Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – Spanish Language Dub

Overview

I want to like the Star Wars prequels. Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson are great. John Williams continued to compose good scores. The cinematography and the location designs are beautiful. But two things continually trip me up: the dialogue and the performances of Anakin Skywalker, Jar-Jar Binks, and Padme Amidala. (Natalie Portman is hit-and-miss throughout the trilogy) Even the Machete Order doesn’t work for me because it doesn’t matter what order I watch the films in, the dialogue and bad performances don’t change. I’ve tried a few fan re-cuts, and those don’t work for me either because, while they may reduce some of the performance and dialogue issues, they introduce awkward cuts or pacing. Like it or not, as-is the movies are edited well.

I wouldn’t have spent so much time evaluating alternate versions of the film if I didn’t care. Again, I want to like these movies.

But recently, I took inspiration from foreign films and anime. What if I treated the Star Wars prequels like they are foreign films? What if I changed the audio track to another language, and turned on the English subtitles. Would that create enough distance between me and the dialogue to enjoy it? Would the voice dubbing provide different performances? A foreign language dub would also preserve the sound effects and the music. So I picked up The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, both of which have Spanish language tracks. I’m going to try each of the prequel films to see how they hold up. If they don’t, there’s still Rifftrax.

Here is part one: Spanish Phantom Menace.

TPM
The Phantom Menace blu-ray cover. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney.

Characters:  6

I’ll touch on this in the story section, but this movie tries to do too much, and with that, gives us too many characters to keep track of and connect with. And I don’t think we really connect with any of them. This movie essentially introduces a new world. It is a new era of Star Wars, and it looks different from anything we have seen before. We need a character to ground us, and that would obviously be Obi-Wan. But, if I had to pick a character that seems to be the focus of this movie, it is Qui-Gon. We see his journey. But we don’t get much indication of who Qui-Gon is. We need more moments to get his backstory, to connect with him emotionally. None of the characters really have a moment where we get to see who they are or what motivates them until very late in the movie. The biggest character moments are when Anakin goes back to hug his mother, when Qui-Gon defies the Jedi Council to take on Anakin as an apprentice, and when Amidala kneels before Boss Nass. And all of these happen very late in the movie. There are hints of antagonism between Qui-Gon and the Council. Why? What did Qui-Gon do in the past? Sidious and Maul talk about a plan that has been long in the making. How long? What is the plan? And, for that matter, what, exactly, are the Sith? Why do the Sith and Jedi fight each other? None of this is established in this film. We don’t get clear motivations for any of the characters, good or bad.

Now, I had difficulty watching The Phantom Menace in the past because of performance and dialogue. The Spanish performances are better. Much better. Spanish Anakin provides a good amount of emotion that wasn’t present in Jake Lloyd’s performance. I thought I would miss Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor’s performances, but I quickly got over it. And Jar-Jar is tolerable. There’s something about not having to HEAR the bad dialogue. In fact, the subtitles attempted to recreate Jar-Jar’s dialogue as much as possible, which looks like gibberish when you have to read it. In fact, it was easy for me to just not read it. I could easily skip over or skim his dialogue. I could even pretend that Jar-Jar was attempting to speak English (Basic, if we want to use the in-universe term), but frequently slipped into his original language, a type of Gunglish, if you will. The Spanish actor does attempt a Jar-Jar imitation, but not hearing the English dialogue made me able to tolerate it better.

Story:  6

What amazed me about watching the dubbed version is that it actually engaged the analytical side of my mind. Previously, I was too distracted by the bad performances and dialogue to be able to think about the movie beyond my emotional reaction. With the Spanish actors providing good performances, I could engage with the story in a new way. And, honestly, the story doesn’t quite work. I think it was an ambitious one, but this movie tries to do way too much. I think George Lucas made a mistake by starting this new trilogy with a highly political story. There isn’t adequate context for what he is trying to do in this movie. Everything is new. Despite this being the fourth Star Wars movie, we really don’t have a context for the Jedi Order, the Republic, the Sith, the Trade Federation, and pretty much every other thing in this movie. The only familiar things are Yoda, Obi-Wan, the Droids, and Tatooine. And it would make perfect sense to make Obi-Wan the focus of this film since he has the most reason to be on an adventure, and we are already familiar with him. As stated before, the main character, the character that we connect with as Lucas builds his world, is not evident in this movie. And honestly, in world building, it is better to move from simplicity to complexity. The Star Wars prequels should have started simple and become more complex as they went along. Oddly, despite not liking the derivative nature of The Force Awakens, by rehashing many plot points from previous Star Wars films, the movie actually becomes simpler. We’ve seen this before, which grounds us in this new paradigm. Now that we know the characters, we are ready to move into new, more complex territory.

