Jumpin' Jupiters! It's June Already
Or: Yet Another Potpourri from The Aisle Seat
By Andy Dursin
Greetings fellow readers and welcome back from the holiday weekend!
If you didn't brave the crowds during the first week of THE PHANTOM MENACE,
perhaps you did over the last few days, when George Lucas's latest failed
to cave in to the second week drop-off and past the $200 million mark in
less than 10 days. The Julia-Hugh Grant romance NOTTING HILL also fared
well with a solid box-office gross of $26 million, and although I did not
partake in the picture this weekend, I'm betting that I'll be there come
next Saturday night -- if only because I'll need to provide a review here
in this space next week (being the FSM trooper that I am, although it's
not the ONLY reason I'm going of course!)
In the meantime, more reader comments have trickled in on STAR WARS
-- all of which follow below, as well as some quick DVD takes. And remember
to send in your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- we're always looking for a few readable emails!
Aisle Seat Reader Bag
I don't usually encourage lengthy emails but the following messgae I
received really hits upon so many relevant points in EPISODE I that there's
no reason not to run it unexpurgated.
From Andrew Doughty (ADoughty1@aol.com):
For whatever reason--despite the undeniably intense interest in
the film--it has suddenly become tragically unhip to talk about The Phantom
Menace. Even the more rabid fans are apt to sigh in the midst of those
still sifting through the details of George Lucas' latest opus, either
furthering their appreciation or finding new ammunition with which to damn
the picture, or perhaps a little of each. At any rate, I say bring on the
Here's my two cents on the subject... The Phantom Menace--a terrific
title by the way; it has that B-serial vibe, and also is a kind of "mission
statement" for the film--left me with the feeling that George Lucas
sort of wanted to "slip in through the back door" on his original
trilogy...already in progress. We drop in on characters we don't know on
a murkily defined mission, then the screen explodes with state of the art,
meticulously conceived, rip-roaring action (the droid battle on the Federation
ship). Shades of A New Hope's kick off here, as--whether we're fully comprehending
or not--this Universe hurtles along, dragging us with it at breakneck speed.
No sooner have we gotten our bearings than we're literally immersed in
a new environment, en route to the aquatic, Gun-Gun City.
With Episode One, Lucas has delivered a ride-film; a scene setting,
aesthetic establishing prelude, that--living up to its title--is haunted
by the first low rumblings of the coming storm of the Galactic Empire as
it begins to slowly take shape from within. Fittingly, Phantom is not as
punchy, thunderous or hammy as any of the other Star Wars films; this is
the place of origin of that musty old light saber--the "elegant weapon"--Obi
Wan presents Luke in A New Hope...a "more civilized age," and
hence, is a little more buttoned down--though astonishingly textured, visually--and
all around less explicitly "Star Wars" as we have come to know
it. But Phantom positively crackles with the old Force Fire with the appearance
of Darth Maul--apprentice of that other specter, Darth Sidious, Evil Galactic
Emperor Palpatine to be, if I have my lore right--who, as any "menace"
worth his salt will try to do, delivers us into calamitous new times more
resembling Lucas' original three episodes (IV, V, and VI); Episode I is
about the process of that "delivery".
Menace, I think, asks something unprecedented of the Star Wars audience
for much of its running time...to be attuned to subtlety and be patient,
not with respect to Pod races or gun battles, per say, but in their hunger
for the really good stuff: i.e, the betrayals, the seductions by the Dark
Side, the romantic elements (which were very nicely alluded to in Menace's
closing scenes, by the way, with an already amorous Amidala smiling broadly
at young Anakin, her future sack mate. Incidentally, what with Jabba the
Hutt lurking, any word on whether Natalie Portman insisted upon a "no
bikini clause" in her contract? If not, she could be in trouble--prone
to chill in a good, stiff breeze--in Episode III; like mother, like daughter).
Why bother with patience? What's the point? I think Lucas felt that
there was great power in allusion, that a slower burn style of unfolding
his tale was a nice way to exploit what we think we already know about
what's going to happen. What seems like a mere pin dropping--the new Chancellor
Palpatine promising to "watch the career of young Anakin closely,"
for instance--reverberates with grim portent for the "in the know"
audience. The seeds of evil here are nascent, but I find that compelling;
it's the anatomy of the coming apocalypse hidden in the minutiae, and the
deceptively offhand quality of much of the film is quite chilling. There's
the rub for Lucas: To an audience desiring a film with wall-to-wall, "...I
am your father..." styled revelations, the subtle rippling on the
pond formed by the modest, dramatic stone George chose to toss this time
were not the whitecaps people were looking for.
