Monday, September 27, 2010

Stephen Fry is Mycroft

Now about Sherlock Holmes 2. We talking Mycroft. Here is what Bleeding Cool said about it:

This morning’s Danny Baker show on the BBC’s 5 Live was solid radio gold. Joining Baker for some “Highbrow, above the eyebrow chat” was Stephen Fry, British national treasure and the pop cultural embodiment of esoteric erudition.
Amongst the many topics discussed (the conversation was as nimble as a conger eel) came Stephen Fry’s acting work. Here’s how he announced his casting in Guy Ritchie’s about-to-shoot Sherlock Holmes 2, and compared it to a more satisfying part he’s already played:
I’m playing Mycroft in the sequel to the Sherlock Holmes film Guy Ritchie directed with Robert Downey Jr., and that sort of part is fun, but just once in a while to play a genuine all round sort of lead figure with complexity and tragedy and wit and all the sort of things that Oscar [Wilde] had was a once in a lifeftime thrill.
Of course he’s fully aware how much of a pantomime this Holmes film will be.
Moffat and Gatiss definitely have the better Sherlock, but it seems that Ritchie will have the better Mycroft. It’s down to the wire for a Moriarty showdown. Could Ritchie possibly cast somebody more odd and unsettling than Moffat and co. did?
My dream casting for Moriarty? Derren Brown.

For the next seven days, you’ll be able listen the whole conversation between Baker and Fry – indeed, the whole show – via the BBC iPlayer. You might also want to subscribe to the show’s weekly podcast.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Star Wars - The Thrawn Trilogy

I finished reading the Thrawn Trilogy in comic book form, today. I enjoyed the comics more than my lasts attempt at reading the novels. I remember enjoying the novels a great deal when they first came out... new Star Wars after all! I tried re-reading them within the last few years and enjoyed them to the extent that they were Star Wars novels. Beyond that I don't think they were very well written. Timothy Zahn's version of the Star Wars characters seemed to be too good. There seemed like nothing they couldn't do. The films portrayed them as able and good, but almost just barely so, which was an element that added to the enjoyment of the films. In the books, they seemed like almost super-heroes. This kind of turned me off of Zahn's books for a long time.

As comics, however, I felt that the stories held up rather well. There were points in the plot that felt as though there was too much material to properly adapt as a comic and having not been familiar with the story already, it may have been confusing. But for the most part, the adaptation was rather good. Each book is broken into 6 individual issues. As mentioned above, the pacing for the most part was good. There were a few confusing parts where it felt like more dialog would further and clearly explain exactly what's going on, but such are the limits of comics and especially comic adaptations. There are different art teams for each 'book' in the trilogy. While all of the art was nice, there were great differences between each book. All of the artists did a rather good job of portraying the actors and familiar objects. Another nice part of having this series in individual issues is the cover art of each issue is rather outstanding. Very reminiscent of the Drew Struzan art posters. Dark Horse has almost always had a very nice presentation.

As an added bonus, the ending of The Last Command was somehow a complete surprise to me. I'm not sure if I ever finished the novels back when they were first published.

I think this series would make a wonderful film trilogy in the same format at the current Clone Wars series. That's just wishful thinking.

I enjoyed this recent read so much that I've started looking at the Star Wars Omnibus series that have been out for a while now.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The D6 System

My latest gaming thing has been all about the D6 System. We go way back, D6 and I. A version of this is the game system that powered the original Star Wars RPG by West End Games back in 1987. One of the first games I ran for a motley group of gamers.

My brother and I keep discussing a one-on-one game that we'll get to play someday. As we try to narrow down what the game will be about, I've been trying to decide what game system to use. At first I was thinking one of the many stripped down d20 systems, but realized I just don't like the d20 system in any form (not even True20, which I really tried to like). Then I thought about using GURPS which I ended up really really liking, but the style of game that comes from GURPS didn't fit my vision of what I am hoping for for our game. And it's a bit daunting trying to wrap my own head around the system and character creation, let alone teaching it to a virtual gaming noob. I finally decided- the heck with it. Lets just go back to the system we played back in the day- Star War's D6 system.

This lead me to start to seek out the generic core books that were published after West End Games no longer had the Star Wars product license. I'd always been curious about them and then acquiered the free PDF versions when they went open. It was interesting to see how similar the D6 System is with the GURPS system beyond the obvious six-sided dice system. They're really almost the same with the resolution mechanics flip-flopped.

