Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 3D Review

When The Phantom Menace was first released in 1999, it caused an outpouring of hate from many die hard Star Wars fans.  I remember going to a friends house, dialing up the internet using AOL 5.0 (1000 hours free!) and reading some pretty scathing reviews.  It broke my heart.  What really stuck with me though, was how much that nitpicking and criticism affected my subsequent viewings of the film.  I even started to side with the fan-boys and notice a lot of the flaws being pointed out.  Moral of the story – don’t let other peoples opinions influence your enjoyment of something.

This time around, I built a mental wall around any comments regarding the 3D re-release.  I was not going to let jaded internet trolls ruin a potentially good experience. So I went into the theater tonight with an untarnished optimism and child-like enthusiasm.  This is STAR WARS, on the big screen in glorious 3D with theater quality surround sound.

As I’ve spent the last couple years of my career working more in audio and video production and becoming more aware of the actual work that goes into these huge film productions, I love revisiting older movies that I’ve not watched as an adult. Instead of passively watching the action on screen, my eyes and ears study every minute detail.  The camera angles, shot compositions, color grading, depth of field, soundtrack cues and sound design are all things I am constantly scanning for now. It really has given me a whole new appreciation for films.

From a production standpoint, this new version of Episode 1 is extremely polished.  It has a much better “look” overall that is more consistent with the original trilogy but also holds its own by 2012 standards.  The 3D is used subtly throughout most of the film as an effect to add depth to shots.  I’m a fan of this approach because its much easier on the eyes and more of a visual enhancement than a cheap gimmick.  If are expecting laser blasts and lightsabers to jump out of the screen and into your popcorn, well you’re at the wrong movie.  With that being said, there are a few moments where the 3D is more extreme and it really adds to the tension and excitement of some of the actions scenes.  If the 3D was overused throughout, these shots would have lost their impact.

Use of 3D – 9 out of 10

Continuing with the visuals, the entire film has been given a significant face lift during its transition to Blu-ray which I’m assuming is what the 3D version is derived from. The lighting and color grading look great, most of the visual effects have been enhanced and even the Yoda puppet was replaced with a much better looking CG version.

The sound is better than ever.  I’ve always thought Duel of the Fates was one of the best musical additions to the Star Wars universe and after hearing this remastered version of the soundtrack in theaters, I’m even more convinced.  The sound design was fantastic as well – every laser blast and footstep has been carefully enhanced. Overall, the audio is extremely polished.

Sound – 10 out of 10

Let’s get down to the real reason you should drop everything and run to the theater to see this movie.   The pod race scene.

In my opinion, this is one the best action/race scenes ever created.   Its like Days of Thunder in space except Tom Cruise is an 8 year old Jedi.   The pod race scene is worth the price of admission alone and if I could, I would pay to see it in the theater by itself.   Its really that good.   The sound design, visuals, tension and excitement are hard to find in any form of media.

Yes the movie has flaws.  Yes Jar Jar Binks is annoying, although it looks like they made an attempt to make him less annoying.   But you know what?   The kids in the audience laughed at almost every line he delivered and thats part of the universal appeal that Star Wars is known for.   Try eating some candy whenever he is on screen and you just might condition yourself into thinking hes not that bad.

Overall Score – 8.5 out of 10