The Phantom Menace (1999)

Related: TPM: 50 Things That Don't Suck

Age of reviewer: 33
Age when first saw STAR WARS: 11

Clocking in at a [ choose one: butt-numbing | watch-watching | ex-
cruciatingly long] 135 minutes, STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE is 
both a visual delight and a narrative disaster.  Oh, sure, it's a 
easy movie to settle into, with such familiar sights (and sounds) 
as blasters and speeders and the Amazing Scrolling Trapezoidal 
Text.  Jabba the Hutt makes an appearance, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi 
is on hand, and we're even introduced to a pre-teen Anakin Skywalk-
er.  (You know, the kid who becomes Darth Vader after he gets out 
of college.)  There are space battles and saber duels and weighty 
discussions about disturbances in the Force.  (We even learn what 
the Force *is*!)  Lots and lots and lots of talk, all wrapped up in 
the most amazing, computer-generated blankie Hollywood's ever seen.  
Head Ewok George Lucas, with his gazillion-dollar, umpteen-years-
in-the-making digital wizardry, paints three-dimensional city-
scapes, marches thousands of battle droids, and even utilizes a 
fully formed (and largely believable) supporting character.  (The 
bumbling, stumbling, likely-to-induce-groans-in-fan-boys Jar Jar 

Unlike the first, er, fourth film, the acting contains nary a trace 
of camp.  Regrettably, it ain't got much zest, either.  Liam Neeson 
et al are as flat and self-serious an ensemble as the series has 
yet to see.  (I guess computer-enhanced human emotions are still on 
the drawing board...)  Combined with the crappy (or at least half-
baked) dialogue, virtually no chemistry among the cast, and a seem-
ingly endless string of expository scenes, the whole thing feels 
closer to two hours of Sunday school than a rousing, summer sci-fi 
adventure.  (Though to be fair, I believe the Bible is considerably 
more exciting...)  A treat for the eyes and an embarrassment for 
the ears, this far-from-primal prequel needs so much more:  more 
action, more sophisticated humor, and, most crucial of all, more 
fundamental dramatic tension.  (Notice the utter lack of suspense 
surrounding the character of Darth Maul.)  At least the subtexts-- 
notably Western religion and ethnic stereotypes-- are interesting.  
And the pod race is worth the price of admission.  With Ewan Mc-
Gregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jack-
son, Oliver Ford Davies, Terence Stamp, Pernilla August, Frank Oz 
again as Yoda Man, Ahmed Best, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, and 
Ray Park.  (Rated "PG"/135 min.)

Grade: C       

Copyright 1999 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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