Why there will be no ‘Phantom Menace’ review here

I am allergic to hype. The more I’m told I should go see a film, by the people who made it, the less likely I am to bother. ‘Titanic’ seemed like an idea with potential – after all, Jim Cameron has turned out some great films in his time – until the marketing machine switched on, and that bloody song turned up everywhere. My interest in seeing the film evaporated like morning dew — and by most accounts [save those of Di Caprio-obsessed teenage girls, not usually the most reliable source of information] I didn’t miss a lot. While the list of movies which HAVE lived up to the hype is virtually non-existent, I could fill up the rest of the editorial with films that didn’t: Armageddon, Independence Day, The Fifth Element, Batman & Robin, Waterworld, Godzilla, etc.

Indeed, notice anything the above have in common? They’re all SF films, to a significant degree. By the nature of their special effects, they will tend to be massively more expensive than normal films, all other factors being equal, such as cast and crew. To recoup this investment, it is necessary to get as big an audience as necessary — hence the enormous advertising and marketing which tends to accompany these films.

On its own, this might not be a problem; my diet generally consists of more than McDonald’s Happy Meals [well, most of the time…] and I’m usually not bad at avoiding overdone publicity. However, accompanying this quest for the maximal audience, is a “dumbing-down” to the lowest common denominator. And John Doe in Knobsuck, South Dakota is a *very* low denominator, who needs plenty of dumbing down. The end result is probably inevitable: movies which require no thought. Again, like Happy Meals, they’re great as an occasional snack, but Hollywood is now serving up a menu consisting of nothing else.

You know we’re in trouble when people criticise films like ‘eXistenZ’ because they “couldn’t understand” it — and this was on the Internet, which tends to exclude the thickest members of society. This implies it’s the fault of the film, not of an audience who couldn’t be bothered to make the effort, because they’re completely bloated on Lucas-films and their descendants. It seems it is now the responsibility of the director to deliver nothing more mentally challenging or stimulating than a cardboard morality play of cowboys and indians in outer space, with whizzy effects, which is all the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy really boils down to.

The other point is that it *is* possible to integrate entertainment and stimulation — they’re not mutually exclusive. ‘eXistenZ’ managed it, as did ‘Starship Troopers’, and the masterpiece of them all is ‘Blade Runner’, which works brilliantly as an action pic AND a meditation on the nature of life and humanity. However, why bother? You can’t sell bendy Jennifer Jason Leighs to Toys R Us.

For this is the real purpose of ‘Phantom Menace’, since director Lucas will make more money from the merchandising rights than the movie. It was amazingly prescient for him to acquire them, but such overpowering business considerations will undoubtedly have an impact on the product — Lucas is only human, after all. So the film promotes the toys, rather than the other way round, and anyone who has seen ‘Transformers’ and the other crap giant robot commercials of the 80’s know where that leads, creatively.

Add to this Lucas’s poor track record as a producer (has everyone else forgotten the last entry in the series? One word: Ewoks. And here’s another three: Howard the Duck) and you see why I am not one of the sad fanboys who paid merely to see the trailer, rushed to buy the action figures, and who are now camping out to secure a cinema ticket. I will wait for unbiased reviews to turn up, and if these are favourable [which at the moment seems less than certain], and the film offers more than a showreel for the latest tricks from ILM, then I’ll go and see it. Otherwise, I declare TC Land to be a Star Wars free zone, and no further mention of this tawdry exercise in audience manipulation and creation will be permitted here.