Can a 3D revamp make Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace watchable? It's fair to say that the 1999 prequel is the least beloved of the six-film Star Wars saga. When it premiered 13 years ago, critics blasted its narrative obsession with trade taxation routes (yawn); its wooden performances; the creepy flirtation between Natalie Portman's Queen Amidala and 9-year-old Jake Lloyd's Anakin Skywalker; and, above all, the cringe-inducing stereotype known as Jar Jar Binks. Director George Lucas has since spent well over a year on a painstaking 3D conversion (debuting this weekend), which reportedly cost more than the original film. Should wary moviegoers risk $18 to check out the results?
Not a chance: This is still The Phantom Menace, so prepare to be disappointed, says Matt Maytum at Total Film. The plot is still "impenetrably dull" — assuming you haven't developed a fondness for intergalactic bureaucracy in the past decade. Anakin is as bratty as ever, and Jar Jar's "awkward racial stereotypes" are no more forgivable. As for the 3D conversion, the pod race benefits the most, "its speed-thrills boosted by arcade-style immersion." And that lightsaber duel finale "remains a series highlight, in however many dimensions." Everything in between: Still awful.
"Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace review"
The 3D is pretty good, however: This is "easily one of the best post-3D conversions I've seen," says Jason Jenkins at CNET. The newly dimensional pod race scene really is dynamite and the effects are, for the most part, refreshingly subtle. But the 3D occasionally gets in the way of a scene — most egregiously during Anakin's farewell to his mother on Tatooine. Other times "an object is pushed too far into the foreground," straining your eyes. And, while the 3D is "technically very good, it adds little to the overall experience" of the film. If you have kids, this is a must-see. Otherwise, save your cash.
"Is it worth seeing Star Wars in 3D?"
Either way, this is an industry-changing release: It's likely that this re-release will only attract families and Star Wars uber-fans, says Rafer Guzman at Newsday. But even if you don't fall into one of those categories, "keep an eye on this film." We've already seen Disney re-release its treasured animated flicks The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast to critical and commercial success. But this is the first time a studio "has converted an old, summer-style blockbuster into 3D." How it fares may decide whether the treatment will be applied to other popular live-action films that predate the recent 3D boom.
"Phantom Menace flies again in 3D"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Why your employer should clean your house and do your laundry
- The big policy question libertarians can't answer
- Why China thinks it could defeat the U.S. in battle
- What you need to know before you support the police in Ferguson
- How the West produces jihadi tourists
- The real lesson of Rick Perry's mug shot
- What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books
Subscribe to the Week