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Friday, December 18, 2009

A Real Review Of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

I'm sure we all - those of us that were fool enough to see them in the theatre on opening day - remember the utter joy followed by soul-crushing disappointment in the Star War prequels that started to destroy the very fabric of our childhood just 10 short years ago. Now here's a real review of what The Phantom Menace has actually done to not only the movie industry and we, the viewers.

The rather ironic thing with part one in this review series is this is precisely the argument that I posed when confronted with fellow SW fans that told me that it was not only piss-poor, but an overt assault on the senses and a blasphemous distortion of all that was just and true in the world. I tried to convince my friends that the characters had to have time to develop, to grow on us, that this was setting the scene.

How monumentally stupid was I? I realize, considering hind-sights ability to be a rather clear-eyed bastard, that I had invested so much of my childhood into this mythology that I wasn't about to let go of those fantastic memories without a fight. I realized just after the second film was released that I should have let my true feelings be known from day one.

Even though the mundane and utterly preposterous plotline that was designed to set up the birth of the Galactic Empire was completely lost of people that went to see this - the fanboys and girls wanted to see something akin to Empire and the final half of A New Hope - this was something that never occurred to me. The bulk of the storyline of Phantom Menace reads like a poorly constructed explanation of the tax code by Glenn Beck and Cookie Monster. I'm still embarrassed that I paid to see this twice.

In terms of story structure, this is a classic example of what not to do.

I never realized it until watching this portion of the review, but the plot-holes that are allowed to exist simply within the first half of the first act of this film should have made it a contender for the Razzie back in 2000.

Recently, at a friends house who love Star Wars more than just about anyone I know, we were discussing the fact that Lucas, prior to Phantom Menace, had not directed a SW film since A New Hope in the late 70s and had only acted as Executive Producer and story writer for Empire and Jedi. His control over the final two parts of the story were lessened by not being in the directors chair and being a primary screenwriter and the films were ten times better and more cogent than Phantom Menace. Well, even though Jedi was polluted by fuzzy muppets in the final half of the film, its still better than what came 16 years later.

Here's something about the Star Wars saga that has always fascinated me: it's blend of science fiction theology and classical battle sequences. By that, I mean the light-saber duels and how they have always seemed rather out of place in the speculative fiction genre yet oddly comfortable and honest. The extension of that is where Lucas seems to have lost his ability to create a cogent and thought provoking series. What I mean is that he relies far too much on computer generated effects than what can be done with rudimentary and ultimately believable movie magic.

Not many people know this, but Martin Scorcese and George Lucas had an on set conversation while Marty was shooting principle photography for Gangs Of New York when Lucas looked around at the constructed sets and told Marty, "you know you can do all this CGI". I'm sure that Scorcese was about ready to look Lucas in the eye and tell him that he was no longer a filmmaker but a slave to the lowest common denominator.

My question is what happened to George Lucas? This man created some of the greatest films of a generation. From THX 1138, American Graffiti, and A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, this man was a pioneer a rebel, someone that made thousands of kids want to go to film school and create something just as powerful. But in the end, George Lucas has done nothing but molest our childhood into a computer generated vision of more zeros to left of the decimal point in his bank account.

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