As an allusive film, however, Menace leaves little doubt that Darth
Sidious' brewing storm--still far out at sea--will have those waves crashing
into the shore in no time. The last thing those contemptuous of Episode
I may want to hear is that they should see it again. Freed from the punishing
expectation that derived from everyone essentially projecting their own
version of the film over Lucas' upon the first viewing, The Phantom Menace's
subtle brand of charms--gut pleasing action sequences notwithstanding--are
allowed to filter through for the first time. My stunning conclusion upon
my second viewing, taking into account Phantom's flaws (flaws being intrinsic
to every Episode from "A long time ago..."), its merits: It's
Star Wars. We shall not look upon its like again...at least until "Episode
It's amusing that you run into very specific camps on this movie: people
not really into STAR WARS in the first place who tend to hate it, the fans
who can't stand the fact that this isn't the original Trilogy and also
despise it, and then others who take TPM for what it is and accept it as
the starting point for a series, a movie that works as a backstory for
what will follow not only in the second Trilogy we all know, but also EPISODES
II and III -- which will comprise the real drama of this first Trilogy.
TPM is a film that very much works as a primer for what's to come, and
indeed, a second viewing of this film will make you realize that -- the
small details, lines of dialogue, that casually hint at what's to come,
and the intergalactic politics that comprise the origins for the rise of
the Empire and Luke's story in Episodes IV-VI. This movie is setting the
table for what will follow -- the story that some viewers and critics complain
is missing from this picture. I think once the "new" Trilogy
is finished, this picture's merits will be looked at from a more positive
standpoint from critics, although audiences seem perfectly content right
now with the finished product -- and that's the most important element,
From Brian W. Ralston (email@example.com)
Having now seen STAR WARS: EPISODE 1 (twice actually), I thought
I would pass along some of my feelings on the film. I found this film to
be very enjoyable. I went into the film expecting to be entertained for
2 hours, 12 minutes and I was. I have to admit that the film seems to be
a little slow moving at first. But, what should we expect? The title says
it all. This is Episode 1. The beginning of a long story yet to be told.
It has to start somewhere. I didn't expect the movie to start in the middle
of the clone wars or anyplace too quick and exciting to follow. I completely
enjoyed John William's wall-to-wall scoring of the film. Star Wars would
not be the same without his musical contributions. I believe THE PHANTOM
MENACE does a very good job at setting up the next two films in the series.
I am dying to know how the Queen and Anakin get together. I am anxious
to see how Palpatine becomes the Emperor and how Anakin becomes Darth Vader,
Dark Lord of the Sith, destined to hunt down and murder all of the Jedi.
[Will we actually get to see Mace Windu (A.K.A. Samuel L. Jackson) or Yoda
fight in the next two films?] That is yet to be seen.
George Lucas has, in my opinion, set another standard in the movie
industry. The special effects in this film are incredible. Most of the
time, I did not believe I was watching a computer generated Jar Jar Binks,
or a CGI of the city of Coruscant. Perhaps this is Lucas's greatest contribution
to the world of film. Not the Star Wars films, rather the technical wizardry
needed to create masterpieces like Star Wars. Companies like Industrial
Light & Magic, THX and Skywalker Sound are setting the standard in
their various areas of expertise. Like it or not, George Lucas (who really
started as an independent movie director) has worked hard and made a significant
impact on the movie industry. To me, it is inspiring to follow his success
I agree with you, Brian. People seem to forget, or simply not notice,
that the entire Naboo battle at the end of the film is all-CGI. The troops,
backdrops, characters -- in a word, EVERYTHING -- is computer generated,
and it is indeed an amazing achievement that is being lost in the shuffle
with all of the various discussion about this movie that's going on. Viewers
who complain about a lack of story seem to be missing the point that this
film is the start of a trilogy -- and others who carp about the acting
in relation to the original series are thoroughly off-the-mark. As much
as I love the original STAR WARS (and prefer it to this film, obviously),
I'll still take Natalie Portman over Carrie Fisher any day of the week.
Of course, not everyone agrees -- including Recordman!
