DOWSE guide to the movies                                                                                         

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DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

directed by George Lucas
133 minutes (U)

For me, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was the high point of 1999 and I am currently in eager anticipation of its imminent video release, and this despite the attendant hype (hype tends to make me sick of something before it even appears; that The Phantom Menace satisfied me anyway is a testament to its quality). As the prologue scrolled up the screen and the ambassadorial ship came in view I did feel a sudden pang of fear, maybe because of the hype or possibly because th prologue could have done with some spicing up, that it would disappoint... within seconds I was totally absorbed and sitting on the edge of my seat! In fact so good was it I went back for seconds and thirds, as did most people I know (and I'm no Star Wars obsessive). I felt that TPM, like the existing Star Wars trilogy, had the right balance of action and dialogue, of darkness and humour. I think that a film that can blend darkness and humour is the best sort and this is a classic of the genre. The pace was perfect, never flagging for a moment, and I soon felt like a little kid again.
Yes, computer effects were a little over used, but not so as to obscure the plot. A reduction in the obsession with special effects (I guess it was fun to play with all the new toys) would have improved the film but so negligibly that their prominence was not detrimental. Anyway, Star Wars has always been known for its effects so their presence is to be expected, and as Lucas once more tells an exciting and gripping tale they really serve to complement the story.
The story was logically plotted with every scene having relevance, even the pod-racing. I had feared that the pod-race had been introduced merely to add some 'thrills' and to produce spin-off computer games, I was fully expecting to snooze through it: but no, it was seemlessly fitted into the plot (an integral part no less!) and was produced in such a way as to be truly attention grabbing. In fact, like much of the film indeed, it was essential to watch again to see which little details you had previously missed!
The characters were all finely portrayed, especially Anakin (have critics never seen real children that age? Perfect!) and Amidala/Padme who had a real dynamic between them. It was of course a pleasure to see old favourites, such as Obi-Wan, R2-D2, C3P0 and Yoda, once again and in such fine form; while new characters such as Qui-Gon and Jar Jar Binks were just as delightful. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were a perfect paring of wisdom and youthful idealism while Anakin's mother was a model of selfless, motherly compassion. Personally, I had no problem understanding Jar Jar and found him to be both an interesting character and perfect comic relief, I for one hope he returns! As to the complaints about accents in the film, all I can say is: "must all aliens sound like Americans?" I certainly didn't even notice the similarity between the Trade Federation voices and Asian stereotypes until it was pointed out and even then didn't assume that the Japanese planned to blockade England for improved trade deals! No, the voices fitted the aliens and whatever accent you choose, however odd, is likely to resemble someone's.
Conclusion? The Phantom Menace plays as stylishly as Darth Maul looks!

D.J. Tyrer

visit David Tyrer's website

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