Culturemodo: The Phantom Menace 3D Review

What happens when you take a process that's lost its lustre in the eyes of the moviegoing public and apply it to one of the most critically derided sci-fi films ever made? Gizmodo Australia went to the Australian premiere of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace 3D to find out.

I rather like Star Wars, especially the original trilogy.

Yeah, I know, that's not the most stunningly original to say on the internet. But it's an important point to make, because while I like Star Wars, I'm not an ardent enthusiast the way many folks are. As such, when The Phantom Menace came out 13 years ago, I dutifully headed to the nearest cinema, saw it and walked away thinking that it was a bit of a waste of the franchise; not the worst movie ever in the way some people think, but certainly a film with plenty of narrative problems. I'm pointing that out upfront, because it'll inevitably flavour any review of the film I was likely to make. If you truly hate The Phantom Menace, then you hate it, and that's fine too.

One thing I'm not a big personal fan of is 3D for the sake of it. Also, whenever anything is hyped as being "in 3D" -- and it's incredibly prevalent in all the advertising for The Phantom Menace -- I can't help having Weird Al Yankovic's "Nature Trail To Hell In 3D" play in my head. Perhaps that's just me.

3D is often a lazy crutch for a film in my eyes, as well as a way to try to suck a few more dollars out of the wallets of consumers. Also, it often makes me feel ill. It was with that in mind that Danny and I attended the preview screening -- and first public screening anywhere in the world -- of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3D yesterday.

The premiere screening included an orchestra playing Star Wars themes. I doubt your local cinema will do the same, but it may be worth calling ahead to find out.

Also Stormtroopers, as highlighted by Danny yesterday. Although, hang on -- aren't they at least one movie too early?

Ah, this is more like it. This chap I remember from 13 years ago.

Just about ready to begin. But first, a few slighly off-tone "lightsaber" jokes from Merrick to entertain the kids. Really.

A touch over two hours later, it was all done.

Now, this isn't a stunning fresh flick full of insights into today's world; it's a 13-year-old film originally shot in 2D, and the entire reason I was there was because I was curious as to how well they'd managed to merge the needs of 3D cinema with the realities of old footage.

Historically, I'm not a big fan of 3D; the passive type used in cinemas often makes my head hurt after a while, and I can't watch through active glasses for anything more than a few seconds without serious balance issues. Plus, this is George Lucas, a man known for making big bold moves, rather than subtle ones.

My concerns only increased when the Lucasfilm logo bounced out of the screen and into the audience, followed by the famous Star Wars scroll. This didn't seem like a film where subtlety was going to play a significant part. Actually, the scroll in 3D is rather cool, given that it's always been intended to have a third dimensional kind of look. But it was looking like I was going to need a Darth Maul sized tub of popcorn to throw up into before all was said and done.

What did surprise me then, is that -- for the most part -- the 3D conversion of The Phantom Menace is, ultimately, pretty subtle stuff. It's party helped by the fact that there's not much in the original film that lends itself into bouncing out into the audience, so what Lucasfilm has had to work with is increasing depth in ordinary scenes, something that's done with a reasonable level of skill. Naturally, it works a lot better with things that are digital effects rather than human actors.

There are a number of scenes with heavy depth that rely on a human actor in the foreground, but the limitations of the source material mean that they're just flat planes. One particularly jarring scene occurs when Anakin's saying goodbye to his mother; Pernilla August's braided hair seen from the back has no dimensions and it makes her look like a cardboard cutout.

Motion in 3D is often a problem, and this is nowhere more evident than in the Pod race sequence. Again, there's some restraint shown here. It wouldn't have been that hard to reframe a few shots and send exploding pod chunks out into the crowd, and that's mostly been avoided. Still, some of the fast panning shots break up pretty badly because of the 3D effect. I was concerned this might just be me, but it was one of the first things that Danny picked up on as well.

As an effort to convert 2D to 3D, then, Lucasfilm is to be largely congratulated; while there are missteps in the process they're not particularly gruesome, and the restraint shown in making the 3D an organic part of the film is to be commended. I'm still not sold on the need for this film to be in 3D, but what they've done, they've done well. What that also means is that if you're expecting The Phantom Menace to pop out of the screen at you every five seconds, you're in for disappointment.

As for the plot? Once again, I'll dip into the Weird Al playbook if your memory of how it all plays is rusty..

Yes, it's true, I was humming this at random points during the movie while watching.

