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Moriarty Reviews THE PHANTOM MENACE, Mann's CHINESE and VILLAGE go ahead! And DAY ONE in line here in Austin! Ebert too

First off, THANK GOD Mann's and Lucasfilm worked out the CHINESE and WESTWOOD Village Negotiations! And, it looks like Sony is working out their bits, though it's still strange, word is reaching me that the Manhattan Loews will not be getting it, but that the Long Island Loews will.... Geez.... Who really knows? Looks like everything is being worked out for the best THANK GOD!

Before I get to MORIARTY's review.... In a way... I feel sorry for Moriarty and the folks that have seen the film already. The ones with their shiny press badges, the exhibitor screenings.... the easy road. A road that often takes you to the dark side.

Today, in 40mph wind gusts, with fierce pelts of rain Father Geek and I staked out the last spot that would allow us into the First Screening of THE PHANTOM MENACE in town. We are camping not just for us, but for all the AICN crew, The Dynamic Alamo Drafthouse duo, Them Wacky Tom Joad Femme Farts, among others. We are in a big domed tent near the far edge of the theater before the line... TURNS. And... It's fantastic.

There is a feeling in the line, this charge... I know what I'm getting myself into. It's the reason I pursue information on films as vigorously as I do. I want to see this film with an entire posse of exhausted film geeks. Pushed to the very end of physical lack of exertion. People that out of a deep love for a common film... are willing to look like a pack of fools... To see... a Movie.

Can't you see the beauty of that. I mean, we are laying siege to the theater. We will not leave till they show us the film. They may turn on their garden sprinklers, they may stampede lines of MUMMY watchers through our camps, God may hurl bolts of lightning and blow with all the torrential might of the Big Bad Wolf, but we remain.

There is a brotherhood to the line. We are not fooling ourselves, I've known for months that JAR JAR is the very embodiment of EVERYTHING WRONG WITH GEORGE LUCAS IN MY EYES... But I'm in on the joke of it, I bought my Jar Jar tie as a sacrifice of my own honor. I wear his terrible visage around my neck as I await my two hour version of the OX BOW INCIDENT.

Today, the rains came to an end. It's my father and I... In line, it was just the two of us. Conversing with no telephones, no computers, no pressing matters. Just two best of friends in a tent. Waiting on a movie that we've been standing in lines for the last 22 years together for. At one point he fell asleep, and as I watched my father sleep I peaked out my screened window to see the clouds part, and a rainbow form in the distance.

That's not in the movie, but it's in my memory. It's my moment, it's one of the many moments that I got in this line to live for. Now I'm joined by FANBOYS' writer/director ERNIE CLINE, Tom Joad and Quint. We are all friends, playing trivial pursuit, listening to FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL while playing poker with 1950's nude playing cards with a badass wolf on the back.

The theater full of people that I will see THE PHANTOM MENACE with will be people that I have come to know. Like the couple, two tents ahead of me. They have their infant Kal-El child in their tent. He comes out playing with various toys... Magnetic word blocks, rattles and a lightsaber. The next generation of me... you... us. Or the crowd huddled in the cave like entrenchment of the theater's walls. They sit in their folding chairs and laugh and sing. The guys behind us that sit in their chairs smiling as the rain wipes away the years of anticipation, making way for mere days of hope.

It's not about STAR WARS! It's not about A MOVIE! It's about a cultural identity. It's about OUR GENERATION. I'm not talking about an AGE RANGE, but a mental range of people that love movies, who's loves of film sprung from Lucas' original movies. And here we are to gather our vagabond gypsy garb and stand and sit and lay in front of all these NORMAL people as they gawk and stare.

Ya know what? We're staring right back atcha. Our thoughts are, "Man.... What sad people that they are not yet in line. Too bad... They'll never know."

The line is about simple moments, about retarding the acceleration of life. It's about taking the time to relax, talk to your neighbors, share drink and merriment. Folks... You don't know this if you aren't in line, but we do.

How will this affect my FILM EXPERIENCE?

I don't know, but you couldn't offer me a ticket in the morning to get me to see the film until after the line. Why? Because... I'm in line, I'm doing my thing... Ain't no rush.... I've waited so fucking long now that I can do 8 days without so much as breaking a sweat.

Yes, I am updating. I take 5 hours a day to come home.... Check emails, run my messages, bathe, and get back in line. If you want to talk to me... Come on down to the Metropolitan. I'm the fat redhead with the smile. Come say HI!

