The Phantom Menace|
Directed By George Lucas
The Phantom Menace, a phantom film with a phantom plot and phantom actors, has a real menace.
Episode I lingers on the first steps of Anakin Skywalker whose tumultuous path is known by all. However, moving past the famous opening scene, it becomes evident that this first act only serves as a pretext for a sequence of action scenes and special effects that class the film in the same ranking as a Godzilla or an Armageddon. And the first words of the film, pronounced by one Obewan Kenobi seem prophetic of the 2 hours 15 minutes that await the audience: "I have a very bad feeling about this".
If the film is already plotless, it becomes even more useless when you see that it's just a remake of Episode IV. The film in fact follows the journey of two Jedis (Liam Neeson and Ewan Mcgregor) from one planet to another, surmounting obstacle upon obstacle with the goal of saving the queen (Nathalie Portman) and her people, a framework already used in Star Wars. Also, Episode IV began the apprenticeship of Luke by master Jedi Kenobi, Episode V followed the outcome of Luke's training by master Jedi Yoda while Episode VI suggested the future training of apprentice Leia by master Jedi Luke. As for Episode I, we meet Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn teaching his art to students Kenobi and Skywalker, the former who will become the mentor of the latter in Episode II. But the photocopier Lucas doesn't stop there. To these "federalist themes" add some recycled ingredients of the trilogy:
- Characters: Anakin, just like his son in the middle of the desert, constructs robots, is discovered by chance, possesses the Force and finishes his day piloting a fighter planet and destroying enemy HQ. Qui-Gon Jinn appears as an early incarnation of the old Obiwan.
- Action scenes: From the final battle scene to the pod race, to predator monsters trying to swallow the spaceship (this time transposed under water).
- This excessive recycling gives the impression of being a James Bond film. Nevertheless, even if obviously every James Bond is a remake of the same film and has no other purpose, this phenomenon in the case of Star Wars exposes the dried up inspiration of its father creator.
Another problem of the Phantom Menace is that it doesn't work. Even using the system of defense that the film is destined for children, it's highly unlikely that it will be appreciated by any audience member over the age of 8.
- The creatures are more cretinous than the worst Disney film and never provoke the comic effect they were counting on.
- The two Jedis shamelessly decimate dozens of over-armed robots without ever being worried, like the good old days of stalloshwarznorrisian action films.
- During the battle, no "nice" warrior will be hurt while the "evil" robots fall like flies, which makes you doubt there's any real menace (check out the Braveheart style battle).
- Even with the support of the powerful Force, children should be hard pressed to believe that their eight year old counterpart can pilot a fighter plane and take it to victory.
Lucas seems to have lost all cinematic talent after a long absence from behind the camera, offering us inactive action scenes lacking any fluidity. Only two moments succeed in arousing attention: the Ben Hur race and the final duel. If the race is endowed with a certain rhythm and provokes an effect of inter-activity, it's nevertheless diffused by the advance of video games that will give you the same shivers, if not more. The duel, on the other hand, denotes a real dexterity with a choreographic sense influenced by Hong Kong cinema.
The visual has benefited from the progress of technology and plays on the grandiose. The attention to detail and decor is so forced that it becomes evident that it took priority at the expense of the story and characters that become transparent, taking on a decorative role, while the background becomes the main character of the film. This perfectionism leads to the artificiality and the coldness of the ensemble. The space ships, druids, and creatures are too polished and aesthetic to provoke any affection in the spectator, contrary to the old imperial fighters with a primitive look. The self parody attempts with the "pods" that look like toasters don't add anything.
And, finally, the characters. The lack of dialogues and their use as a pawn on Lucas' chessboard lifts all dimension, leaving only transparency in front of the eyes of audience. Liam Neeson seems to have wandered onto the set, only to want to flee as quickly as possible. Even more annoying, he never knows where to turn his head, as in the scene where he looks to the right while the creature (computer generated) is on the left. Obewan McGregor seems to be facing an onset of constipation, as if already witnessing his effigy on bags of onion flavored potato chips. He has never seemed so ill at ease, he looks completely naked (Although to tell the truth it's actually the contrary since he generally he seems more at ease playing Adam minus the fig leaf.). Anakin resembles a little arrogant crab lice that you want to squash right away. To see Jake Lloyd it's well understood how poor Vador turned out so bad. As for Nathalie Portman, she has a real sense of power under her heavy disguises. The only original character is the new villain awaited with impatience who finally shows up at the end. On this subject one remarks his strange resemblance to Keith Flint of The Prodigy, which underlines the conservatism that has claimed Lucas. One imagines him hesitating between demons of youth like Marilyn Manson and others to incarnate this menacing character before betting his money on the spiky headed punk Flint. The rest of the protagonists are virtual, issued from a computer whose coldness makes me miss the rubbery creatures of Star Wars, which reinforces the superficiality of the film.
In the end, an aseptic, artificial, and improbable film that you can't get into at any moment. In The Phantom Menace the only menace is boredom.
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