REVIEW: “Annihilation”

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Around the midway point of “Annihilation” one character says to another “We’re all damaged goods here.” This seemingly inconsequential line of dialogue is one of several keys to unlocking the secrets of Alex Garland’s trippy science-fiction mindbender. It’s one of several statements or conversations that offer meaning to what we see, yet unraveling the mystery is a bit tougher than it sounds.

Garland’s previous film 2015’s “Ex Machina” was his directorial debut and showed an affection for toying with sci-fi genre norms and conventions. Garland considers himself a writer first and his genre roots actually go back a bit to his time as a novelist and screenwriter. As with “Ex Machina”, “Annihilation” sees him handling both the writing and directing duties.

The film is loosely adapted from the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 Southern Reach Trilogy. Garland has called it an “adaptation of atmosphere” with a “memory of the book”. He takes concepts from the novel and gives each a good twist making his film very much its own thing. I also couldn’t help but see shades of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and more recently Villeneuve’s “Arrival” just to name a few.

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Giving an introduction to the story seems almost pointless since the meat of it is found in the mystery and metaphors. But here goes: Shortly after a mysterious object from space crashes along the United States coastline, an amorphous anomaly forms. For three years the U.S. government have watched it expand and every military expedition into the anomaly has failed. The soldiers who enter immediately lose communication with the outside and have no sense of time or place. Even worse, none of the teams have returned.

Enter Lena played by Natalie Portman, a biology professor emotionally detached following the disappearance and presumed death of her military husband Kane (Oscar Isaac). After a year away Lena is stunned when Kane suddenly shows up. But something is about him is off. He has no recollection of where he has been or how he got home. He quickly becomes violently ill. On the way to the hospital in sweeps the U.S. government to take Lena and Kane to a top-secret facility near the anomaly.

Lena is briefed by a psychologist named Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She learns the anomaly is called ‘The Shimmer’ and is slowly engulfing unpopulated swamplands. But concerns are that its growing blob-like borders will eventually swallow cities, states, and so on. Therefore a new team prepares to enter with the mission of reaching ground zero, acquiring data, and making it out alive. Learning of a connection between the Shimmer and her husband, Lena joins the expedition in hopes of finding some answers.

This time the team is made up mostly of scientists instead of soldiers and women instead of men. It’s an interesting assortment of characters. In addition to Lena and Ventress we get Gina Rodriguez as a Chicago paramedic, Tessa Thompson as a timid physicist, and Tuva Novotny as a protective geologist. Each woman fits the above description of “damaged goods” and each come into the Shimmer with their own unique perspective and purpose.

The film’s non-linear structure adds to the overall puzzle. Flashbacks and flash-forwards rich with meaning not only fill in story gaps but reveal some of the key themes. And it toys with time, not to make it needlessly complex, but to feed us narrative and thematic clues. I’m not sure how mainstream audiences will respond to the demand for attention and contemplation. It’s unashamedly cerebral and Garland isn’t interested in playing by genre rules. Sometimes he even breaks his own. For me that was a real strength.

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I found discovery to be a fundamental component both for us and the characters. Take the Shimmer itself – Garland and his crew visualize a truly fascinating off-kilter creation. The exterior emanates both beauty and menace. Think of light being bent through a detergent bubble. The soapy glow offers a stunning effect yet at the same time it’s both ominous and foreboding. The same contrast is seen inside – beautiful albeit unnatural flora mixed with terrifying animal mutations.

I really don’t want to say more because (as cliché as it sounds) this is a movie best experienced. The atmosphere alone was enough to suck me in from the gorgeously discomforting visuals and effects to Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s unsettling score filled with moody tones and occasional strums of a folksy guitar. It’s all quite effective. Garland has said his intent was to make the Shimmer “truly alien”. Mission accomplished.

But it all gets back to the movie’s meaning, something Garland (thankfully) is unwilling to spoon-feed us. Some have pointed out its dealings with depression, grief, guilt, and the meaning of being human. I believe it speaks to all of those things. More than anything else I heard it speaking the loudest about mankind’s penchant for self-destruction. But one of the truly great things about “Annihilation” is the ambiguity, not for the sake of being ambiguous, but to allow us to mediate and consider what it is saying to us. That’s a special trait the movie has in common some of the very best science fiction.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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REVIEW: “V for Vendetta”

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“Remember, remember the 5th of November”. These are the first words mentioned in the 2005 thriller “V for Vendetta”. It’s a phrase referencing the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. This failed attempt to blow up The House of Lords has oddly become a celebrated event and it serves as the inspiration for this movie’s masked vigilante known as V. This is a film based on a comic book written by Alan Moore which was distributed by Vertigo, a brand of DC comics. The screenplay was written by the then Wachowski brothers which instantly caused concern for me. I’ve had a hard time latching on to their other work but I entered this with an open mind hoping they would avoid the traps they normally fall into.

The movie starts off on a good note introducing us to its fascist dystopian near-future world. It also introduces us to V, an underground resistance fighter sporting a cool Guy Fawkes mask and a belt full of blades. He’s played eloquently by the fluid-tongued Hugo Weaving. He rescues a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) from three alley thugs and then goes on to reveal to her his plans to spark a revolution. His methods (which could understandably be called terrorism) disturbs Evey but she also finds herself mesmerized by the words and reason of the mysterious V.

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Hugo Weaving as V

At first the oppressive and tyrannical world we are thrown into is fascinating. The government has gained supreme power and High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) is pulling all the strings. The government controls the flow of information and Sutler ultimately decides what’s acceptable in every facet of the people’s lives. The citizenry sit in front of their TVs in an almost hypnotic state while the government filters and alters the “news” and “entertainment”. The totalitarian rule is realized in a variety of alarming ways which makes V’s passion and cause more sympathetic.

But as with most of the Wachowski’s other work they don’t know when to stop. After drawing us into this disturbing yet entrancing world they created, they don’t focus on unwrapping the story within it. Instead they bombard us with contrived and heavy-handed political sermonettes and pop shots. They throw out a crazy amount of soapbox issues and irrational comparisons which they have every right to do. The problem is they become so obviously forced and they do nothing to help the greater story. The social issues, the Bush bashing, the ‘blame America’ nonsense, the selective religious critique, rendition, blah, blah, blah. The second half of the film is filled with these injections that make it feel like a left-wing political propaganda piece, something the movie is supposedly speaking against.

These things mixed with the sometimes bloated dialogue ultimately made “V for Venetta” an almost laborious experience. That’s a shame because there are things the movie does well particularly in the first half. I mentioned the fantastic early impressions of the world and Weaving’s brilliant performance even during some of the Wachowski’s more blabber-heavy scenes. But the excess crap eventually weighs the thing down and at over 130 minutes it was a tad tough to endure. Director James McTeigue does the movie no favors either. There are all kinds of pacing issues and his dull camera tempered the film which seemed to be screaming for a bit of style. And he never develops enough tension and intrigue past the first act – a problem we also get in his most recent film “The Raven”. Visually the movie underwhelms and, aside from a couple of impressive explosions, it resembles a TV production. All these things left me wanting more.

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Natalie Portman

The most frustrating thing about “V for Vendetta” was that it had me during the first half. Despite its technical shortcomings I was wrapped up in the story and I found myself anxious for Hugo Weaving’s next scene. But when things come unglued I was just anxious for the ending. The Wachowskis don’t seem to understand when they’ve created a good thing. Here they take the great message built around an oppressive government and squash it with their own preachy hard-left politics. There’s nothing wrong with that in the hands of more capable writers and filmmakers, but here the latter politics don’t propel the movie. Instead they feel far more self-serving.

