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Teen Movie Critic

Jamey Hughton

June 16, 1999

Jamey Hughton is a 15 yr old student in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has written a weekly published column, MOVIE VIEWS for The StarPhoenix, the Saskatoon daily paper, since November, 1997. He was honoured to be a 1999 Writing Finalist in the Canadian YTV Achievement Awards.

He maintains a Web site MOVIE VIEWS by Jamey Hughton.

His reviews are now also found at: IMDb, MRQE and the Newsgroup.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

With all the hype that Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace has been receiving, it seems almost impossible to avoid interest in seeing the film. The movie is easily the most anticipated motion picture ever, with a marketing campaign so strong it has brought Colonel Sanders, the Taco Bell Chihuahua and Pizza Hut together. Can George Lucas succeed yet again with transporting us back a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....?

YES. This Star Wars prequel may be the worst of the bunch, with amateurish dialogue and an overall lack of humanity. But that doesn’t mean it fails to comply on the basis of solid entertainment. The Phantom Menace features the most eye-catching, jaw-dropping visual look in cinematic history. The tremendous action sequences will have you clinging to your arm rest, and the special effects are nothing short of the best (and most plentiful) to ever be caught on film.

The vast digitized worlds and sheer imagination that was applied to this project is astounding. The Phantom Menace is a delectable feast for the senses, even if it has some disappointing aspects.

After we’re treated to the famous prologue in the sky, with John Williams’ thundering score, we meet Qui-Gon Jonn (Liam Neeson) and young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), a Jedi master and his trainee, Padawan. They are on the ship accommodating the fleet headquarters for the evil Trade Federation, and have been sent to settle disputes regarding the taxation of trade routes to the planet of Naboo.

Oh, but enough about that. The prime concern for this prequel is introducing young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) into the picture. As you already know, this seemingly charming lad is the boy who will soon become Darth Vader.

A spectacular pod race comes soon hereafter. This particular race is the most exciting, energetic, high-octane action sequence that you’ll ever see. One of the delights of the series is meeting the newest set of strange alien creatures that Lucas has devised, and The Phantom Menace is no exception. I loved Sebulba, the rat-like scoundrel whom Anakin has to face in the pod race, and Boss Nass, the leader of the Gungans (who are a neighbouring species to Naboo). One character who has been subject to criticism is Jar Jar Binks, a member of the Gungan race. Jar Jar speaks like Roger Rabbit on a hallucinogenic drug, and is there for the sole purpose of supplying comic relief. Yes, he is initially annoying, but I can admit to laughing over some of his harmless, goofy antics. The reappearance of some familiar faces do perfectly with the task of rekindling us with the Force. C-3PO is back and as snooty as ever, but cute little R2-D2 plays an even bigger role in assisting Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan on their dangerous quest. Jabba the Hutt has an amusing cameo appearance as he watches over the pod race, and Frank Oz once again does a marvelous job of lending voice to a younger, greener, but still very wise Yoda. Samuel L. Jackson plays Jedi Master Mace Windu, in an effective but altogether meaningless role. Jackson’s character would have been better suited to an actor of less stature, as his appearance distracts us from the meaning of the scene.

Also in the human casting department, Neeson carries the film on his shoulders with a truly veteran performance. McGregor does an exceptional job of impersonating Alec Guinness (the actor who would later portray Obi-Wan Kenobi), but his role in the film has been unfortunately reduced to a loyal sidekick. Natalie Portman is believable enough as Queen Amidala, the ruler of planet Naboo. If there is one noticeable defect, it’s the performance of Lloyd in the most vital role in the movie. I have nothing against the boy’s acting abilities, which are quite impressive for his age, but his presence and use of childish dialogue does little to enforce the other important plot aspects. Young Anakin is viewed as just your average munchkin here, although a few scenes of obvious foreshadowing are wonderfully placed.

There is some lack of dramatic pull in this Star Wars entry, but the presentation almost makes you forget the plot and character lapses. The final light-saber battle, between the Jedi’s and the horrific (and terminally underused) villain Darth Maul, is spectacular to behold. Played by martial artist Ray Park and wielding a double-bladed saber, Maul has great agility and speed, providing this breathtaking scene with all that extra oomph.

The Phantom Menace of the title is Darth Sidious, a mysterious cloaked bad guy who we never get to actually see (he seems to be looking at the floor tiles in every scene). The battle droids he dispatches onto Naboo are a much needed break from the boring Stormtrooper, and they come in many inventive shapes and forms.

Lucas has not forget how to captivate an audience, even if his latest shows obvious signs of tiredness. One can only wonder what the possible technology will present for the next two installments, Episode’s I and II. When they arrive, you’ll know where to find me.

My Rating = Three Stars

Jamey Hughton can be reached directly at movieviews@hotmail.com.
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