Coincidently, there also seems to be a resurgence in the D6 fan-base community. All the core rule books, location books and bestiaries recently became open license products. This has caused many discussions about system reference documents and online, as well as print, magazines, over at the West End Games Fan forums.

I started working on my own system reference document using the web service.

This is an attempt to make the D6 System's own SRD like the Hypertext SRD for the d20 system which I quite often used to use. Its not finished yet, but it is coming along.

I think D6 will be a good fit for our game when it does happen. It tends to be more cinematic than realistic. It's very easy to understand and explain. I look forward to getting used to it for use when my kids are ready to roll the dice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Terra Nova

Terra Nova just came across my radar.

The show is set in the year 2149 when all life on the planet Earth is being threatened with extinction. Scientists have opened a door allowing people to travel back to prehistoric times. The Shannon family (father Jim, his wife Elisabeth, and their children Josh and Maddy) join the tenth pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first human colony on the other side of the temporal doorway. However, they did not realize that they placed it in the middle of a group of carnivores. 


Looks like it could be interesting. The reason it came to my attention is that the villain in the James Cameron blockbuster, AVATAR, - Stephen Lang, may have a big role in Terra Nova.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sherlock over The Hobbit

Martin Freeman chooses the role of Dr. John Watson over the role of Bilbo Baggins. Very nice choices to have to choose from...


There have been persistent rumors for a while now that Martin Freeman (Sherlock‘s Dr John Watson) was on the short list of actors to play Bilbo Baggins in Guillermo del ToroPeter Jackson’s much-beleaguered and much-delayed two-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. A role performed by Ian Holm in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Bilbo of The Hobbit is much younger, and thus the producers have been searching for a new actor for this, the starring role.
Well, it now turns out that rumor was apparently true. Digitalspy and others are reporting that Martin Freeman was recently offered the role, but turned it down… in favor of Sherlock:
“It was one of the most difficult decisions of his career,” a source told the paper. “MGM, who are making the film, only got a formal offer over in the last couple of weeks.”
No one’s gone on the record yet, and we’re unclear of the timing of this; was an offer on the table to him before Sherlock aired in July and August? Was Freeman waiting for the BBC to recommission Sherlock before he decided? Was his contract for the first series Sherlockstructured in such a way that he was contractually obligated to be in another series ofSherlock? No clue. Digitalspy reports that this news came from The Sun, whose rumors we tend not to pass along, but this is being widely enough reported, we succumbed. Apologies to all hopeful LotR fans, but we’re clearly happy that he made this choice (if, in fact, this is true).
From the sound of this report, filming for the second series of Sherlock will be at around 20 weeks — again, no clue if this is in line with the first series’ production schedule, but it’s the first we’ve heard of any concrete numbers. And, hopefully, will dispel the myth that the producers of Sherlock need to be making a 12 or 13 episode series. Making each of these sets of three films clearly takes time, people!
[Picture at the top originally from; and, no, we don't think Jackson's film will be auf Deutsch].

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Finally watched the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film. It was wonderful and most things that I read about it were accurate in that it was more loyal to the original novels than many filmed portrayals have been over the last several decades. There was action for a change. And this did come up in a few of Conan Doyle's novels, too. The boxing was definitely there. However, I feel that there may have been too much action which could've taken away from more of getting inside Sherlock. A couple of points in the film everything stopped and we see Sherlock work out exactly how to take down his opponent in the fight he was currently involved in. I would have liked to see more of that with some more general detective work type scenes. It kind of felt like the film might have squandered that effort on the fight scenes where it may have been just as cool to see that technique in Holme's general investigations. I'm also a sucker for the scenes where Sherlock analyzes a person to prove he can do it. We had a good one at the dinner with Mary Morstan.

Irene Addler front and center to the story did take some of the mystery out of her character. But it did make for a neat team, the three of them. If I wasn't already familiar with the literature I feel I would have missed a lot going on there. Jude Law's John Watson was great. What was lacking, in my opinion, were some scenes of just the two of them enjoying each other's company. This film portrayed Watson as angry almost all of his screen time. The two are no longer roommates as the film opens and this says there are A LOT of adventures we missed between them. An interesting choice for setting the film. I love the 'origin' story of the pair from A Study in Scarlet telling when the two meet. Most stories after that show Watson's adoration for his dear friend Holmes. And the balance is Holmes lets Watson in. Confides in no one else. I didn't feel that in this film.