But The Phantom Menace tries to do too much, and in doing so, it confuses the viewer, creates emotional distance between viewers and characters, and muddles the stakes. Since we have no context, we have difficulty caring about the stakes. I think this is why people find this movie so boring. Political maneuvering can be entertaining. We have a movie about Facebook and litigation that is extremely engaging and tense, so don’t tell me we can’t have an exciting Star Wars movie that is both political thriller and sci-fi action. The movie is boring because the stakes aren’t clear. I think Lucas should have started this trilogy with a different story, one that introduced us to this Star Wars era and these characters first, a simpler story that held hints of the complexity to come.

Themes: 7

In Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there is the idea that victory comes from unlikely places. Power and might lead to overconfidence. This is why a group of seven (and then two) had to destroy the Ring rather than send an army. It was an unlikely plan, a foolish plan, but one that Sauron would not have expected. The same thing lurks deep underneath The Hobbit, the idea that a group of 14 destroying a dragon and restoring the dwarf kingdom of Erebor would be inconceivable to the Necromancer, that this action would smash his influence in the North.

The idea of the arrogance of power and victory through unlikely sources appears in multiple Star Wars movies. A single exhaust port can destroy a battle station. A group of teddy bears can take on a trained military. A young boy can destroy a droid control ship. A bumbling klutz can accidentally be a good fighter. Victory from the unlikely. It is obviously an idea that resonates with George Lucas. In following the Force Qui-Gon recognizes that we cannot see how actions will play out, how an unlikely hope can turn the tide of war and re-shape the universe. Put another way, the Force works in mysterious ways.

Presentation: 6

Not being distracted by the characters let me see how rushed this story was. Again, the movie tries to do too much. It still looks good, the effects are great, the music is good, and the final lightsaber battle is fun. George Lucas can still direct a great space battle. But the stakes are confused. It is hard to keep up with what is going on and why I should care. Better performances by the Spanish actors made it more evident that the characterization was unclear. Sadly, the very fact that I had to listen to the Spanish dub to enjoy this movie is a huge strike against it, though huge praise to the Spanish actors and actresses. There is a good story underneath this movie, but it just wasn’t told well. At one time we had the Legends novels and comics to fill in the context, but now those are gone and this movie currently has to stand on its own as an introduction to the prequel era.

TPM-cinematography
The Phantom Menace cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

With The Phantom Menace, I felt like I came in to a movie that was already in progress. Even though Disney and Lucasfilm have currently shown no interest in fleshing out this era, I would love to see them do something to provide context for The Phantom Menace. Okay, ideally, I would love for them to do a complete prequel-era reboot. In fact, I’m writing a three-film outline that I will post here soon. I want to re-imagine the prequels and try to tell the story that George Lucas was trying to tell. I don’t want to give my ideal version of the prequels. I want to find a way to tell Lucas’s story in a way that would be engaging, clear, and not contradict the rest of the canon. (I love The Clone Wars animated series, so I want to preserve that as much as possible.) But as it stands, TPM tries to do too much. It doesn’t do good world building. It doesn’t give us characters we can connect with who have clear motivations. That said, I enjoyed watching The Phantom Menace for the first time. I have never enjoyed this movie, but the Spanish dub works for me, and I can actually see myself revisiting it in the future.

Final Rating: 6.4/10

I hope to update next Friday with Spanish Attack of the Clones, then the Friday after that finish up with Spanish Revenge of the Sith. I’ll round off my Spanish Prequels experiment with my pitch for a Star Wars Prequel revision.

In the meantime, I would be interested to hear your thoughts. I’d encourage you to try out a dubbed version of TPM. Let me know if you do. Also, there have been a lot of negative words written about TPM. So, let me know what, if anything, you like about the movie.