I know this movie has its share of followers but for me it’s a case of squandering a good thing. It goes off the rails and leaves nothing of any substance. There is a good message hidden somewhere under the clunky and peremptory politics but I lost my grasp of it halfway through. That’s unfortunate because I really wanted to like this movie. But in the end I can see why Alan Moore disassociated himself from it even if his overall problems with it were a little different than mine.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

5 Phenomenal but Utterly Detestable Movie Villains

The topic of villains has cropped up here several times over the past few weeks. In today’s Phenomenal 5 I want to look at villains but with a slight twist. Obviously the audience isn’t supposed to root for the villains when watching a film. But we all know that some movie antagonists and more evil than others. In fact, some are down right detestable. Those are ones we are exploring in this list. I’m sharing 5 phenomenal yet utterly detestable bad guys. These are the guys that you grow to dislike so much that you end up anxious for their demise – the messier the better. There are plenty to choose from so I wouldn’t say this was the definitive list. But there’s no doubt that these 5 phenomenal villains are unquestionably detestable.

#5 – AGENT STANSFIELD (“Leon: The Professional”)

Gary Oldman has a history of playing deplorable villains. But I don’t think any are as detestable as his Agent Stanfield in Luc Beeson’s “Leon: The Professional”. Stanfield is a corrupt DEA Agent who is a stylishly dressed pill-popping addict. We hate this guy immediately as we see him fly off the handle and murder an entire family including a young child. The slaughter is all over some missing cocaine that was being stashed in their apartment. The only survivor is 12-year old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) who can identify and tie Stanfield to the slaughter. Stanfield makes Mathilda and her protector, a hitman named Leon (Jean Reno) his prime target. Stanfield is a slimy and despicable villain who is willing to waste anyone that inconveniences him, even children. How can he not be on this list?

#4 – SEAN NOKES (“Sleepers”)

My wife still says she has a hard time liking Kevin Bacon due to his performance as reform school guard Sean Nokes in 1996’s “Sleepers”. I can’t say I blame her. A group of mischievous boys from Hell’s Kitchen end up being sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys after their antics finally catch up to them. But one of the heads of the school is a disgustingly vile guard who uses his authority and power to abuse the boys in every way possible. He verbally abuses them. He beats them. He and his guard buddies even sexually assault them. It’s a strong but disturbing and uncomfortable performance from Bacon which is one reason this character is perfect for this list. The movie leaps ahead 14 years later where two of the boys run into Nokes. They reintroduce themselves to him and lets just say that the results are certainly satisfying.

#3 – COLONEL TAVINGTON (“The Patriot”)

In “The Patriot” Mel Gibson plays a respected man who due to past experiences is reluctant to support the colonies decision to go to war with England. But his perspective changes when he encounters Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a vicious and ruthless English officer whose known as “The Butcher” by his fellow Englishman. Isaacs’ arrogance and calloused view of human life is never more evident than in the scene where he takes the life of Gibson’s son followed by the comment “Stupid boy”. Also locking an entire village in a church and flippantly burning them alive does nothing to endear Tavington to us. And then there’s his showdown with Heath Ledger’s character, Gibson’s oldest son. Tavington is about as detestable as a villain can be and when he meets up with Mel Gibson on the battlefield we are ready for him to get whats coming to him.

#2 – CAPTAIN VIDAL (“Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro created a dark but fantastical world in his 2006 fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth. In the film, young Ofelia and her pregnant mother come to live with her new stepfather Vidal. He’s a military officer stationed in the mountains of Spain and tasked with squelching a rebel movement against his cause. We quickly learn that Vidal is not only a brutal military man but also extremely hateful and eventually abusive towards Ofelia and her mother. Vidal is one of those characters that is so cruel and so evil that he makes your skin crawl. This violent sociopath soon completely loses touch with reality and the pure evil in his heart is realized. It all leads to a heart-breaking final scene with Ofelia face-to-face with an unbridled Vidal who ends up solidifying his spot on this list.

#1 – AMON GOTH (“Schindler’s List”)

One of the things that makes Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goth from “Schindler’s List” so terrifying and detestable is the fact that he is based on a real person. This Nazi SS officer oversaw the slaughter of thousands of Jews in his brutal death camps. Fiennes gives a tremendous performance bringing this vile and psychopathic mass murderer to life on screen. We see him issue orders that results in the deaths of so many. He personally shoots men and women in the head in order to make examples out of them. He even sits on the terrace of his hilltop home overlooking the camp and shoots random prisoners with his high-powered sniper rifle for no real purpose other than his sadistic hatred. We’ve seen lots of Nazis in cinema history but none are as unnerving and deplorable as to murderous savage Amon Goth.

