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Jonathan Ke Quan
The evil Trade Federation, led by Nute Gunray is planning to take over the peaceful world of Naboo. Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are sent to confront the leaders. But not everything goes to plan. The two Jedi escape, and along with their new Gungan friend, Jar Jar Binks head to Naboo to warn Queen Amidala, but droids have already started to capture Naboo and the Queen is not safe there. Eventually, they land on Tatooine, where they become friends with a young boy known as Anakin Skywalker. Qui-Gon is curious about the boy, and sees a bright future for him. The group must now find a way of getting to Coruscant and to finally solve this trade dispute, but there is someone else hiding in the shadows. Are the Sith really extinct? Is the Queen really who she says she is? And what's so special about this young boy? Written by
The main line of defence seems to be: lighten up, it's just entertainment / just a kid's movie / just a special effects flick. Pausing awhile to note that people who run this line of defence have all but conceded that the film is, in fact, bad, let's take these points one by one - shall we?
As entertainment it's poor. Dialogue is flat and perfunctory (don't expect to be dazzled by repartee); the story lacks the beauty of the first Star Wars film and the tension of the second ... and then there's the magical `character development' everyone complains about. We must distinguish character development from character delineation. The former is nice, but the latter is absolutely essential, and it's the latter that's missing from `The Phantom Menace'. Jar Jar, the young Obi Wan, Darth Maul, Armidala, Annakin - all are scarcely characters at all, and are very difficult to get enthused about. Jar Jar in particular is a collection of mannerisms, nothing more. This lack of character doesn't just prevent the film from becoming the darling of the intellectuals - it makes it dull. There are hundreds more entertaining films. Only those people who entered the cinema carrying plastic light sabers, grimly determined to enjoy themselves, failed to notice this.
It's a kid's movie. Well, yes, in a sense - but not a good sense. Good children's movies form a proper subset of good movies - simply because adults have access to all childhood emotions and desires, but not vice versa. So in one sense a `kid's movie' is just a movie that can be understood and apperaciated by children (as well as adults). Is this a kid's movie in that sense? Maybe. But it's also a kid's movie in the bad sense: it's deeply witless, and inexperienced children might - I say, MIGHT
fail to notice just how witless it is. Children may - I say, MAY - ignore
the fact that Jar Jar Binks is a deeply irritating non-character because he is all colour and movement and he speaks funny. Is this really all we want?
Special effects. These aren't so hot, either. George Lucas has fallen in love with computers and failed to notice that his digital animals don't move at all in the way that real animals move - worse still, they don't move like any kind of physical object at all. Nor do most of the alleged physical objects. Compare the trundling white juggernaut at the start of `Star Wars'
a convincingly solid model - with the insubstantial collection of pixels
that darts past us at the start of `The Phantom Menace'. The special effects have actually deteriorated, and to make matters worse, there are more of them.
So the defence that `The Phantom Menace' is allowed to be a poor movie because it really wasn't trying to be something great in the first place, just won't wash. Especially so, given the ludicrous claims George Lucas has arrogantly made, again and again. So Jar Jar Binks is the first digitally created main character? Rubbish - the dragon in `Dragonheart' predates it (and, one might add, is at the very least a genuine character). So George Lucas is pioneering a new kind of filming-making, more like painting and less like photography, than the old? Absolute twaddle - Walt Disney did THAT in the 1930s. I'll tell you what IS new. Never before has there been so much sizzle, and so little sausage.
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