Sunday, February 19, 2012

Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D - A Review

It has been thirteen years since George Lucas’ Phantom Menace first blasted it way into theaters, carrying on its back, a frenzied level of anticipation and an insurmountable level of expectation on the part of legions of Star Wars fans. The debate over the quality of this film seems to stretch from here to the far reaches of the Outer Rim territories and darthmaz314 will weigh in on this in a future post. However, on February 10th, The Phantom Menace returned to theaters, only this time in 3D. Did it bring out the crowds? How well did Lucasfilm handle a 3-D conversion? Will 3-D make this movie more enjoyable to those that detested it thirteen years ago? Darthmaz314 attempts to answer these questions, without using a Jedi mind trick.

If Money is All That You Love, Then That’s What Lucas Will Receive
According to the opening weekend take for The Phantom Menace, including midnight screenings on Thursday/Friday night, was $23 million. Is this a good draw? How do you evaluate that number? One way would be to compare it to the re-release of what I still call “Star Wars,” or Episode IV: A New Hope. The re-release of this legendary film in 1997, complete with George Lucas’ enhancements and packaged as the Star Wars Special Edition, pulled in nearly $36 million on opening weekend. At the time, twenty years had elapsed since the first theatrical release of Star Wars and fifteen years had passed after the 1982 re-issue. Considering that it has been only thirteen years since Phantom Menace’s original theatrical release, coupled with the fact that so many people detested this film at that time, $23 million seems like a strong opening. However, it is important to note that the Star Wars Special Edition 1997 release went on to rake in over $138 million. I think it is safe to assume that this Phantom Menace 3D release will not approach that mark. In fact, it is probably a safe assumption that most of the Star Wars fan base interested in this movie schlepped out to theaters on the opening weekend.

The Thrill is Gone?

I attended a 10:15 pm showing on opening night. Knowing that I would not be able to make it to the theater early and not knowing the crowds l would encounter, I purchased “Print at Home” tickets through Fandango in the late afternoon on Friday. As it turned out, that was completely unnecessary as I was able to arrive early and was astonished when I walked into the theater to join the rest of my family (after spending a half hour on line for popcorn) to find less than twenty other people scattered in the lower half of the auditorium. In case you are thinking that it filled up by the time that green Lucasfilm logo shimmered onto the screen, you are mistaken. There were a handful of people in the theater for this movie on opening night. That’s it. Granted, this film was designed to draw a younger audience and 10:15 pm may have been too late for most of that demographic, but still, I was floored by the lack of bodies in the room.

All About the Marketing

Several theater chains were distributing specialty 3D glasses on opening night. One version was fashioned after Anakin’s podracing goggles. I attended a Regal Entertainment theater, which distributed Darth Maul themed glasses, which were somewhat less spectacular, but still a souvenir.

The Conversion: 3D or not 3D…That is the question

Lucasfilm’s conversion was crisp and unobtrusive. There did not appear to be any loss of clarity as a result of the conversion. There 3-D effect provided an almost undetectable level of depth in that it was not forced and over-exaggerated. There was a perceptible difference in the depth of field, most noticeable during landscape scenes on Tatooine and Naboo. The podrace benefits most from the conversion, as the 3D adds a nuanced grain of additional photorealism to this sequence. Watching the maneuvering of the pods through the canyons of Tatooine in 3D, one can’t help but think that this experience is closer to what Lucas probably envisioned for us when he conceived the sequence. However, if you are looking for jaw dropping, in your face, 3D effects that appear to jump off the screen, you will have to look elsewhere. I can only recall one shot in the film, which takes place during the podrace, with a 3D effect such as this. Still, the 3-D does add more realism to the film and certainly doesn’t detract from it.

Master of Puppets?

The Blu-Ray release of all six Star Wars films brought more changes that irked the fanbase and all those changes will be making their way to theaters, if each film is afforded the 3D treatment. The Phantom Menace Changes included the replacement of the puppet Yoda used in the original release with a new digital version. Although I tend to be a traditionalist, I had no
 problem with the new and improved Jedi Master. The Phantom Menace Yoda looked far too reptilian and more like a distant cousin of the Empire Yoda, rather than his younger self. This new digital Yoda is a product of continued development in the realm of CGI, as it is superior in terms of realism to both its predecessors in Episodes II and III. Digital Yoda in a digitally crafted Episode I? Bring it on. Digital Yoda replacing the Empire and Jedi Yoda? Then I join the torch waving mobs.

To See or Not to See…That is the REAL Question

The bottom line here is that if you were not a fan of the Phantom Menace in 1999, this version will do little to endear you to the film in 2012. The 3D will most likely not excite you enough to make you think it is worth forking over $16.00 per ticket, or help you forget that 60% of the film’s scenes contain Jar Jar Binks. However, if you didn’t love the Phantom Menace, yet wouldn’t say you disliked it, you will probably feel the same way about this 3D release. Star Wars junkies will appreciate the fact that a Star Wars theatrical release, although more
common than thirty years ago, is still an event. Is it an event worth attending? That is up to you. However, if you would like to see Episodes II and III released in 3D, not to mention the classic trilogy, you may want to cough up your Republic credits now. If Lucasfilm doesn’t turn the appropriate profits on this 3D release, the notion of the other films being released in 3D will vanish faster than Yoda after his death in Return of the Jedi.

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