And there they are, 5 phenomenal villains that we can all agree are detestable. See someone I missed? Please take time to let me know who you would have included on this list.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE HERO DEATHS

SPOILER: THESE ARE 5 FILMS WHERE THE MAIN HERO DIES. BE FOREWARNED!

Everyone loves a great hero. In fact, entire movies can stand or fall on how good the main hero of the story is. We’ve all seen the “ride off into the sunset” endings where everything is happy and uplifting. The boy gets the girl (or vice versa) and all is right with the world. But then there are the movies where the good guy may win, but dies in the process. If you think about it, there are several films that feature their hero dying. I’ve chosen five fantastic deaths that are worth some praise. Now there are many I had to leave off so this certainly isn’t the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these five movie hero deaths are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “ROAD TO PERDITION”

Sam Mendes’ “Road to Perdition” may have one of the saddest hero deaths in cinema. Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a mob hitman who gets revenge on his bosses who turn on him and kill his wife and younger son. The mob higher-ups seek to silence him and he escapes to a small town on Lake Michigan called Perdition. Sullivan stands by a window of a beach house looking out over the lake waters when two bullets hit him from behind. Jude Law walks out of the shadows as Sullivan falls to the ground. Sullivan kills his killer then dies in the arm of his crying son. It’s a devastating scene involving a young boy losing his father and even though Sullivan isn’t the most upright hero, we still root for him.

#4 – “THE PROFESSIONAL”

Jean Reno stars as Leon, the most loveable movie hitman who befriends and shelters a troubled young girl named Matilda (Natalie Portman) who has witnessed the murder of her family at the hands of Standfield, a corrupt DEA agent played by Gary Oldman. Stansfield brings his forces for a big final showdown in Leon’s apartment building. He gets Matilda to safety before sneaking out after a massive gun battle. He makes it out of the building and while hobbling down an alley Stansfield shows up and shoots him. Leon hands him a grenade pin that he says is “from Matilda”. Standfield rips open Leon’s jacket to expose a number of live grenades. BOOM! Leon take Stansfield with him. A hero going out with a bang.

#3 – “PAN’S LABYRINTH”

While young Ofelia isn’t your typical hero especially for this type of list, I had to put her on here. Fleeing from her brutal stepfather, Ofelia carries her infant brother into a garden labyrinth. She puts her life on the line to save her brother but her stepfather soon catches up with her and shoots her dead. He gets his when he reaches the exit of the labyrinth and plenty of people are waiting. But one of the most devastating scenes is when they discover Ofelia. What makes her death so powerful is the sad life she was confined to throughout the movie. In her fantasy world she went on to rule. But in our world she died a true hero’s death.

#2 – “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD”

After all Ben had been through the night before, to be killed the way he was just stinks. Zombies corner up seven people in a Pennsylvania farm house and only Ben (Duane Jones) survives the night. After barricading himself in the cellar, he comes up after all seems quiet upstairs. It’s daylight outside and Ben hears dogs barking. He sneaks up to a window and peaks out. At that second he gets shot in the head by a group of men who mistake him for a zombie. Just like that. Ben was cool and calm and managed to survive the zombies. It’s too bad he was later mistaken for one.

#1 – “GLADIATOR”

Russell Crowe’s performance as Maximus in Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” was exceptional and his death was certainly that of a hero. After being stabbed while chained up by the sniveling Emperor Joaquin Phoenix, the wounded Maximus is then brought out to fight the Emperor and die in front of the huge crowd in the Coliseum. But just like a true hero, Maximus prevails and kills the Emperor just before passing out. He dies there in the Coliseum and we see him being reunited with his wife and son through a dying vision. Maximus is carried off while the Emperor is left laying in the dirt. It’s a poignant and moving ending and it still gets to me no matter how often I see it.

There ya go – 5 Phenomenal Movie Hero Deaths. Now I could easily have done a top 20 so I know I’ve left some good ones out. What’s your favorite movie hero death?

