Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Questionable Star Wars vol. 13

Just as a broken clock is right twice a day, there are probably a couple good things about Phantom Menace.

Question: "Say three good things about The Phantom Menace."

Scott's Answer: 1. The music - yeah, this is my standard cop out answer but John Williams' "Duel of the Fates" will be remembered alongside "The Imperial March" for years to come. And the rest of the music isn't bad either!

2. Some of the ADULT acting - yes, I know Jake Lloyd can be annoying (though he was just a kid!) but Liam Neeson brings so much authenticity and dignity to every role he plays that the movie is elevated, if only slightly, by virtue of his presence. Ewan McGregor isn't given tons to do in this one but he's always fun to watch. I must also mention some of the voice actors, most notably the great Brian "Gordon's alive?!" Blessed as Boss Nass, that green bulbous creature who resides underwater. Not a particularly well-written character but Blessed gives it his all and is fond of quoting from the film in his various TV appearances.

3. The design - between the prequel trilogy's less than sterling reputation and Lucas' (over-)reliance on digital effects, two aspects of these films seem to get buried in the mix and that is the art direction and costume design. Production designer Gavin Bocquet, costume designer Trisha Biggar, and their respective teams made these movies look great!


Andrew's Answer: 1. Liam Neeson is awesome as a Jedi. He brings the right amount of calm and kick ass all at the same time. He strikes me exactly as what I was expecting the Jedi would be when I first heard of them as the Guardians of the Old Republic. Too bad he’s the only one.

2. I like the design of the ships actually (except the silver one). They don’t really mesh all that well with the Star Wars universe, but I think the designs are pretty cool.

3. I like the fight scene with Darth Maul at the end. It’s well done. It has high points and moments of frustration, interesting pauses and a neat result... and no kid to ruin it.

55 comments:

tryanmax said...

1. Pod-racing - Although it never feels organic to the plot, let alone the entire story-arc (Fast kid from the sticks gets noticed for his driving skills, launching his career as an intergalactic despot?) but who doesn't enjoy a good race?

2. Darth Maul's double lightsaber - As soon as he busted that s**t out, everyone in the theater was like, "Hell yeah!"

3. Liam Neeson - Best. Jedi. Ever.

PikeBishop said...

1. Tying into the "adult actors" comment above: let's add Pernilla August to that list, and the understated "sparks" between her Shmi and Neeson's Qui Gon. A traditional old school, doomed romance, carried off by two pros, despite George Lucas, who actually told Neeson NOT to touch her shoulder.

2. Natalie Portman's tough as nails character, despite being a "queen." When those double doors opened and she was the first one through them with her blaster leveled.

3....................................hmmmm.......yeah I guess the double light saber.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Totally agree about Neeson.

On the double lightsaber, I had two problems with it. First, it seems kind of a strange weapon like it's more likely to hurt you than the other guy. Secondly, it's one of those things where I felt the past was more advanced than the future.

Pod racing looks like fun.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Good point. Neeson and August did a great job together -- very unlike everything else in the universe. Like the "romance" between Padme and Vader in II: "Huh huh, sand hurts my butt..."

I liked Portman, even if nothing about her character made sense.

tryanmax said...

But it makes sense that, as far as lightsabers are concerned, the past would be more advanced than the future. In the trilogy, you've got scads of people knowing how to use lightsabers. But by the time Luke and Vader face off, they're literally the only two people in the galaxy that know how to use the things. Plus, to top it off, Anikin was a poor student and Luke basically got remedial training.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! So it's like somebody dropped a Star Destroyer on the honors class and the only Jedis left are remedial students. That explains a lot!

Tennessee Jed said...

Phantom Menace is largely forgotten by me. Liam Neeson is cool, and that translated through, even in this one. I just picked up a cheap blu-ray of an early Neeson film called Under Suspicion. It was typical of the times, and while not great, did offer an interesting look at his early acting career.

