film saga in order in one day and Phantom Menace actually works better in that context. Most people aren't crazy enough or have that kind of time to do that! lol

Darius Whiteplume said...

I remember your day of all Star Wars. Are you going to add the Clone Wars cartoons to it next time? :-)

I don't know that I hated it when it came out. I was actually pretty ambivalent towards it. If the wife did not want to see it, I likely would not have. I had fallen out of love with Star Wars by that point. Actually, big budget movies in general. I did not care for The Lord of the Rings either. I fell asleep on it, but in my and its defense, I did start work at 4:00am in those days.

I am not looking forward to Attack of the Clones. I remember being really put off by the way they found out about them. "We're here to pick up our... stuff?" "Oh, your clones? Sure, come on in!" :-D

Nathan said...

The idea of a monarch being elected isn't totally unheard of. There were electors who chose the Holy Roman Emperor, although I think they usually just selected the person who gave them the best bribes. Do we know for sure that Amidala was elected through the popular vote?

Darth Maul seemed a little ridiculous to me. It's like Palpatine said, "Hey, I need a henchman. I know! I'll slap a Halloween costume on some guy and give him a double-pointed lightsabre!" His makeup job is interesting, but, well, it looks like makeup.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I can see an elected monarchy, but her to get her whole secret double thing going when she is newly elected... But, sure, I'll buy it.

I couldn't find out if Maul is supposed to be human or not. Apparently Lucas loved some sketch a guy did and went nuts with it. The paint was way to KISS like for me. Too shiny.

Hobgoblin238 said...

I liked it too...Until I watched all 9 parts of this review. I now hate it.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Thanks for that link. I only watched the first installment so far, and I think he made a lot of good points.

I think some of his "describe this character" bits were a little staged, I can think of more on those characters, but it is true that where TPM is concerned there are no real stand outs. I loved the part about "it should be Obi-Wan's story, but he just hangs out on the ship complaining."

I still think this was the best of the three, but admittedly that is not saying much. ;-)

Darius Whiteplume said...

@matchooman - Those reviews rock. Hilarious, and spot on. I hate them so much more now :-D

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