“THOR” – 4 1/2 STARS

The summer of 2011 was all about superheroes. The summer movie season started with “Thor”, the first of four superhero film’s that were released between May and July of 2011. The idea of a Thor movie changed hands multiple times but Marvel Studios would finally green-light the project after the strong success of the Iron Man film. “Thor” was another movie that led to this week’s much-anticipated Avengers movie.

Of the four big superhero releases that year, I always felt “Thor” had the biggest chance fir failure. While I understood how a great picture could be made considering the wealth of quality source material available, I couldn’t help but question how it would look on-screen. I was thrilled to see that it’s a cleverly crafted film and Marvel Studios did a nice job placing it in the hands of director Kenneth Branagh. Now Branagh wasn’t the first name that I thought of when it comes to directing superhero movies. He’s better known for his Shakespeare movie adaptations but don’t let that scare you away. He does a great job here with some tricky material.

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, the tough but brash god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard who is banished to earth after bringing war to his home and losing favor with his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor’s banishment opens the door for his brother Loki (wonderfully played by Tom Hiddleston), also known as the god of mischief, to rise to power. Upon crashing down to earth, Thor is found by a group of scientists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who can’t determine whether Thor is from another “realm” or truly insane. To make things worse, Thor finds himself to be without  Mjolnir, his mystical hammer and ultimate power source, making his ability to return to Asgard virtually impossible.

Perhaps the greatest thing about Thor is that it’s just so much fun. For me personally, it was a fantastic movie theater experience. The cast is having fun and easily passes it on to us. Of course it’s filled with spectacular action sequences and special effects but also the perfect amount of humor that never goes too far. The movie never takes itself too seriously and that’s a key to it’s success. “Thor” sticks close enough to the comic book source material to satisfy any fanboy like me but also has a strong mass appeal that anyone could easily appreciate. I also loved the portrayals of Thor’s great assortment of side characters such as Heimdall, Volstagg, and Sif. Almost everything works well. There are moments that had me wanting to clap and others that had me laughing out loud. It’s that well done.

Hemsworth really brings it with his performance. He proves to be a great casting choice and his bulked up, Norse warrior look combined with a genuinely funny, self-deprecating humor does Thor justice. Portman, fresh off of her Academy Award win, is also very good as Jane Foster. She has a nice, believable chemistry with Hemsworth that’s pretty easy to buy into. Hiddleston’s Loki was one of the trickiest roles (no pun intended) but he pulls it off masterfully and Hopkins is as strong as always. I also enjoyed Jaimie Alexander’s Sif. Unfortunately she isn’t given much to do and I would have loved to have seen more of her in the picture.

There isn’t a lot to say negatively about the film but I do have to mention the 3-D. There are very few scenes that really stand out and at the end of the day the 3-D seems tacked on and pointless. As is the case with many conversions, it adds a darker look to the screen and I could have done without it completely. I also wasn’t really taken Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis character. She’s mainly in there for comic relief and honestly some of her lines are pretty funny. But I could think of a few better ways to use that screen time. But these things do nothing to ruin what’s a really good film.

“Thor” was a great start to the summer season and a true accomplishment for fans of the comic book movie genre. It’s strong cast is complimented by a well written story and sharp direction. As I mentioned, it never takes itself too seriously but does have enough drama to draw you in. It trips up in a few small places but as a whole “Thor” was a joy. As a comic book fan it met nearly every expectation I had. It’s an obvious attempt to start yet another Marvel movie franchise and ties in nicely to the upcoming Avengers film. It moves at a perfect pace and maintains a great balance between it’s parallel stories. It a fun, exciting, and often hilarious popcorn picture that I’m ready to see again.

“STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE” 3D – 4 STARS

There is perhaps no better monument to geekdom than the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas’ sprawling epic and personal cash cow has leapt outside the bounds of movies and into television, novels, comic book series, and more. That doesn’t even count the loads of money brought in through toys and other merchandise. So Star Wars certainly has it’s fan base and it always will. But you don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to appreciated the monumental accomplishment that “Star Wars” was when it hit theaters in 1977. It was a ground-breaking film in regards to its visual style and special effects. The film spawned two sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi”, both of which were immensely popular with the fans.