Scott - I can't remember the score to this one, but you are extremely attuned to that so I expect you are right. One of these times, I'll go back for a re-visit. I had a feeling when it came out it would be victimized by impossible expectations. My gut tells me that even considering that, it probably is disappointing, but I really only viewed it once, so it probably deserves at least a fresh look.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't think expectations were the problem. For one thing, watch the savage take-down by Red Letter Media. You can't take a decent movie apart the way they do. Also, I'd already heard people say it was one of the worst movies ever by the time I saw it, so I expected awful... and then it was worse than I expected.

Anonymous said...

Three things... Dam you're making this hard on me.

1. New Star Wars, while in the end it didn't live up to the hype the idea alone of having new Star Wars was exciting

2. Darth Maul, just seeing him was blew my mind, he was the perfect bad guy

3. As said before Liam Neeson, he was the best actor of the whole movie and killing him off was a bold move

Hey I thought of a fourth...

4. At the end of the movie Seeing Senator Palpatine taking an interest in young Anakin was exciting (especially so considering the movie didn't live up to expectation), it led you to believe that the next movie would be better (which was a cruel trick by George Lucas).

Scott.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

Well, Lucas always had a thing for cars and racing (see: the end of THX-1138, American Graffiti, the Death Star trench run, etc.) and so pod racing is simply another form of that.

I liked the double lightsaber and it's been said many times but it's a shame Lucas killed off Darth Maul when he did - the character could've come in handy in the prequels.

Neeson - ditto!

ScottDS said...

Pike -

Yeah, the idea of two ADULTS having any kind of relationship in the prequel trilogy is a foreign concept indeed! :-)

ScottDS said...

Jed -

Ultimately, it is disappointing, though it's worth revisiting one of these days, but only once. :-)

I have the Blu-Ray boxset of all six films but I'm in no rush to watch these again anytime soon. I haven't even started devouring all the extras yet.

This is "Duel of the Fates" which was the big new theme Williams came up with for this film. He also used it quite effectively in the other two prequels. (They even played it once on MTV, back when MTV was into that whole "music" thing.)

ScottDS said...

Scott -

I agree with everything you wrote. :-)

The anticipation was palpable and in the end, the movie was just, "Meh." I even remember my bother and I got to see an earlier showing since the theater wasn't as full as they were expecting. (Though, to be fair, it was a school day and we went there right after class.)

The death of Neeson's character was already spoiled by one of the soundtrack cue titles. ("Qui-Gon's Noble End")

I remember Aint It Cool News reviewing Attack of the Clones saying it was so much better than this film and in the end, I don't think that's true. The love story weighs it down too much, but that's an article for another day.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - you know me well enough to understand my understatements :) My expectation when it was released was that it could be victimized by impossible expectations. "my gut tells me that even considering that, it was probably disappointing" is a kind of "Jedism" for my god how could it have sucked that much?" (l.o.l.)

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - Duel of the Fates sounded really good considering all the stuff I had to wade through on the youtube site to get to it. Damn, now I'll probably have to go and cue it up on a DVD just to put in in context. ;)

rlaWTX said...

I know I saw this movie, but are you sure it had anything to do with "Star Wars"?

ScottDS said...

rla -

The jury's still out on that one. :-)

ScottDS said...

Jed -

Sorry about that. There was one ad I had to click through to get to it.

On the DVD, just skip to Darth Maul's first appearance and you'll hear the music. :-)

(The Darth Maul battle is intercut with other stuff, so the theme doesn't play in its entirety. It does over the credits, though.)

djskit said...

1. I felt the first 10 minutes or so really paid off - sitting in the theatre, it just felt like "Star Wars". QuiGon sticking the light saber into the door and the ensuing fight was a high point. The bad guys s***ing thier pants that a pair of Jedi's were after them was priceless.

2. I also enjoyed Mcgregor - his fighting style was much like a caged tiger being released. You can tell he really put a alot into the training leading up to filming.

