JACK THE GIANT SLAYER & THE LAST EXORCISM PART II: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:09

CG giants threaten humanity in JACK THE GIANT SLAYER.
CG giants threaten humanity in JACK THE GIANT SLAYER.

Once again, America has taken a look at the latest revisionist fairy tale and sighed a collective, “Why?” JACK THE GIANT SLAYER flopped at the box-office in its opening weekend, despite a mammoth budget, attractive leads, and director Bryan Singer expanding the story of a humble peasant vs. a ravenous giant into something that incorporates a plucky princess, an enchanted crown, a sardonic soldier, a war between giants and humanity, and much, (maybe too) much more. But is the audience’s resounding apathy deserved? Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they discuss this 3D attempt to do bigger better and weigh whether this version distinguishes itself from the revisionist lot, or is just more fee-fi-fo-fum.
Plus: Steve gives his capsule review of THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, and what’s coming to theaters next week. [NOTE: the podcast capsule is spoiler free. For a more in-depth look at what’s wrong – and almost right – about the ending, check out the review posted here.]


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Jack the Giant Slayer: Review

Jack-the-Giant-Slayer-Poster-439x650There’s no magic in this beanstalk, and viewers foolish enough to spend money on tickets are likely to feel as cheated as Jack when told he’s been swindled out of a horse and cart for a few worthless beans. The root of the problem lies in a fatal uncertainty about exactly what JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is supposed to be: a grim fairy tale, a light-hearted adventured, or an epic LORD OF THE RINGS knock-off. Whatever the intent, with its British flavor and oddball mix of humor and horror applied to a fanciful childhood tale, the film recalls JABBERWOCKY (1977). The misbegotten result would seem to suggest that only Terry Gilliam should direct Terry Gilliam films. (After all, if he couldn’t get it right, why should we expect anyone else to?)
The jumbled screenplay (credited to four different writers) mixes in bits of “Jack the Giant Killer,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and the “King Incognito” plot device (in which a royal personage takes on the guise of a peasant in order to get a street-level view of the kingdom). There is also a love story and a villain plotting to overthrow a kingdom, and needless to say, there is a third-act ogre battle.
If this sounds like more than enough to fill up an entertaining movie, then I am not doing my job, because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER feels empty – of warmth, romance, humor, and most especially wonder. The exposition plods; the jokes fall flat; the adventure stalls; and the love story withers on the … beanstalk, I guess.
Director Bryan Singer is undoubtedly talented, but he does not have the required deft touch for this sort of thing, nor does his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. The opening prologue is a cut-rate version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS, telling us what we need to know without making us care. The “clever” cross cutting between Isabelle the Princess and Jack the farm boy foreshadows their eventual union, but the parallels are ridiculously exact and leave the end result in absolutely no doubt, so that the love story feels over before it begins.

Two heads are not better than one for this giant
Two heads are not better than one for this giant

Unable to install a Sense of Wonder into the proceedings, Singer and McQuarrie eventually resort to visceral  shocks. Giants (whose visages are impressively detailed if not cleverly designed or particularly expressive) munch and crunch their victims, both animal and human, which seems a bit daring (though not explicit, thanks to the PG-13 rating), but in the end it amounts to little more than gratuitous titillation, something seen and then forgotten in time for the happy ending.
In a way, this points up the difficult of transferring fairy tales to the screen. The strength of the original lies in its simplicity and in its literary form: terrible things happen – as when, for example, the Big Bad Wolf devours the first two of the Three Little Pigs – but those deaths are abstract and symbolic on the page, a warning that bad behavior leads to bad ends, while the audience identification figure survives by doing the right thing. The characters are archetypal, without distinguishing details to bring them to life in a way that would make them mourn their demise. Children can enjoy these stories without being traumatized, enjoying the thrill of fear and the cathartic satisfaction when their hero triumphs, often by exactly a grizzly retribution on the villain – a safe, simple morality tale that works precisely because there is no gray area to cloud the issue. Movies, which usually at least attempt to create individual characters have it a lot tougher; the visceral impact is stronger, eclipsing the moral point, which in any case is usually not profound enough to warrant being expanded beyond a few pages.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER certainly has little to say that would suffice to justify the running time. Unless you think it is profound wisdom to opine people of lowly station may aspire to something bigger. Or that a princess should get to know her kingdom. Or that her father shouldn’t marry her off to a scoundrel. Strangely, for all its attempts to build Eleanor up as a strong female lead, her role remains that of a damsel in distress; her appearance in armor is just another form of bling, not indicating that she is actually going to do anything.
Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor

But wait, not all is lost. Although romantic leads Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson are undermined by the script insistence on keeping them bland (Hoult made a much better lover when he was a zombie in WARM BODIES), the supporting cast shine through. Ewan McGregor is dashing as the princess guard, Elmont; his confident smile hits just the right tone – almost tongue-in-cheek, but not quite. Ian McShane is an impressive king. Bill Nighy provides an intimidating voice for the lead giant, General Fallon.
Best of all is Stanley Tucci as the scheming Roderick. In fact, he is too good. He makes you hate him so much you want to see him dispatched with – well – dispatch, but if and when that happens, what else has the movie got?
Stanely Tucci steals the giant's throne - and the movie.
Stanely Tucci steals the giant's throne - and the movie.

Well, the film does have that colossal confrontation toward the conclusion, when the giants rain down on humanity like organic meteors. The siege is reasonably well done because it relies not only on visual flair (giants hurling burning trees over the castle walls) but also on at least halfway believable depictions of how a human army might attempt to hold off a horde of giants. Truthfully, a bit more could have been done with this (showcasing – for example – how leverage might be applied by a smaller adversary to topple a larger foe), but at least the screenplay pulls off an interesting variation on “Chekov’s Gun” (you know, the one that’s loaded in the first act and therefore must be fired in the third) – in this case, a leftover magic bean that Jack puts to good use at a crucial moment.
As is almost obligatory these days, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is being presented in 3D engagements. Although officially not a post-production conversion, the film often looks like one. The early quiet scenes (of our lead characters as children, listening to bedtime stories) do provide a nice sense of depth, as the production design offers a genuine fairy tale ambiance. But once Jack and the Princess grow to young adulthood, and the action-adventure elements take over, Singer opts for camera angles and lens choices that create a resolutely flat look, with only a mild separation between the characters and the backgrounds. In a few cases, when we see human from the POV of giants looking down, the results are noticeably bizarre, with the human form stretched to ridiculous proportions, suggesting Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.
Nicholas Hoult rides the beanstalk
Nicholas Hoult rides the beanstalk

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is another sad example of a big-budget movie with all the production value Hollywood can offer (including a fine score by John Ottman) but little in the way of inspiration. If not for the spark of life provided by the cast, the film would be dead as a diver after leaping off the rocky cliffs of the giant’s land in the clouds. In striving to be big in execution, the film feels small in imagination – a fact strangely underlined in Singer’s occasional choice of downward camera angles that lend a diminutive-looking stature to the giants. Taking something meant to be large and making it look small is no great accomplishment. If, instead, Singer had taken Warwick Davis (who shows up in a bit part) and cast him as a giant – now, that would have shown at least a touch of wit.
[rating=2]
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013). Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney; story by Darren Lemke & David Dobkin. A production by Warner Brothers Pictures, New Line Entertainment, Legendary Pictures. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, Warwick Davis, Bill Nighy.

Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace 3D & Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – CFQ Spotlight Podcast 3:6

Phantom_Menace_Feature_Image_v01

There was no shortage of curiosity when George Lucas announced that he was converting his STAR WARS features to 3D, and no little disappointment when it was revealed that the first film to undergo the process would be the almost universally reviled EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE. Nevertheless here we are at the longest of those long times ago, back in that galaxy far, far away, watching once more as Jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his talented padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) try to rescues Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) from the clutches of the evil Trade Federation, in the process stumbling upon Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young boy with such formidable attributes — including single-handedly building C-3PO and having just by chance been born of immaculate conception — that he might well be the Chosen One, the one destined to bring Balance to the Force. That is, if instead he doesn’t turn to the Dark Side and become… well, let’s just say the name rhymes with Marth Frader.
Our special guest, chronicrift.com‘s John Drew, joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they revisit the newly dimensionalized version of this “first” installment and discuss whether the upgrade is worth donning the special, “Collectible Keepsake” 3D glasses. Also: Larry and Steve give their capsule reviews of JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Plus: What’s coming in theaters and on home video.

