I was seven-years-old when the original Star Wars movie came out, but for some reason after watching the first trilogy, I missed Phantom Menace on the big screen (I think I was off my tits at Mardi Gras in Sydney) and just never bothered to see the subsequent films. So I was really excited to be invited to the 3D theatrical re-release of the 1992 prequel, which is set 32 years BBY (before the battle of Yarvin)
Watching the current seven-year-olds having their picture taken with Storm Troopers in the foyer, a cute young bear asked if I’d take one for him and having obliged, he returned the favour saying that “we bearded geek types should stick together” – I should have heard the alarm bells ringing and run to the barbers but thinking I’d pulled – whilst simultaneously being photographed on my knees before a storm trooper – I was a little disappointed when my new friend confided that “his girlfriend just didn’t understand him” (I kid you not) but I went on to have another photo session with Darth Maul, visited a green-screen photo booth where I was superimposed onto a commemorative photo holding something large and double ended, before taking my seat at The Empire Leicester Square. I felt like a kid again.
A camp old luvvie gave a short welcoming address, who turned out to be C-3PO himself, Antony Daniels, and then that awesome theme tune by John Williams kicked in and the classic introductory text scrolled up, looking fantastic in 3D.
For those who missed the story the first time around, two Jedi Knights, played by Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor (as the young Obi Wan Kenobi, watch for continuity errors as his ponytail move either side of his head in different shots), are sent to negotiate a dispute about trade routes and stumble into an invasion of the planet Naboo. They rescue the gothic-japonesque child queen (Natalie Portman) and escape to a small planet (filmed in the Tunisian desert) where they meet a nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a slave who’s a technical engineering whizz/boy racer. (Look out for the anal love beads and handcuffs hanging from the wall in the bedroom where Anakin is building the camp robot C-3PO, as it may offer some clue as to how the character develops the whole S&M black visored, heavy breathing persona in later years?).
Having decided that “the force is strong in this one” the Jedis enter the boy into a Ben Hur style chariot race (with one of the commentators voiced by queer comedian Scott Capurro) to win his freedom from the Muppet Show reject puppet called Watto, who looks like a disabled flying bluebottle. They leave the boy’s mother behind to face a life of slavery (probably as punishment for her acting). The boy develops a crush on the queen, who’s pretending to be a servant.
Enter a demonic and mysterious sith lord (Ray Park, voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, who has a grand total of three lines – interestingly, owing to the contact lenses used, the actor never blinks throughout the film, until the scene where he dies and then he blinks just once). War breaks out. Boy blows up battle station and saves the day… and all reworked into 3D. I wish they hadn’t bothered. I think the fans I saw leave the cinema early might agree.
Much of the movie seemed to be out of focus, only sharpening up at the 3D highlights. Perhaps this is because it’s cheaper to trick the eye that to create the attention to detail used in Cameron’s Avatar? The blurry quality made me realise what great cinema is all about, fantastic cinematography but here it’s often obscured. Whilst there are a few good fight scenes where the 3D effect works really well, creating depth and pulling you in, but overall I felt visually robbed, even though there are less than ten minutes of the 136 minute running time where there are no visual effects of any kind.
Most of the alien/CGI characters are irritatingly voiced and definitely aimed at the children’s market and merchandising. But if it’s a fast paced, action packed kiddies film you’re after, then this is a great bit of escapism.
Trivia: The queen’s name “Padme” is the Sanskrit word for “lotus”. “Yoda” is a name also derived Sanskrit and means “warrior”. The chant during the “duel of the fates” is from a 13th century Welsh poet and translated into Sanskrit.
Overall Verdict: 3D is just a gimmick to resell an old movie, but if it’s a fast paced, action packed kiddies film you’re after then this is a great bit of escapism. Good to see on a big screen but 3D effects add less then they subtract.
Reviewer: Neil Jewitt – who in the census before last was officially listed as a Jedi Knight.