Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D review

The Phantom Menace makes a dramatic reappearance in cinemas, this time in 3D. Nick finds out whether time has been kind to Star Wars Episode I…

So, almost 13 years since it last appeared in cinemas, the infamous Episode I is back. The all-time top grossing Star Wars film has been given a new lick of paint and a 3D makeover, but can it tempt a new generation of fans in?

I’m pretty sure most of you reading this will have seen The Phantom Menace, and most likely have your own opinions on the movie. Nothing I say will probably change it, but if you haven’t seen it in awhile, then checking it out at the pictures is not a bad idea. Star Wars is most definitely made for the big screen, and its appearances on TV can never quite do it justice.

I went into the screening ready to dismiss and be bored by the entire thing, cynical post-prequel ‘fan’ that I am, but as soon as the curtains on the cinema screen parted, the Fox fanfare started, and the iconic John Williams score kicked in, I couldn’t help myself. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I was a kid again. Damn you joyous childhood memories of watching Star Wars!

But how has The Phantom Menace fared since its initial release? Looking at it critically, and away from all the fan anger against Lucas? Well the same faults still remain with the film. It’s pretty boring, appears to have been shot with a first draft screenplay, and removes much of the physical effects that made the original trilogy so believable. There’s little to no weight to most of the cartoon-like effects now, and pretty lights do not make a film.

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The only change for the better is that the weird stoned Yoda puppet has been changed to the CGI one of Episodes II and III (the same change as in the Blu-ray saga) but even that’s not as good as the original puppet from 30 years ago. McGregor still seems a bit off as Obi Wan, mainly due to the writing, one suspects, while Jar Jar is still at times offensively bad.

However, there is no denying that when Episode I gets it right, it gets it spectacularly right. For all my carping about the cartoon-like nature of it, for a film more than a decade old it looks bloody amazing. The 3D upgrading of it is quite brilliantly done, as you would expect, and only adds to the action. I’ve only seen it better rendered in Avatar. And its two set pieces are bang on the money. The pod race still ranks as something truly special, and the 3D brings it to life in an even more vivid way. The sound design from Ben Burtt is second to none, and is one of the finest technical achievements in recent cinema history – making the race essentially score free was probably Lucas’s best decision in the film.

Then again, the score is probably the best thing about the The Phantom Menace. Williams works his magic again, reworking his earlier legendary themes into new creations, and adding to the saga with Duel Of The Fates, a brilliant piece of work which soundtracks the final showdown between Qui Gon Jinn (the ever reliable Liam Neeson), Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul. It’s epic, engrossing, and the best lightsabre battle in all six films. It’s just a pity you have sit through the mostly turgid stuff beforehand to get to it.

Oh well, the kids at the screening seemed to enjoy it, and laughed at Jar Jar (the bits with him in pain I was pleased to note, rather than him in general), and I guess that’s the audience rather than we jaded, angry adults.

I try to smirk at Star Wars, but I just can’t do it.

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3 out of 5