George Lucas’ first entry in the prequel trilogy is a solid saga with an array of spectacular effects and colorful space creatures-including the much loathed Jar Jar Binks. This elaborate space opera also provides a few answers to the mystery of how a young Anakin Skywalker started on his fated path to eventually becoming Darth Vader. It’s far more sentimental than the subsequent sequels, which ultimately mars the much anticipated finale. This particular film is aimed at the youngest of viewers, which turned off hardcore fans but (from the reaction in the matinee showing I attended) absolutely delights kids. The jarring ebbs and flows that punctate the film are a product of Menace being the first film Lucas directed in nearly a quarter of a decade and only his fourth film overall. Call it ring rust or whatever but it’s painfully obvious Lucas’ ability to direct actors is second to mastery of digital effects.
The film suffers from the same problems it always has, the first act is well done, if a bit cartoonish, that gives way to a soggy second act. The highlight being a pod-race that brings the film to a grinding halt only to showcase the fetish love Lucas has for hotrods. It’s not without irony that the pod-race sequence is the best looking and most spectacular reason to see this 3D retrofit. Phantom Menace is widely available on home video formats and is frequently shown on cable channels. There are no additional scenes tacked on or tweaks in this re-release so it comes down to weather you are willing to go back to the beginning, again. I would argue the film plays better on the big screen than on home systems but that isn’t really an enticing reason to journey back into cinema auditoriums.
The Star Wars Saga is something like apple pie in this country, it’s damn near an American institution. If you don’t agree then consider this fact from the WSJ dated May 19th 1999 “an estimated 2.2 million full-time employees did not appear for work to attend the film, resulting in $293 million in lost productivity.” Now, with this re-release and the promise of new 3d retrofitted sequels to follow for the next five years, George Lucas has found a way to reach a new younger audience while squeezing the last drop out of goodwill from longtime fan(atics).
Director: George Lucas
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman