So, here is the latest twist in Lucas’s seemingly endless quest to gouge every last penny he can out of the Star Wars franchise. I have no doubt it will not be the last. When Smell-o-vision is perfected we can look forward to Star Wars with scratch and sniff cards so we can discover the distinct odour of a Sarlac Pit or Death Star trash compactor.
Lucasfilm plans to retrofit the entire Star Wars saga in 3D, giving them another run at a cinema release. Lucas no doubt will argue this is an opportunity to give new fans (who weren’t even born when The Phantom Menace was released in 1999) an opportunity to experience the films as they were meant to be seen. On the big screen. But there’s a problem with that, what you might call a Bantha in the room: they were never meant to be seen in 3D!
I won’t go into detail about the film’s plot; I think we all know where we stand with Episode 1 by now. I’m sorry if this is a spoiler, but in 3D The Phantom Menace is still The Phantom Menace. It is still dramatically inert, the performances are still strangely stilted, the dialogue is still teeth-grindingly awful, and Jar Jar Binks is still incredibly annoying. What you want to know is, putting aside the obvious cynicism of the exercise, does the conversion into 3D do anything to enhance or detract from the experience? The answers, I’m afraid, are “no” and “most definitely”.
Ever wondered what Star Wars would look like if you watched it with a pair of tights pulled over your head? Well, wonder no longer as the most noticeable effect of the 3D conversion is a drastic loss in colour and brightness. Once the Naboo planet-core sequence was exciting; now it looks like it is taking place in a dirty fish tank. The colour loss badly affects one of the few undeniably superb aspects of the original film, the great costumes and production design. Once they were “impressive, most impressive” now they are merely impressive.
The 3D is remarkably unremarkable, especially following Martin Scorsese’s visually astonishing achievements with the technique in Hugo. The upcoming StreetDance 2 3D also wipes the floor with Lucasfilm's’ efforts. The problem is obvious as you watch Menace in 3D, it was just never intended to be seen in this way. There is very little going on beyond the flat plane of the screen, and only a slight illusion of depth. Only the very brightly lit middle section of the film on Tatooine is at all suited for the conversion. Even the pod race isn’t noticeably enhanced by the process. I expect many kids will want to take off the cumbersome glasses for large portions of the film.
So ultimately, this is an already massively disappointing film, made just a smidgeon more disappointing. A completely pointless exercise.