Oh, George Lucas. You wily marketer, you. There's always a new way to milk the Star Wars franchise for more millions, and the current 3-D craze proved too irresistible to resist trying out.
And let me just run on a tangent here, and say how utterly creepy the marketing is for this re-release. Every time I see a TV spot, it feels like a movie I have and haven't seen. When I see merchandise, I almost have to stop and remind myself hey, that's the movie that shattered me and so many others back in 1999. It's not new. Why does it feel new? Good grief, what are you doing to my brain, Lucas?
In an effort to keep myself grounded, I took on the task of arguing why you should (and shouldn't) see The Phantom Menace in 3-D. At the time of writing, it has not been screened for critics, so I can't give its post-conversion quality a proper critique ... but I'll snark on it somewhere anyway.
Let's be positive first, shall we?
1. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor: Handsomer in 3-D
One thing the 3D craze hasn't really captured for me is handsome men. I'm not a kid. I don't want to see pies, bugs, and monkeys jumping out at me. I want to feel like I could reach out and take a hunk's hand, and given how powerfully I held a torch for Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn, I'm thinking this could be worth my while.
2. Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley: Prettier in 3-D
While both actresses spend the film buried in face paint and headdresses, I suspect men might be able to look past them if it seemed like either one was close enough to touch. At the very least, it's an experiment that holds the promise of someday seeing a 3-D Slave Leia, right?
3. Lightsaber battles
We've been humming and swinging an imaginary lightsaber hilt around since the 1980s, and that was as we watched them in 2-D. If they pop out of the screen at us, along with the flips and turns of the fight, and the whisper of Jedi robes, we might as well give it up. We're going to be humming, buzzing, and clashing with friends, family, and our mirror reflections forever.
4. The planetary landscapes
Until now, Naboo, Tatooine, and Coruscant were in a galaxy far, far away. But we always wanted to go there. 3-D could finally take us a step closer. People flipped for all the glowing lushness of Avatar's Pandora. It was the primary selling point of the movie. Experiencing the Star Wars planets – places that are, despite their fiction, familiar and homey to us – in a tangible way is quite alluring.
5. The space battles and pod race
Whirling ships and explosions are precisely the kinds of things I hate seeing rendered in 3-D, but they appeal to the rest of the movie-going masses, so I'll just put this here and walk away. (Star Tours in 3D – now that is something I can get behind. If you're not moving with the pop-out image, what's the point?)
1. You have to watch The Phantom Menace
I don't know if you remember this, but it wasn't a good movie. There's all this yammering about a Trade Federation, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, Anakin Skywalker is a twerp, the good characters uselessly die off, and so on. There's not even enough cool Old Republic Jedi action to make it worthwhile. Only really, really, really diehard Star Wars fans can defend it or admit to enjoying it... and I did in 1999. I can't now. And certainly not in 3-D.
2. Post-Converted 3-D Never Works
How many of these movies have burned us already? I realize we have one of movie technology's geniuses behind the helm, so there's hope, but most of the post-Avatar, post-converted movies have been a dark (as in the lightning, not actual emotional gloom) disappointment.
3. Jar Jar
No, this is different than #1. I could happily look at most things in the Star Wars universe in 3D – Han Solo, lightsabers, X-Wings, Cloud City, AT-ATs ... heck, I'd even like to see Jabba's disgusting palace rendered. But Jar Jar? No. It's not because he's hideously annoying, and it's not because he's a good fan target, and it's not because I'm trying to pad out a list. It's because he's an ugly, ugly character design who unsettled me in 2-D. His weird, sparkly eyes? His floppy face? His tongue? No. Please, no. (Same goes for Watto, really.)
4. It will be boring
When you see a movie in 3-D, that movie needs to be whiz-bang action, never ceasing, in your face for 2 hours or more. That's not The Phantom Menace. Not only was this never shot for 3-D, thus lacking the kind of shots and effects one might desire in a 3D film, but the film features long stretches of people sitting and talking, standing and talking, or walking and talking. Of all the Star Wars films, it's the one that's the least 3-D friendly.
5. There are new and exciting movies you could be watching
The economy is bad. Money is tight. Movie theaters are annoying. The weather is bad. Do you really want to go to all the effort of going to the theater, and plunking down good money for a movie you've already seen just because it's overloaded palette added a new effect? I don't think so. Regardless of whether you love or loathe The Phantom Menace, there is no logical reason to give Lucas more money to watch it again. I understand the appeal of seeing a favorite re-projected (or projected large for the first time) with an appreciative audience. But is this really one of those films? Spend your money to see Safe House or Rampart instead, or be brave and track down a theater playing The Turin Horse. Or go play mini golf or visit a park. There's so many better things to do than watch a 3-D Jar Jar.