Anyone who is interested by the idea of viewing Episode 1 in a full-fledged theater experience again (regardless of the 3D visuals) will likely enjoy themselves.
Sixteen years after the Star Wars trilogy concluded with Stars Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, George Lucas returned to the galaxy far, far away for the first of three prequel films. Despite the inclusion of some fan-favorite characters and beefed-up special effects, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was mostly panned by critics - and even die-hard fans of the series had a hard time hiding their disappointment.
Almost 13 years after Episode I debuted in theaters, Lucasfilm is set to once again re-release the Star Wars (now) hexology - this time in post-converted 3D. The 3D re-release also marks the first time moviegoers will actually be able to see the story of Anakin Skywalker play out chronologically in theaters. That said, despite the film's flaws (which have been recounted time and time again), does The Phantom Menace offer enough 3D spectacle to make it worth another trip to the theater?
As mentioned, the purpose of our Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D review is to help our readers make an informed decision about the 3D re-release, not spend too much time revisiting the overarching problems with the film (a cheesy portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, underwhelming backstories, and of course Jar Jar Binks, among others) that have been regurgitated by fans and critics alike for over a decade.
Even with the a few enticing 3D visual sequences, it's hard to look past the failures of the prequel trilogy story lines and Episode I is still (arguably) the most bizarre of the bunch (remember Midi-chlorians?) - following 9 year-old slave-boy Anakin Skywalker after a chance encounter with Jedi masters Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as well as the captivating (and significantly older) Queen Amidala. That said, the larger over-arching story beats, such as the Darth Maul encounters and the Trade Federation dispute (which leads to the larger galactic war) may, for some viewers, be a bit more interesting this round - now that we know how exactly the events ultimately play out.
Brand recognition and eye-popping visuals helped edge Episode I on to gross over $924 million back in 1999 (over $1.1 billion in today's dollars). Ultimately, despite the "3D? Us too!" approach of the 2012 re-release, the combination of fan-favorite characters as well as exciting set-pieces (which don't benefit much from the 3D) will most definitely make the re-release a profitable experience (albeit still flawed and mostly underwhelming). However, it won't be due to the effectiveness of the 3D upgrade itself.
While the marketing has focused on the 3D presentation, it's hard to recommend moviegoers pay the upgraded price simply to experience the series in an added dimension because in most cases the image is flat. Even in sequences that viewers might expect would really benefit from the added depth (such as the Gungan/droid army battle) - and, even the ones that do work, aren't likely to make it worth sitting through the film's less successful moments (Otoh Gunga, for example). Obviously results will vary from theater to theater but, while Episode I 3D post-conversion itself doesn't present a lot of ghosted images, the effect doesn't really enhance more than a couple of the film's larger action scenes (basically podracing and the "Duel of the Fates").
Fans of the series who do choose to shell out money for the 3D re-release will, no doubt, find it hard not to be extra excited during the podracing scene - which, despite all of the problems with overarching film coupled with mostly underwhelming 3D applications, is almost (but not quite) enough to make the trip worth it. First person shots of the track, ground-level views of the racers tearing over the terrain, and other intriguing action angles make this scene in particular the flagship moment of the experience - basically none of the other sequences even come close (with most failing to earn their 3D stamp altogether).
It'll certainly be interesting to see what Lucasfilm manages to do with future 3D re-releases - as there are plenty of scenes in the larger saga that could offer-up some genuinely breathtaking 3D fun (similar to the podracing sequence) - such as the Geonosis Coliseum Battle, Death Star trench run, and Battle of Hoth, to name a few. However, much like the Phantom Menace 3D, these would still be very isolated moments in films that were never intended to be presented in 3D, meaning that the majority of the runtime will still offer a pretty flat picture at a premium price.
As a result, instead of 3D visuals, a better reason to see Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D would be simply for the purpose of enjoying the saga on the big screen once again (or to introduce younger viewers to the series who, prior to the re-release, have probably only seen the films at home). Despite the problems, there's still plenty of (flawed) fun to be had. Anyone who is interested by the idea of viewing Episode 1 in a full-fledged theater experience again (regardless of the 3D visuals) will likely enjoy themselves - and can count the 3D podracing as a bonus. However, moviegoers who were hoping the 3D experience would make-up for the film's many shortcomings, will probably continue to feel cheated by the first Star Wars prequel.
If you’re still on the fence about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D is rated PG for sci-fi action/violence. Now playing in theaters.