A Review of
Star Wars, Episode One:
The Phantom Menace
Spoiler Alert: Don't read this unless you've seen the movie.
No, actually, read it anyway. It could save you as much as eight bucks.
In a hurry? Here's a capsule review: SOFIA COPPOLA IS IN IT.
You're still reading. You didn't see Godfather III.
Okay, the reference to Sofia Coppola should've been your clue that Phantom Menace is flat as a board and just as wooden. I know the other Star Wars films didn't feature Oscar-caliber acting, either. But that was two decades ago. I figured that in the interim George might have taken a correspondence course in plot, or direction, or character development.
Plot? Ha! We got special effects. Direction? Special effects! Character? Are you even listening? SPECIAL EFFECTS HERE, PEOPLE!
In truth, the computer-generated effects are fairly lifelike -- much as the script and the (human) performances aren't.
The script. Ah, the script. It's a genuine Lucas script, the kind of script one expects from the man who thought up the line, "As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced." Yet one doesn't expect the same crappy dialog after two decades. Why is it that, ever since the success of the Star Wars films, people will put up millions to make a movie but won't spend maybe a few hundred thousand for someone who might actually write a script? Thanks to Lucas, Hollywood has adopted the almost patriotic cry, "Millions for effects, but not one cent for story!"
Other than the script, the film's weakest link is Jake Lloyd, who plays the role of "I Was A Teenage Darth Vader," Anakin Skywalker. As it turns out, AniCAN'T -- act, that is. It's easy to see why the film crew dubbed him "Mannequin Skywalker": he's such a wooden little twerp that when the film revealed that he has no father, I wanted to shout, "Sure he's got a father! It's freaking GEPETTO!"
Not that poor Jake is a standout in the human set dressing department. Most of the Phantom Menace actors behave as if they're back in acting class doing the old "be a tree" exercise. This has to be the fault of King Lucas: everything he touches turns to gold, except actors, who turn to wood. Under his direction, even people who can act (such as Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan MacGregor), can't act. They show life in their fight scenes -- or their stunt doubles do -- but otherwise they wander about all stiff and holy, like splinters of the True Cross.
Speaking of religion, George still hasn't outgrown Joseph Campbell, filling his script with cheapjack zen & corny new age-isms ("Feel -- don't think!" "There are no accidents!"). The silliest twist is that, as I mentioned, little "Ani" (as he is called) is fatherless. But he's no Lil' Orphan Ani. His father isn't missing; Ani never had a father. Yup ... the idiotic virgin birth trope. Which means we're faced with the tired old literary standby, the Christ figure. Zzzzzzz. I'll bet not a lot of people know it was Shirley MacLaine who founded the Jedi religion.
Along with the religious twaddle, it's jarring to find current cultural stereotypes "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." There are the bad British accents among those of the "good guys" who aren't even British; the Federation baddies speak with faux-Asian accents; the bad trader is uncomfortably close to a Shylock (if he's not supposed to be like the Arab racetrack character in Ben Hur). And what IS that pidgin accent of Jar Jar Binks supposed to connote?
Jar Jar ... I promise that all I'm going to add about Jar Jar is that he is every bit as cutesy and annoying as "Short Round" was in the abysmal Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Cute is boring. And in movies, so are kids.
Now that I think about it, Darth Maul is the only non-boring character in the story -- if you can call it a story. And Darth Maul is hardly a character, in that he barely speaks any lines and we get no background on him. We do discover that his face is dolled-up like a kabuki WWF wrestler. And then he dies. Or doesn't. "Depending on your point of view." (Yes, that silly line from the original Star Wars is repeated again.) Kind of like the movie.
Having said all that, there were things I did like about Phantom Menace
- The conflict is occasioned by a tax dispute.
- Darth Maul's double-action light saber is pretty cool. I bet it would get a good price on E-bay.
- The light-saber fight scenes are as well-choreographed as a Hong Kong film.
- I paid only four dollars to see the movie.
- Especially that last thing.