From Mike Murray (firstname.lastname@example.org):
It actually bored me for most of the film so that I found myself
concentrating on the marvelous computer special effects to the detriment
of the story. I've been avoiding reading any reviews of plot lines until
I saw the film. I found myself feeling sorry for those few who were seeing
this and had not followed all three of the previous films. It would be
like coming in on a long running soap opera and not knowing the characters.
I couldn't understand what that Jar-Jar character and his breed were saying
at least half the time [IMHO no sound Oscar for that alone].
I'm sure others have made some of the following comments [but I
haven't seen them]. The space vehicle race which the young Anakin Skywalker
wins was to me a direct up-date lift from the chariot race in Ben-Hur [with
better crowd effects :-)] When the droids mass in formation to fight Jar
Jar's people in the big fight, I was reminded of similar scene involving
Pompey's legions in Spartacus. With the emphasis on the young Anakin and
the Jar Jar character it was obviously geared towards the young audience,
as perhaps it well should have been, Disneyfied. And I'm sure the young
kids were suitably impressed, though how than ever they followed the plot
line, is beyond me.
I did enjoy it but probably for the wrong reasons. Visually stunning,
but it actually somewhat bored me.
Sorry, I just wasn't impressed with Williams' music. Best picture
I've enjoyed lately was The Mummy, and I even liked the Goldsmith score
[for a change].
Mike, as always your comments are well-respected and appreciated. However,
in terms of those sequences you mentioned, I'm not entirely sure that they're
"rip-offs" or "lifts" so much as they are homages to
scenes like BEN-HUR's chariot race. (You can make the same claim about
BRAVEHEART's battle sequences as you can about the Naboo fight in THE PHANTOM
MENACE as well).
DVD Corner: That ALIEN Box Set and Anchor Bay Goodies
If you haven't ordered the remastered ALIEN DVDs from Fox Home Entertainment
(due in stores today), you may want to splurge for the ALIEN 4-DVD Box
Set since -- as mentioned here last week -- buying the box-set is the only
way to get ahold of Sharpline Art's eagerly anticipated 68-minute documentary
feature, THE ALIEN LEGACY. However, if you're a bit hesitant about the
price, you'd be wise to do some internet shopping and knock a few dollars
off that $110 retail price.
A quick comparison study shows that while internet vendors like Reel.Com
and Ken Crane's are offering a sizable discount, the best buy out there
is 800.com's $59.96 price (includes shipping). Again, I'm not affiliated
with any of those sites but I did happen to buy the box-set from 800.com
and have been informed the set is in-stock, and that's the lowest price
out there for this set. (We'll try to get a review online for you next
Anchor Bay, meanwhile, has unloaded a sweet payload of genre flicks
that fans of both Disney live-action and Hammer Films should find especially
While we'll look at the Disney releases next week, AB's latest triumvirate
of Hammer epics includes THE VENGANCE OF SHE, PREHISTORIC WOMEN [SLAVE
GIRLS in the UK], and THE VIKING QUEEN, all of which are highly entertaining
in their own respective ways. Made during the mid-late '60s and sporting
letterboxed transfers (only PREHISTORIC WOMEN was shot in an anamorphic
process, however), the popcorn-munching B-quality of these films makes
for ideal DVD viewing, and AB has included trailers and other extras on
each disc, which retail for $24.95 a piece.
While THE VIKING QUEEN is good fun and PREHISTORIC WOMEN includes plenty
of campy laughs (including one hysterically over-the-top score by Carlo
Mantelli), the best of the batch is THE VENGANCE OF SHE. This 1968 follow-up
to their 1965 success (which starred Ursula Andress and unfortunately is
not a part of AB's catalogue) is, for a change, a relatively lengthy Hammer
movie (over 100 minutes) that actually doesn't move at a snail's pace.
Even more impressively, it includes all sorts of eye-candy -- the majority
of which is provided by shapely Olinka Berova as a confused young woman
who is lured into the land of the immortals by being brainwashed by ruler
John Richardson, reprising his role from the original (and is dubbed throughout).
Among the highlights are a mellow, jazzy Mario Nascimbene musical score
(with a title song that recalls "Tangerine"!) and an opening
half-hour set on the French Riviera for no other reason than the filmmakers
must have received a free trip for the occasion. Whatever the case may
be, this is an appealing brew that will hold your attention from beginning
to end, directed with more gusto than to be expected by Cliff Owen. Recommended
NEXT WEEK... NOTTING HILL and more DVDs. Until then, 'Nuff said!