(US); 1999; Rated PG; 132 Minutes
Liam Neeson:Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor: Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman: Queen Amidala
Jake Lloyd: Anakin Skywalker
Pernilla August: Shmi Skywalker
Frank Oz: Yoda
Ian McDiarmid: Senator Palpatine
Ahmed Best: Jar Jar Binks
Produced, directed and screenwritten by George Lucas
by DAVID KEYES
Wars." The words alone attract millions.
22 years, this film has evolved into a cinematic marvel,
shaping the way moviegoers think about the film experience,
and broadening the limits of every filmmaker's horizons.
By some twist of fate, George Lucas gave the motion picture
industry something it had never seen before: He gave us
a film that cut corners, cost little to make, contained
relatively unknown actors (at the time), and still managed
to become one of the biggest critical and commercial successes
of the modern cinema. And even after two decades, big fans
of the film have remained die-hard admirers all the way.
If anything else, the movie has gained more admirers with
each passing day.
here's the bad news: I'm not one of those millions of admirers.
I am not a die-hard, 'may-the-force-be-with-you' fan of
this legendary film, nor am I a fan of the two sequels which
have followed it.
have been. Never will be.
movies have never amused me. So you can imagine my surprise
when I walked into the theater of "Star Wars Episode I:
The Phantom Menace" expecting an over hyped mess, and emerged
2 hours and 12 minutes later, bemused by how much I had
been entertained by it. How could this be? How was I so
enthralled by something that I didn't even admire all those
truth is, several aspects determine the success of "The
Phantom Menace": visual magnificence, brilliant design,
colorful characters, intriguing story--these factors alone
create a movie that is more than just a prequel to the original
"Star Wars" trilogy. It is a phenomenal success, both for
non-fans of the series, and for George Lucas, who in the
past has proven that he is not that capable of making a
movie masterpiece. Here, he gives new meaning to the term
'experience comes with age.' The force is finally with him.
the other "Star Wars" films, "The Phantom Menace" begins
with the same kind of introduction—text sliding from the
bottom screen into the oblivion of space. The words tell
of the planet Naboo, which has just become part of a bitter
feud involving the rebellion of the notorious Trade Federation.
They block access to the planet by stationing ships around
the atmosphere. It isn't until two Jedis are sent as a last
resort to bargain with the Federation, in hopes that this
rebellion might end, and trade for the planet will resume.
Until then, the residents of this small blue world will
find no ways of living. Without the trade, they cannot possibly
two Jedis, who are sent onto one of the Federation's ships
at the beginning of the movie, are Qui-Gon Jinn, and, of
course, Obi-Wan Kenobi. As a Jedi and his apprentice, both
Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor do a good job together, from
the first scene up until the final confrontation with the
hideous villain, Darth Maul. Here is a member of the Sith
that looks as evil as he fights. Even though his screen
time could have been greatly extended, it's hard to hate
him, even though he is the bad guy.
"Star Wars" fans will recognize Anakin Skywalker, the young
kid who will bring 'balance the force,' as the future Darth
Vader, whose turn to the dark side is demonstrated in the
last three episodes, and will be detailed extensively in
the next installments of the series. Here is a young, vibrant
lad who quickly captures the attention of Qui-Gon. When
he is taken to the council, to see if he is worthy of being
traineded a Jedi, the wise Yoda tells him that "fear is
the path to the dark side," and that he senses "much fear"
in the boy. Moments like these, of course, are signals to
what will lie ahead in the story, and the most notable one
comes towards the end, when Yoda says that "there are always
two Sith. A master, and an apprentice." He then turns his
head to the Senator Palpatine, who, as revealed in future
movies, is actually Darth Sideous. That moment catches us
off guard, as if there have not been any other "Star Wars"
movies, and we do not realize what to expect later on.
science fiction looks is always important to the substance,
and "The Phantom Menace" has the best look in the genre
yet. George Lucas announced recently that the movie had
the most special effects shots of any movie in history,
and that's evident. The queen of Naboo, Amidala, sustains
costumes, hair styles, and makeup that not even cosmetics
can support. I gather special effects had something to do
with her style. On top of that, there's an animated character
named Jar Jar Binks, a sleuth of sea anemones, a beautiful
underwater city, a senate chamber filled with aliens and
platforms to support them, and a vast metropolis for every
planet visited, in which the skylines are occupied by structures
that can only exist in the imagination. The movie's look
is enough to sell it, even apart from the fascinating story.
how is all of this going to satisfy fans of the series?
I dunno. Some people who have been in love with the story
for all these years have already called the movie a "disappointment,"
either because it wasn't that 'well connected with the other
three movies,' or, more appropriately, because they were
part of this mass 'hype' that surrounded it. Even Lucas
himself agrees that no movie can impress people when they
get as hyped up as some did with "The Phantom Menace." I
agree. No movie can own up to that hype. "Titanic" didn't
even own up to that much hype, even though I call it the
best movie of 1997.
order for this movie to work best, people should approach
it as a separate film, rather than just part of a planned
saga. This is, after all, something that is expected to
set up stories that continue later on in the series. It's
what you call an 'introduction.' Only time will tell if
this movie deserves to be connected to the last three episodes,
or, for that matter, if the final three episodes deserve
to be connected to this one.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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