Scott Marks 12:30 p.m., July 26
Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The long-awaited (by some) prequel to the Star Wars trilogy, and such a letdown as to make you feel almost sorry for George Lucas, poor little rich boy. Even moviegoers who have never attended a foreign film in their lives are apt to be aware that Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress is cited by Lucas as one of the inspirations for the original Star Wars. (In this one, too, we have the female royal in commoner's disguise.) And it is slightly painful to think that any filmmaker who knows enough to mention and admire and emulate the, or a, work of that Japanese master, that most intrepid explorer of screen space, that virtuoso of rhythm and tempo, could have learned so little from the master's example, could have turned out something so flat and inflexible in its staging, so hasty and inept in its action, so ponderous and monotonous in its pace, so slapdash and seat-of-the-pants in its storytelling ("If we can't get the shield generator fixed, we'll be sitting ducks"), so sandy, dusty, drab, and dull in its image. Part of the problem may be that whatever Lucas once knew about directing, he has forgotten in the twenty-two years since he last tried his hand at it. But another, a larger, part of the problem may be that there is some technical reason for a director's hand to be tied behind his back when he depends so heavily on computer animation, when, in other words, what's in front of him on the set is only a fraction of what will eventually fill up the screen. Or if no technical reason, then maybe a mental reason. Maybe the mind-boggling possibilities of computer animation are too huge a distraction to leave room in conscious thought for any attention to little matters such as pacing, composition, color. And perhaps the best way to make sense of this movie -- as anything other than a money-making machine -- is to view it as the farthest point of decadence in the evolution of live action mixed with animation. The primitive "Out-of-the-Inkwell" series would be the seed; Who Framed Roger Rabbit would be the full flower; and the Star Wars series, or rather the first installment of the second Star Wars series, would be the overgrowth. Cluttered, choked, strangled. With Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd. 1999.