I'll be surprised if they don't continue the franchise. It would be very cool if they ended a trilogy with Reichenbach Falls and the whole bit. To see Ritchie's Moriarty and Mycroft.

As much as I liked it, I still like the new modernized version of Sherlock from BBC more. I feel it is still closer to the original novels than even this film. Or maybe as my brother would say- its because its from the BBC. Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes is a very fine film and is well deserved to sit on my shelf. I look forward to more Robert Downey Jr. Holmes films.

Judge Dredd

What is Judge Dredd?
Before it was a forgettable mediocre Sylvester Stallone sci-fi film, it was one of the biggest comic book series and characters out of the UK.

Judge Dredd is Dirty Harry, Mad Max, Bladerunner and Die Hard all rolled up into one in a dark future.
Judge, Jury, and Executioner in one law enforcement personal unit on the streets of Mega City 1.

Here is another reason to watch this movie when it comes out... when it comes out... Olivia Thirlby (of Juno) will be cast as Judge Dredd's sidekick, Judge Anderson!

Olivia Thirlby Cast As Sidekick In Judge Dredd
 By Mike Mariani: 2010-09-03 13:24:25

Olivia Thirlby Cast As Sidekick In Judge DreddIn what could be called a maverick casting move, if you were desperate to call it something, Olivia Thirlby has just been recruited to play sidekick to Karl Urban in the remake of Judge Dredd. As reported by Variety, Thirlby will play Judge Cassandra Anderson, a telepathic rookie taking to the streets alongside Dredd.

Again, if you were desperate to characterize the new Dredd as something besides a feature-length amateur hour, you could hope for an edgy movie with a bunch of players that have something to prove. Karl Urban hasn't quite capitalized on the cult following he built for his charismatic turns in the Lord of the Rings movies and Star Trek, and this will be his first chance to anchor a big-time release. Dredd's director, Pete Travis, has only Vantage Point on his resume, which doesn't add up to much. And that leaves Thirlby, the unconventionally pretty face from Juno and The Wackness. Let's just hope they don't bury her unique look behind a helmet and a bunch of action sequences. 


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Look at the Sherlock Adaption

Sherlock has been a very satisfying adaption of the wonderful king of mysteries- Sherlock Holmes. This series came out smack-dab in the middle of a fantastic Sherlock Holmes kick for me. So when it aired I was very fresh for the inlaid references to the original stories made throughout the three 90 minute episodes. It's my opinion that Moffatt and Gatiss did a remarkable job telling truly Conan Doyle-ish stories with modern versions of the characters. With what Moffatt has done with Doctor Who, it seems Sherlock is in very capable hands as laid out in the following article...

Adapting Sherlock

Gem Wheeler

Moffat and Gatiss had to update the world's only 'consulting detective' while somehow paying homage to all that had gone before.

With Sherlock, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss successfully adapted an iconic Victorian detective for a modern audience. Here, Gem looks at how Holmes and Watson were updated for the 21st century...

