Far, Far Away: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 3D

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For someone who was so incredibly, so vehemently, so passionately dead against 3D technology, it may come as a disappointment to some of you that I’m starting to see the validity in 3D technology in film. Yes, I am slowly becoming a convert, or a hypocrite. (Insert religious joke here.) As more serious directors and auteurs try to utilize the technology to really explore depth, detail, and environment with 3D, it is becoming more and more valid. I may not love this fact, but it looks like something we will all have to accept in time. With Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Scorsese used 3D tech to walk the fine line of gimmick and actual storytelling, having certain things pop out (probably for the kids in the audience), but also having a fully realized depth to the train station his protagonist inhabits. In Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the German auteur used 3D to show the beauty and wonder of cave paintings in France, the 3D showing facets of the wall that are only comparable in person. With Wim Wenders’ new film Pina, the acclaimed director of Wings of Desire takes the choreography of avant-garde dance choreographer Pina Bausch and uses 3D to accentuate the sinewy details of each dancer’s body. And who could forget James Cameron’s Avatar, a film I’m sorry to say I missed in theaters. He is acknowledged to have jump started this trend, and those who saw the film in theaters know why. With all of these films, and even in the rerelease of Titanic, 3D was used to immerse and amaze, to suck you into the world of that film without strangling your vision to the point of nausea. George Lucas wants to join the likes of Cameron, Scorsese, Herzog, and Wenders, by rereleasing his iconic film saga, the Star Wars films, first off with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

There’s plenty of reason to see why Lucas would do this, even without the “he’s a raging money sucker” argument so many fan boys have taken to. The Star Wars saga is amongst the most epic of all films, each film made with such a grand and extravagant scale. It’s films with these kinds of scales, that take you to other worlds and enthrall you with details and nuances, that should be, if at all, made in 3D or converted to 3D. And Lucas’ intentions are (somewhat) honorable. His intention is to, again, completely immerse you in the world of Jedi, sith, and everything in between. How does it pay off? Well.

Everyone says that The Phantom Menace is the weakest and the worst of the series, but I disagree. It has always been my personal favorite, and it was the first film I had ever seen in theaters. While its stodgy dialogue, its wooden acting, and its uneven pace are nothing to celebrate, I don’t think it’s really anything compared to the overly sappy, even more poorly acted Attack of the Clones. Anyways, the short version of the plot is that the sith reveal themselves and the Jedi (Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor) pick up a kid on the desert planet of Tatooine. That kid, Anakin Skywalker, will turn into, spoiler alert, Darth Vader by the end of the prequel trilogy. The film, again, is not perfect, but it’s a spectacle and something fun to see on the screen. It’s notably darker than anything in the original trilogy, with a tone of melancholy, as if anyone who sees it already knows that this chapter of the saga (chapter being prequel trilogy) will not end well. But, it’s so pretty to look at. Amongst the epic films that would call out for a 3D conversion (Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, The Lord of the Rings) Star Wars is definitely one of them. It’s easy to see why. From Tatooine to the Romanesque Theed City of Naboo, to the metropolitan Coruscant and the marshy forests of Naboo, it’s splendid to see. The clothing, the costumes, the cinematography, the CGI; everything looks great. Jar Jar Binks, no matter how annoying, was always impressive for the sheer fact that he, not Gollum, was the first full CGI character. Oh, you think I’m talking about seeing this in 3D? No, this is all in two dimensions. Flat and wonderful.

With all those reasons of depth and detail for a 3D conversion, you would think that the film would look mind blowing when actually seen on the big screen and in 3D. You would be, well, wrong. Not completely wrong, but not correct enough to warrant $10. There is so much that could have gone better here that it is a huge disappointment that I have to write what I am writing. The 3D, which looked meticulously done, was subtle. It was so subtle, it was barely even noticeable. Not to the extent where Alice in Wonderland was literally not noticeable, but it barely made a difference. Certain scenes did seem more interesting in 3D, but these were medium shots of characters, their fabric having more depth and their face with more detail. The landscape scenes, such as the overhead shots of Theed City, should have looked incredible. It’s one of the settings that should have been taken full advantage of. Instead, it looked fairly flat. No sense of place or depth anywhere discernible. Not even in the fun and exciting podrace scene was there enough 3D to make it interesting. Even though it is, arguably, one of the most fun race scenes ever caught on film, it didn’t look any better in 3D.

It feels strange to say this, but the lack of any discernible depth was a distraction in another way. Plot holes and poor acting seemed more apparent. This is perhaps because since the 3D was not distracting enough, one’s mind had to wander somewhere else. One’s mind would end up focusing on minute details that, essentially, did not matter.

I was hesitant on seeing the film when the plan to rerelease the saga in 3D was announced, because, at the time, I was a vehement anti-3D person. But, I can understand the reasons for its use, and this is from no help of having seen Star Wars. Since I am a little bit of a fan boy at heart, I was going to see it anyways. And it was a fun experience, seeing a Star Wars film on the big screen. But the 3D didn’t matter enough and was not present enough to make any sort of good impression. It was not done lazily, by any means, but it just was not done enough. Hopefully, if Lucas still plans on releasing the rest of the films, he will have enough time to tinker with them to get the 3D right. Until then, I’m sorry to say that, regardless of the 3D, I was not anymore sucked into that galaxy far, far away than I would have been just watching it on DVD.

Film: B-

3D: C

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