Friday, April 12, 2013

Roger Roger: Watching the Phantom Menace with Lily

Lots of people have spent lots of time trying to pin down what's wrong with the Phantom Menace since its release in 1999. I might as well add my voice to the chorus.

As with the other Star Wars movies, we watched this one together. I was uncertain if I should show this to Lily at all. My friend Dave convinced me to go ahead and show it. (His exact words were "Don't be a Star Wars snob.")

I'll admit that I felt some gnawing unease when Dave was visiting in the period between when we had decided to show Lily the movies and when we actually did so, and Dave, unprompted,  shook his head and said "The first two movies were so, so bad."

This is all your fault, Dave!

We were watching last month when when it suddenly struck me that the deal with the queen and her decoys is a good metaphor for everything that's wrong with the movie. The whole decoy deal is a lot of sound and fury that tries to sell you on the idea that there's more going on than there really is, but all it does is needlessly complicate things while adding nothing of value. (For further examples of this trope, see: everything J.J. Abrams has ever done.)

I remember the first time I saw the movie. I was working at the comic store back then, Star Wars mania was at an all time high in the run up to its release. Everybody who came in to the store wanted to talk about it. And the early reports were not positive.  The best anyone seemed to have to say about the movie was some variation of "It's not as bad as everyone is saying." Those of us who worked in the store occasionally got together to do stuff. It was movie night and Bill had already seen the Phantom Menace and his review was....unfavorable. When we were deciding what to see, I was pushing for Menace,  Bill said he couldn't bear to sit through it again, and wound up seeing the Matrix. I recall mocking him for this decision: "Oh, enjoy your stupid 'Matrix' movie that nobody's going to remember by this time next year. I'm off to see Star Wars, bitches!"

In retrospect, Bill's decision may have been the right one.

I was thinking about this when we sat down to watch the movie together. It really couldn't have been as bad as I remembered. Could it?


Holy fucking shit, where to start? The experience of watching this movie compares unfavorably to a two-hour episiotomy.

Not even Lily liked it and she'll sit through some of the most dreadful shit imaginable. Though she did like Anakin.

Lily: Anakin's cute.
Me: *raised eyebrow*
Lily: No! Cute like a baby is cute!

I don't think Jake Lloyd was terrible. He wasn't great, but neither was Daniel Radcliffe in the first Harry Potter (particularly compared to his co-stars) and he certainly wasn't the biggest problem with the movie. 

Jar Jar Binks was the biggest problem with the movie. I realize that I'm not exactly going out on a limb with this declaration.

George Lucas stated that he feels there is a section of the fanbase who get upset with aspects of Star Wars because "[t]he movies are for children but they don't want to admit that... There is a small group of fans that do not like comic sidekicks. They want the films to be tough like The Terminator, and they get very upset and opinionated about anything that has anything to do with being childlike."

I think that misses the point of the criticism. It's not that you included a comedy sidekick. It's that you included a comedy sidekick who wasn't funny.

Not to mention that he, like Watto and the Neomidians, comes uncomfortably close to being a racist caricature. 

Not that Lily noticed that last part. She just thought that he was annoying and not funny. 

Lily was very fidgety at times, and when we asked her to pay attention, she said "I'll pay attention when they're talking about stuff I can understand!" Jar Jar  would be out of place in any movie, but when the rest of the plot is Robert's Rules of Order In Space dealing with minutiae of trade negotiations, "The Senate cedes the floor to the delegate from Naboo. You make a cogent arguement regarding the Trade Federation's regressive tariffs on-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...," comic relief that a six-year-old finds immature is just not going to fit in.

The pod race goes on entirely too long. When it began, Lily asked if he was going to win. I said "You'll know in 45 minutes," which was barely an exaggeration at all. 

Despite all this, Lily is interested in seeing Attack of the Clones, so I may yet have more Star Wars blogging in the near future.

Just a softy
And some stuff I liked because I don't like ending a review without saying anything nice: The lightsaber fights were great, Ian Mcdiarmid was pretty good,  Liam Neeson seemed to be an entirely different and much better move than the rest of the cast (he had the only scene with Jar Jar that was any good at all, the one where he grabs Jar Jar's tongue and says "Knock that shit off.") Darth Maul had a great design (and my friends met Ray Park at a con once and said he's a very nice guy). 

1 comment:

  1. The Senate scene in particular speaks against Lucas' claim that this is a kid's movie. So does all the trade negotiation crap. At least it's not a very good kid's movie.