Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: Star Wars Episode One, The Phantom Menace 3D.

Yes, nearly a week early, I was lucky enough to win the opportunity to attend the première of the Phantom Menace in glorious, eye-molesting 3D. And I'm a total unabashed Star Wars/Episode One/George Lucas fan and apologist so I've been amped all week, desperately hoping that the film would sweep me into a frenzy like its 1999 all over again!

So how did it hold up? How was the experience? How was the 3D?  Did Darth Maul's saber blades brush across our noses like a nipple at a lap dance? Did Jar Jar's prehensile tongue leap out of the screen and lap our eager faces like a hungry dog?

To be perfectly honest, despite my fan loyalty and enthusiasm, my feelings are pretty mixed. Join me after the jump and I'll give you the real deal on both the film and the overall première experience...

First the positive. There was a really great vibe heading into the packed theatre. The whole "red carpet" thing was a bit of a stretch, but at least a length of Perth's sole red carpet was placed in front of the theatre and proud members of the 501st Legion did their darndest to please the crowd, despite a lack of peripheral vision. Yes, there were stormtroopers there...

But they were stealing babies...

I guess building a Death Star takes a lot of slaves. They were working their arses off, and although I own a full replica stormtrooper armour myself, I have never joined the Legion (I am a rogue trooper) (ladies!) and after tonight I think that's probably a good thing.

The mood was really set though by a trio of musicians who were playing highlights from the Star Wars score...

And behind them there was face painting for the kids, so their was an abundance of Baby Darth Mauls and Tiny Amidalas. And let's stop to mention the kids, because this night was really for them. They wore Star Wars T-shirts, Jedi Robes, and recklessly waved around lightsabers. We even saw (what I assume was) a young brother and sister team who were dressed like Anakin and Ahsoka. 

We had at least a solid twenty minutes of sitting in our seats, listening to Star Wars music and watching the kids run rampant around us. And it really took me back, you know? For my entire life, as long as I can remember, I've been sitting in cinemas, listening to Star Wars music, and bracing for a Star Wars movie. That experience has always been with me. And I sincerely hope that the good folks at Lucasfilm don't ever stop releasing (or even re-releasing) Star Wars movies for that very reason. We now have a whole new generation of excited kids enjoying the same things that I enjoyed as a child for the very first time. I think that seeing a Star Wars film in a theatre is one of the purest cinema experiences imaginable. And at that moment it was pretty electric. These kids were amped, and a million bitter Internet cynics can't change that. 

Then it got a little ugly.

I won my tickets through the newspaper, but it turns out that the event was sponsored by 96FM a mainstream radio station who clearly have little knowledge and little love for Star Wars. Ocker radio hosts Beardo and Dickhead got up on the mic and tried to relate to a largely unresponsive crowd by mentioning that their were star football players in the audience. This was met with dead silence. Know your audience, gentlemen. Star Wars and sports are almost mutually exclusive.

They then ran a half-arsed quiz where they gave away bogan CDs and admitted to not being able to pronounce any Star Wars names, and best of all they patronisingly introduced the 501st Legion as "The Star Wars Fan Club". It was all very awkwardly handled and overlong and it was starting to kill the buzz in the room.

But then it was movie time... oh wait... not quite...

Twentieth Century Fox, in all their wisdom, realising they have a captive audience of children, proceed to play a racy trailer for a movie featuring Reese Witherspoon banging two murderous CIA operatives. I think the film was called This Means War, but it could have been called Explosions and Bras. Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when I said, "Know your audience?" I didn't think so.

But then all is forgiven because the movie begins.

But... it kills me to say it... It just wasn't the same.

Granted, the company around me was still a problem. I was sitting next to one of the only adults wearing Darth Maul face paint - which I applaud - but then he started loudly laughing and joking to his friend during the opening crawl. And let me tell you, that's a significant difference in the experience. Because I promise you, no matter how much people talked shit on the Internet, at past screenings of Star Wars movies everybody - no matter what their prejudices - STFU and watched the film.

But apparently not any more. Generally people were quiet, but certainly for my neighbour to the right, some of that reverence was gone. I felt that overt, trite defensiveness that people apply to Twilight films. That kind of, "Yeah, I'm watching it but I'm going to let you know how dumb I think it is during it, because I'm cooler that this." When Jar Jar came on screen, my painted neighbour booed. He called out, "Worst character ever made!" And I just don't get it, you know? It's not a fresh, new, funny, witty or controversial opinion. It's been parroted for thirteen years now. And if we can't move past that, if we can't see the film for what it is, and not for what it's not, then why be there at all?

So let's accept that Phantom Menace, is what it is. Although I feel that it's a film that changes for me every time I see it. Mostly because it's so jam-packed with information that I always find myself focusing on different things. It's certainly a different experience from 1999 now that (many of us) are seeing it filtered through the lens of the events of Episodes 2 and 3 and the Clone Wars. In 1999 when Anakin promised his mother he'd come back and rescue her from slavery, we had no reason not to believe him. Now, in 2012, it's a far sadder scene because we know he's destined to fail. We bring far more baggage with us this time, and some of it enhances the story, and some of it raises more questions. 