Published on Aug 31, 2010

Working with fellow Who alumnus Mark Gatiss, Moffat's task was to make the modernised Sherlock stand out from the current vast crowd of police procedurals. Oh, and House, which has already taken the core of the Holmes myth right back to its origins in Arthur Conan Doyle's time at medical school.Brave man, Steven Moffat. First he takes on Doctor Who, with all that that entails in terms of a devoted fanbase and years of labyrinthine backstory. Then he tackles another iconic figure in the shape of everyone's favourite pipe-smoking, deerstalker hat-wearing, angular Victorian detective.
As if all that isn't enough, there are the many interlocking segments of Holmesian lore to contend with, accumulated over years of successful previous adaptations. Basil Rathbone built on Sidney Paget's drawings of Holmes for the Strand magazine to create the iconic image in no less than fourteen films, while Jeremy Brett highlighted the manic streak in the detective's character in the popular ITV adaptation. Moffat and Gatiss had to update the world's only 'consulting detective' while somehow paying homage to all that had gone before.
Their efforts have certainly paid off. Sherlock is everything an adaptation should be, a fresh, exhilarating take on the great detective's story that manages to retain every bit of the original's atmosphere. No mean feat, considering that Moffat and Gatiss have lifted Holmes and Watson out of the smog-shrouded, gaslit Victoriana so heavily linked to Conan Doyle's work, and seamlessly grafted them onto the present day.
Oddly enough, though the ubiquitous hansom cabs have been replaced by taxis and the telegram by text message, nothing about the transition feels jarring. As in Doyle's original stories, Watson's just left the army after having been wounded while serving in Afghanistan, a conflict as resonant in nineteenth century England as, depressingly, it is today.  He also still serves as a chronicler of his friend's adventures, something that Sherlock, true to form, evidently finds both annoying and rather satisfying.
This Watson, however, has an online presence, and Holmes sarcastically asks how he could ever manage without "my blogger". Doyle's detective had asked the same of his 'Boswell', a reference to the close friend and biographer of the eighteenth century man of letters, Dr Johnson. It's a smart update, reminding us that, regardless of the medium, a fascination with gossip is one thing we definitely share with our ancestors.
Of course, any version of the Holmes myth stands or falls on its leading man. Does he fit our mental picture of the great detective? Luckily for this adaptation, Benedict Cumberbatch offers us a portrayal of Holmes that is pretty much definitive. Okay, so the accoutrements aren't what we've come to expect. Instead of the deerstalker and the cape, we get sharp tailoring and a rather fabulous coat, and why not?
We never actually find Holmes wearing his distinctive headgear until Rathbone donned the deerstalker cap for the films, which goes to show how much our impressions of a literary character are blurred by later representations that end up becoming part of the 'canon'.
Cumberbatch's Sherlock is wonderfully true to the spirit of Doyle's character. The angular, distinctive profile, the manic energy alternating with brooding listlessness, the killer sarcasm, the drug habit and, yes, that last one is no modern innovation.
If anything, Sherlock's addictions have been toned down for this version, although a strong hint was dropped when he let slip to Watson that a drugs bust in his flat was actually quite likely to turn up something incriminating. One of my favourite moments was when Sherlock revealed that a particularly taxing mystery was a "three-patch problem", pulling up his sleeve to reveal the sources of his nicotine fix. Swap 'three-patch' for 'three-pipe' and you're right back to Doyle's character.
As for his self-diagnosis as a "high-functioning sociopath", it would certainly explain a lot, though we've definitely had one or two glimpses of a heart hidden somewhere beneath that wonderfully acerbic exterior.
As for his companion, Martin Freeman's John Watson is an interesting take on the erstwhile doctor, choosing to highlight the steadfast, no-nonsense side of Sherlock's trusty sidekick rather than the permanently overawed buffoon we've sometimes seen in later adaptations. Here, Watson's a straight-talking military man who provides his socially inept friend with the moral compass and sensitivity gauge he so often needs.