GOING TO GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE THIS WEEKEND?
TWEET YOUR #WalkAwayReview TO @cfqspotlight
(Please don’t tweet during the movie!)

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Ewan McGregor Joins Gilliam's Don Quixote


Actor Ewan McGregor
Actor Ewan McGregor

Empire Online have been talking to director Terry Gilliam (TWELFTH MONKEYS, BRAZIL) at the Cannes film festival and it appears Ewan McGregor (STAR WARS, THE ISLAND) has been cast in his latest film, THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.

DON QUIXOTE is a fantasy/sci-fi film about an advertising executive who, after finding himself unstuck in time, unwittingly travels between modern day London and 17th century La Mancha where he participates in the adventures of Don Quixote. This is Gilliam’s second attempt at making the film; the earlier version started production in 2000 but was halted by the constant noise of overhead fighter jets, the lead actor attaining a torn spine and even a flash flood. The production was a notorious failure for the director and even spawned a documentary on the subject, LOST IN LA MANCHA.
After finishing work on his last film THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS,  however, Gilliam decided to revisit DON QUIXOTE and resumed production on the film in 2009. Robert Duvall (THX, THE ROAD) has replaced Jean Rochefort as the titular QUIXOTE and now Ewan McGregor has been cast as the advertising executive, replacing Johnny Depp (who is probably too busy with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4). Gilliam had this to say of his new cast:

“Robert Duvall is one of the greats, no question – and he can ride a horse! And Ewan has gotten better over the years. He was wonderful in The Ghost. There’s a lot of colours to Ewan that he’s not been showing recently and it’s time for him to show them again. He’s got a great sense of humour and he’s a wonderful actor. He’s wonderfully boyish and can be charming – when he flashes a smile, everybody melts. He wields it like a nuclear bomb!”

Gilliam also stated that the budget of the movie will be around $20 million, a lot less than the $35 million he had to play with way back in 2000. Gilliam has been through so much with this film, and the idea sounds so good, that we should all be praying to the movie gods it finally gets made this time around.

Nanny McPhee Returns theatrical release date

nanny_mcphee_and_the_big_bangAfter being released as NANNY MCPHEE AND THE BIG BANG in the U.K. (its country of origins), NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS arrives on U.S. screens with a new title, courtesy of Universal Pictures releases. this sequel to NANNY MCPHEE (2005) recycles the same basic set-up, a sort of riff on MARY POPPINS, about a magical nanny who works miracles with difficult children (although she does not fly with an umbrella).  Emma Thompson once again writes the script (based on the books by Christianna Brand) and takes the title role, supported by Ralph Fiennes, Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Maggie Smith. Susanna White directed. The response from English critics was not wildly enthusiastic: apparently the story is episodic and too similar to the first film.
U.S. release date: August 20.
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Star Wars, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Picking up from the disappointing ATTACK OF THE CLONES, this film finally showed audiences the only plot development that made the prequel trilogy (including THE PHANTOM MENACE) interesting: how Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side of the Force and became Darth Vader. Despite some quibbling, the critical consensus emerged that this is the best of the three prequels, even if it fails to live up to the glory of the original STAR WARS trilogy (particularly the original and its first sequel THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK).
Interestingly, on top of the expected wave of media attention focused on box office receipts and fan adulation, the film even generated some fairly high-profile political controversy, due to the perception that George Lucas had inserted some not-so-subtle Bush-bashing, with the film interpreted as a thinly-veiled commentary on the war in Iraq. Lucas himself partially disavowed this connection, insisting that the real parallel is with the Vietnam War, which was much on his mind when he first conceived the saga back in the 1970s. Nevertheless, Lucas admitted that the “parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we’re doing in Iraq now are unbelievable.”
Of course, being the best STAR WARS film since EMPIRE STRIKES BACK isn’t saying much, when you consider what came between: RETURN OF THE JEDI, THE PHANTOM MENACE, and ATTACK OF THE CLONES. EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH is better because it lacks, for the most part, the egregiously annoying elements that marred the intervening episodes: there are no Ewoks, no Jar-Jar dialogue, no tiny tot version of Anakin blasting the bad guys like something out of a bad Disney kiddie flick. Unfortunately, there is still romance — and it’s still terribly bad; fortunately, there’s not as much of it.


