No 449 - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Director - George Lucas
This may be controversial, but you know what?
Whilst there are some massive MASSIVE flaws with the film (which I'll discuss in a bit) - there are some really exciting bits. Lets focus on the positive shall we. Firstly, there is something which I've omitted from my previous Star Wars blogs - John Williams' excellent score. It is always a dramatic highlight of every film, underpinning the action with a real sense of drama and excitement. When it comes to the new trilogy, the score has been dramatically improved. I mean, cast your ear holes over at the frankly amazing 'Duel of the Fates' which acts as Darth Maul's theme. It is a frankly epic and terrific piece of music. John Williams is an amazing composer (it is such lazy blogging to continuously point to another person's blog.... but still).
In fact, besides John Williams score, Darth Maul is probably the saving grace of the first film, his growly voice and his domineering presence just ripples through the film and lifts it above the problems which are littered throughout. Incidentally, whats happened to Ray Park? He's vanished off the map a bit hasn't he? His fight scenes are really exciting, and inject action into the film - and he has a duel ended lightsaber, which is pretty fucking cool! Who wouldn't want one.
The film's biggest crime is that for large amounts of time it is quite boring, and that's mainly down to the code of the protagonists. Jedis are boring. The reason that the original trilogy works is that Luke doesn't know how a Jedi should act, Vader and the Emperor are evil and Yoda has gone a bit nuts. It is only Obi Wan who plays the wise sage and he is only fleetingly in the series. With the prequels we have a series of films entirely populated by wise and emotionless sages. It means we have a phenomenal cast of people speaking in a gentle monotone and not showing any emotion. Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, even Samuel L Jackson spends the film sitting and nodding sagely. SAMUEL L JACKSON?!
So, naturally you welcome the moments of action in the film which lift the tedium of politics, and jedis, and borderline racist aliens. The lightsaber fights are one part of it, but the pod race is another example of dramatic tension and pacing. It shows that Lucas can still shoot big action set pieces. He just chooses not to.
There are two other things of note within the pod race sequence. Firstly, CGI Jabba has none of the presence or icky slimy realness of his puppet self and what is Warwick Davies doing as an extra?
So, I find the dullness of Episode 1 a great crime, but there are also the two grievances which are frequently raised by the fanboys. Firstly the retconning. The fact that by introducing Midi-chlorians, Lucas manages to cheapen the idea of The Force to nothing but a biological oddity. But also, his inclusion of C3PO and R2D2 is actually detrimental to the series. Obi Wan spends an entire trilogy having massive adventures with the droids, and then come ep 4 he states that he's never seen them before. Yeah, they're only robots but you'd still remember them from all your big adventures.
Finally though. We have the Gungans. And I refused to believe that they were as bad as I remembered them being. However, after 30 seconds of Jar Jar lowering the quality of the film i wanted to just kill him. His arrival comes along with jokes about farts and poo and slapstick and the most annoying voice since Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element.
Even Brian Blessed can't save the Gungans.... and he is almost pure undiluted awesomeness.
I forgot something.
Basically you can get a whole better idea of The Phantom Menace by watching this instead: