The Phantom Menace

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I’m sure like many kids who grew up in the 80s I thought it would be neat to see Darth Vader before he turned evil. You know, how did he turn into such a gigantic bastard? And how did all the Jedi get wiped out? Yeah, I kind of wish I’d never found out.

The biggest mistake in The Phantom Menace is the casting of a kid as Anakin Skywalker. Come on, who really wants to see Darth Vader as a nine-year old? Who wants to see the evil one at an age where he’s still being tucked in for beddy-byes? Well, George Lucas apparently. But he surely must be the only one.

In the first trilogy we’re constantly told that Luke Skywalker is too old to start the training. I always thought this seemed strange, seeing as he looked about ten. But finally we have a kid who actually is about ten and once again we’re told he’s too old to start Jedi training. For fucks sake, how young do the Jedi take them? On second thoughts, maybe I don’t really want to know.

But the consequences of casting a child in the role are disastrous. Lucas is obviously under the impression that seeing Vader as an innocent child will add to the tragedy, but instead it just gives the film a queasy paedo vibe.

First of all, there’s the idea that little kids will be whisked away from their parents by strange men. ‘Oh, hello. I’ve just met your son. Just seeing him made me feel the Force quite strongly. Do you mind if I take him far away so that I can train him? Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. I’ll teach him well and you’ll never see him again. Bye.’ Doubtless the children are whisked away by the promise of puppies and sweeties in the Jedi’s cockpit.

Then there’s how inappropriate the relationship is between Anakin and the Queen, played by Natalie Portman. From the very start we know they become lovers, so every time they share a lingering glance you remember that at a later date they’re going to butt heads. It’s icky. This woman is going to nail this seven year-old.

One instance occurs after Anakin has left his mother’s bosom. He’s talking to the Queen and seems rather sad. ‘I care for you,’ he says. ‘Only I…’ And then the Queen butts in and says that he misses his mother. No, I don’t think that’s it. He has a new mother now. One who probably gives him a strange feeling somewhere. He feels the Force every time he sees her. Blech.

And at the very end when the Queen lovingly looks over at Anakin, I could only think that they’re going to shag. I do believe I almost puked in my mouth.

Jesus Christ. Why couldn’t Lucas just make him a teenager? You’d have better choice as regards acting talent and you wouldn’t be constantly reminded of how inappropriate the whole thing is. I mean, for fuck’s sake, the Jedi council meet up at the top of a tower that looks exactly like a giant phallus. And there they interrogate little children and get them to reveal their deepest fears. They should have stayed with their mothers.

And while I’m on the subject of the Jedi, I have to mention how disappointing they are. In the first trilogy, you only have Obi Wan and Luke Skywalker to look to. And they were cool – well, Luke was cool eventually. Therefore, when you think about many Jedi, you think of a group of brilliant warrior monks. You know, hardasses that are all spiritual and shit. But instead you have a bunch of terminally boring dullards who sit there all day talking nonsense. Plus the Council looks like an alien Benetton commercial. You have an alien of every shape, size and colour as a member. They don’t look like warriors. They look like they’re advertising a diversity campaign. And one of them is even a conehead. The alien design in this film is appalling.

Speaking of design, Yoda looks rotten in this film. Somehow puppet technology has regressed in the 16 years between The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi. It looks like Yoda has been injecting himself with Botox – his face is expressionless.

And it’s horrible how the film kills the mystery of the previous trilogy. Suddenly the Force is a virus or something. It lives in our blood and we can even take a test to see how strong it is in us. Great. Instead of the Force being an amorphous connection with the universe, it’s now like a good form of HIV. ‘The bad news is you have a blood disorder. The good news, though, is that it means you can pick up shit with your mind and see the future.’

And apparently the midi-chlorians (the things that live in someone’s blood and communicate with the Force) had sex with Anakin’s mum and conceived him. He has no father. Sigh. So now Anakin is Jesus gone bad. This is what would have happened to Christ if he’d been an alien, if he’d had a lightsaber and if he’d listened to Satan? Great.

But the worst thing about the film is all the racial stereotypes. The bad guys speak in comedy Japanese accents, Jar Jar is a buffoonish black man and Watto is a miserly Jew. They’re all handled with the subtlety of a Nazi salute up your arse. And even though Jar Jar is thoroughly irritating and objectionable, it’s Watto who is perhaps the most offensive. After all, he’s hideously ugly, he has a hook nose and he worships money above everything else. You’d think that Adolf himself had conceived this character.

And the CGI for Watto is completely gratuitous. He flies. But not for any real reason, just because he can. Now that ILM has the technology, Lucas decides he wants his characters to crawl and fly and slither and run across the screen. There’s visual clutter everywhere. Every frame is over-packed with…stuff.

There are only two good things in the film: the fight with Darth Maul and the pod race. And even the pod race is packed with nonsense. First we have the annoying two-headed commentator, then we have silly aliens that look like they’ve popped up from a Looney Tunes cartoon and then we have the predictability of the whole sequence. But still, the pod effects are good and it’s reasonably exciting. For a very brief time, you have fun.

But far better is the lightsaber duel. It almost makes the film worthwhile.

What’s so pleasing about the lightsaber fight is how simple it’s kept. Yes you have the gimmick of the double-ended dildo (I mean saber), but apart from that it’s just three people trying to chop each other to bits. There’s no dialogue, no distractions in the background. It’s just a good, pure fight.

My favourite bit is when it’s just down to Maul and Obi Wan. There’s real intensity between them. They’re really going for it. This is how you envisioned another Star Wars film when you were a kid.

But just to bring you down to Earth, cut around the fight are three awful action sequences. There’s a tiresome space battle, a pointless blaster shoot-out, and, worst of all, a hideous CGI battle between the Gungans and some robots. Somehow we’re meant to enjoy the sight of Jar Jar Binks accidentally killing robots by getting a robot torso stuck to his leg. Oh how endearing. Oh how hilarious. Yes, fart gags, idiot aliens and paedophilic relationships were just what the Star Wars series needed.

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  1. Great review, my friend. Dead on. What bothered me so much about The Phantom Menace was how, even though it took place decades before Episode I's events, the technological gadgetries and architectures are far more advanced than in Episode I. Does evolution work backwards? Just because Lucas could do this that and the other thing (that he couldn't do with the original Star Wars) doesn't mean he should have. The Phantom Menace is one of the gravest missteps in recent cinema, and full evidence that Lucas forsook his talent long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

  2. Hey, not sure if you've been frequenting the new TF forum, but it was so full of problems and so many people were locked out, a temporary solution has been set up at:

    be nice to see you over there.

  3. This is quite possibly the stupidest review I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

  4. Pourquoi, Monsieur Fuckface?