In short, the film is watchable, though often ponderous and dull. The outstanding feature of the original STAR WARS was that it was fresh and energetic. At the time, Lucas’ ambition fell well within his grasp: a child of the movie-going era that yielded cynical ’70s paranoid thrillers like THE PARALLAX VIEW and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, Lucas turned back the clock to a simpler time when movies were exuberant fun. His inspirations were clearly old-time serials like FLASH GORDON, which he dressed up in modern technology, using skilled craftsmanship to make the material seem new and invigorating, even though it was all very familiar.
After Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, in their famous PBS interview, cited the original STAR WARS as an example of archetypal mythic story-telling, Lucas gradually fell prey to a grandiose ambition that did exceed his grasp, and to a large extent that reaches its climax in REVENGE, which plays out like a Wagnerian operatic tragedy — with a humorless, heavy hand guiding the proceedings.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Lucas cannot abandon his silly kiddie pandering. The early scenes in the film are filled with ridiculous comic relief, including Keystone Cops-style droids that speak in silly voices and say things like “Uh oh” before falling beneath the Jedi sword. R2-D2 doesn’t fly this time, but he does pop up into the air like a spring-loaded practical joke.
What partially redeems the film is that its position in the saga allows for some actual suspense, with a sense of inevitable doom as all the things we have been expecting finally come to pass: the Jedi are wiped out, and Anakin Skywalker finally turns into Darth Vader. In effect, this is the only film of the prequel trilogy that tells a story worth telling.
The special effects are terribly overdone, all flash and noise instead of clean and clear. Some of the battle scenes are nicely staged, and the confrontation between Obi-Wan and Anakin/Darth Vader actually carries some measure of dramatic weight — something sadly lacking in the series since EMPIRE.
As for the alleged political subtext, it is clearly there, and just as clearly it is not specific to Iraq and George W. Bush. In the film, the Republic gives up freedom for security — didn’t Benjamin Franklin have something to say about that centuries ago? Chancellor Palpatine uses the continuing war as a pretext to manipulate popular opinion so that he can maintain and strengthen his hold on power — not too dissimilar from what happens in Orwell’s 1984. Anakin says, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy” — echoing a statement that harkens all the way back to the New Testament.
The only moment that feels thrown in as a contemporary dig is when Obi-Wan responds to Anakin’s statement by saying, “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” This is clearly inconsistent with the whole STAR WARS saga, which has always been a fairy tale world of Good and Evil painted in the most absolute terms. We can either chalk this up to bad writing on the part of Lucas, or we can see it as being intentionally thrown in as a comment on the current political situation, in which the absolutist views of the current administration have led to an unprovoked war that has cost thousands of lives.
Surprisingly, amidst all the talk of politics, it seems that most (if not all) commentators have missed the homo-erotic subtext permeating the film. The love story between Anakin and Padme never generates any sparks, but the seduction of Anakin to the Dark Side by Palpatine does. During a relatively early confrontation, the chancellor croons seductively, “I can feel the Force in you!” Later, when Anakin finally turns evil, a prostrate Palpatine lets out an almost orgasmic sigh of ecstasy. (One waits in vain for him to ask Anakin, “Is that a light saber in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me.”)
Bottom line: REVENGE OF THE SITH is no masterpiece, and it comes nowhere near recapturing the glory of STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But it is a decent, if unduly serious, summer popcorn movie, filled with enough good moments to make it worth viewing, in spite of the clunky dialogue (like the use of the word “younglings” for “children,” which occurs three times and sounds more absurd each time). It’s not a total embarrassment, and discerning audiences should be grateful for that.

