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Tuesday, March 06, 2012  

M. Ovie Reviews: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Much as I love Roger Ebert (and imagine my surprise at Google finding only eight instances of that phrase on the entire Internet), I sometimes weary of his vendetta against 3-D movies. Don't like 3-D? Don't see 3-D. I'm indifferent, myself. Of movies that have been available in 3-D the past few years, I've mostly stuck with 2-D versions and don't feel like I've missed much. And of the 3-D movies I have seen in the past few years, the only ones where 3-D was effectively used were Priest and The Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy.

But I had high hopes for SWE1TPM, because after all, 95% of it is as fake as Pixar. The limitations faced by other films that were shot in 2-D and later converted probably wouldn't apply here, right? I wasn't expecting to like the movie itself any more the first time, but at least the visuals would be more arresting. Right?

Now, keep in mind that I wasn't actually expecting to enjoy Phantom Menace. Like a lot of people my age, I have incredibly vivid memories of the first time I saw the original Star Wars in the theater, and every time I watch it again I can remember what I was thinking during any given scene. I even remember the kid in the row ahead of us who kept bleating, "Is that a space station?"

My memories of seeing Phantom Menace in 1999 aren't nearly as vivid. I recall a couple of dorks in Jedi robes lamely faking a lightsaber battle in line for tickets, and I remember thinking about my "favorite" scenes the next morning, but most of all I remember the friend I was sitting next to in the second or third row leaning over towards me early on and asking, "Why is it so…bad?" I actually spent half of the movie worrying that the people I was with would want to leave, and the other half worrying that I wanted to leave.

Because it is a bad movie. Not just by comparison to the original trilogy, but on its own merits. The performances are wooden, the dialogue barely outstrips that of The Star Wars Holiday Special, and the plot has holes you can drive a sandcrawler through.

But I was willing to give it a chance in 3-D, partly for M. Edium's sake, and partly because I hoped that maybe the new multi-dimensional experience would make up for some of what I knew I would still hate.

In fact, it was a thrill seeing that dated old Star Wars logo recede into space, and the opening crawl looked so awesome standing out light-years from the starfield background that I could almost forgive the fact that it was telling me about the taxation of trade routes.

But then that was it. As soon as the fake objects and the fake sets and the mostly fake characters were interacting with each other on the screen, it was all just a dark, muddy morass. I have crappy depth perception, I admit, but I also felt like I was watching it through sunglasses that I couldn't take off. Even the sequences I was looking forward to disappointed. The podrace, which should have been an immersive experience, was just as tedious as the first time. Even the candy-colored Gungan battle, the most ridiculously shot combat scene in the history of cinema, looked like a tray of besmirched watercolors.

I admit there were some things I caught that I missed the first time, like the scene where Jar Jar inadvertently gives Queen Amidala the idea to ally with the Gungans. Every time I've seen it before, all I've ever thought was "ZOMG SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP WHY ARE YOU TALKING?" like I do in all the rest of his scenes, but this time I picked up in the reason for it. But sadly, that was the high point.

I've gone to a lot of movies that I expected to be good and weren't. I've gone to a lot of movies that I expected to be bad and weren't. I've gone to a lot of movies that have met my expectations on both ends of the quality spectrum. I'm not some babe in the woods here. But I have to say, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace left me feeling something I've never felt before when leaving a movie: ripped off.

posted by M. Giant 7:04 PM 0 comments


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