The Phantom Menace in 3D hasn't changed the plot at all. Yes, this is no phantom edit, and that means that everyone's favourite racist allegory/unfortunate misstep (depending on your perspective, but you know the floppy eared buffoon I'm referring to) is very much in evidence. If it's any consolation, the kids in the audience I was in seemed to like him. But a couple of closing observations that I didn't spot when I first watched this film 13 years ago

• The creature that pilots the craft that Padme, Anakin and Jar-Jar head off in when they first arrive on Coruscant looks suspiciously like a Graske. They sure get about.

• R2-D2 notably doesn't talk much, and when he does, it tends to be rather blunt and aggressive. In the escape from Naboo, R2-D2 sees three of his Droid chums blown away in a matter of seconds. Has anyone ever considered that he might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder?

• Why does Anakin head back into Naboo city at the climax if he's just meant to hide anyway? I mean, I get that he saves the day and everything so it's needed for plot advancement, but why not just, say, hide him down in the already abandoned underwater Gungan city?

• Lucas can predict the future: Padme and Qui Gon watch the Pod Race on what appears to be a tablet. At a guess, based on how chunky it is, it's a Motorola Xoom -- or, at least, given the general trends of the Star Wars universe, it's going to be a droid of some kind...

WATCH MORE: Entertainment News


    They can put the visuals in as many dimensions as they like, the plot, dialogue and acting is always going to be one-dimensional.

    .."a droid of some kind..."....that's awesome!

      That line made my day... lol!

    13 years.... Noooooo!!
    This thing was not filmed in 3D, so it was not meant to be 3D, which means it was a waste of money to make it into 3D....

      Agreed. If Star Wars was made today in 3D I'll be all for it. But it's not.

        if you guys really think all the "3D" movies thats been coming out in the past 1year or so are all actually FILMED in 3D then I've got news for you. They arent! Movies are filmed like normal and are then (post production) run through a software that does the 2D to 3D conversion. Its a very long & repetitive process and there are kids in the usual 'offshore' countries sitting and converting movies into 3D, frame-by-frame. How do I know? Coz one of my relative works for one of these post-production co. that does this 'manual' , 'backoffice' work.

          What's your point, none of the so called 3D movies that were converted should have been. Compare any movie that was made in actual 3D to a converted one and it sticks out like dog balls. Just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should do it! If you are happy with watching a movie that has been converted then you are supporting a really silly money double dip by the studios!

          The new Transformers movie was filmed for the majority IN 3D, terribly sorry to disappoint you. George Lucas wanted Star Wars to be in 3D ever since it was possible, however by then he was up to Episode 3 and having one movie in 3D would have seemed out of place, so I shall see this movie, even though I generally avoid 3D movies like the plague, because it will hint at how George Lucas wanted his movies to be.

            George Lucas added blinking Ewoks to Star Wars. F*&K how he wanted his movies to be.

    I'm still waiting for the "**** you, it's star wars and you'll buy it anyway edition" box set. You know it'll happen.

    One thing I started thinking about is how Episodes 1-3 really ruin Empire. The audience doesn't get to feel Luke's shock if they already know about Vader. That whole scene loses so much potency:

      That's why the correct order to watch the movies is 4,5,1,2,3,6

      You get dropped into a story, you get the build up to the confrontation, you get the reveal, then it's time to have a look back at how Darth Vader came to be, and then you can finish up with the "happy" ending.

      I recently showed all 6 Star Wars movies to a friend of mine, who believe it or not, had never seen any of the Star Wars movies. So I showed them to her starting with The Phantom Menace, and ending with Jedi. I told her nothing about the story, plot, characters. She of course knew names like Skywalker and Vader, but really hadn't paid any attention to the franchise.

      The big moment in Empire was still very powerful to her. In her view, Vader admits that he has a connection to his son, Luke is shocked at the revelation, and it's still a powerful scene to an open-minded viewer.

    It was a great movie 13 years ago, and I'm sure it still is today. I'll be watching it on the big screen again. I never understood the dislike for this movie, and certainly never understood the hate, but I guess everyone has their own opinion.

    P.S: Good to hear that the 3D is more immersive and not so "in your face".

      yep, each to their own. but....

      This review tells anyone how bad this film is and explains the reasons why it's so bad in an entertaining way.

    I'm probably one of the 0.0000000000001% of people that actually enjoyed Episode 1. Most of the elements that people complained about were lost on me as a kid (so I've got nostalgia to carry me on), and it's funny to read those criticisms as an adult now.