But one of the greatest stirs within the Star Wars community came in 1993 when Lucas announced he would be making a new trilogy, a prequel to the first three films. They would connect directly to the original trilogy and complete Lucas’ vision for the saga. In 1999, “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” was released. There has probably never been a movie released that has been under more scrutiny and breakdown that Episode 1 when it arrived in theaters. Fanboys and critics alike looked for chinks and flaws while never being able to keep from comparing it to the original trilogy. This has made judging Episode 1 on its own merits almost impossible. But Episode 1 had a lot on its plate and while I did find it to be the weakest of the six Star Wars pictures, after seeing the re-release, it still grabbed me and brought me back to the universe that I have always loved.

Since Lucas’ intent was to connect the two trilogies into one cohesive saga, I was always curious to see how he would start everything. In Episode 1, Lucas sets everything in motion by focusing on, of all things, politics as the biggest weapon of manipulation used to bring about the tragic events that we all know will unfold. We also get a look at the Jedi in their prime. We spend most of the time with Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) as they go from political negotiators to planet liberators. A young Natalie Portman plays a Naboo queen who has a major impact on events. Another key part of the film is the introduction to Anakin Skywalker (played wonderfully by Jake Lloyd), a young child slave on Tatooine who we know later becomes Darth Vader. Lucas’ focus on Anakin in the first three films ends up reshaping the actual focus of the overall saga, and for my money in a good way.

As a whole, the structure of “The Phantom Menace” is pretty impressive. It was a daunting task to make three films that could connect directly to the previous trilogy and do so in a way that’s both cohesive and that survives the mythological scrutiny it faced from fanboys. Episode 1 does a nice job of putting the key characters in place while only occasionally getting bogged down in the almost mandatory setup scenes needed to launch the story. It’s nicely written and with the exception of a few hiccups, I found myself still pulled right back into the saga even after all these years.

Several new characters are introduced. Some of them work really well while others, not so much. The hatred for the Jar Jar Binks character was well documented and understandable. For me the problem wasn’t so much with the character, but with Lucas’ overkill in using him as “comic relief”. Lucas overplayed his hand and the result was an annoying and distracting character. On the flip side is the sinister Darth Maul physically played by Ray Park (his voice was done by Peter Serafinowicz). Not only was he one of the coolest looking Star Wars characters of all but his lightsaber fight with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon still blows me away.

There’s no doubt that Lucas wants to show off the benefits of the new technology available to him in “The Phantom Menace”. In many ways it’s a good thing but in other ways it works against the film. I felt in some instances the movie becomes a barrage of “watch this” CGI moments. There are several scenes that could have easily been left out and the film would have been better for it. But there are also many scenes where the special effects present Star Wars in a new, more jaw-dropping light. The pod races on Tatooine is breath-taking and the space scenes are amazing. Most of the CGI characters move and fit flawlessly into the scenes with human actors. John Williams is back with an incredible score that gives us tiny tastes of the music from the original trilogy. Williams also creates new music that feels as though it want to interconnect with the original music as the story progresses. It works beautifully.

The one significant change for the re-release of Episode 1 is that the film is in 3D. The only problem is that it didn’t feel that significant at all. There are a few scenes where the 3 D works well, the pod races and space battles come to mind. There are also other instances where more depth is given to the scenes. But as a whole, the 3D isn’t particularly impressive. In fact, the 3D trailer that I saw earlier doesn’t reflect what you get from the full film. Now I’ll be honest, the 3D wasn’t the main draw for me. I mainly wanted to go and experience Star Wars on the big screen with my son. But if you’re going expecting a fantastic 3D experience you’ll probably be disappointed.

At the end of the day, “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” brought me right back into this magical universe that I’ve always loved. Again, Episode 1 is probably the weakest of the six films but I have a hard time railing on it as many others tend to do. It has it’s share of flaws but it also has it’s share of excitement and grandeur. But most importantly, it looks, sounds, and feels like a Star Wars picture and it sets the table for the rest of this glorious saga.