Viewed – 19 September 2011 Blu-ray
The Phantom Menace
The anticipation for this movie was ridiculous leading up to its relase back in 1999. 16 years since the last Star Wars movie, Return Of The Jedi, and many fans considered the original trilogy done. Yet Director and creator George Lucas had always envisioned more than three movies, and so we come to this, Episode One, set over thirty years before the first movie.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is an apprentice to Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), who stumble upon corruption and a planned invasion following a peaceful meeting with the evil trade federation. Soon arriving on the planet of Naboo they choose to warn reining Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) of the threat and soon help her to escape, hiding out on desert planet Tatooine, where Qui-Gon discovers a young boy (Anakin Skywalker) who may be the proficy that will bring balance to the force.
The Phantom Menace as with its two follow ups, can be seen as an origin story to Darth Vader, and the building blocks that eventually cause the rise of the empire. The casting here is mostly impressive, with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson perfect as two bad-ass Jedi’s. Jake Lloyd however in the pivotal role of Anakin Skywalker struggles to hide his stereotypical basin-haired American child actor roots and is, in my opinion, mostly annoying … a travesty considering how important his role is to the entire saga. This is not helped by the god-awful talent of the actress playing his mother, whose performance is so wooden I thought someone had dressed up a chair in Tattooine slave clothing. The less said about Jar Jar Binks the better – he is pointless, especially when you consider C-3PO also makes an appearance here.
But lets not be too harsh. This is a movie that above all else, looks the f****** nuts, with beautiful set design, gorgeous cinematography and stunning special effects throughout. The design team here certainly breathed new life into a very old story, even if the script writer’s self-indulgence with sci-fi mumbo-jumbo and long-winded political debate often ruins the pace. The action is good though, with a stand out being the exceptional pod-race which should easily showcases anyone’s home cinema system. The final confrontation between Darth Maul and the two Jedi’s is also superb.
The movie has problems, is probably trying too hard in places, but sets up what happens in the next two movies well. Yes sometimes it feels a touch too closely aimed at kids, the comedy moments fall flat, and supporting actors struggle next to their big-name counterparts, but overall this is fun, and has moments of brilliance … which is surely enough to make you want more?
Apparently this new Blu-ray release is a complete remaster of the original, but going by the overly soft, detail-light picture I see before me, I feel it isn’t a dramatic upgrade from the original DVD apart from looking, erm, cleaner. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good – in many places it really does, but for a movie this visually dynamic, I expected much more. Sound-wise there is no such issue, as this one jumps out of the speakers and shakes the room up brilliantly – something the Star Wars saga has always achieved admirably. Extras are limited to a couple of commentary tracks on the disk containing the movie, one from George Lucas and some of the design team, the other from the cast. Both well worth a listen, and when you consider the newly released Blu-ray box set is packed with documentaries and behind the scenes footage (on separate disks), there is more here than you’re likely to get through any time soon.
Verdict: 3 /5