Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

'Phantom Menace' - the pros and cons

By Russell Baillie

STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE

***

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan, McGregor, Nathalie Portman

Director: George Lucas

Rating: PG

It's a very much a movie of bits so let's treat it that way. After all the stuff about it being "episode 1" it's really Star Wars: The First Bit, Twenty Two Years Late.

Likewise, the high-on-the-hype types who queued up to watch the movie first in the middle of the night will love it to bits.

But here's some news for those who'll parrot "it's not a critic's movie" - when it comes to Star Wars and all it means, you can be a fan and a critic too.

My inner-12-year-old (who saw the first movie in 1977 and has since seen it and its sequels a couple of times since and played the video games) was well primed for a new one.

So much that my outer critic was quite prepared to have the night off.

But sitting a couple of rows from the front in a packed cinema the other night, both got bored together in the film's lengthy flat patches.

Yes, the special effects are spectacular, occasionally. But that's more to do with what's happening in the background. Out front in the story department, it's clumsily plotted and edited. Effectively, it's a two-hour prologue for the further prequels of Ep's II and III.

George Lucas sure hasn't improved much as a director of actors or creator of dialogue. And now he seems he's treating those inner-12-year-olds who fell in love with the original trilogy like they're not-too-bright 8-year-olds. Which, of course, may be the point.

Yes, there are plenty of those aforementioned bits to like, but also ones that even the most Jediophile would find mildly irritating.

So rather than recapping the plot yet again, let's compare a selection of its bits.

Sort of Ten Things I Hate - Or Like - About You, Phantom Menace. Remember, as Lucas himself says, "it's only a movie."

LIKES

1. The film's central idea of showing us Darth Vader as a boy - shades of a sci-fi Godfather Part II. Okay, bit of a stretch, but remember Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola were once partners.

2. The light sabres. Still a cool noise and look, and some good swordfights. And when desiccated by one there's no blood. It's the ultimate PG-rated weapon. Also handy for absorbing laser fire and those troublesome little welding jobs around the home.

3. The pod race, a jet-powered Ben Hur blast across the craggy surface of the planet Tatooine. Adds nothing to the story but it's the main adrenalin fix on offer with its thrilling hurtling down canyons and dodging of rocky outcrops which updates the wild rides of the previous films.

4. Queen Amidala's hairstyle, which is one up on Princess Leia's ear bagels. But the face of the film is Darth Maul's scary visage. He looks like that because he's a Sith (bless you).

5. Yoda, back is he, yes. Younger too, looks he. So too are the tin Laurel and Hardy, C3PO and R2D2. Aww.


DISLIKES

1. Little Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) is a cute little moppet with a knack for technology and flying fast who gives no hint of his destiny as the helmeted, asthmatic evil-doer. Sort of Dennis the Phantom Menace.

2. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor as the Jedi Knights who discover wee "Annie." Despite their acting pedigrees they're strangely lifeless. Then again, it must be hard to be animated when everyone else actually is ...

3. That cinema seats aren't fitted with joysticks. Oh, and the reason that prize money race exists is because Neeson's Jedi Knight can't afford to pay for a replacement spaceship engine part, stranding him and his cohorts on Tatooine. You're a light sabre-wielding sheriff of the universe, man. Just take the damn thing and let's be on our way ....

4. Queen Amidala's curiously QEII accent and Darth Maul's lack of anything interesting to say despite being one bad double light sabre-swinging dude who will be a hit at Star Wars theme parties for years to come.

5. Jar Jar Binks, that pidgin Rastaman accent, that Platypus face. Is this Lucas' revenge on us for hating his 80s mega-turkey Howard the Duck which he curiously resembles? He's supposedly there for laughs but he's no wisecracking Han Solo. Come to think of it, even Chewbacca made better sense.

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