Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd,

I must admit first off that while I liked Star Wars and the follow up films, I was never as crazy about them as some fans. I also got REALLY fed up of all the hype about The Phantom Menace for the month and months leading up to it. Frankly I found it to be a rather dull film with just too many special effects and a weak story that seemed to be aimed more at children than adults.

This is the prequel to Star Wars- there will be three films as any fan will tell you. The original movie was actually part 4. So, here we are at the beginning of the story. We have the Jedi Knights, (Neeson and McGregor) arriving on a small planet to help the queen Amidala(Portman) in her dispute with a trade federation(yawn!) Of course, this is really just the first step for the treacherous Emperor Palatine....
Anyway, as they escape their ship is damaged and so they must land on a planet named Tatooine where they meet slave boy Anakin Skywalker(Lloyd), who grows up to be Luke and Leia's father and eventually, Darth Vader! Neeson realises he has the force and takes him with them to train as a Jedi. Along the way a strange character name Jar Jar Binks is picked up as a sidekick. One of the most controversial characters, he is little more than a caricatured black native, speaking in pidgin English and loping around in a very irritating way and is one of a number of totally computer generated characters.
As the gang go back to Naboo to fight the erm...who is it they are fighting again? Well, the bad guys, they also encounter Darth Maul (Ray Park) the red faced baddie who is the star of a hundred lunchboxes and t shirt. An acrobatic fighter, Darth Maul and the Jedi knights go up against each other. By the way, Ewan McGregor is Obi-wan Kenobi, which probably explains his strange Alec Guiness type accent. Anakin is the one to fly his ship into the attackers and win the climatic space battle - of course, and they all live happily ever after. Well, until the next film.

I read an interesting review that was one of many to criticise The Phantom Menace and director George Lucas. The reviewer criticised Lucas for many things, but the chief one was treating the audience not as viewers but as fans. This film does indeed presume that you KNOW all about who these people are and that you already care about them. I spent much of the first part laughing myself silly at the ludicrous hairstyles poor Natalie Portman had to balance on top of her head, and the similarly daft costumes. Poor lass struggles with the accent too. I bet she was very relieved when she was able to play the queen's remarkably co-incidental lookalike.
There is no doubt that this film is a masterpiece of special effects. The pod race was dazzling, the space battles dramatic, the many CGI fighting machines looked impressive, but it was just too much. I hated the Gungans, and Jar Jar, and after a while all the special effects just stopped being that special. I really think that Lucas was naive in using all these characters with accents. As well as the Jamaican/Filipino Gungans, all the baddies has English accents (as usual), the duplitous traders were all oriental sounding, the slave boss on Tatooine was very Jewish looking. Rather dodgy.

One of the main problems I had with this film was the plot - or lack of. I mean, we began with a trade dispute. OK, so I know wars often start with something simple, but it was very unclear what it was all about and is hardly gripping stuff. The whole sequence on Tatooine was just leading up to the pod race, which actually had nothing to do with the story at all. It was merely the most exciting bit of footage and an excuse was needed for a fast paced race. There simply was not a strong enough story for a two hours plus film.

The actors looked quite ill at ease on the whole. Much of the filming was done with them having to imagine things were there, as so many effects were added later. Neeson is a fine actor, but he looked constipated throughout most of this film. McGregor is usually a cocky actor, not exactly serene Jedi Knight material. He doesn't have enough to do really, but no doubt will in the next two films. Young Jake Lloyd was actaully quite cute, but just a little bit too all-American in my opinion. He wasn't exactly a typical downtrodden slave. Despite his cute-ness he was not a sufficiently gifted actor or the character interesting enough to carry the film.
If you know your Star Wars mythology (and I didn't, I read it later) you'll know that Anakin and Amidala are Luke and Leia's parents. While 18 year old Portman is already booked for the next film, Lloyd isn't as he won't be old enough. He was supposed to be 10 here but didn't look much over 8. Not knowing about them being parents, I did wonder why the characters were put together. Lucas treating us as fans again.....

I am still debating whether to see this film again and see if a second viewing will improve it, but I found it dull, dull, DULL! I nodded off at one point. The one character I liked was Darth Maul. He was scary and had a great acrobatic fighting style, but was barely on the screen 10 minutes throughout the whole film. Less Jar Jar, more Maul please!

Over hyped and over produced. Next time I hope there is more acting and a proper story. 4/10

July 1999

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