Sherlock's narrow circle of acquaintances extends to his landlady, Mrs Hudson (a delightfully batty expansion of a minor role by Una Stubbs) who provides tea, sympathy and a distinctly skewed worldview as she soothingly tells our hero that what he really needs is to cheer him up is a "nice murder".
The watchful presence of his brother, the all-powerful civil servant Mycroft (played by Gatiss) is, again, pleasingly fleshed out, with the addition of a hilarious rivalry between the all too similar siblings.
Sherlock's occasional 'colleagues' at Scotland Yard are a mixed bunch. Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is, like Watson, closer to Doyle's creation: professional, tenacious and torn between antagonism and affection when it comes to Sherlock. The other policemen who help, or, more often, hinder Holmes in the original stories haven't yet made their appearance, although there are glimpses of them in some characters we have met.
The ambitious DI Dimmock could reflect Lestrade's bitter rival, Inspector Gregson, while the snidely resentful Inspector Donovan is more of a composite of every petty official Doyle forced Holmes to endure.
As for Moriarty, whom we briefly met in the dramatic cliffhanger to episode three, the change from a sinister professor to a dapper, youthful psychopath is certainly audacious, and seems to have divided opinion. It's going to be interesting to see how these changes play out in the promised second series.
The question is, where will they go from here? If this brief run is anything to go by, we can expect an exhilarating mixture of elements drawn from various Doyle stories and woven together with new twists. The magnificent opener, A Study In Pink, referenced more than the title of Doyle's first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. The story of Holmes and Watson's first meeting through a friend at St Bart's was almost identical to Doyle's version, albeit with some lovely updated touches. Here, Holmes deduces Watson's life story from his mobile rather than his fob watch.
The serial murder case takes only the method (poisoned tablets offered to the victims as part of a Russian roulette-style gamble) from the original. However, Sherlock's inspection of the first crime scene contains one fantastic in-joke. In A Study in Scarlet, the word ‘Rache' is scrawled in blood upon a wall. Lestrade pompously insists that it's an attempt at the name ‘Rachel', but Holmes corrects him. It's actually the German for ‘revenge'.
Moffat and Gatiss wrongfoot us by switching the comments around, so that the message scratched into the floor by a dying woman is, after all, the name of the victim's daughter. This sets the tone for the series, The writers clearly love their source material, but far too much to be overly reverential.
The second episode, The Blind Banker, united plot elements from two Doyle stories, the novel The Sign Of The Four and The Adventure Of The Dancing Men, by blending a locked room mystery, sinister secret codes, and Watson's meeting with a future love interest.
Best of all, perhaps, was the finale. The Great Game adapted the plot of The Bruce-Partington Plans, in which the discovery of a murdered civil servant leads the discovery of a plot to sell sensitive details of a defence project, and wove it into a complex tale in which Moriarty, keen to become Sherlock's nemesis, set the detective challenge after challenge to solve against the clock with an innocent victim's life in the balance.
The countdown was announced with a sequence of ‘pips' sent through a mobile phone, a clear reference to the eponymous coded message of Doyle's story The Five Orange Pips.
Finally, in the cheekiest nod of all, Holmes came face to face with his enemy at a deserted swimming pool, an encounter culminating in a deadly impasse. With laser sights from several hidden snipers trained on him, Holmes pointed his gun at an explosive vest next to Moriarty, leaving us clueless as to whether he was preparing to sacrifice his own life to take down the kingpin of organised crime.
The concept of hero and villain locked in a struggle to the death was lifted straight from The Adventure Of The Final Problem, where Holmes apparently met his death as he and Moriarty tumbled over the edge of the Reichenbach Falls. It's still a cliffhanger, only without the, well, cliff.
Public opinion has won us a guarantee of a second series, just as Doyle was prevailed upon to miraculously bring his hero back from a watery grave over a century ago. Now all that remains is to wonder which elements Moffat and Gatiss will go on to pick out, and which they'll discard.
Will we see a crafty Irene Adler, the one woman ever to truly pique Sherlock's interest? Deadly snakes summoned by nefarious stepfathers? A really, really big, scary dog? It's all up for grabs. The game's afoot...