Before I go onto Moriarty, here's a tidbit of a scoop on where Roger Ebert is on the film... Allegedly.... Here's our scooper...

Don't know if you have heard this yet or not, but here it goes. I have a friend waiting in line in Chicago for TPM, and he called me from his cell phone about how Roger was taping somethingby the line. My friend told me that Ebert said something (I'm paraphrasing here, my memory is horrible) along the lines of "Is this movie well worth the wait// Well, my review won't be out until the 19th, but in a word, Yes!!!!" I know I'll trust Roger's opinion a *lot* more than some trendy hack from Newsweek any day.

And now... It's time for MORIARTY's review. Taint orgasmic, taint awful. He's formulating a final opinion that I'm willing to bet will be moving back and forth over the coming days and weeks and months. My review is 8 days away.... It'll have all the emotion of the wait, the line, my pursuit of knowledge of this film, the success and stigma it's emblazoned upon me. And hopefully... The only emotion I want to leave the theater with is... JOY. But for now.... Here's Moriarty.... An evil genius... that's seen it!

Hey, Head Geek... "Moriarty" here. I feel a great disturbance in the Force tonight. I have been sitting here in front of this computer screen for the last hour now, talking to my best friend in the world, trying to give voice to the wildly conflicted feelings I have about STAR WARS EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE. In the end, the only thing I have as a critic is my honesty, and so I am going to try to be as direct and clear in my feelings on the film as possible. If this means there are going to be spoilers, then so be it. If this means I ramble a bit and jump from subject to subject, so be it. This is not just any review. This is the review I've waited 16 years to write, so I'm throwing all conventional rules out the window. This afternoon, Lucasfilm showed TPM at the Mann's National in Westwood. By the way, before I get started, let me extend my congratulations to Mann's and Lucas for working out the situation with the Chinese and the Village. Putting the fans ahead of whatever concerns either party might have had was the right thing to do, and you will be rewarded for your efforts. Seeing it at the National was nice, especially since I was literally the first person to be let inside. Imagine seeing TPM on opening day, being the first person inside, getting exactly the seat you wanted, having no line at the concession stand, and seeing a pristine print. That was the experience I had today, and it definitely put me in the right mood to enjoy the film without any of the hassle and baggage of what we're all going to have to go through at regular theaters. When 5:30 came and the lights went down, I could feel my heart race. The 20th Century Fox logo was first, followed by the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo, accompanied by the familiar Fox fanfare. When the simply blue letters appeared -- "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." -- I stopped breathing. And then, just like that, the simple yellow STAR WARS appeared, followed by the opening scroll, and we were off. How to describe the impressions that rolled over me as the opening of the film unfolded... I was underwhelmed by the Niemoudians, to say the least. They're weak villains, weak characters, and visually uninteresting. They're also hard to understand at times due to their strange vaguely Oriental (I know that's not a PC term, but neither is the accent, folks) way of speaking. On the other hand, I was fascinated by the Jedi from the moment they appeared onscreen. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor both make strong impressions at first, and that initial shot of the two of them pushing back the hoods of their cloaks is great, revealing the two faces we're dying to see, really launching us into the story. No time is wasted before the action begins. There's a betrayal, a trap, and the Jedi spring into action, lightsabers flashing. Lucas uses all sorts of trickery to give the Jedi the power that we've always imagined they would have, and it works. They're both all-powerful and very human. Human is a key word when discussing THE PHANTOM MENACE, or any STAR WARS film for that matter. It is the human story that has always drawn us through the films, made us care so deeply about them, and on paper, this film has a story that easily fits into the universe Lucas created. Onscreen, though, so much of the film has been handed over to alien creatures that we are left floundering, trying to figure out who to latch onto as viewers. Even now, having seen the film, I would be hardpressed to tell you who the film is about. It's definitely not Obi-Wan's story. I don't think it's Anakin's story. Queen Amidala is kept too much of an enigma for it to be her story. So who does that leave? What other major human character is there for us to cheer? That's not to say that I don't like some of the alien characters. Watto is a particular standout, a funny, shady little guy with personality to spare. Boss Nass is very funny, and R2-D2 registers well in his brief screen time. But there's one alien who really stands at the center of the film, and a large part of what you personally feel about the film will be centered on your feelings about Jar Jar Binks. *Sigh* What do you do with a problem named Jar Jar? I have defended the