3. The design of Naboo was spectacular from the Italian locations to the CGI set-up shots.

ScottDS said...

djskit -

I agree, though many people have said they felt disappointed as soon as the opening crawl. Taxation? Trade routes? Hardly exciting stuff.

There's some cool behind the scenes footage of the actors practicing their sword skills - looks like fun!

And yeah, Naboo was a beautiful-looking planet. I believe they shot some of that at the Palace of Caserta.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Great list! I agree about that moment at the end where Palpatine took an interest in Anakin. That felt like, "ok, now the movie really begins." Too bad Lucas squandered that moment.

AndrewPrice said...

ScottDS, I think that Clowns was a good deal worse than this film. It totally lacked any sense of humanity.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, LOL! Nice Jedism!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, This movie is related to Star Wars in the same way the Sci-Fi Channel knockoff films are related to the films they knockoff. "Wars of the Star: Revenge of Sharktopus!"

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, I agree with that. To me, the film doesn't begin to fail until we meet Jimmmy Jar Jar Walker. The first ten minutes, however, felt right. And the images of Naboo were very pretty.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The taxation thing never bothered me because the point was really just to start the story.

Anonymous said...

Curse you, Andrew! You just had to bring up SAND!

Honestly, I don't have much to add. It seems like the best parts- Liam Neeson, the double-edged lightsaber, Palpatine complimenting Anakin at the end- has all been covered. And I can't even agree with everything that's been mentioned here. (I think Red Letter Media's takedown ruined whatever joy I could still squeeze from this celluloid monstrosity.)

Although the red-bladed bo stick was cool, the duel reeked of choreography. Contrast that with 'Empire,' where Vader's clearly a master and Luke seems to have forgotten to earn his yellow belt first.

And on Natalie Portman... (imitates Mr. Plinkett) ohh... BORING. She seems to have only 2 acting modes: stone-faced and monotone; and "Please like me. I'M ACTING!" I'd say an actress with the initials 'Z' and 'D' has greater range, but I'm afraid that Andrew will send a legion of his finest troops and bounty hunters after me. (Is that what that gypsy meant when she saw me wearing a red shirt in the future?)

And...that's about it. Granted, some things could've improved the movie. But that's all I can think of from what was in it.

-Rustbelt

djskit said...

I can't wait for "Questionable Clones" to discuss the epic Chicken Pot Pie Factory scene!

K said...

tryanmax: as far as lightsabers are concerned, the past would be more advanced than the future.

Good explanation! For a while there I just thought that Lucas had swiped the popular at the time Hong Kong cinema movie fighting choreography and stuck it whole into Star Warz - sort of like the "Hidden Fortress" thing. That's one thing I like about popular fantasy/scifi, no matter how derivative you make it, if the SFX are good enough the fans will come up with an explanation to make it work.

As for good things about PM, I'd go with Darth Mall. Great character and it's too bad that they hired a Kung fu expert instead of a real actor so he could have more than a couple of lines. With the make up they could have used the athlete to do the fight scenes and the actor to do the talking stuff. The character should have hung around for at least the next episode to give the Sith guy another henchman.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, LOL! Yep, that sand!

I do like the lightsaber fight at the end, but you are right that it does reek of choreography rather than a real fight. It's too pretty. It feels like one of those Hong Kong movies where everyone moves in perfect harmony like they are dancing.

Yeah... never mention the ZD creature. Arggg. That makes me want to go all Volcano Lair-y!

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, It does feel like a Chicken Pot Pie factory doesn't it! LOL! The first time I saw it, I was laughing at how much they made the scene just so they could put it into a video game. You could almost imagine the game controller buttons as the scene played out. That's pretty pathetic.

AndrewPrice said...

K, I liked Darth Mall a lot, but I thought it was lousy that they did nothing with him. He was little more than a glorified robot.

tryanmax said...