The Phantom Menace - I've softened my heart...

My interests have taken the inevitable return to STAR WARS lately for various reasons. While this phase lasts I take another look at The Phantom Menace. Blogger, James T. Cornish writes this article looking at the Menace from older and more forgiving eyes. I'm willing to look at it this way, also, ever since I was taken by Matthew Stover's novelization of the Revenge of the Sith. Stover did such a masterful job with that adaptation that I'm now willing to look deeper for the good story beyond the mediocre films.

In defence of The Phantom Menace

James T. Cornish

The Phantom Menace is in no way perfect, but I don't believe it deserves the rather savage mauling it received upon its release.

George Lucas’ first Star Wars prequel has been widely criticised over the years, but does The Phantom Menace really deserve it? Here’s James’ defence of Episode One...

Published on Aug 31, 2010

The big day finally came and the reaction was lukewarm at best. The reviews from critics were something of a mixed bag. American critic Roger Ebert gave it four out of five stars. Empire magazine was less favourable, giving it only three stars. The public, however, were far less forgiving. The Phantom Menace has been branded (among other things) 'a disgrace to Star Wars', 'unforgivably bad', and 'a piece of utter crap'.The late 1990s were a joyous time forStar Wars fans. The release date of The Phantom Menace was drawing ever closer, and anticipation for it was at an all time high. Fans were buying cinema tickets, watching the trailer for film in coming attractions, and then leaving before the film they'd paid to see began.
The Phantom Menace is in no way perfect, but I don't believe it deserves the rather savage mauling it received upon its release. I've trawled through some of the more negative reviews to address some of the most often cited complaints. So, without further ado, here is my defence of the film.
Let's begin with what people view as the crowning turd in the water pipe: Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans. Jar Jar was, quite frankly, an embarrassment. He's a bit like a Wicket W. Warrick for the 1990s. But he will have had little kids giggling with delight. So, I think that that's something we can forgive George Lucas for.
Under no circumstances will I ever like Jar Jar, but I will accept him as a necessary evil. Because like him or not, Jar Jar is a crucial part of the Star Wars saga. Were it not for Jar Jar's presence on Coruscant in Attack Of The Clones, Palpatine would not have been granted the emergency powers that allowed him to start the Clone Wars.
As for the rest of the Gungans, well, they're really just there to provide cannon fodder for the Battle Droids in what was a very impressive battle sequence. Boss Nass is a tad irritating, but at least it gives a chance for the legendary Brian Blessed to become involved with the saga.
Oh, and while I'm on the subject of Jar Jar, a quick word about racism. There is no racism in this film. Anyone who says that Jar Jar is a stereotype of Jamaicans and that the Nemoidians are a stereotype of Asian businessmen is the kind of idiot who deliberately reads into things just so they can get offended and have a good rant about it.
One frequent criticism is that The Phantom Menace is dull. This criticism is directed at the plot of the taxation of trade routes and the scenes in the senate. The Phantom Menace is set in peacetime and, therefore, problems faced by the inhabitants of the Star Wars universe will be significantly more mundane than those in the original trilogy.
Also, the taxation plot is really only used as a minor component of Palpatine's overall plan and a precursor to the invasion of Naboo. I won't criticise anyone for finding the senate scenes dull. It's not typical of Star Wars, but this is mainly because the original trilogy was set during a dictatorship, where democracy didn't exist and the senate was just for show.
Personally, I find the senate scenes to be brilliantly done and a fantastic showcase for Ian McDiarmid's acting. It's a bold experiment for a sci-fi film series noted for being full of action, where characters mainly solve their problems with blasters, but it seems to work.
Democracy is the cradle of civilisation and the Star Wars universe is no exception to that. It's a well observed satire on how politicians can manipulate things so easily. The senate scenes, no matter how dull you may find them, are pivotal to the prequel trilogy. It's the start of Palpatine's rise to power and, without these scenes, the rest of the plot concerning the formation of the Empire would make no sense.
The film has been criticised for its overuse of CGI but, to be honest, I fail to see the problem. Some may comment that it diminishes the reality of the film and makes it seem more artificial, but if you're watching a film full of gun toting robots and dogfights in outer space, realism shouldn't really be a priority.
For much of the film, the CGI blends seamlessly with the rest of the film's elements. Also, the more visually spectacular aspects of the film, such as the Podrace or Otoh Gunga, would not be possible if CGI was not used.
I'll at least try to defend the dialogue. It's a bit clunky at times but that's something of a minor irritation. It's only when Lucas tries to sound grand and inspiring that the dialogue falls a bit flat. Senator Palpatine's dialogue is brilliant, but Darth Sidious (despite them being the same character. Oh, come on. It's not like you didn't work it out when you saw the film) fails to convey any sense of menace due to him spouting the same old evil clichés that we've heard too many times already.
Oh, and let's not forget the absolutely appalling vernacular of the Gungans. It would have been a much better idea to have them speaking a foreign language, with Jar Jar acting as a translator rather than giving the entire species a mangled version of English.