character in theory since the day I first read the script, and I still think he works in terms of story mechanics. It's important that Obi-Wan be taught the value of seemingly worthless creatures by Jar Jar. Qui-Gon is well aware of what he's doing when he brings Jar Jar along. The problem I have with the execution of the character can be narrowed down to one particular element of how he was handled: his voice. Jar Jar is simply impossible to understand at many key moments in the film. Having read the script, the book, the comic, etc., I was well aware of what Jar Jar was saying in each scene, and even I had a hard time following him. Mr. Furious, who was my host for tonight's screening, missed at least half of what Jar Jar said, including some fairly important exposition. This isn't just an aesthetic choice I disagree with, either. This is about simple communication. Jar Jar doesn't work in communicating to the audience, and it hurts the film. In addition, Jar Jar's just not that funny. There's not one joke with him that even approaches the comic perfection of the first film. If there had been even one line as good as "Boring conversation anyway" in this film, it would have helped engage the crowd more. Without a rogue to say those things, we're left with a group of main characters that may simply be too bland and good to hold our full interest for two hours. Let's talk about some positives now. I think this is quite simply one of the most startling visual realizations of a fantasy world ever brought to the screen. There are long stretches of the film that are filled with sights that are jawdropping. There's a marvelous amount of visual imagination on display here. The podrace sequence is everything you hope it will be, fast, frenetic, and involving. Coruscant is ravishing, overbusy, filled to the breaking point with design detail. Otoh Gunga is a place I would pay $8 just to visit again. There are a few effects here and there, particularly from the makeup department, that are simply not acceptable on any level, but one gets the feeling that George counted on the overload factor to get past those moments. Speaking of George, one of the first things someone asked me about this film was, "How did George do? How is he now as a director?" I think he did all right. He's done his homework regarding special effects, but he forgot to brush up on dealing with actors, and it shows. The cast is adrift in this film in many ways, left to fight it out between different acting styles, different accents, and even different levels of emotional reality. Shmi Skywalker, played with quiet dignity by Pernilla August, is wonderful, and she brings out the best in Jake Lloyd's Anakin. And how is the much maligned Mr. Lloyd? Sporadically good, sporadically bad. He's a child, though, and any failings in his performance have to be pinned on Lucas squarely. In a scene involving a number of Anakin's friends, the children all look lost, standing around like they can't wait to run out of frame. There are many moments where adults find themselves in the same predicament, lost as to what to do or how to inhabit these fabulous spaces they find themselves in. It's disconcerting to have a cast this good and never have them really click as an ensemble. It's not for lack of trying, though. Neeson and McGregor work well together, Ian McDiarmid is very good as both Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious, and even Terrence Stamp makes the most of his brief moment as Chancellor Vallorum. Still, you've got Captain Panaka, played without even a hint of charisma by the bland Hugh Quarshie, as well as characters like Sio Bibble and Ric Olie who add absolutely no life to the proceedings. Of all the characters in the film, though, one has been embraced by fans around the world already, and I think Lucas is going to kick himself in hindsight. Who would have thought in conception that Darth Sidious' pit bull Darth Maul would be so beloved? Not Lucas, based on the final fate of the Sith Apprentice. He's in so little of the film that it's really surprising when he goes into full attack mode at the end of the movie. When he does, though, the movie finally becomes, for one glorious ten minute stretch, exactly what I had hoped it would be. The lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Maul is spectacular, kinetic, and faster than you can follow. Hats off to Ray Park for not just his energetic duelling work, but for the real malice he brings to one of my favorite beats, as he waits for a power shield to open so he can continue his epic duel. As he waits, Maul paces, eyes fixed on Qui-Gon, and there's such deadly malice in that look that I believed for a moment, wholeheartedly. And maybe, in the end, that's why this review feels so mixed from me. I never found myself completely absorbed. There's parts of the film that left me resolutely on the outside looking in. Although it's the big climax of the movie, the Trade Federation Blockade is never a very compelling threat. When I pointed out to Mr. Furious that the whole blockade and invasion was simply to leverage Palpatine into the Supreme Chancellor's seat, nothing more than an elaborate subterfuge, Furious pointed out to me that even if that was true (it wasn't clear to him in the movie), it doesn't really give you anything to root. Yes, Anakin flies his Naboo fighter for the first time. Yes, Jar Jar accidentally stumbles into heroism. But