K, LOL, I am totally one of *those* sci-fi fans. If you can find a hole, I can find a way to fill it!

ScottDS said...

Andrew and djskit -

You may know this already but the factory scene was added at the last minute. Somewhere on the DVD, there's footage of Lucas directing Portman on an all-blue set and Portman's like, "You're kidding, right?!"

ScottDS said...

Rustbelt -

I distinctly remember seeing a midnight screening of Clones and while the "sand" scene didn't get much of an audible reaction, there was some unintentional laughter during the fireplace scene (a.k.a. the scene where Portman where's a black leather outfit).

Not exactly the franchise's finest hour. :-)

Mr. Plinkett had a great idea - he said the Queen should've been the one tempting Anakin, not the other way around.

ScottDS said...

K -

I agree, they should've kept Maul around, though I have no problem with the casting. Ray Park certainly has skills and the lack of dialogue makes him that much more intimidating.

And Peter Serafinowicz who did the voice is a gifted performer in his own right. (In this this odd clip, he does 50 impressions in 2 minutes. The joke is that they're all fictional people he's doing impressions of.)

Commander Max said...

The Nubian(the silver ship) was one of the best designs for a ship SW guys ever came up with. I really liked the one in the next movie as well.
Perhaps George was out when they approved it.

I like the pod racing bit, Qui Gon had wasted potential.

I'm finding myself disliking SW more and more. A long time ago it was fun, but now it's just plain dull. It's been going on in one form or another since 1977 that's 36 years. A lot of guys who are on this blog that haven't been around that long. I'm just plain sick of it.

Andrew could you please put up something else to talk about. Perhaps discuss a movie that was out before we were born. Something from the days when they used to make movies, not action shlock made for eight year old's.

BIG MO said...

I’ve mentioned before that I like the prequels, with their warts, bad dialogue, Death Star-sized plot holes and all. But the best parts of Ep 1:

Darth Maul – a former colleague described him as a “caged animal,” especially when the duelists are separated by the force fields: Qui-Gon quietly meditates while Maul prowls like a tiger. And that double light saber: oh, yes! (By the way, if you’ve seen the Clone Wars animated series, Darth Maul returns in a way that actually makes sense. That series got better and better and better.)

Senator Palpatine – Ian McDiarmid relished expanding on the character he played with such glee in RotJ. You see how his mind works: As the architect of the Naboo crisis, he manipulates the queen into getting rid of the current chancellor, clearing the way for his rise to power. And Lucas brilliantly created Palpatine’s dual role as Darth Sidious; both versions of the same man manipulate, suggest, prod and force their way through their respective arenas quite well. As Sidious, he has one of the best lines in the prequels: When Viceroy Nute Gunray (an uninspired name) contacts Sidious, the Trade Federation ship’s captain begins squealing that the whole scheme has failed because two Jedi showed up. Sidious cuts him off by saying “Viceroy, I don’t want this stunted slime in my sight again!” By the by, McDiarmid gives the best performance in all three movies.

The pod race – This was great except for the two-headed announcer. That was too much. But for a Star Wars nerd like me, it was a treat seeing Warwick Davis in the pod race stands (and also as one of Anakin’s alien friends), because Davis played Wicket the Ewok in RotJ.

John Williams’ music – As others have mentioned, “Duel of the Fates” is a masterpiece. It’s a shame, though, that the complete score for Phantom Menace (released as an “Ultimate Edition” or something like that) was poorly received by some fans because of how the tracks were cut. That reception, along with Lucas substituting Ep 2 music for tracks from Ep 1 in the final film, are probably the reasons why the complete scores have not been released for Clones or Sith.

The Naboo N-1 starfighters – yep, another nerd thing, but these fighter craft were every bit as cool as the original movie’s X-wings.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It sounds like something that got added later -- after the videogame people came up with the idea.

ScottDS said...

