Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dennis the Phantom Menace

I have had a request to do some more movie reviews, so OK here goes...

I recently started watching the Star Wars saga again with my six year old. Last time we watched these movies, we watched them in the order they were made: IV-VI, then I-III. That's important, folks. Part of the fun of The Empire Strikes Back is the shocking reveal at the end. ("Luke, Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father...") That's pretty much ruined if you've already seen the prequel trilogy. (I also showed my son the original versions the first time around, not George Lucas' digital updates with added scenes and special effects.)

This time through, we're watching them in numerical order instead of chronological order. Thus, I give you my review of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).

SPOILER ALERT (although, really, if you haven't seen this movie already, you probably don't need to worry about it)

Rating: ** two stars ("tolerable") for adults (regular or fanboy), plus two additional stars ("recommended") if you're a six year old boy, but only one star ("Run, Luke, run!") if you're not a fan of the original trilogy.

Pros...
  • The CGI special effects and sets are spectacular. The pod race, in particular, is well done. (I am speaking only of the special effects here: as a plot device, the pod race is awful.)
  • Ewan McGregor is well-cast as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. As horrible as the dialogue is in this movie, McGregor somehow manages to come close to pulling it off. (Even Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson can't claim that.)
  • Darth Maul is an amazing bad guy: one of the best of the series, and it is a shame we get to see so little of him. (Actually, given the quality of the dialogue in this movie, his lack of screen time and spoken lines is probably what saves him.) The lightsaber duel between him and Qui-Gon Jinn / Obi-Wan Kenobi is very exciting. I especially love the way Obi-Wan has to wait for the shields to shut off before he can attack after Maul kills Qui-Gon.
  • That's it; I tried but couldn't come up with anything else.
Cons...
  • The plot is stupid, inconsistent and has tremendous holes in it. That wouldn't be so bad if it were non-stop action and excitement, but - surprise! - it's not.
  • The way the gungans talk is ridiculous. Exotic is one thing, but stupid is another. (Never mind the way they look, though: that's part of the sci-fi territory, and ultimately forgivable.) Jar-Jar Binks is rightfully the most hated character in the series. George Lucas went for the cheap laugh here, and it is painful to watch. It's the sci-fi equivalent of a fart joke.
  • How does a a young teenage girl get elected "queen" of the democratic planet of Naboo? Is "queen" a purely ceremonial title, perhaps the equivalent of "Miss Universe"? Because nothing else makes sense to me. This seems like the most unnecessary bit of plot shenanigans Lucas pulls in the entire movie (and that's saying a lot). He could have introduced Amidala in any of a hundred other ways that wouldn't have involved such a huge leap. Oh, and speaking of which, at one point the fake Queen Amidala commands the real Amidala (who is posing as her handmaiden) to perform some manual labor and clean R2D2. Which the real Amidala then goes and does! Totally unrealistic. (Unless... wait, does this explain Bush / Cheney?!)
  • This is a minor plot point, but it goes to the whole "my right hand doesn't know what my left hand is doing" nature of the plot. At one point while the heroes are underwater, their ship loses all power. They then restore power just in time to escape. Then, when they get to the surface, we learn that the ship had no windows, just force fields keeping the water out. Force fields which presumably would have lost power with the rest of the ship, resulting in instant death for the two Jedis and their bumbling gungan servant.
  • The presence of R2D2 and C3PO raises serious continuity issues, no matter how Lucas and company try to explain it away. (Darth Vader built C3PO? Puh-leeeez.)
  • Why did Anakin have to be so young? He could have been 13 instead of nine, and it wouldn't have made any less sense. And then we wouldn't have had to watch a nine year old try to convincingly deliver George Lucas dialogue. Macaulay Culkin was nine when he made Home Alone, but at least that was a light-hearted comedy where all he had to do was be cute. And I'm sorry but you, Jake Lloyd, are no Macaulay Culkin!
  • Speaking of the dialogue, it is painfully bad all around, even when not being delivered by a nine year old. Ugh.
  • Wait - Jedi get their powers from some microbes in their blood? Huh?! I thought the Force was "an energy field that binds all living things; it surrounds us, it penetrates us..." This needs some explaining... No, strike that, it's just stupid. And what's with those microbes causing Anakin's immaculate conception? The Christ complex is a bit over the top...
  • For slaves, Anakin and his mother seem to have comfortable lives and an awful lot of free time. I'm surprised there wasn't some dialogue added to explain the slave pension plan...
  • The battle droids look pretty cool, but how could anyone expect to win a war with such incompetent machines? All of the droids completely shut down when their "control ship" is destroyed. Wha-?! It's hard to believe there wouldn't be a back-up plan of some kind in place. Has no one in the Star Wars universe ever heard of secondary protocol? At no other point in the Star Wars movies do the droids seem to need a "control ship." Grrr.
So here is my movie review quote (for the back of the Blu-ray packaging): "Special effects and sets are spectacular... well-cast... one of the best of the series... non-stop action and excitement."

And here is the Crazy People quote: "The sci-fi equivalent of a fart joke... Jake Lloyd [is] no Macaulay Culkin... ever heard of secondary protocol?"

P.S. - Want a second opinion? Click here for an in-depth, 70-minute rant from Red Letter Media. (Fair warning: some of it is a little disturbing.)

6 comments:

  1. Yeah!

    So, which is worse, Episode I with Jar-Jar or Episode VI with the Ewoks?

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  2. Episode I by far, but yeah, Ewoks suck too.

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  3. There's always a bigger fish! (papa)

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  4. Was Darth Maul intended to be the Star Wars saga's answer to Mr. Wilson (of Dennis The Menace fame)? "Oh Mr. Maulllllll . . ."

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