Video Picks Archive
This week my picks are Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999 - ) and Metropolis (1927 - ).
The first film shouldn't need any introduction, since it was the highest grossing film of 1999, and the third-highest ever. It's the long-awaited first prequel to the Star Wars trilogy (with two more to come). In case you were sealed in a cave last year, the story focuses on how Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan MacGregor) and his mentor Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) find young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and discover that "the force" is extremely strong with him. The Phantom Menace was released just a few weeks before I started FilmHead.com, so I never wrote a review for it. My reaction was pretty common: a good film, great effects, stirring action, but a major letdown after years of hype. It doesn't compare well with any of the original films, and there are too many oddities added for only commercial value (especially the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks). It is George Lucas' first directorial effort since the first film in the series (Episode IV - A New Hope), and some rust shows, but the influence of Kurosawa is far more apparent than the last two films (The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).
A common misconception about the Star Wars films is that they belong in the science fiction genre. They certainly have the look and gimmicks (space travel, aliens, advanced technology), but not the core requirement: that they take place in the future. The famous card that precedes each one -- "Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away" -- disqualifies it after two words. If you had to categorize them, try "magic samurai in space" -- or fantasy-adventure, if you prefer something less colorful. They have far more in common with The Wizard of Oz and The Hidden Fortress than the second film: the mother of all science fiction films. Fritz Lang's Metropolis depicts a disturbing future world where the economic gap is uncrossable. Huddled workers toil endlessly in the bowels of the earth to keep the surface world running smoothly for the wealthy elite. When a woman (Brigitte Helm) threatens to start a coup among the workers, a mad scientist (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) builds a robot in her image to foil the revolution. This is one of the most memorable silent films ever made, with images that amaze to this day (which would probably be the time it all takes place). Plus, it is true science fiction: the effect of technology on the future of humanity. It simply must be seen by any fan of the genre, or any serious film buff.
For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
Guide to Star Ratings
Capsule Reviews © 2000 Matt Heffernan