BIG MO -

I'm "some fans." :-) Yeah, Sony's Ultimate Edition of the score was taken from the edited track, and not Williams' compositions as he originally recorded them. So you get awkward edits and no pauses in between tracks. Someone has posted the complete prequel scores on YouTube, but there are some sound effects and ambient noise here and there (like most bootlegs).

It's a shame that something like Star Wars is too big for the specialty labels to produce but something smaller like Outland can get the 5-star treatment.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Per Wikipedia:

Reshoots were performed in March 2001. During this time, a new action sequence was developed featuring the droid factory after Lucas had decided that the film lacked a quick enough pace in the corresponding time-frame. The sequence's previsualization was rushed, and the live-action footage was shot within four and a half hours.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Prepare for things to get worse because Disney's going to milk the Star Wars universe for bunches of films.

I'll see what I can do about adding older films. We do some already, as we do try to provide a variety (and the Sunday series covers the entire history of entertainment), but it's hard to talk too much about classics because there's very little left to say.

That said, Scott is doing a disaster series which will mainly involve films from the 70s. I've got a list of older movies and a couple foreign movies I intend to talk about. Jed's been good with finding independent films. So there will be more older stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Big Mo, Different people like different things and I can't say that anyone is wrong when it comes to a matter of taste. And truth be told, these do still repeat these films all the time on television, so someone must be watching.

Excellent advocacy for the film, by the way. I agree with much of what you've said, though it wasn't enough for me to like the films all that much. Still, you make good points.

I watched some of the cartoon, but I never saw Maul come back. I think I saw most of the first couple seasons.

Jason said...

I second Darth Maul, the pod race, the two-sided lightsaber, John William’s music, the adult actors. Even Natalie Portman had her moments.

I guess I only have one other thing to add. The movie was…consistent. By that I mean it was a big budget version of those Flash Gordon serials much like Star Wars was…and that’s pretty much it. Lots of laser guns, space battles, flowing capes, exotic costumes, formal dialogue, etc. Nothing for me personally stood out as horrible or grating, not even Jar Jar Binks or Watto, unlike listening to teen-Anakin in the prequels (“I’m so in love with you”….it’s like nails on a chalkboard!). In comparison to the next two prequels, TPM was, again, consistent. It didn’t try and tackle a love story or anything too adult. It was pretty much a sci-fi actioner for kids. So on that level, I thought it was okay.

ScottDS said...

Jason -

A friend of mine has expressed a similar sentiment. Of all the prequels, he thinks Phantom Menace is the best, maybe because it's the most like the originals.

Commander Max said...

Andrew,
Disney can do what it likes, I'm not watching. When you go to all net TV, things are very liberating. I'm out of the entertainment loop these days. By what I've caught glimpses of, I'm not missing a thing.

The only regular show I watch is a modeling show by a buddy of mine. That's on you-tube.
There is one really good thing about being out of the loop, you get more work done.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

I remember that suggestion for Padme's character. Despite a somewhat shady past, Mr. Plinkett sure knows what he's talking about. (His analysis of the Padme/Anakin courtship is spot on.)

However, his suggestion would probably never have seen the light of day. First, I doubt Lucas couldn't have written it convincingly to begin with. And second, the prequels were high as a kite on 'girl power' to bring in the female demographic and- this is Hollywood- please the fem-nazis. No doubt, Lucas would've been condemned for stereotyping Padme and making her seem "needy" (see criticisms of Swan, Bella) if she was pursuing a relationship with Anakin instead of the other way around. So, to please the whiners, (he may very well be one of them), Lucas wrote her as an all too typical career woman. Or was she? Interestingly, I think that's one problem with the character. Lucas couldn't decide what she was.

(continued...)

-Rustbelt

Anonymous said...