But you know the film back to front. What about the 3D? That's the new thing here! How did that do?

It's good. It's a good conversion. It doesn't especially pop, or make the film any more thrilling, but it adds a sense of depth and space, and it never feels out of place. It's natural, and I think some people will criticise that, and probably claim it's barely there at all, but it's there. It works. They've done a good job. But it works so well that you won't be thinking about it too much. It's a novelty at first but your eyes will adjust, you'll take it for granted and you'll forget it's there. If you've seen other 3D films then you should 100% know what to expect. If anything it makes you realise that this is an older film - one that wasn't shot specifically for 3D - and as a result it feels far more static than a frenetic action film like the recent Adventures of Tintin.

What I like about the 3D is that it works well for the computer generated characters like Jar Jar. In 2D you can sometimes feel like the animated effects have been pasted over the film, but in 3D Jar Jar occupies a real space, he is fleshed out and walks around the set with the real-life actors. It's effective.

My criticism of the 3D, and it may just be my perception, but some scenes did feel a little murky. I especially thought that during the ground battle on Naboo the blue sky and green grass were somewhat muted. In my mind it lacked the vibrance of previous releases. I'm sure there's a rep at Lucasfilm that can tell me why I'm wrong. But that's part of the problem - as fans we get paranoid about changes and we jump at shadows. 

But I think the biggest issue here is really the timing. We're only a few short months past the magnificent bluray release, so many of us have revisited these films recently. With that in mind the 3D just isn't enough of an advance or gimmick to really justify paying to see the film in the cinema. Yes, it's always great on the big screen, but with home theatres how they are these days that distinction is somewhat blurred. We can watch a crystal clear film on the big screen at home, without the cost, and without the guy in the Darth Maul face paint yelling colour commentary at the screen. Once you've adjusted to the 3D there's an overwhelming feeling of, "Wait... didn't we just watch this? Do we really need to do this again so soon?"

But then there's those darn kids again! And this film really is for them. If you're under the age of thirteen then this is your first chance to watch this film in a theatre. But I can't help feeling that excited Star Wars dads already bought the blurays and already showed the kids the films. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a feeling of deja vu for those kids too. I certainly felt the audience listlessly shuffling as the film gets bogged down by talk in the second act. When the lights came on at the end I was quiet, and Suzanne said to me sheepishly, "You know... I don't remember the Phantom Menace being so... boring." And that's because it wasn't! When it was new it was a revelation. Nobody had done or seen anything like it before. It was a punch to the brain. But that was 1999. We've all seen this film a hundred times. And today it left me tired.

So I'm torn. Because I really don't want this to fail. I love George Lucas. He's brought me so much entertainment for my ENTIRE LIFE. I'm still reeling about how good Clone Wars was this week. I wish him, and all the hard-working people at this company, every success. And I want them to produce more. Experiment. Succeed. Fail. I'll watch it all. 

If you've got young kids, or just haven't revisited the film for a while then yes, I would absolutely recommend that you go and check this out again. If you're a hardcore fan then I recommend you go check this out as well. If you just watched it last week... well... then I probably wouldn't rush. 

Because current entertainment frequently portrays children and teens as padawan learners, watching Episode One again made me feel like Obi Wan was the oldest, and therefore most dodgy, padawan imaginable. He has his little padawan braid and it was like seeing a guy who kept repeating high school. MacGregor looks like he's in his early thirties and he quietly skulks around the ship like he's sneaking cigarettes. He doesn't DO anything!

It makes for such an odd moment when he approaches Qui Gon at the beginning of the third act and he's like, "I want to apologise for my behaviour. You know, questioning you all the time." I wanted Qui Gon to act all surprised and go, "Wait.. What? Dude! You're totally chill! You're like the most chill dude I know! I even forgot you were here, dude. Relax. Jesus. Have another cigarette or something. You're thinking about this too much!"


  1. how come darth maul didn't flipout at the radio guys?

    I haven't seen episode 1 since the first screening and I loved it and everyone who was in the same cinema screening as me loved it too(then told lies afterwards). I think what made that screening so good was the audience didn't just watch the film they were totally involved. Yelling and cheering like it was a live show and you couldn't help but get wrapped up in that positive fun vibe. I don't think I want to see that film again without that crowd.

    Oh unrelated but at the girl with the dragon tattoo I told a group of old ladies to take their teaparty outside otherwise be quiet. I almost felt bad but then tickets are fuggin expensive

  2. I like, "Excuse me, did you direct this movie? No? Then why am I listening to your commentary?"

  3. Good feedback...I've been trying to decide whether I want to go see this or not, myself. Phantom Menace is probably my least-fave SW movie and I hate 3D, but the experience of ANY star wars in theatres is almost enough regardless.

    But you talked me out of it - Since I just watched the movie on the Blu-Ray. You're right...maybe when they get to Sith....

  4. You didn't talk me out of it... but you reminded me of the unforeseen element of a movie that I've seen many times before. The crowd. Ughhh. People are the worst.

  5. It's true that the atmosphere can really effect the film for me, and it's probably a large part of what happens here. I get genuinely pissed off and distracted at douchery and have trouble letting it go.