Thought Vomit #98: ft. The Phantom Menace

I don’t care what anyone else thinks, ever since I first saw it, I’ve thought The Phantom Menace is an excellent film in the Star Wars canon. And I’m amazed that it’s already ten years old.

I watched it again this evening for the first time in a long time, and it’s still just as good. The first thing that struck me was how well the CGI has aged. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s still better than almost all of the non-ILM output in contemporary blockbusters. The convincing GI lighting solutions they have used are fantastic.

And Jar Jar Binks, a decade on, is still one of the better examples of CG character animation, and the detail of his skin knocks a lot of Golem’s close ups out of the water. Plus the organic movement of the battle scenes with the Gungans versus the battle droids is more realistic than the hoards in Lord Of The Rings.

What’s more, Jar Jar is a good character, and I like him, so there.

Not as much as R2-D2 though, who I think remains one of my favourite movie characters of all time. He’s a cheeky little shit.

I remembered Jake Lloyd as Anakin being a bit annoying, but he turns in a very polished performance which is very watchable and charming. Even Ewan MacGregor is less wooden than I recalled; I once held the belief that he was bored for most of the trilogy until his final scenes where his cinematic presence actually put a lump in my throat – like Alec Guinness did when I finally saw him on a massive screen.

Plot-wise the script does an awful lot of work under the surface, acting as a good primer for the next two episodes, and operatically foreshadowing (or should that be backshadowing in this unique case?) the events of A New Hope. In fact, it introduces an awful lot of stuff in a very elegant manner.

But most importantly of all, it made me bounce in my seat and remember how I felt as a kid watching the original trilogy. Hearing the horns blast out the Star Wars theme as a much less familiar text scrolls up the screen still makes me giddy. As did the moment when Darth Maul extends the other end of his light sabre. That made me chuckle as much as when Yoda reveals his light sabre for the first time in episode two.

Plus that whole fight sequence to the strains of Duel of Fates is a tour de force. As is the Podrace sequence, which looks photo realistic throughout, and rushes by at an extraordinary pace. But back to the duel, the moment when Darth Maul is pacing menacingly as Qui Gon kneels is spine tinglingly good, as is Obi-Wan’s violent reaction to his death and frenzied fighting.

So, I don’t care what anyone else thinks, The Phantom Menace is brilliant. It’s just as much fun as a Star Wars film should be.

9 thoughts on “Thought Vomit #98: ft. The Phantom Menace

  • September 17, 2009 at 1:26 am
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    was going to make a long and rather well formed argument, but it’s late and I need to sleep.

    So I’ll summarise…

    CGI: Amazing at the time and still is. However great CGI does not a great film make. It’s all a little too sterile for me.

    Jar Jar Binks: Cock. Enough said.

    Script: I think it’s a little clunky and tries too hard to explain everything. The beauty of the original three was that they had a simple good vs. evil premise. All this talk about trade embargoes, blockades and politics (which reaches ridiculous levels in the second movie) could be removed from the film and improve it greatly. Bad guys + good guys + big fight = awesome!

    The best thing about the movie is Darth Maul and his presence on screen is a breath of fresh air. However, he is totally under used and gets killed off just when things are getting exciting.

    *** Cont on comment 2 ***

  • September 17, 2009 at 1:27 am
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    The biggest problem the movie has is lazy direction. Just watch the big climax scene when they all rush into the royal chamber and pull the switch with Keira Knightley and Natalie Portman. It’s almost like you’re watching on CCTV, with the camera simply stuck in the corner of the room on a wide, as lots of people rush about and take guns off each other. It has the feel of a student film that was up against a tight deadline, so they just left the camera in one spot and filmed the scene from there. No fast cutting, no close ups, no camera moves, no sense of tension or excitement, no impact at all. The style of shooting on the action sequences (those that aren’t entirely CGI anyway) leaves me completely cold. And this inconsistency between sections created with CGI and those shot live gives the movie a very uneven feel.

    ** and more in comment 3***

  • September 17, 2009 at 1:28 am
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    To quote the great Stephen Fry, “It’s ass gravy of the highest order”.

    If I wasn’t so tired that would have made way more sense and been far more coherent. :)

  • September 17, 2009 at 1:28 am
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    Having said all that the real problem with Phantom Menace is that it is the wrong story. The first movie should have been a big adventure romp where we get to know the characters and learn to love them. We needed to see them being heroes. When during the second movie Anakin starts to turn a little evil, it makes very little impact. Certainly … Read morenot as much of an impact as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo turning bad in Empire would have made. The problem is we simply do not know the Anakin in the second movie and it’s therefore not a shock at all when he does something bad. We have had no time to engage with his character and learn that he is a goodie. We need this time, as he is a completely different character than he was in the first movie. At the beginning of the second movie they are chatting about all the heroic adventures they have had. Don’t just tell us about it, we want to see that! That’s what the first movie should have been.

    *** And Finally…. ***

  • September 17, 2009 at 1:56 am
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    Simon, you’re correct. It’s fantastic!!!

  • September 17, 2009 at 10:03 am
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    You make some good points Rich, most of which can be equally applied to any of the six movies. My point really was that it’s aged well, and I’ve always thought it was unecessarily slated on its release. It’s fun, I like it. Always have.

  • September 17, 2009 at 11:53 am
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    Yes, I am correct Craig. So are you.

  • September 18, 2009 at 9:51 am
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    You sound like a geek which is fine. I haven’t seen any of the “new” films – at all. Not reading the comments on here in case of spoilers. I MIGHT get around to them one day!

  • September 19, 2009 at 10:38 pm
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    Have you read the webcomic Darths and Droids mate? Phantom Menace as a role playing game. I reckon you’d enjoy.

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