I picked up The Phantom Menace on DVD
this week. Here’s my review of the movie, and my
comments on the DVD itself.

Premise

The Trade Federation had blockaded the world of
Naboo in what appears
to be a pointless financial move. The two Jedi
sent to begin
negotiations soon learn that there is more going
on that previously
believed.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman as Amidala/Padme
Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker
Frank Oz as Yoda
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine
Ray Park as Darth Maul
Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
Written and Directed by George Lucas

The IMDB page can be found here.

High Point

The final lightsaber duel. (And I mean the
final, one-on-one duel.)
That was extremely well choreographed and played
out.

Low Point

Jar Jar’s role in the final battle on the
surface. That is not an
appropriate time to attempt slapstick humour.
The entire planet is in
jeopardy, and the guy is just running around
being clumsy. This could
be saved if, in episode two or three, they make
it clear that he’s
just subconsciously using the Force. (After all,
remember Obi-Wan’s
line from episode four: “In my experience,
there’s no such thing as luck.”)

I should also point out that, surprisingly, I
found Jar Jar to be less
irritating on my second viewing of the movie.

The DVD

The DVD mastering is spectacular. Nobody is
going to deny that.
There are a pile of interesting documentaries,
trailers, and seven
deleted scenes. Most of those scenes deserved to
stay deleted.
(Hell, the pod race should have been trimmed, not
extended.)
Reintroducing the taxi sequence was a nice touch,
though. It’s also
nice to know why George Lucas chose Jake Lloyd
despite the fact that
he was not the best actor who tried out for the
role.

Despite the excellent look and sound of the
movie, and the loads of
extras on the disk, it’s still missing two things
I wanted to see.
The first is a soundtrack with an isolated John
Williams score.
George Lucas has said several times that he
thinks of the Star Wars
movies as silent films that just happen to have
dialogue. Why didn’t
he give us the isolated score so we can see that
for ourselves? I’d
love to see the film without having to listen to
Jar Jar.

The second extra I think this set is missing is
Weird Al’s The
Saga Begins
music video. This omission is
more forgivable,
though. They’ve still got time to get
Yoda on The Empire
Strikes Back
. (They’ve got at least six
years.)

The Scores

In terms of originality, well, it’s a
Star Wars movie. The
series has never been groundbreaking, but this
one is a departure from
the others. (When have politics ever been a
concern before?) 3 out
of 6.

The effects were easiliy the best part
of this movie. For
the most part, it’s hard to tell where the real
world ends and the
digital world begins. There are a couple of
minor flaws, but given
the volume of work they had to do, I won’t fault
them for it. 6 out
of 6.

The story was emphasizing all the wrong
parts. We know what
happens to Anakin, and we don’t care about
politics that much. This
is only the first part of the trilogy, though.
Some of the politics
might be a little more impressive when we see how
far Palpatine goes,
and how he gets there. For the moment, though,
these don’t really pan
out. They should have been trimmed, perhaps in
favour of warnings to
Amidala from someone who is actually suspicious
of Palpatine. Darth
Maul was also extremely underused. The overly
long podrace should
have bee intercut with images of Maul doing his
investigation thing
and catching up with our heroes. Instead, he’s
just a somewhat
effective pitbull with funky facepaint. 3 out of
6.

I had no idea Natalie Portman could act
this poorly. In fact, C-3PO,
R2-D2, Senator Palpatine, Captain Panaka and Jar
Jar Binks are the
only characters that I actually believed
completely. (Complain about
Jar Jar’s writing all you want, but Best played
him well.)
Unfortunately, none of the main characters
actually pulled off a
decent acting job. 3 out of 6.

Now it’s time to rate the emotional
response
this movie
generates. While I did have emotional responses
to many elements,
they’re certainly not the responses the
filmmakers wanted me to have.
Instead, I felt disgust, disappointment, and
sadness that the mindless
fun of the Star Wars films had been brought down
to this level. The
action sequences in the beginning and the end
worked well, and I liked
the way they handled Palpatine, but everything
else fell flat. I give
it 3 out of 6.

The production of this film is almost flawless.
The only production
aspects that had any problems were the directing
and editing, both of
which are problems because George Lucas seems
unable to appropriately
guage the audience’s resoponse. He was shocked
that people didn’t
like Jar Jar. He thinks that extending the pod
race improved the
film. The fantastic John Williams score, ILM
effects, and the
excellent work by Skywalker Sound cannot
compensate for an awkward
director. This film should have been cut to 100
minutes. There’s
just too much wasted film of Tatooine. The
envirnmental shots should
have been cut down. We’ve seen them in episode
four; we don’t need
them here. We don’t need to be introduced to any
racers at the start
of the pod race. We know Anakin, and we know
Sebulba. The rest
aren’t relevant. I appreciate the fact that they
didn’t include all
the introductions, but they should have kept
cutting. Anakin
shouldn’t have stalled. It’s meant to add
tension, but all it does is
slow down the “race” sequence right from the
beginning. When the race
started, the camera shouldn’t have been looking
down the starting
line, it should have been in Anakin’s cockpit as
his pod shot out of
the gate with greater acceleration than any
vehicle the audience has
ever ridden. Then it should have pulled back and
shown the full width
of the “racetrack” and the recers involved.
The production in general gets a 3 out of 6,
although the work by ILM,
Skywalker sound, and John Williams each deserve a
6.

Overall, this will likely (hopefully) be
the weakest chapter
in the Star Wars saga. It just didn’t
manage to sweep me
away with the adrenaline and mindless fun of
episodes four, five, and
six. I give it 3 out of 6.

In total, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom
Menace
pulls
off a measly 24 out of 42.