MAY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 5



CURRENT

FEATURE
The Phantom Menace

ALSO THIS MONTH
Star Wars Saga Returns
The Matrix Reviewed

RELATED ARTICLE
Top Ten Darth Vader Secrets

LAST MONTH
Analyze This
Tribute to Stanley Kubrick

ARCHIVES



Sound Bites
Grading from A-F


THE PHANTOM MENACE
Movie Soundtrack:
John Williams returns with his golden touch to score yet another Star Wars soundtrack. Like no other modern composer, Williams' scores stir the right emotions and push the action forward, creating a landscape that completes the films. His past scores from the original "Star Wars", "Jaws" and the Indiana Jones movies evoke lasting memories of different scenes and are forever tied to the movie going experience. The soundtrack for "The Phantom Menace" is no different. If anything, this score provided Williams with a greater than normal challenge as he had to blend unique, original music with shadows and hints of his original work.

The playful music surrounding the presence of Anakin has an eeirly dark side that hints at the powerful force that he is to come in the later episodes. Qui-Gon's themes are, fittingly, noble and dignified, while Darth Maul's entrance score is as dark and troubling as his appearance.

Simply put, John Williams is a modern musical master who, in any other century, would be viewed as a genius. Unfortunately, orchestral music is now viewed as background music only - a classification that couldn't be further from the truth given the power and importance of Williams' soundtracks.
[Buy It]
A

- Kevin Ridolfi



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Buy "The Phantom Menace Soundtrack" at CDNOW.COM

Music composed and conducted by John Williams.



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  After the Hype

 
THE PHANTOM MENACE
Rating: A-

Starring Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmind. Written and directed by George Lucas. Rated PG. Running Time: 131 minutes.


KEVIN RIDOLFI

It is virtually impossible to go into George Lucas' "The Phantom Menace" without high expectations. After all, every magazine (this one included), entertainment web site and news program has been drumming up hype for what seems like eternity. Such great exposure led to unrealistic expectations and a sense of urgency that was culminated with hordes of hyperventilating fanatics waiting on line to purchase tickets for a movie that will be in the theaters for months.

No event can live up to that type of advanced anticipation and speculation. "The Phantom Menace" made Super Bowl hype seem like a page ten story about the local Girl Scout bake sale. Lucas had, for the duration, played his cards close to the vest; only allowing a handful of close friends, including Steven Spielberg, special previews of the film. Reportedly, not even the actors saw it until the very end.

After the hype, "The Phantom Menace" remains a powerful experience that starts to fill in many of the questions hinted at in the first three episodes. The landscapes are beautiful and the special effects are, characteristically, spectacular. Episode I does, however, fall disappointingly short of expectations in terms of character connectivity and emotion - areas where the originals succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Twenty-plus years after "Star Wars", diehard nerds are still dressing like Han Solo or Princess Leia because those characters were complete portrayals - the audience felt for them and raced along on their adventures with them. I find it very hard to imagine a future decade when people are still discussing the antics of Qui-Gon Jinn or Mace Windu. "The Phantom Menace" uses its characters as props, through which to see the amazing sights and play with the latest technology - which has always been the knock on science fiction, and something which Lucas has, in the past, risen above.

Rather than focusing on the quest of a few, "The Phantom Menace" tackles the expansive issues of trade wars and political dissent. The film begins with distant shots of a trade blockade around the planet of Naboo. Lucas immediately introduces two Jedi negotiators, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), around whose actions the film will revolve. While their action scenes are, at times, breath-taking and fun, they are for the most part shallow characters who simply act to push the movie from one location to another. At no point, does their fate seem to matter nor do they evoke any emotions or empathy from the audience.

Once on the surface of Naboo, Lucas shines with gorgeous, expansive views of the capital city and captivates the imagination with an underwater city and ensuing journey through the watery core of the planet. Here, Jinn and Kenobi meet the overly cute and out-of-place Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best). This horse-like piece of computer animation is too American with its speech patterns and verbiage, and Lucas tries too hard to use Binks as a comic vehicle (something that Harrison Ford achieved with ease). I couldn't help but think of Binks as just a launching pad for countless merchandising opportunities who lends nothing to the over all plot of the movie.

Eventually, the Jedi accompany the young Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to the capital planet Coruscant to plead for senate intervention of the federation's blockade. Necessary ship repairs lead the group to the planet Tattoine where Qui-Gon Jinn happens across mop-headed Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a nine-year-old who is particularly strong with the force. Casting Lloyd as Anakin may have been Lucas' greatest mistake in any of the movies. His squeaky-voiced, unemotional portrayal belittles the character, whom fans know will eventually become Darth Vader. At some point in either episode two or three Skywalker and the Queen are to fall in love and give birth to the twins Luke and Leia, which seems like quite a stretch after many of these scenes. Age difference between Portman and Lloyd aside, she treats him more like a little brother than someone for whom she is to eventually show true passion.

The tremendous battle on Naboo in the second half of the movie are easily the most exciting and engaging scenes in the movie. Segmented into three separate skirmishes, each with their own flavor, the battle showcases Lucas' enormously influential Industrial, Light & Magic technology. One skirmish features waves upon waves of hammer-like robot soldiers who are dropped from gigantic transports and unfold themselves in an impressive sea of metal. There is the obligatory space battle with its heroic twist and a light saber duel between both Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi and the double-light saber wielding Darth Maul (Ray Park). This lengthy duel is much more acrobatic and intense than the future battle between Kenobi and Vader on the yet-to-be built Death Star.

Most importantly, "The Phantom Menace" ends up setting the stage for the unveiling of many of the mysteries that surrounded the earlier movies. The groundwork is set for Anakin's training, the establishment of the Empire and the fragmented passion between Anakin and Amidala. This is a movie devised to develop a frame of mind and an understanding of issues rather than an intergalatic romp with simple boundaries of good and evil.

Using his tremendous resources and inventiveness, Lucas ultimately seems intent on showcasing technology with "The Phantom Menace". The vibrant soundtrack and amazing vistas make an impressive portfolio for Industrial, Light & Magic and, without a doubt, make "The Phantom Menace" a worthwhile experience. However, the disappointing lack of character development and audience empathy dispel any need to stand on line for hours to see the movie. Rather than fall victim to the hype and all of its unrealistic expectations, go to "The Phantom Menace" as if you are seeing a solitary movie rather than a part of a series - the experience will be much better.



KEVIN RIDOLFI of Pawtucket, RI, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at kridolfi@renaissancemag.com



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