ABSURDITIES

In spite of the entertaining action, REVENGE OF THE SITH is flawed in a variety of fairly fundamental ways. Most obviously, on a narrative level, it falls prey to a series of plot absurdities, many of them caused by contradictions in the previous films that were left untied until this final episode. For instance, we’re clearly told that C-3PO has his memory erased (to explain why he recognizes no familiar faces in the original trilogy), but it’s not clear that the same is done to R2-D2, leaving viewers to wonder whether he does indeed recognize Yoda, et al, when they show up in Episodes IV-V.
A couple other curious omissions and/or credibility gaps:

  • Anakin and Padme supposedly keep their marriage a secret. Two problems with this: 1) She is obviously pregnant, a fact everyone simply seems to ignore until near the end. 2) She shares an apartment with Anakin with a panoramic upper-floor window, easily viewed by hundreds of flying vehicles. (Apparently, there are no snooping paparazzi in a “galaxy far, far away.” Can’t you just imagine the tabloid headlines: “Princess Pregnant – Jedi Mind Tricks, or the Dark Side of the Force?”
  • Late in the film, Padme tells Anakin that Obi-Wan has come by to ask about Anakin’s well-being. Two obvious questions: 1) If Padme’s marriage to Anakin is secret, why did Obi-wan come to ask her about Anakin? 2) Why didn’t the increasingly suspicious Anakin ask Question #1?
  • At the conclusion, Yoda and Obi-Wan want to ensure the safety of Padme’s two newborn children. They wisely give the daughter up to adoptive parents who will raise her under their name (Organa), thus concealing her identity. But poor Luke retains his familiar “Skywalker” surname. Even worse, pondering where the boy will be safe, Yoda opts to leave him with his “family” (i.e., the step-family that Anakin met in CLONES, whom we will see in A NEW HOPE) . In effect, Yoda puts Luke on the one planet in the galaxy — Anakin’s original home! — where Darth might conceivably think of looking.

STAR WARS, EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH(2005). Written & Directed by George Lucas. Cast: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiramid, Jimmy Smitts, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Christopher Lee.
Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski
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Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Film Review

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE is the first film in the so-called “Prequel Trilogy,” which provides the back story of how Anakin Skywalker turned to the Dark Side of the Force and became Darth Vader, the cybotic villain seen in the original STAR WARS trilogy. Unfortunately, the film is marred by the fact that its very existence is unnecessary: nothing in it tells us anything we need to know in order to appreciate STAR WARS (1977) or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) or even the lamentable RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). The story seems padded out from a few scraps of ideas, with little significant exposition, and the little information given seems contradictory to what was established in the earlier films. Overall, more effort seems to have gone into juicing up the film with a handful of special effects highlights (the pod race, the three-way light saber duel) and with reintroducing familiar characters (the droids, Obi-Wan, Jabba the Hutt, Yoda) whether or not the film needed them.
Clearly, there is something wrong with a film, when the loudest applause occurs as the curtain goes up, in anticipation of, rather than response to, what is being seen. That is the case with STAR WARS, EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE, the highly hyped prequel that gives 1998’s GODZILLA a run for its money as an over-anticipated disappointment. The audience (after a masterfully orchestrated promotional campaign, after months of trailers and weeks of commercials and cover stories, after waiting in line for days to buy tickets and for hours to get a seat) has been led to expect that this is the major event of the year. With that kind of build-up, the excitement in the theatre is almost palpable as the lights go down. There is only one problem: the film has to deliver.
THE PHANTOM MENACE falls short in this regard. It is not a completely terrible film, at least compared to the disaster that was RETURN OF THE JEDI. But in a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, more creativity has been lavished on getting you into the theatre than on pleasing you once you get there. The story starts well, with the Trade Federation’s blockade of planet Naboo; for a time, it seems as if Lucas is taking a page from Frank Herbert’s Dune, with his handling of political machinations in a science-fiction context. Soon, however, trouble arises from the fact that the audience is well ahead of the characters. We already know that Senator Palpatine is the “phantom menace” of the title, manipulating the Federation to his own ends — despite the fact that Lucas keeps his face hidden when he appears as a Sith Lord to his Federation stooges.


Despite this built-in predictability, the film maintains initial interest thanks to Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, who make as dashing a pair of Jedi Knights as one could wish. But after they sneak the Queen off of her besieged planet, the momentum drags. The problem is that Lucas now has to tie these events into the storyline of the original trilogy, so he spends time introducing characters (R2D2, Jabba the Hut, C-3PO, and of course Anakin Skywalker) who contribute little to this new story. (In a rare surprise, C-3PO turns out to have been created on Tattoine by Anakin. So why doesn’t he recognize his home planet when he lands in STAR WARS? Presumably Lucas will offer an explanation later, about as convincing as Obi Wan’s “I was telling you the truth” speech in JEDI.) In effect, the plot becomes a mere prologue, relying for its impact not on anything exciting in itself but on the connections to STAR WARS. Thus Obi Wan promises to train Anakin as a Jedi, and Palpatine promises to keep an eye on his progress — trivial scenes that are supposed to resonate deeply because of the story we already know.
But lets face it: no one expected great drama; we wanted all the exuberance of flying through space and battling evil that $100-million could buy. In this regard, the film delivers — at intervals. Space ships and interstellar travel are portrayed to excellent effect, but the momentum never builds, thanks to a screen time padded past two hours and ten minutes — a lethargic pace that lags behind the original’s quick tempo.
Elsewhere, the ubiquitous computer effects are meant to be impressive for their own sake: as each new creature appears, we are supposed to react in awe: “Look, another digitally created character!” However, these animated actors look too much like what they are: computer-generated cartoons. It’s as if ANTZ and A BUG’S LIFE were trying to pass off their outtakes as part of a live-action film. Aggravating matters, these technical marvels strike a decidedly juvenile tone that falls far short of Lucas’ alleged mythic aspirations. The villains are mostly robots, so no one will be offended at seeing them blown up by a little boy. And Jar Jar Binks, the film’s equivalent of Chewbacca, is merely exasperating, his comedy relief gibberish supposedly funny just because it is gibberish. As with Chewbacca, this saves Lucas from having to write coherent dialogue. We always knew what the Wookie was saying, however, thanks to Han Solo’s responses. With Jar Jar, we are left shaking our heads, even when we do catch the occasional recognizable phrase.
Having not directed since STAR WARS, Lucas has lost whatever touch he had with actors. With solid professionals (including Terence Stamp, wasted in a bit), this causes no problem, but the younger cast suffers. Jake Lloyd is a stiff. Natalie Portman is regal in her Queen regalia but lifeless when posing in her alter ego role as the Queen’s handmaid. (And what’s up with those ridiculous outfits that suggest not a galaxy far, far away but a Halloween drag parade in West Hollywood?)
Not surprisingly, the film comes to life mostly when characterization takes a back seat to action. Highlights include Anakin’s triumph in the pod race (a science-fiction update on BEN HUR’s famous chariot race); and the final light saber against Darth Maul is outstanding. But even the visuals are often derivative: for the second time, the devilish villain falls to his death down a bottomless tunnel; and for the third time the climax involves an aerial attack that explodes a massive enemy target in outer space. Even the exciting moments (and there are a few) fail to lift the film above mid-level quality. The applause as the curtain goes down has an obligatory air, as people try to convince themselves that they have not been too disappointed. But they deserved much more than they got. They deserved a great movie designed for the ten-year-old in us all, not a film designed for ten-year-olds.
STAR WARS, EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999). Written and Directed by George Lucas. Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels.
Copyright 1999 Steve Biodrowski