Phantom phenomenon – REVIEW |

Phantom phenomenon – REVIEW

So as it turns out, it was the majority of film critics who were blinded by the hype surrounding “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” They expected too much, enjoyed so little. Poor dopes.

It was the movie-going public – the lucky ones, who just sat back and went along for the ride. And what a ride it is.

Not only is George Lucas’ return to a galaxy far, far away a worthy successor to the other three Star Wars films, but it takes us to the next level of adventure filmmaking at pod-racing speed. As the costly art of moviemaking spirals out of control, it is good to know that there is someone in the cockpit who knows what he’s doing.

Let’s get the nitpicking out of the way.

Is the film digital to the maximum? Sure – 1,965 out of 2,300 shots were created on computer. Are the actual human actors a bit stiff? Yep (Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn makes Al Gore look positively unstrung).

And what about Phantom’s supposed aim toward the kid market, with its 8-year-old hero and lack of adult romance?

Guilty on all counts. But for those who feel they must stand up to note these flaws, please do not block my view of the screen.

Think it’s easy making a movie like this? Most filmmakers in Lucas’ position fail miserably: When you load in a lot of action and digital effects, trying to best your previous effort, the result is usually a confusing mess (see the last three “Batman” movies).

But Lucas is above all else a craftsman. Phantom Menace works. The genius of Star Wars is in the editing – the director’s uncanny ability to keep things flowing, keep the audience enthralled without wearing them out. Few filmmakers have that gift.

As we pick up our story (begin it, really), the evil Trade Federation is preparing to destroy the planet Naboo and its benevolent teen Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). Two Jedi Knights (Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn and Ewan MacGregor as a young Obi-Won Kenobi) are dispatched to bring peace to the planet, and fail in fantastic proportions.

At the film’s center is Qui-Gon’s discovery of young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a lad strong with The Force, but with an ominous future – he is destined to become the evil Darth Vader. Qui-Jon whisks the boy off to Jedi training, but not before one of the most exciting race sequences in film history.

Old friends have returned (master Yoda, R2-D2, C-3PO), old villains (Jabba the Hut, Senator Palpatine, a.k.a. the Emperor) and even old props (trusty lightsabers and blasters abound).

But Lucas’ true vision is the new worlds he creates – from the city-planet of Coruscant to the lush, dreamy realm of the city of Theed on Naboo. Backdrops are crisp, panoramas are extravagant. Battle scenes are elaborate and well-defined (the big one is totally digital).

And a climactic fight scene between the Jedi Knights and Sith Lord Darth Maul is, as we said as kids, extremely radical.

In fact, where were movies like this when I was 8 years old? The answer is they hadn’t been invented yet, so I’m enjoying myself now.

Down in front, rebel scum.

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