I went to see "The Phantom Menace" in 3D last night. For some bizarre reason, Lady Chocolat had declined to accompany on this particular masochistic trip, so I went alone.
The cinema was rather less busy than any previous time I'd been to see a Star Wars film. Indeed, when I went to see TPM on opening day back in 1999, I was forced onto the front row by a near-complete lack of other seats. This time, there were seven of us in the audience.
Anyway, there were the interminable adverts, followed by trailers for a bunch of films I'm mostly not going to bother seeing, and then the film started.
Sadly, TPM is really not a good film. Previously, I've said that it's actually pretty good up until Nute Gunray's first line... but actually, it doesn't get that far. Just like Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons", it starts to fall apart even before we get to the film itself, because in the opening crawl the film starts droning on about taxation of trade routes. Oh dear...
Anyway, the film then proceeds onwards, and we get some nice visuals, a couple of lines of dialogue, and then a real clunker: "With all due respect..." It was a bad line in 1999, and it isn't any better now. And that's three lines into the film!
Then we get the aforementioned Nute Gunray. Frankly, I'm amazed that in all his tinkering, George Lucas hasn't made one easy change that would massively improve TPM - subtitle the Neimodians! As it stands, they are speaking English, but the prosthetics on their mouths just aren't expressive enough to do the job. They look ridiculous. (And it doesn't help that they sound like a bad racist caricature, too.)
(I'm not sure how you could have a good racist caricature, to be honest...)
Anyway, enough with the nitpicking about the film. If I were to detail everything that was wrong with it, this post might never end. Indeed, I have seen reviews of the film that are actually longer than the film itself, which don't even cover everything!
TPM is not particularly helped by the switch to 3D. It's not harmed, noticably, but it's not helped either. It's likely that live-action films (at least) probably need to be made with 3D firmly in mind in order to see any benefit.
What does help TPM immensely is the return to the big screen. Simply put, the film is gorgeous. Indeed, if you ignore the actors, ignore the bad dialogue, and just watch the scenery while listening to John Williams' amazing score, you can actually get a really good film out of it.
Speaking of acting... I feel Jake Lloyd gets a raw deal out of this one. Sure, Anakin is really annoying, but that's not his fault. After all, he didn't choose the words to say. And he does the job he's asked to do - he's cheerful when asked to be cheerful, he's sad when asked to be sad. Honestly, he's better than Keanu Reeves in most of his films. (Not high praise, I know, but he is very young.)
Also, there actually is some good acting on show in the film. Liam Neeson is actually pretty good, while both Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are okay (but no better than that). But what surprised me was the performance by Pernilla August as Shmi Skywalker - the scenes between her and Qui-Gon Jinn are actually surprisingly solid. (Also, Samuel L. Jackson isn't as awful as I remembered, although he has almost nothing to do here. I guess it's the next two films that just suck.)
All in all, TPM is about the same as I remembered. It's certainly not a good film, nor anywhere near as good as even Return of the Jedi. However, I continue to maintain that it's the best of the three prequels - it doesn't have an actively painful romance in the middle like Attack of the Clones, nor does it drag to a halt for about 90 minutes like Revenge of the Sith.
Unfortunately, next up will be Attack of the Clones, which is my least favourite of all the films (and which has the weakest soundtrack as well). But I'm actually quite looking forward to Revenge of the Sith in 3D - there were some scenes that seemed to be shot specifically for the 3D version, and really didn't work in 2D.