In discussions between ourselves, it came up that Rosie hadn't seen the original Star Wars films in quite some time. So we've decided to watch them, but we're going to catch up by watching them chronologically, though; so of course we watched Episode I.
Ten years ago, I was very excited for this film to come out. It wasn't until The Dark Knight came out last year that I had anything close to the excitement I had for Episode I. In retrospect, one film paid off in just about every aspect I could have hoped for, and one didn't. (Hint: the one that did came out last year.) In any case, I was somewhat worried about watching Episode I again, but I found myself pleasantly surprised.
There are, of course, hundreds of reviews out there, so we'll skip over most of that. I just want to point out a few things that I thought the film did well, and a few things I thought were lacking:
Special Effects - This one's kind of a mixed bag. In all actuality, the SFX hold up considerably well. Compared to the first Harry Potter film, which came out several years after Episode I, The Phantom Menace still had stronger special effects. (I found the SFX quality between the first two Potter films astounding.) However, the downside is that I felt some effects/creatures were there simply to "show off" what they could do. For example, the underwater scenes look cool, but when Boss Nass shakes his head, spreading his saliva about, there's no real purpose to it. It just looks like they're saying "look what we can do." The SFX overshadow the story in many instances.
Likewise, though the effects still hold up relatively well, there are clear instances of being able to distinguish what is CGI and what isn't. Some things look far too shiny, particularly creatures and other characters. It was cool what they were trying to do, and in some cases, succeeded, but at times the effect just didn't work or was otherwise distracting.
Jar Jar Binks - This was actually a relative surprise for me. Having not watched Episode I for years now, I'd read countless complaints regarding the character or Jar Jar; going into this, I was expecting to outright dislike the character, but was surprised to find that I didn't.
That said, there were some things I didn't care for. The character was relied on far too much. It's been put out there that the character was intended for 1) children, which I find fair enough, and 2) comic relief. It's the latter I tended to have an issue with because I didn't find the film particularly stressful or overtly dark. Sure, the other films had comic relief, but I never felt like it was being overdone; for example, in the battle scene with the Droid Army of the Trade Federation. Jar Jar's "clumsiness" (which in part, ironically enough, caused him to be banned from his native city) causes battlefield hijinks, which is fine occasionally but keeps continually happening. It feels like too much was spent on the character, again giving the feeling of "look what we can do" in the crafting of a near-completely digitally created character. But I do think the character has gotten an unjust bad rap.
Story - This probably impressed me the most. Having seen all of the films, there is considerable foreshadowing and interesting events that don't entirely make too much sense to the overall story until viewing the six-film saga as a whole. I can't really say much else other than that I thought is was very well done.
Dialog - Here's where there is a major problem. While a lot of the dialog is passable, portions of it are embarrassing and/or cringe worthy. One particular grievance I had this time around was with the Gungan dialect. Although I've seen the film enough times to know what is essentially going on, there were enough times that the Gungan characters were speaking and I couldn't understand a freaking thing they were saying. Likewise, some of the dialog given to Anakin was downright flat; I could have definitely gone without the "yippie"'s and other clunky dialog.
Verdict & Grade - Overall the film was okay. It wasn't the dreadful experience I was expecting, but there were definitely sections of the film that could have been worked on. For that, I'd give the film a solid C. On the plus side, though, it did have Liam Neeson in it.