The Phantom Menace (1999) (a.k.a.Star Wars Episode One)

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The Phantom Menace (1999) (a.k.a.Star Wars Episode One)

Post  BoG on Sat Mar 13, 2010 11:31 pm

The first prequel to Star Wars and the 1st chapter of a 6-part movie saga (though a 7th chapter is due in 2015). So all we have here is basically an introduction to a 12-hour movie. The film details the events which led to the Galaxy-wide Republic falling apart and being replaced by an eventual Empire (which does happen at the end of the 3rd chapter).  The film has several weaknesses which place it a notch below the original trilogy. The first is that, through the dictates of the plot, the story is just dull. The plot has to do with heavy taxes being perpetrated by the nasty Trade Federation, a coalition of greedy merchants who also place a blockade around the nice planet of Naboo. Two Jedi Knights (Liam Neeson & Ewan McGregor), the peacekeepers of the Republic, are sent to negotiate. Neeson is the older teacher while McGregor plays the famous Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young man, the student. Unknown to them, the merchants are being manipulated by a mysterious Sith Lord, who appears as a hologram - this is the hidden menace, hence the title. Very quickly, things go bad and the Jedis are planet-side, teaming with a goofy local named Jar Jar Binks as they head into the depths of a sea which holds an underwater community.

Jar Jar is the crux of the film's next weakness - a silly-talking computer creation designed to amuse the 10-year-olds in the audience. But, Jar Jar is only the one at the forefront; many of the other computer aliens are also laughable and embarrassing, including the leader of the water dwellers. Instead of imperial stormtroopers, the soldiers here are dopey-looking robots which garble odd dialog like "roger, roger!" I can only surmise that George Lucas, the writer & director, has an odd sense of humor because none of the attempts at humor work; it's all just strange and uncomfortable to watch. The final major fault with this film is the acting, which is all flat. The story revolves around the plight of Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), ruler of Naboo, who is dealing with her starving people (that's another issue - we never see these starving multitudes; it's all just hearsay).  Portman won an Oscar years later for another film and is usually interesting, but here she seems half-asleep and in monotone for most of her scenes. Neeson & McGregor are mechanical, just saying their lines to get it done.
Then there is Jake Lloyd as very young  Anakin Skywalker, the eventual father of Luke and future Darth Vader. To put it politely, he never rises above what is expected of an inexperienced child actor; translation: very amateurish. The only one who rises above the mediocrity is Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine - and he, of course, has something to hide - and Pernilla August as Anakin's mom, showing genuine emotion. Also, small roles for Terence Stamp as the chief politician of the Republic and Samuel L. Jackson as one of the Jedi Council. Yoda also appears, again voiced by Frank Oz with the usual backwards speech patterns. Palpatine manipulates events so that he is elected chancellor, the first step in his plan to rule everything. The dark & tragic side of this is that Amidala, the heroine, is the one so manipulated; so, she is responsible for the eventual fall of the Republic.
The place where it does get interesting is on Coruscant, a planet-wide city and the center of the Republic. Here is where all the big issues are put forth and examined. Here we see the entire Jedi Council. Lucas fills the screen with a lot of detail, both in terms of visuals and backstory, and he invents a few more details which puzzle fans, such as the microscopic beings inside all creatures which make possible the use of "The Force" (a direct slant away from mystical to scientific explanations). He also presents his version of the immaculate birth, perhaps suggesting that every galaxy has such an event (or such a myth). Much like Amidala's missteps, the supposedly wise Jedi Master played by Neeson also mistakes Anakin for someone who will bring "balance to the Force" - a prophecy shifting things back to the mystical; so, the Jedi Master is also responsible for the Republic's downfall. But, this "balance" concept is not explained. At the same time, there's a severe lack of character development, especially with the villain Darth Maul (Ray Park), about whom we learn nothing except that he's the student Sith Lord and fights as well as Jedi Knights with a lightsaber. The final fight is routine, even though much of the hook of this introductory chapter was to show full-powered Jedi Knights in their prime, something not possible in the original trilogy.

Finally, it seems that Lucas was compelled to draw a lot of connections between this prequel and the old films which take place in the future, some of which are clumsy and strained. For some reason, he felt compelled to introduce the incomplete version of robot C3PO as a creation of Anakin, so now we have the reveal that C3PO was made by Darth Vader. Was this necessary? But, the entire inclusion of the planet Tatooine falls into this category of clumsiness, as well. After they leave Naboo, the heroes are forced to stop off briefly at a nearby planet and that happens to be Tatooine. The Republic supposedly has thousands of worlds, but for some reason it's shown that Darth Vader also originated from Tatooine, an out-of-the-way region which I thought had nothing to do ever with the Republic or the Empire until a chance incident at the start of Episode IV-A New Hope which brought Luke Skywalker's involvement in. Suddenly, Tatooine is now the centerpiece of many major developments in this galaxy. Who woulda thought, eh?  However, this does coincide with some dialog in the 1st Star Wars (77), which did suggest that Luke Skywalker's father was also from Tatooine. BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10
Phantom Trivia: the next chapter in the Star Wars saga was Attack of the Clones in 2002; it jumped ahead about 10 years; though getting mixed reviews, The Phantom Menace was by far the biggest film at the box office in 1999; it grossed $431 million domestically; the next biggest film was The Sixth Sense, way below that number at $293 million.


Last edited by BoG on Fri Nov 28, 2014 12:47 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Phantom Behind the Scenes Menaced

Post  BoG on Wed Nov 26, 2014 5:53 pm

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