When the complete star Wars Blu-ray collection was released last year, it created a huge stir. There was fever pitch excitement from some at the chance to see Star Wars in high-def, and outcry from others over the changes the bearded one had made, once again, to the films. The sets sold massively, though, and it was clear there were still Star Wars fans with money left to spend.
The reaction to the release of The Phantom Menace in 3D has, however, been far more apathetic. The excitement about the Blu-ray was more about the original trilogy than the prequels, and with many considering Episode I to be the worst of the lot, and the backlash against 3D in general, there has been some question over whether anyone was interested. Well, I was. I was interested to see what the quality of the 3D was, and to see the movie on the big screen once again, some 13 years after it broke fan’s hearts. Was it really as bad as everyone remembered, or has time healed some wounds?
The galaxy is run by a republic of planets, all represented in a universal senate. There is, however, a dark shadow looming over the (relatively) peaceful galaxy. The usually meek Trade Federation have begun a blockade of a small, seemingly insignificant planet. The Jedi council have sent a couple of representatives to negotiate, but all is much more complicated and far-reaching than it seems on the surface. The Federation are under the orders of a Sith lord, and the Jedi are flying into a trap.
The Phantom Menace is, perfectly in keeping with the Star Wars tradition, a chase movie in essence. A young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Jedi teacher Qui-Gon Jinn arrive just in time to escort the Naboo Queen Amidala to Coruscant, as the Trade Federation’ droid army invade the peaceful planet. Their journey to Coruscant to seek out a diplomatic solution does not go smoothly, however, as damage caused during their escape forces them to land on an outer rim planet, the desert planet of Tatooine.
That young Anakin Skywalker is an unassuming young man living out a dull existence on the same planet as his future son is poetic, though some complained it was all a bit too cute. It was important, however, to establish some canonicity with the original series. The vehicle designs in Menace are fantastic, but most are very, ahem, alien to fans of the original trilogy. A look at Tatooine, with some familiar locations and characters allowed the viewer to make that connection to Star Wars and Jedi. The ensuing pod race is thrilling, if a little cheesy, and the character of Anakin’s master Watto is a great character addition to the universe. My biggest problem with the Tatooine portion of the movie is that whilst you can, just about, accept that Anakin’s force abilities enable him to fly his pod so well, too much obstacle is put in his way, making it that little bit too hard to swallow that he is successful. Having never even finished a race, and stalling on the starting line, it all just becomes a little too ridiculous, even for a Lucas movie.
The plot really kicks in on Coruscant, as Senator Palpatine’s political manoeuvrings and machinations begin to become clear. This is no simple tale of good and evil, the story is far more complicated than that, and whilst it is dressed up in and disguised by plasticine and slapstick, it is important to remember this. A film like Avatar receives great critical acclaim, but has a story that could be written by a Primary School child. The politics and subtle story set-ups in Menace are actually far more complicated, and intelligent, a fact that many conveniently forget.
The Phantom Menace is not a great film, by any means, but in comparison to comparable movies of recent years, of which there are very few, it is actually very good. An interesting and surprisingly complicated political plot as the backdrop, with some beautiful locations. A fantastical underwater city, a high-speed chariot race, queens, sword fights, aliens. It combines the best of the adventure blockbuster movies that Lucas loved as a child, and packs in far more action, pace and sheer variety than any sci-fi movie in recent history. The Phantom Menace, despite all that has been said about it, is actually a very good Star Wars movie. It just isn’t the Star Wars movie that WE wanted. When the main character of a story is ten or eleven years old, it should not be a surprise that the sensibilities on show are more geared towards an audience of a comparable age. There are very few movies that combine infantile and adult orientated elements well, and whilst the combination here can be quite jarring, The Phantom Menace does have a bit of something for everyone.
You’re mind, though, is probably already made up. You either accept The Phantom Menace for what it is, or still hold irrational hate for it. What you really want to know is how good (or bad) the 3D is, right? Well, here’s the bad news, and to be fair, there really isn’t much in the way of good to follow. The conversion has dulled the visuals, which we have come to expect from post conversion, and left the image very soft. The 3D effect itself is, for the majority of the film, barely noticeable.
That’s right, for large stretches of the film, you forget it is supposed to be in 3D. Predictably, they’ve worked a bit harder with the pod race sequence, but have still only managed a very crude layering effect, with no real illusion of actual depth. Yep, that’s right; the 3D conversion was a complete waste of time. A real shame, considering that the mostly CG nature of the production would have made it a great candidate for 3D conversion if it had been done at the time. Good news? The opening crawl, which was always meant to look 3-dimensional, actually does now. Also, the duller, softer image actually works to make The Phantom Menace look far more in line with the original trilogy visually. The brighter, synthetic nature of the picture always made it look far removed from Lucas’ first three films, and now it just looks like one of the boys.
I cannot, in all good conscience, recommend going to see Episode 1 in 3D. I enjoyed it, having let go of my anger (which leads to hate and suffering etc…), but that was more to do with sitting back and enjoying Star Wars on the big screen again. It isn’t the film we wanted, and could and should have been a hundred times better. It still has more scope and action than a lot of genre movies released nowadays, more original than Avatar, more coherent than Transformers. It’s just a shame there’s no option this time around for a 2D showing.
Barry Steele – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MrBarrySteele