Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Surprise, surprise, 3D does not save The Phantom Menace, George Lucas’ New Agey, “feel, don’t think,” nonsense guide to awful parenting, now with more racial exaggerations. In fact, for a franchise so profitable that it won’t shut up, the 3D is just muddled, but maybe that’s the point: Anything to distract from Jar-Jar. Underneath the facelift is that same film we saw thirteen years ago, not the dark lord that would destroy all good memories but a poorly acted little boy that nevertheless has his moments.
Needlessly confusing galactic conspiracy aside, The Phantom Menace is basically one long, randomly paced picaresque. We start at the blockade—which doesn’t make sense in three-dimensional space, but whatever—then we go from planet to planet, each with its own little goal that builds toward the big one at the end. It’s a video game, never more obviously than in the best action sequences: the thrilling podrace, the Naboo ships flying along the surface of the blockade frigate, and the one-on-one between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul. Director Lucas is nearly as stilted as Writer Lucas, but when he’s having fun, it shows. And when the linear narrative splits into four at the end, cross-cutting like a symphony to some ominous John Williams and the space-“Carmina Burana,” Lucas earns a powerful beat.
But the prequels work best as old-fashioned adventure serials, which even explains the Orientalism, not that it makes haggling with a cloven-footed Arab shopkeeper any less racist. Even the skeletal dialogue feels like a throwback, though Buster Crabbe had more personality than everyone in the prequels combined. The art direction is imaginatively preposterous, and Lucas even finds a handful of truly inspired touches, like the podrace cutaway of Jabba casually swatting a tiny alien off his platform. We all know it’s dumb and inept. We forget that it’s not just that.
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 4:06 AM