    It's more that there isn't such a massive divide in quality between the bad scenes and the good scenes - unlike Episode II & III where the bad scenes were just AWFULLY, HORRENDOUSLY BAD (any romantic scene with Anakin & Padme) compared to any of the awesome battle scenes - and so it made Episode I a lot more bearable.

    I'm definitely seeing it at one of the midnight screenings, so whether the 3D is worth it or not it's gonna be a fun night regardless.

    How long until Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind come out in 3D?

      I would pay to see Wizard of Oz in 3D.

    George is doing what he does best - milk a great franchise until he runs it into the ground, making it worthy of any level of respect. Today its 3D, so he goes back and makes Star Wars in 3D. Tomorrow its smell-o-vision or holograms, and guess what? We'll see a version of them with those features as well. Poor form, George. Poor form.

    Episode 1 wasn't that bad. To call it one of the worst Sci-fi films is to ignore a hell of a lot of crap films out there. Watch one of the versions with Jaja and the race scenes removed and it's actually quite a good film!

    Episodes 2 & 3 are good films.

    Seriously just shoot new star wars films, use EU or just create new storylines. they will still make a ton of money and wont piss off the fans

    Ok so an old 2D film re-released as "3D" turns out to be relatively 2D when viewed in 3D?

    Is anyone surprised by this?

    this movie was crap, 3D is crap.. its the technology of the 80's... i do not want to pay $6 to see the same dam movie but with a headache... or any movie in 3d at all

    I was at the premiere and it was awesome!

    I really don't get why you need to have your 3D restrained for you. The promise of 3D is that you are indeed watching some kind of hologram.

    You actually poo poo when things fly out of the screen? I just don't get that. We saw Phantom Menace 2D already, I want things to land in my lap, why the hell would I be wearing the glasses in the first place.

    This is not the time for restraint, this is time for 3D you turkey!


      I agree with you. 3D should provide a immersive experience. I saw an early showing of this movie last night and I am a huge Star Wars fan just like everyone else talking time to comment here. Save your money and watch at home on Blue Ray, the 2D is better. The 3D effects are sublte at best and extremely disappointing. The best use is the opening scroll, thats it. The film does appear to have "gone through the wash". Very odd and utterly disappointing. I am glad I did not have to pay for it.

    Can't wait to take my 8 year old to see star wars on the big screen - he is so excited he's running around in circles. really you all take it far to seriously, its a science fiction fantasy, its fun, its imaginar -! if you need some help enjoying it, take a child and watch with their eyes! The fact that its in 3d seems to make it every more special in his eyes.. although I have to admit there are many many novels in the EU that would be fantastic movies - just thinking Millenium Falcon would be good with Han & Leia as grandparents..

    Oh, man, here we go. The revisionist fanboy take on Phantom Menace. It is an awful film. It commits the cardinal sin of movies: It's boring. But I admire, in a way, your unbridled optimism. One way or another, you are going to try to find SOMETHING good in the 67% of "Star Wars" films that are awful. The best thing you could do, take it from someone who had to do it, is resign yourself to this fact: Star Wars is NOT a very good film series, you were deeply misled for the first three years, and very little, if anything, has been good about these films for more than 30 years. Accept that Lucasfilm wants one thing: Your money. And they're getting it.

    So, at the rate of one film per year, the 3-D should blow over before Lucas reaches the point of messing with any of the good films.

    Well it's amazing the amount of people who are confused when it comes to 3D. When they watch a 3D movie and suddenly get some sort of odd pain in their eyes/head, You instantly/stupidly blame the movie/cinema equipment/etc. The fact is that the entire problem rests solely with the viewer. If you feel any negative physical side affects from a 3d film viewing, you NEED to see an optometrist ASAP! because you definitely have flawed eyesight.

    I am a big fan of the Star Wars universe itself and i can see flaws in all the films but still love them (not like i can't see flaws in every other film). I am going to see Star Wars in 3D in a couple of nights and i know i WILL enjoy it!

    As for fools who believe that Blu Ray is some sort of gimmick.... go and get some corrective eye surgery! Blu Ray is superior in every single way. That is undeniable. Soon DVD will be completely eradicated and the Blu Ray will be the only option.... as it should be...

      ...and then 4K will come in and be superior in every single way and Blu-Ray will be eradicated...

Join the discussion!