Volume 93, Issue 2

Friday, May 21, 1999


The Phantom Menace is phucking phantastic

The line up: A first hand account

Galactic technology, talk and toys

Party's place in the music world is their cup of tea

Midsummer's is a mid-size success

Ron Sexsmith gets fresh

The Phantom Menace is phucking phantastic

Photos by Keith Hamshere

THE NEW FACES OF THE FORCE. Ewan McGregor, Jake Llyod, Ray Park, Natalie Portman and Liam Neeson (L-R) are the major players in The Phantom Menace. McGregor plays a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, while Llyod portrays Anakin Skywalker, before he turned to the dark side. Park is the new face of evil, Darth Maul. Queen Amidala is portrayed by Portman, while screen veteran Neeson is Qui-Gon Jinn, an unpredictable Jedi Master.

By Mark Pytlik

Gazette Staff

It was inevitable.

In the wake of what was arguably the most elaborate and cleverly orchestrated promotional campaign in cinema history, tiny whispers of dissent began to emanate from the select handful of people fortunate enough to see an advance screening of The Phantom Menace.

Initial reports claiming the movie was an unworthy addition to the Star Wars arsenal induced pangs of anxiety in those who have been patiently waiting for the next installment. Could it really be possible after all the hype, fervent speculation and waiting, George Lucas had actually come up flat?

The answer, thankfully, is a resounding no. The Phantom Menace is well worth the 17 year wait and will undoubtedly remind movie-goers everywhere exactly why they fell in love with Star Wars the first time.

Lucas acknowledges there is no reason to mess with a potent formula – the film is an unabashed crowd-pleaser which contains virtually every ingredient which made its predecessors so widely adored. Although it offers absolutely nothing new in terms of thematic content, it proves to be every bit as thrilling as its antecedents were.

While the brilliantly cast Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman all prove to be extremely competent and charismatic figures, the most scintillating performance of the film is turned in by Ray Park, who plays the villainous Darth Maul. His costume, his makeup and his chilling stare all conspire with Lucas' flawlessly executed fight sequences to create one of the most haunting screen villains in recent memory. To put it into perspective, Maul makes Darth Vader look like an unassuming schoolgirl by comparison and his mere presence on the screen is practically worth the price of admission itself.

Of course, the main attraction of the film are the special effects, sometimes utilized to a fault. Many of the characters are entirely computer generated, leaving some scenes too closely resembling a futuristic version of Toy Story, rather than a live epic motion picture. Fortunately, for every one of these animated moments there is a battle scene created with mind-blowing realism. There is also an exhilarating pod race sequence in the middle of the movie that will undoubtedly raise the standard for computer animation in films to come.

Those early reports stating The Phantom Menace was a flawed film are not entirely off the mark. There is an unusually high amount of hit-and-miss slapstick humour. There is also a convoluted, nonsensical plot about trade federations and tax treaties. There is even a fart gag, for crying out loud. However, in the end, The Phantom Menace is able to transcend these slight misgivings and deliver an overall experience unparalleled by any film of its genre.

In all likelihood, you will emerge from the theatre reeling from the sheer spectacle of it all and, if George Lucas has his way, by the time you hit the parking lot you will be making plans to see it again.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999