STARRING: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Park, Terence Stamp

1999, 133 Minutes, Directed by: George Lucas

phantom4.jpg (8901 bytes)This isn't really a review. Rather call it adding my own voice to the chorus. Or something like that. Now because if there ever was a movie that can be labeled "critic-proof" then the long-anticipated Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace has to be it. No matter what the critics and even fellow fans have to say, people will still go and see this movie to simply decide for themselves. Call it a sort of morbidity - like people slowing down on a busy road to gawk at an automobile accident.

It was with some anxious anticipation (after all, a lot of the reviews and word from fellow fans have terrible) and excitement (it is after all the first Star Wars in more than 16 years!) that I sat down for an early morning screening of The Phantom Menace along with hundreds of other cinema goers. And?

To be honest, I had a good time. It is a enjoyable movie and while I ignored most of the negative word surrounding the movie in that I did go to see it, it is nowhere as bad as some have made it out to be. Okay, so lowering one's expectations before going to see it might help. So will reading all those negative reviews. Beforehand I was afraid that I will be disappointed and so I didn't walk into the cinema expecting another Empire Strikes Back. Think more Return of the Jedi and you're on the right track . . .

That doesn't mean that the critics are wrong. Everything they said is true: the plot is a tad too complicated, some of the actors are terrible (especially Jake Lloyd, the young boy playing Anakin Skywalker - that's Darth Vader to you, mister!), the clunky dialogue falls like leaden balls on the ears, the computer generated Jar Jar Binks character is annoying at times and the film is seriously lacking in interesting characters in that they are merely shunted from one scene to the next like cardboard cut-outs to satisfy the demands of the plot.

But none of this really matters because the film's strengths finally outweigh its weaknesses. The action sequences are spectacular and tense - especially a pod race sequence half-way through the movie and the final climactic light saber duel which has a freedom of movement that makes similar duels in the previous film look almost amateurish in comparison. Technically the film shines.

The brilliant special effects, excellent sound and John Williams' soundtrack music all combine to what one ultimately expects from a Star Wars film. Let's face up to it: the Star Wars films were designed to be Saturday matinee shows and watching it I felt ten years old again. The Phantom Menace is an old-fashioned epic and like epics of yore it supplies its audiences with enough spectacle and awe. 

By focusing too much on the weaknesses of Phantom Menace, critics have made it out to be bad movie. What they meant is that it could have been a better movie - in that they are right, but what they neglected to mention was that that doesn't make Phantom Menace a bad movie - something it isn't. 

(Actually it's better than its 2002 sequel, Attack of the Clones.)


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Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).