Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

(In theaters, May 1999) Gee, what can I say? This film is about review-proof as they come. Still, here are a few random impressions: The visual effects are simply awesome in the purest sense of the term “awesome”. The movie doesn’t take thirty seconds to make scientific errors. I’m feeling vaguely ashamed of my lecherous reaction to Natalie Portman. Jake Lloyd isn’t really annoying, though Jar Jar Binks is. The film is a failure at telling a good, original, independent story. The pod race is very exciting. You’re seen most of the movie elsewhere (including in the other Star Wars stories), sometime even twice in the case of Skywalker-blowing-up-enemy-bases-at-the-end. Was that A> ET, B> a chromed SR-71, C> A Trackball racquet, D> All of the above? I don’t find Darth Maul cool even if George Lucas has spent 2.5$ per man, woman and child in America to make me believe so. It wasn’t worth standing in line for. I can just see hordes of geeks without anything better to do creaming their shorts about the new bits of trivia from the movie; the horror, the wasted time of their lives! I’ll maintain that The Matrix was the coolest movie of Spring 1999, not Star Wars. Your handy guide to know who’s Natalie Portman: her two beauty marks on her cheeks. Me wanna see Samuel L. Jackson in big fight next movie. George Lucas should not only hire professional screenwriters, but also a scientific expert, a military advisor (because his tactics suck) and a director who knows what he’s doing. Immaculate conception? Maybe she was just drunk. “Mito-chloridian”… Is that the sound of rationalization I hear from you, George? Despite everything, Star Wars is loads of fun and will probably make my Top-10 list of 1999. Oh, heck, just go see it; it’s worth your money.

(Second viewing, On DVD, April 2002) Upon initial release, I was cautiously positive about “Episode I”; good eye candy can compensate for many flaws in my own evaluation scale, and it was hard to argue against another dose of Star Wars goodness. Granted, it doesn’t recapture any of the original trilogy’s magic; George Lucas won’t take that kind of chances any more, and won’t allow better craftsmen than he to improve his silly ideas. On DVD, The Phantom Menace isn’t much more fun, but neither is it much worse. In fact, the added supplemental material is so plentiful that it transforms a marginal SF movie in a recommended purchase. From the audio commentary to the unusually candid making-of (without even discussing the special effects vignettes), this DVD edition is a treasure trove of glimpses in uber-technological filmmaking. It’s fascinating material for fans and techno-geeks like me. (Don’t feel any shame, though, if you start laughing out loud during the segments where they praise Lucas’ writing abilities.) Make no mistake; the film is as dull as it was originally, but unlike in the theater, you can fast-forward through most of Jar-Jar’s scenes.

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