Well cinemagoers, Star Wars fanatics and you, the reading public, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting and asking for: a brand spanking new re-release of the Star Wars Saga. This February, you’ll be able to relive all of your favourite characters from Jar Jar Binks, Nute Gunray, Princess Amidala and young Anakin Skywalker by revisiting The Phantom Menace in cinemas, only this time in 3D. Are you excited? Have you already booked your ticket? Are you sweating and shaking in nervous anticipation? If the answer is yes to all those questions, then what the hell is wrong with you?
The various elements of The Phantom Menace have been critically evaluated over and over again, the ground has been very suitably ploughed in this area and I don’t want to repeat anything that many people (who are far more intelligent than myself) have already said. With this re-release, all that was wrong with the film back in 1999 remains: the pre-school dialogue, the plank-like acting, the incredibly egregious racist characterizations and the whole plotless, pointlessness of the entire film. None of it has been solved by forcing it into a stereoscopic vision, which it didn’t need in the first place.
So with that in mind, my question with this review is not “What is wrong with the film?” but simply “Why?”. Why, if you aren’t going to change anything that was hated by so many people from the first time round, would you choose the re-release it? Why are we having to suffer again a film that nobody wanted in the first place? And why now? The first question is not difficult to answer, because if you cut everything that was really bad out of the film then you’d have two scenes. The second question is a little more complicated. But it has everything to do with the 3D.
3D only adds another element with which to criticize the film negatively. As with all conversion jobs the 3D here is absolutely awful, the framing is not suitable for 3D and cinematography hasn’t leant itself to the 3D cinematographic process unlike films shot in 3D. It looks dim, cut out, headache inducing and simply annoying. The sight of Jar Jar Binks and his tongue flickering out in the third dimension is just as reprehensible as it sounds. Beyond that this is an interesting establishment moment in terms of the 3D re-release and what it means for us at this stage in the format’s revival.
We have been told that 3D is now a staple of Hollywood and many, if not all, studio films will soon come to us in a 3D version. But in the past few months we’ve seen big 3D Hollywood releases flop, with the notable exceptions of Harry Potter and Transformers, but they weren’t successful because of the 3D but due to their pre-sold franchise fanbase. Other films just failed to set the box office alight. The film that was set to be the big saviour of 3D was Hugo. Yet despite the film being a huge artistic success and receiving numerous Oscar nominations, it has commercially tanked, proving that original 3D releases aren’t guaranteed hits. So we’re seeing a strange time now where studios are turning to re-releasing notable hits in order to convince themselves that 3D is still a viable industry.
It’s no coincidence that the most successful 3D film of the past 6 months was The Lion King in 3D. In two months we’re going to get Titanic in 3D, soon we’ll have Top Gun and now, and for the next 6 years, we have Star Wars. George Lucas has been quoted as saying that “watching a movie in 3D is simply a better way to watch a movie. It’s like watching a film in black and white versus colour. Watching a film in black and white is fine but colour makes it look more real.” I’m going to leave aside the ridiculous statement about colour making films “more real”, whatever the hell that means anyway, and focus on what the implication of George Lucas‘ statement is.
He believes that his 3D conversion of Star Wars has improved the film as a viewing experience and therefore improved it as an artistic endeavour. Two problems, in regards to 3D affecting the artistry of a film, it simply doesn’t. 3D is an annoying gimmick that needs to be forgotten, it has been revived time and time again over the course of film history and each time it has sunk like a stone.
The same thing is happening now, its just that studios are in denial about it and James Cameron is clinging onto it because his name is synonymous with the medium. The other problem is the implication that these Star Wars re-releases are for the integrity of the film medium. Ever since 1999, when The Phantom Menace was first released it was clear that George Lucas was no longer in the industry for the art or for the fans but was only in it for the money.
This 3D bastardization is nothing more than a financial decision for Lucas. I wasn’t sure that Lucas could squeeze anymore money out of the already parched cash cow that is the Star Wars Saga but 3D has allowed him to do so. Like Watto, Lucas has a money grubbing trickster mind and his fans are his slave kids, who are forced to do his bidding out of hope that one day they will be freed of Lucas fiddling around with something treasured by many.
For him it is water off a duck’s back, he clearly no longer gives a damn about those people who have remained loyal to him even through Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen and every time a new piece of technology comes about, he can further bastardize that product which people hold so dear to them. David Fincher recently professed a dislike for altering films after they’ve been released to the world and the fans:
I just think a movie’s an expression of a time and a place. It’s where you are in your career, it’s where all the actors are in their careers. I just don’t believe in changing that.
He’s absolutely right, once the film is over it belongs to the annals of history, people fell in love with the original versions of the Star Wars movies because they are an artifact of where the film medium was at that time. George Lucas‘ additions and alterations over the past 15 years now show us more than ever that he isn’t a filmmaker but is a bean counter, a money man. And this only becomes more apparent when the content of The Phantom Menace is looked at with a critical eye. It is an embarrassing film, that has no redeeming features, lacks any sense of quality and goes further to be (un)intentionally offensive. It easily ranks as one of the worst Hollywood films ever made.
It would be very gratifying for many of us if the fans enacted a revolt against George Lucas and stayed away from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D in their droves. It won’t happen though, the film will likely be a gargantuan hit and George will have won. That alone is a reason to despair about humanity.