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Ewan McGregor, left, and Liam Neeson in "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace."
‘Phantom Menace’ still flat after 3-D conversion
Review » Bad 3-D doesn’t help space opera’s two-dimensional story and characters.
First Published Feb 10 2012 03:54 pm • Last Updated May 24 2012 11:34 pm

Digital 3-D technology can’t help a movie that’s already flatter than a silicon wafer. But that hasn’t stopped "Star Wars" creator George Lucas — who has tinkered with his space opera for years — to try the latest trend in order to attempt to keep his epic relevant for contemporary movie audiences.

This time, he’s re-introducing his six-chapter epic with a new 3-D version of "Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace" (he’s planning on releasing the rest at a rate of one a year). But while he may think he’s adding visual depth to all those space battles and laser-firing robots, the technology can’t add more layers to two-dimensional characters or fill out a plot that’s as thin as a razor’s edge.

At a glance


‘Stars Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace’

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, George Lucas made good movies. This isn’t one of them.

Where » Theaters everywhere

When » Opened Friday, Feb. 10

Rating » Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence

Running time » 136 minutes

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By now, rehashing the plot to the 1999 movie — the first of his much-maligned prequels to "Star Wars" (followed by "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith") — is pointless. There are good Jedis and evil Jedis, an evil empire, and a growing rebellion. Things blow up, and Jedis engage in acrobatic lightsaber fights.

It’s a much weaker set compared to the superior "Original Trilogy" ("Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi") because it’s mired in muddled politics, an annoying young Annakin Skywalker and the even more annoying Jar Jar Binks. Unfortunately, Lucas’ penchant for digital changes can’t erase that blabbering creature (meesa sorry!).

But whether you’re under the age of 10 and probably like this galactic mess, or over 30 and fondly remember the originals while dismissing the prequels, that’s all irrelevant to anyone planning to see the new 3-D edition. Their question is: How does the 3-D conversion hold up?

Like everything else in the movie, it’s flat and featureless.

This post-production conversion process uses computers to digitally separate the foreground objects from the background. But the result here is as bland as Disney’s live action "Alice in Wonderland" and 2010’s "Clash of the Titans."

Unlike movies that are planned for 3-D from conception and filmed with actual 3-D cameras — like "Avatar" — part of the problem of converting an older movie is that it’s difficult to digitally pull apart the layers of a scene. For a 2-D animated movie, like "Beauty and the Beast" or "Lion King," it’s much easier, and the effect is amazing. (Go see the beautiful "Beauty at the Beast," which is still in theaters, to see how it can work).

But Lucas’ latest attempt to alter his beloved "Star Wars" saga is yet another example that he just needs to leave well enough alone and let us remember the originals as they were. Our memories are the real magic of movies.

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