George Lucas' THE PHANTOM MENACE
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
Review of the 2-Disc DVD Edition
When I first saw this movie in the theater I was bored. My reaction is much more positive with this 2-DVD set.
I’m not a Star Wars fanatic though I do recall with affection waiting in line outside the Uptown Theater in DC for the premiers of all three of the other episodes. Not being a series fanatic, my reaction to this movie initially was quite subdued. I had modest expectations.
This DVD sheds a very different light on the film and on the processes involved in creating it. If you like moviemaking, this is a great DVD to have.
PHANTOM MENACE is a big, big film. Details are missed on the first viewing. Literally, Lucas and team are World Creators. We may not agree with or like their visions, but they imagine on a large scale and have the money, talent, and technology to create worlds.
I for one, would have explored different types of aliens, the group involved in the pod race making me think more of weird animals than creatures from another galaxy. But that’s a difference of opinion. The pod race is still spectacular, no matter what the non-humans look like.
That said, Lucas has created and put on film images that are only possible in dreams, and he has populated these worlds with human and nonhuman characters that interact in a near-real way. We may not like all the characters, but they are there, front and center, interacting with the humans.
My favorite is Watto, the shop keeper. The first time I saw him, I just thought him grotesque. Studied closer, his mannerisms, expressions, and miniscule facial movements all work together to create a believable character. He is an awesome achievement, technology in the service of art and entertainment.
It’s clear that a lot of folks are very devoted to the “Star Wars Universe,” or whatever it’s called. It’s like a cultural myth, and that’s fine. I would prefer to see a different type of science fiction, less fairy tale. Star Wars is very much a fairy tale. I sense in The Phantom Menace that Lucas is taking his role of cultural icon very very seriously, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good in that he is able to entertain a great multitude of interested people while exercising his imagination, and make a good living while doing it.
It’s bad, though, in that there seems to be a limitation to how far he can go with the popular myth due to social and cultural restrictions. It would have been much much more interesting to me, for example, for there to have been more exploration of Darth Maul’s character, his evil, and how that provided him with a justification for his personality and actions. But that would be too realistic, and too far from the fairy tale nature of Star Wars. There’s a lot of destruction in The Phantom Menace, but very little blood. And even though Lucas can put anything he dreams onto the screen, the dreams that he does choose are strictly designed and very mainstream.
All in all, this DVD and its extras, the quality of the audio and video, and the quite interesting exploration of the creative efforts make this one of the best DVDs to come along in a long time. The whole in this case is greater than the sum of the parts, and some of the parts are pretty spectacular.
For a different use of cinema technology, and one that is even more spectacular because it, outwardly at least, is based on more folklore-based myths and legends, see LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.
Copyright (c) 2002 by Dennis D. McDonald