Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Movie Review: "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (1999)

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Movie"Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"
Director: George Lucas
Year: 1999
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes

A pair of Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewen McGregor), are sent to the planet Naboo to mediate a dispute between Naboo and the Trade Federation. When the Trade Federation turns their weapons on the Jedi and send their droid army to the planet surface to capture Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), the Jedi rescue her and plan to take her to the republic capitol of Coruscant to ask the senate for help. On the way, they have problems with their ship and are forced to stop on Tatooine. There, Qui-Gon meets a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who he believes has the potential to be the most powerful Jedi in the universe.

There's no denying that "Star Wars" is an iconic part of not only American culture, but global pop culture as well. The original trilogy stands out in our minds as being three of the reasons why we love movies and film as much as we do, growing up on the franchise from the 70's and 80's as kids and then thriving on it and being immersed in it as adults. So it's only natural when George Lucas announced that he decided he was going to create a trilogy of prequels telling the origin story of the most iconic villain in movie history, Darth Vader, we as well as millions of other people were excited to say the least.

And then, this happened.

Unfortunately, "Episode I - The Phantom Menace" falls far short of the expectations set forth by not only the original trilogy, but the hype surrounding these prequels as well. These films leave a lot to be desired in the way of substance, flashiness, and even performances as much of the dialogue, effects, and acting are pretty damn bad. By far, one of the worst problems with "Episode I" is the acting on the part of young Jake Lloyd, who plays Anakin Skywalker here. His annoying, twerpy attitude as kid Jedi prodigy is only off-set by his whining and constant nagging, his over-confidence, and his over-acting. Not all of the blame can fall on Jake Lloyd as he isn't even the worst part. The two things that bug us most about "The Phantom Menace" are, like we mentioned above, the special effects being so heavily reliant on the overuse of CGI. Perhaps the best part of the original "Star Wars" trilogy is how flawless the effects look, and by even the most rigid standards, they still hold up pretty well even today, in nearly 2016, and the first movie came out in 1977! The CGI here, however, manages to look very dated despite being considered cutting edge back in 1999. Animal creatures move in odd ways, ships fly on obviously CGI'ed backgrounds...it's very disappointing to say the least, especially when considering how epic they looked in 1999. Of course, no review of "The Phantom Menace" would be complete without discussing the abomination that is Jar Jar Binks. We can sort of, kind of understand why he exists. Much like Wicket in "Return of the Jedi," he's there to serve as both comic relief for the film, and goofy eye candy for the kids who were dragged by their fanboy and fangirl parents but really have no interest in the movie. Unfortunately, Lucas takes the spastic antics of Jar Jar Binks to the nth degree wrought with both too much toilet humor and too much stupid, awful dialogue, and all of this is complete with Bink's grating tone of voice to make him one of the most hated characters in the Star Wars universe.

If we are being honest, George Lucas has never been an excellent director. Outside of the original "Star Wars," he really doesn't have any exceptional directorial jobs to his credit. He is great when it comes to conceptualizing, but where he fails the most is in his execution, and without financial and physical limitations, Lucas simply doesn't know when to reign it all in. We had a discussion with a friend when we watched this movie for the first time in a long time, and though "The Phantom Menace" is not as good or even as bad as we remember it being, it's like those around Lucas were afraid to tell him "no, this doesn't look good," or "no, trim this section and add a little bit more practical effects here," or "no, this annoying, spastic character will nearly tank your movie." With all that being said, no, "Episode I" isn't an awful film. It is actually quite entertaining, and despite us trashing it for nearly half of a review, we have seen worse movies. It has quite a few memorable and exciting scenes, especially the end battle between Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson, Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, and Darth Maul, played by Ray Park. Despite the over-saturation of CGI and half-cocked acting, there are some great looking set pieces, some interesting yet elaborate costumes, and a generally good story, even though it may not have been executed perfectly. Overall, this is still an decent enough film and one we've watched numerous times. 

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 56%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
To see our review of "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones," click here.

To see our review of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," click here.

To see our review of "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope," click here.

To see our review of "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back," click here.

To see our review of "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi," click here.

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