Padme starts off as the galaxy's wimpiest, most ineffective peacenik. Then she becomes a whining tag-along. Then she's a completely ineffective politician. Then, suddenly, she's a (lousy) strategist/Naboo special forces/officer/pilot,Jedi-level arena fighter. (All while still stinking at her day job. More law classes, maybe?)
You know, most military men and women spend years training and specializing in one field or another. How does a career diplomat become a super soldier with expertise in everything overnight? Even the Jedi are shown (or hinted at) to require years of training. Honestly, I think the whole over-the-top warrior motif was added to compensate for her having absolutely no leadership abilities or interesting character traits. Look, either she's a politician or a soldier. Make up your mind, George!

Leia showed she wasn't to be messed with by firing one shot and taking out an Imperial redshirt, er, uh, stormtrooper at the start of the first movie! Of course, holding her ground with Vader and Tarkin established a lot about her character as well. (Such scenes are completely lacking in the prequels.)

And interestingly, I think this shows how much better the characters in the original movies were. Each brought their own skills to the story and didn't walk on each other's turf. We don't see Luke strategizing for the Rebellion. We don't see Han conducting diplomacy. We don't see Leia piloting a B-wing. They all fill a particular role and fill those roles well.

Conclusion, Padme was boring because there was nothing to her. According to 'Secret History of Star Wars,' Lucas admitted the 'Mother Skywalker' character was troublesome because he'd never factored her into the back story. He just threw ideas for her at the wall to see what would stick- and every one slid off like a puck on ice.

Queen/Senator Padme Amidala: dull as SAND!

-Rustbelt

Anonymous said...

Note: that was supposed to be "could NOT have written it convincingly"

-Rustbelt

ScottDS said...

Rustbelt -

Interesting. It's been said before but one wonders what a better writer could've done with the character. It's like one of those generic character descriptions: "She's a diplomat, but also a warrior. She'd prefer to use words but she's great with a blaster, too."

Sometimes it's best to pick one or the other. Not every character is Captain Kirk. (i.e. an experienced soldier-slash-diplomat)

You can argue some of Anakin's impulsive behavior rubbed off on her in the second and third films but if that's the case, then it wasn't handled well at all.

Dave Olson said...

"Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to find three good things to say about Episode One, the most reviled piece of cinemanure since Waterworld. Good luck."

OK, I'll bite.

1) It's better than "Battlefield: Earth".
2) It inspired Red Letter Media's epic review.
3) It ended.

All right, that was cruel. And flippant.

1) As has been mentioned before, the music. John Williams is the Mozart of the movies. I heard "Duel of the Fates" on the local NPR classical station about a month before the movie came out and I was even more pumped to see it because I knew that anything "Star Wars" would be great. Maybe that's why Episode 1 was such a disappointment.

2) The ending. Not just that it ends (but that's a VERY good thing) but the last few minutes are better than the rest of the movie. Palpatine meets Annakin. We see Yoda walking around without Frank Oz. Qui-gon Jinn gets cremated. And there's a parade. Yes, I liked the Gungan/Naboo ceremony at the end. Sue me.

3) Some of the designs are actually pretty cool. The Queen's spaceship looked like a silver-plated SR-71. The Senate chamber was very well-realized. (Who spotted the ET's in the theater?) And the double-bladed lightsaber was a pretty cool concept.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I would agree with that. There is a consistency in this film. It's hard to put your finger on it, but the way to describe it is "consistent." I also think the absence of angry-teen Anakin helped this film compared to the next two. Though, Binks pushes me beyond my tolerance.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, True. Television can eat up large chunks of your life. For me it's all become white noise, however, so it doesn't bother me.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Despite a somewhat shady past! LOL!

You raise some good points about Padme. She's not a very effective character at all and I think what she's missing is that establishing shot where she shows what she's made of. Basically, we hear how great and wise she is, but we never see it. And she doesn't even seem that brave until the very end.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, Excellent lists! LOL!

I was honestly shocked how bad Battlefield Earth was. I knew it wasn't going to be good, but wow did it just keep getting stupider and sstupider.

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