When Lucasfilm announced that they were releasing yet another version of the Star Wars movies in theaters, this time in 3D, I swore that I would boycott them all. Especially the Prequels. Anything beyond the Original Trilogy is dead to me now and the whole 3D fad is overplayed, overhyped, and pointless. But the ghost of fandom past pulled me into the theaters and I succumbed.
Everyone has his/her own problems with the Prequels and there have been countless insanely detailed reviews of each one. Without turning this review into an endless diatribe, my main problems with all the Prequels, including The Phantom Menace, can be summarized in three bullets:
- Too much screen time is wasted on characters that are annoying (like Anakin) and superfluous (like Qui-Gon). All Jedi are emotionless dull jerks, from Yoda to Mace Windu.
- The plot plods along at a glacial pace as we trudge through boring intergalactic politics and pathetically cringing romance. The dialogue is always forced and never natural.
- The Prequels are derivative of the Original Trilogy, chasing the greatness of the old movies without developing an identity of their own. Somebody (I'm not sure who) summed it up perfectly by saying that anything you see in the Prequels is pretty much just a crappier version of something in the Original Trilogy.
So, the characters suck, the plot sucks, and the movies are almost entirely unoriginal. The Prequels are ultimately failures of storytelling that detract from rather than contribute to the original movies. Despite that, not all of them are unwatchable and The Phantom Menace is my favorite of the three. Sure, you have to wade through a lot of crap, but there are a number of legitimately cool moments: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fighting on the Nemoidian ship, Artoo fixing the shield generator, the Pod Race, and the Duel of the Fates, to name a few. No Star Wars movie has done anything even remotely interesting or innovative since.
Also, I've come to realize that my enjoyment of Star Wars centers more around the merchandizing than the actual movies themselves. The OT is great, don't get me wrong, but I have many more happy memories of Star Wars action figures than I do of watching the movies. And there was no Star Wars movie more rabidly merchandized than TPM. That in and of itself gets me nostalgic about the movie. Remember all the retailers putting out the action figures at midnight the day of their release? What about the kids' meal toys from three different fast food restaurants? And the dozens of different Pepsi character cans? It was a fun time to be a Star Wars fan.
But coming back to this release, the big question is: how did the 3D turn out? Unlike a "true" 3D movie like Avatar that is shot with a biocular camera, TPM was converted into 3D in post-production. This process of retrofitting an extra dimension into a two-dimensional film has the tendency to produce spectacularly awful results. But certainly a special effects mega-star like Lucasfilm would be able to pull off post-production 3D, right?
Nope. The vast majority of the movie (let's throw a ballpark estimate of 90%) looked absolutely flat with no discernable difference from the same old 2D presentation. I was constantly pulling down the glasses to see if I was actually watching 2D instead. There were a few scenes in which more of a "3D effect" was evident, but I have to put that in quotes because I wouldn't call it real 3D. The effect was more like flat cutouts of the foreground, middle, and background of the scene composited together.
For example, in the announcer's booth at the Pod Race, you could see the equipment in the foreground, the announcer in the middle, and the screens behind him in the background. But it wasn't really three-dimensional because the components, even though they were presented at different visual distances, were as flat as pancakes. The effect was really more like a pop-up book than real life. And that's the best it got. The 3D didn't even establish any effective depth of field.
Ultimately, you should only see The Phantom Menace 3D if you have a hankering to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen again. But don't expect the 3D effects to be some kind of new and innovative experience in Star Wars movie viewing.
THE 3D EFFECTS: