Lucas Adds Dimension to His Prequel Blockbuster
It had to come to this sooner or later. With Disney having converted some of their beloved classics to 3D, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast (with Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and The Little Mermaid on the way), and with James Cameron set to rerelease his Oscar-winning blockbuster Titanic this April in 3D, it only seems fitting that George Lucas would give the 3D treatment to the Star Wars saga. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D marks the start of a planned schedule to rerelease all six films in episodic order at a rate of one per year. Lucas has been nothing if not industrious, not only in his pursuit of the latest and greatest in special effects technology but also in using it to repeatedly tweak the films that defined his career and changed the way movies get made. On some level, you have to admire him for his willingness to capitalize on current cinematic trends. It means he’s paying attention.
Like millions of other people, I saw the original 2D version of the film when it was first released back in May of 1999. I was not yet sixteen, and my mom, being so cool, let me take the day off of school to see it. For her, it surely must have been a nostalgic experience, for she had been amongst the cheering throngs that waited in long lines to see the original trilogy in 1977, 1980, and 1983 respectively. For me, it was a little different. Yes, the 1997 Special Editions gave me the opportunity to see the trilogy on the big screen, but I was already familiar with it through home video viewings, so it wasn’t as if I was seeing something new. But then came The Phantom Menace, the first of a prequel trilogy that would finally reveal how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. It was an original story. At long last, my first entirely new Star Wars experience.
It took thirteen years, but it seems I’m now entitled to my own nostalgic experience. Sitting in the theater watching The Phantom Menace 3D, I was flooded with memories of that day in 1999 – the thrill of seeing the title pull away from the camera as John Williams’ triumphant fanfare blares to life, the sense of wonder at the sight of the spectacular computer-generated effects, being reintroduced to beloved characters like C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), and Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), seeing Anakin Skywalker as a boy (Jake Lloyd) and Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young man (Ewan McGregor), and meeting new characters like Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best).
As for the experience of seeing it in 3D, I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Although nowhere near as immersive as stereoscopic triumphs like Avatar and Hugo, there was a noticeable sense of depth perception all throughout the film. It stood out the most during the space battles and the pod race sequence. I attribute most of the conversion’s success to its digital projection, which experience has taught me is the ideal choice for 3D films. Having said all this, I have not forgotten that 3D is by and large a marketing gimmick, nor have I lost sight of the fact that George Lucas is clearly taking advantage of it for financial gain. The experience will in no way be diminished if you choose to save your money and see the film in traditional 2D (assuming your theater offers it).
It’s worth noting that the original hand puppet version of Yoda has been replaced with a computer generated recreation, which now, visually speaking, aligns the film perfectly with the second and third episodes. I was pleased with the results; this new Yoda may in fact be one of the best-looking in the entire history of the saga. It remains to be seen if Lucas will make the same changes to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi when it’s their turn to be rereleased in 3D. If this is indeed the direction Lucas is going in, I’ll save my comments for then. At this point in time, I’ll focus on The Phantom Menace, which – for me, at least – remains just as fun, exciting, and visually splendid as it was in 1999.
But already I can sense some of you drawing back from me, as if I had a communicable disease. I know how unpopular it is to like this movie, or any film in the prequel trilogy. All the same, I don’t feel the need to defend myself. Regardless of the dimension involved, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is no more or less than what it is: A fantasy space opera made purely for entertainment. I still hear the criticisms to this day; for Jar Jar Binks (who’s guilty of nothing more than being the obligatory comedy relief), for its less than compelling performances (never mind that the entire saga is cut from the same cloth as a Saturday matinee serial), and for its bad dialogue. That last one has always cracked me up. I defy you convince me that the dialogue in A New Hope is any better.
Although Chris never officially studied film, film theory, or even journalism in college, his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Creative Writing has taught him to appreciate story, character, and the imagination – all aspects that apply to the movies, and if there’s anything his years of living in Los Angeles has guaranteed him, exposure to movies would be at the top of the list. He has always appreciated the art of filmmaking, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he began writing reviews on various websites for new releases. Still residing in L.A., his reviews can be read at his website, http://www.atatheaternearyou.net.