The Phantom Menace in 3D

In 1997 the original Star Wars movie was re-released in theaters, 20 years after it was originally released. I already owned the movie on VHS at that point — several copies, in fact — but there’s something about seeing movies (and those movies in particular) in a theater with a huge screen, loud speakers, and a room full of Star Wars fans.

Waves of toys and re-releases of the original trilogy into theaters in the late 90s were all designed to drum up interest for the Star Wars prequels, Episodes 1-3. The first of those movies, The Phantom Menace, opened to mixed reviews in 1999. it made a bazillion dollars (how could it not?), but fans of the original series tore it apart. I remember thinking a lot of things as I watched The Phantom Menace in the theater back in 1999, but one thing I never thought was that 13 years later, I would be sitting in a theater watching the movie again, this time with my wife and children.

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace in 3D is the same movie it was back in 1999. Well, actually it’s not. Lucas has “done his thing” once again by editing “his film”/”our memories”. In all fairness, the theatrical release of Phantom Menace hasn’t been available for years. The 2001 DVD release of the film had deleted scenes re-inserted. Last year’s Blu-ray release had Yoda (the puppet) replaced by his CGI stunt double. The 3D re-re-re-release of Phantom Menace has additional effects added to enhance the 3D effects. When the pod racers explode coming right at ya, all the pieces now really come right at ya.

The Phantom Menace was not originally shot in 3D, which means all the effects were created in post production. With this type of processing it’s very easy to do “depth of field” 3D, giving scenes a shadow-box type of depth, but more difficult to go “in your face” 3D, in which things appear to fly off the screen out into the audience. The 3D version of Phantom Menace contains almost none of the latter, prompting my 10-year-old son to ask me, “is this really in 3D?” There’s some pretty impressive depth perspective going on in which background objects are blurred and look much further away, but none of the effects really had the “wow” factor we were expecting.

By the nature of the technology, 3D movies are almost always darker than 2D ones, and Phantom Menace is no exception. The color and brightness of the lightsabers in several scenes were washed out. Despite the fact that we saw the film in “Digital Real 3D”, in some of the brighter scenes the colors were completely washed out. It was easy to see how much brighter the actual film was by simply peeking out from around those 3D glasses. The two scenes I was expecting to be wowed by — the pod race and the final space battle — weren’t significantly improved at all, in my opinion.

Mason wasn’t born in 1999 when Phantom Menace originally hit theaters, and was only 4-years-old when Episode III hit theaters (and yes, I took him). Mason and Morgan are 10 and 6 now, so this was their first time to see Phantom Menace in the theater. For that, I have no regrets.

Tickets for 2 adults and 2 kids to see the movie in 3D cost $48 — almost $50 for the privilege of seeing a dim movie that barely made use of 3D technology, and as far as picture quality goes, certainly looked worse than it does at home on Blu-ray with a large HD television.

Of course The Phantom Menace’s biggest problem isn’t the 3D conversion; it’s the film itself. My daughter had trouble staying awake during the stretches of non-action, and the new, extended run time didn’t help things. “Non-action” doesn’t have to mean “boring,” but for some reason in this film, it does. It’s been a few years since I saw this film and I had forgot how much “nothing” takes place during it. The kids laughed a few times and enjoyed the movie, but … let’s just say at the end, we clapped for different reasons.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince Susan into going, but I’m sure the kids and I will be seeing all the re-releases in theaters as they arrive (although, not in 3D, if possible).

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2 comments to The Phantom Menace in 3D

  • ladyjaye

    I saw it last week (had free tickets) and it was ok, but not great. When you look back, you realize how much Lucas was trying to force in the links with the original trilogy (to be frank, I still have issues with the back story of C3PO and R2D2 in relation to the original Star Wars movie; wouldn’t Obi-Wan have even a flicker of recognition at the sight of R2, at least commenting how he once had a little droid like him?). The quality of the acting is also quite varied; Jake Lloyd screams more than he speaks his lines, and Ewan McGregor (who I adore as an actor) seems ill at ease trying to constantly imitate Alec Guinness’ accent. On the other hand, Ian McDiarmid and Natalie Portman somewhat compensate for their colleagues.

    3D effects just don’t work with me, and the dark image in 3D is starting to grate me; couldn’t they raise the brightness of the film so that it doesn’t look as dark? And Eric also fell asleep during the non-action scenes; maybe it wasn’t the best choice for his first viewing of a Star Wars movie (aside from seeing bits and parts here and there).

    Personally, the music kept bringing me back to all this time spent playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Lego Star Wars… :P And Jar-Jar Binks is as annoying as ever.

  • Brian Hanifin

    Thanks for the review. Just as I suspected it sounds like the “3D” wasn’t very good being shoe horned in as an afterthought.

    I have shown my almost 6 year old son Episodes 4-6, then Episode 1. But after watching Episode 2 recently I am hesitant to show it to him primarily because of the scene where his mom dies and he kills everyone. I am very torn on that decision. I so want to share the last two movies with him.