The film also takes a lot of flak for its characterisation. I've already addressed the issue of Jar Jar, so I'll move on to the next most hated character, Anakin. It's been a frequent criticism that Anakin does not show any signs of evil and is nothing like the character he is destined to become. I can negate this argument with two words: he's ten.
You'd be hard pressed to find an evil ten-year-old (though if you try Slough, you might have some luck). Hitler probably wasn't insane and murderous at the age of ten. This film is about Anakin's very beginnings and, therefore, he's not going to show many characteristics of sci-fi's second greatest man-machine villain (Davros comes first, in my opinion).
While I'm on the subject of Anakin, even though I'm defending the film, the whole 'virgin birth' conversation was a real head on desk moment for me. Qui-Gon is well characterised as a maverick who trusts himself more than his superiors and is willing to go with his instincts. Padme is basically a Princess Leia clone, but it's a tried and tested character. The young Obi-Wan Kenobi is well thought out and is believable as a younger version of the wise old character we all know and love.
The best character of this film, and possibly of the entire saga, is Palpatine. InReturn Of The Jedi he was shown as a typically megalomaniacal villain, but this time around we see the true depth of Palpatine. He's cold, calculating and delightfully Machiavellian. He could easily accelerate his rise to power by bumping off the necessary obstacles, but instead he's shown to be truly brilliant, by making allies and then playing them off against each other for his own benefit.
Palpatine is quite possibly the greatest sci-fi villain of all time and is certainly the strongest character in The Phantom Menace.
Now, the question of the acting. There's no denying that it's decidedly dodgy at times. Jake Lloyd's performance is very poor and really drags the film down. Surely there were better child actors out there. Was this nepotism at work? I suppose we'll never know. Ewan McGregor's accent keeps slipping, which can be something of an irritant.
Other than those minor niggles, The Phantom Menace has a great ensemble cast with Ian McDiarmid stealing the show. However, Samuel L. Jackson and Brian Blessed are wasted. I would have liked to have seen Jackson being given a more sizeable role and Blessed having a part that allowed him to show how absolutely brilliant he really is. A Star Wars version of his Richard IV from The Black Adderwould have been a terrific addition to the film
The standout element of this film is the spectacular action sequences. Duel of the Fates is etched on my brain and will hopefully remain there for a long time. The Lightsaber duels of the original trilogy were very impressive and never fail to send a tingle down my spine. But Duel of the Fates blows all of that out of the water. It's beautifully choreographed and Ray Park's performance is flawless. And the cherry on the cake is that John Williams' musical score is brilliantly evocative and fits the action perfectly.
The dogfight over Naboo is classic Star Wars and invokes memories of Return Of The Jedi. It even retains the element of the good guys blowing up their target from the inside.
Finally, there is the Podrace. It's visually stunning and adds a whole new element to the Star Wars universe, but it's an element that's close to our own culture, despite it being ramped up to delightfully mad levels. We have car racing where there's an occasional crash. In Star Wars they have people roaring through desert canyons at six hundred miles per hour in flimsily constructed vehicles where it's a miracle if there's a race where nobody dies. The whole sequence looks fantastic and there are great moments of dark humour. Come on, you can't deny that you didn't at least smirk a little bit at some of the crashes.
To conclude, The Phantom Menace has it bad points. Most, if not all, films do. But I think you'll find it a lot more enjoyable if you stop comparing it to the original trilogy.
People say that it's not like the originals, but that's a good thing. I wouldn't want a carbon copy of A New Hope. It's crammed full of terrific action sequences, there's some really nice political scenes thrown in, and thanks to the magic of CGI, the whole thing looks bloody gorgeous. So stop comparing it unfavourably to its predecessors and enjoy it for what it is: a fun, bonkers, sci-fi romp with some minor unfortunate flaws.
To finish off, here are ten facts you may not know about The Phantom Menace:
Only one shot in the film is not altered using CGI. It's the shot of the poison gas coming out of the air vents on the Trade Federation ship.
Alan Ruscoe (Daultay Dofine, Plo Koon, and Bib Fortuna), Silas Carson (Nute Gunray, Ki-Adi Mundi, Trade Federation Senator, and Republic Cruiser Pilot), Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka), and Steve Speirs (Voice of Captain Tarpals), and Lindsay Duncan (Voice of TC-14) all went on to appear in the revived series of Doctor Who. Toby Longworth (Voice of Trade Federation Senator and the fish salesman in Mos Espa) voiced Caw in the animated Doctor Who episode, The Infinite Quest.
Sets were only built as tall as the actors' heads. The rest of the sets were created using CGI. However, Liam Neeson's height necessitated the rebuilding of the sets, which cost the production team an extra $150,000.
The character of a Jedi named Mace dates back to one of the very first drafts of A New Hope.
Spooks actor Richard Armitage had an uncredited role as a Naboo fighter pilot.
Jar Jar Binks is the first main character in the Star Wars saga to be created digitally.
Natalie Portman's voice was digitally altered to distinguish between the characters of Padme and Queen Amidala.
In early drafts of the script, Naboo was named Utapau. The name Utapau was originally used in early drafts of A New Hope and would later be given to a planet that features in Revenge Of The Sith.
The core plot of the film is based on an early draft of A New Hope, which was written in 1975.
This is the last Star Wars film to use a puppet version of Yoda and the first to feature a CG Yoda. The CG Yoda is seen briefly in the scene where Obi-Wan is knighted.

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