Saturday, October 31, 2009

FotM: It wasn't all that long ago, but it feels far, far away

I don't like to use the words "all time" very often when I'm talking about the movies. Although film as an art form hasn't been around for an awfully long time, there have been hundreds of thousands of movies that have been made since the late 1800's. This is a fact that's all too easy to forget in the rush to anoint something as one of the best such-and-suches of all time.

That said, I'm going to break with my usual practice and use those very words to describe the film from 1999 that I chose to feature.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was, I believe, the most anticipated motion picture of all time. It would be ludicrous for me to go back and tell you the reasons for the success of the original trilogy of Star Wars films for the very simple reason that, if you are indeed a sentient being and reading this right now, you have almost assuredly seen them and could tell me just as well as I could tell you.

I remember hearing about the proposed prequel trilogy back in 1993/1994. Back then, the common thought was that the first film would be released in 1997, which seemed like an eternity to an 8 or 9 year old kid. 1997 actually ended up being the year that the Special Edition trilogy made its debut, which meant that we'd have to wait even LONGER to see the films. No matter. Our enthusiasm was undiminished.

Finally, we were given a release date: May 19, 1999. We were thrilled. At long last, we'd get the chance to see the story before the story and have the chance to understand how Darth Vader came to be. Seeing it opening night seemed out of the question, because everyone and their brother would most definitely already have the drop on us, so we decided that opening weekend would probably be the best we could hope for. I remember actually saying a prayer to ask God if there was any possible way he might help us get tickets for opening night.

You can only imagine our jubilation when a friend of ours scored 6 tickets. I remember being stunned, almost in shock that I would actually be there on OPENING NIGHT. Such a thought seemed to be one of the most wonderful that I could have ever conceived.

Seeing the movie with a theaterful of the Brethren was a blast. I'll never forget our collective enthusiasm, cheering as various characters were introduced for the "first" time. I tell you, there were things in this film that we'd only dreamed of. We were able to see the Jedi in action for the first time, and, let me tell you, those guys were pretty incredible! It might be hard to imagine for younger people who've grown up on hordes of Jedi fighting with the collective hum of dozens of lightsabers filling the air that there was actually a time when the extent of what we'd ever seen of a Jedi in action was Luke dispatching the minions of Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, but it's true. I will also remember forever the awe that I felt when I saw things like the entry into the Galactic Senate for the first time.

That's one of the things I miss the most from those days. In 1999, with films like The Phantom Menace and The Matrix, visual effects were just beginning to explode into their modern-day position of dominance. Then, it was still possible to go into the theater and see something that made your jaw drop, your scalp tingle, and made you think, "Wow, I've NEVER seen anything like THAT before!" There was a special sense of wonderment that I remember from those days that I don't really think is around much anymore. Now, films are full of sound and fury that signifies nothing. They know the words, but have no idea how the tune goes. I might sound old for saying this, but I miss the good old days.

Now, back to 5/19/99 . . .

After leaving the theater at the end of the credits, we found that most of the audience was out in front of the theater, talking excitedly about what they'd just seen. I remember feeling a twinge of disappointment, because, while I'd really liked the film, it wasn't quite what I'd thought it was going to be.

But how could it have been? I'd been building it up in my mind for years and there comes a point when it's nigh impossible to fulfill someone's expectations in a situation like that. Besides, I really had liked the film, and saw it twice more in the theater (a personal record) before buying it the first day it was available.

As time passed, I went to the same theater with the same group of people twice more on May 16, 2002 and May 19, 2005 to see the next two installments of the trilogy. I remember the terrible sense of disappointment that I felt after seeing Attack of the Clones, realizing that, for the first time, I felt that George Lucas had really missed the mark. I remember the redemptive sense of exhilaration that I felt after seeing Revenge of the Sith and feeling that he'd not only ended it, but ended it right.

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that there are many of you who could say all kinds of things about how and why Lucas chose to make his second Star Wars trilogy the way that he did. I have a number of things to say about that myself, but that's a subject for another article.

Does The Phantom Menace hold up as well as it could 10 years later? No, I don't think it does. However, I don't want to use this platform to major on what doesn't work with the film.

We'll talk about that some other time.

A spellbound 14 year old boy sitting in a dark theater in Irvine thought that it was pretty awesome.


Christina said...

This is just about the best way to describe the film. Right on.

And remember the beach ball?

Adam said...

How could I forget my first experience with a beach ball like that? I remember sitting there with all those people (who I was convinced were crazy) and thinking something along the lines of, "What have I gotten myself into?"

Chris W said...

Adam, I agree with you THE PHANTOM MENACE was hands down the most anticipated movie of all time. I mean there was A LOT of hype and fervor for the new Indy but it didn't even come close to what was drummed up for Episode I. Heck I waited 2 weeks in line to see it! I have a GREAT many issues with Episode I (It's the only STAR WARS movie I can't watch all the way through) and I disagree with you on ATTACK OF THE CLONES since I thought it was a far superior film but it's nice to get the perspective of someone younger than I on how the film impacted them a the time. Over the years I've come believe that in many ways Lucas made a film for a much younger audience than the 19 year old I was at the time. I know many a young STAR WARS fan who were turned onto the STAR WARS galaxy because of that film so while I may have a great many issues with it I can't help but think maybe it was a lot more effective than I ever gave it credit for being. It just wasn't made for me. Like I said still lots I could argue about but it's cool and helpful to get that perspective.

Anonymous said...

No arguements about it being the most anticipated of all time, one of the few examples where it lives up to the hyberbole.

I have all the films and while its nowhere near the calibur of the first three (or last three, I guess) I thought it was okay for what it was. It kind of reminded me of Hook, a lot imagination but no heart.

Clones doesn't hold up as well for me but Sith is as closest to what I imagined the prequel trilogy would be all about. I think the reason is because of the last half which is why I like Jedi so much.