these payoffs don't deliver any real charge. There's no kick to it all. Trust me... there's no shot that will send a surge of energy through you like the final destruction of the Death Star. There's never a goal that focused. Of course, there wasn't in EMPIRE either, but that had the cliffhanger structure to involve us, keep us drawn in. This film is meant to stand alone, despite all the clues it drops for the remainder of this trilogy, and its conclusion just feels... anticlimactic. Lucas also made some very strange editing choices as he moved from script to screen. He cut Bail Organa completely, which seems a shame since Organa reckons to figure so prominently later. He cut a really wonderful early scene involving Jar Jar, the Jedi, their sub, and a waterfall, and he cut one moment I thought was absolutely critical to the character of Anakin, in which he fought a Rodian on the street, only to be lectured by Qui-Gon about giving in to anger. I thought this laid the groundwork for who Anakin is later, and without it there are no indications of Anakin's later fall in this film. Maybe that's on purpose. I'm sure George had his reasons. Still, it would have been nice to plant the seed, at least. Don't let any of this deter you from opening day, STAR WARS fans, as if anything could. You will be rewarded with remarkable sights and sounds in this film, and you will be introduced to some spectacular new faces and places. This is a STAR WARS film, for better and for worse. George's directorial jitters may leave this film flawed in many important ways, but his imagination makes up for it in others. This film will not be embraced universally, and I expect there will be many who rank it lower than JEDI in the overall series so far. Personally, I thought it works better as a complete piece than JEDI, although it shares many of that film's weaknesses. I also strongly suspect that I had my STAR WARS experience at ages 7, 10, and 13, and that this first new film is really for someone who is that age now. I'm not suggesting that you pretend you're that age in the theater... that would be preposterous. Lucas made the film he wanted to make, and you have to judge it based on who you are right now. Clear your mind of all the clutter of the last three years before you walk into the theater. Forget all you've read or heard. Watch this with unbiased eyes. Even if you manage to do that, I promise that some of you will love this film and some of you will still hate it. I expect this will be the most hotly debated film of recent memory, with the people who hate it weighing in very vocally and in the strongest possible terms. I heard someone call it an "abomination" as we left, and someone else suggested finding and burning the negative. Me, I'm somewhere in the middle. I think it's better than JEDI, but it's not A NEW HOPE and it's certainly no EMPIRE. I also wouldn't say it's my favorite film of the year so far by any means. I'd put THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, IRON GIANT, and ELECTION way ahead of it without hesitating. On the other hand, I heard a little boy who couldn't have been more than seven years old ask his mother a question as we were leaving the theater. Even though all the credits had rolled, he kept craning his head to look back at the screen with these big saucer eyes. Just before we slipped out the door, he glanced at his mom and said, "How do they do that?" "Do what, honey?" "Make that. How did they make all that?" The sound in his voice and the look in his eye told me that he had been rocked by the experience, blindsided, and it took me back to that afternoon in 1977 when I stumbled out of my first viewing of the first film, only to stare at the movie poster and ask my mother who made films. When she told me it was the director, I decided that's what I wanted to do. Maybe another filmmaker was born tonight. Maybe one day he'll show us things we can't imagine. If that's the case, then God bless George Lucas for returning to us. Now that the warm-up is out of the way, let's get busy with Episode II. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Harry here. Let's talk about the KIDS for a second. I just got this report from a lady who has recently sent a buncha kids for an advanced showing of STAR WARS EPISODE ONE, and their reactions... As far as I know... this is the first we've heard from this age bracket. Here ya go....

Harry, I am a Jr. High youth director at our local church in the Portland Metro area (Oregon), I was given 40 Passes to a 13 and under screening of The Phantom Menace. I gave them to the kids in our group ( Making them Promise not to tell me anything of the plot). If anyone seriously wants to know how huge this film is going to be, stop by any one of our next activities.

These kids, and every other kid in that packed theater, are FREAKING OUT! These are the people this film is made for. It is a rollercoaster ride that prepares you for each next step. Climbing up steep hills before careening downs HUGE dips. Critics say hot and cold, the kids say otherwise.

I don't care what any adult tells me about a Star Wars film. Adults are pretentious. These kids cannot stop talking about how awesome this film was. Once again Lucas is taking the imaginations of kids all over the world by storm. THis film will, Just like the others, be panned by critics and loved by fans. Johnny5

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