Thanks for reading.

The Great Work: Hope

On Thursday, a three-week long depression broke. It was at the end of a day when I missed work due to a particularly bad headache. The headache broke after a few hours. The depression didn’t, though I felt that I could read. Sometimes, during the depression, I can’t. Everything feels flavorless.

I got a massage. It had been scheduled to help with some TMJ issues. After the massage, I felt something I hadn’t felt in three weeks: hope. Hope that life could be happy. Hope that I could fight for happiness. Hope that I could find happiness. Hope stopped feeling like something I had read in a book, something as fantastic and mythical as dragons and elves. Hope was something that I could have. It was a magic spell that could propel me forward, sustaining me as I tried to improve myself. The hope felt good. But it also scared me.

As I write this, I am a bit nervous because I don’t know how long the hope will last. The depression of the last three weeks wasn’t the first time I have felt this way, and it wasn’t the longest bought either. It wasn’t the darkest, though it does rank as a darker one. But as wonderful as these feelings of hope are, these feelings that make me think I can move forward and find happiness, I am nervous about when they break and the depression returns. I say “when” because, based on experience, I don’t feel confident saying “if.” I told my wife that it is like living with a roommate, and you never know what mood that roommate will be in come morning. You don’t know what mood he will be in an hour from now. Only, the apartment is your mind, and the roommate is you. And when the depression returns, you are the same person, though different. You are a different flavor of yourself. That which seemed clear and attainable before now seems distant. You fear that maybe it isn’t there at all. You are re-drawn, once solid lines and vibrant colors, now hazy and indistinct.

Right now, I have confidence that things will get better. That things can change. But I am nervous because I don’t feel in control of these emotions. I don’t know what triggers the change. But right now, I am searching, and I hope the confidence and momentum I have now will push me forward, through whatever is next.

Becoming

Only the Lover Sings cover

For my birthday, my wife got me Only the Lover Sings by Josef Pieper. Pieper was a German philosopher who lived from 1907 to 1994, according to Wikipedia. This particular book contains meditations on art, work, and leisure. I love this book and I think I will revisit it often. I have found many passages that resonate with me, many that cause me to pause and contemplate my life.

In his essay, “Thoughts on Music”, Pieper states that

Man is never just “there.” Man “is” insofar as he “becomes”—not only in his physical reality, in growing, maturing, and eventually diminishing toward the end. In his spiritual reality, too, man is constantly moving on—he is existentially “becoming”; he is “on the way.” For man, to “be” means to “be on the way”—he cannot be in any other form; man is intrinsically a pilgrim, “not yet arrived,” regardless of whether he is aware of this or not, whether he accepts it or not.

This resonated with me because I have been feeling stuck for quite some time. But just as our physical bodies continue to progress or diminish with each action or inaction we take, so do our minds and spiritual existence progress or diminish. There are no empty actions; no free actions. All action is movement toward something. If I feel stuck, I am still moving toward something. And perhaps, in this state, the greatest act of autonomy I have is to choose what I move toward.

I don’t always know how to do this, though. I have many dreams, but often feel like I lack a clear path. Many times in the past, I have hesitated or lingered as I wait for a path to become clear. Recently, however, I have started thinking that I am at my worst in these moments. I think I often face more depression and angst when I am not working toward something, clear path or not. I sometimes think I need to constantly strive for something; to not strive is to despair. I can always choose to change, to re-align the path, but if I linger, I become rooted to a location. I can suffer through inaction or suffer through uncertain action. But only in one of these do I exert control over an outcome.

Put another way, it’s easier to steer a moving boat or car.

This realization is sometimes hard to hold. In my despair, I become frozen or paralyzed. I sometimes don’t see the point of moving. I forget that I am supposed to move or forget that I am trying to move. And so, I am grateful to Pieper for the reminder that even in paralysis, I am still becoming.

 

The Great Work

Colorized version of the Flammarion woodcut of a missionary looking through the horizon that which lay beyond it.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Universum.jpg

A few months ago I became fascinated by alchemy because of an episode (three episodes, actually) of Astonishing Legends. The episodes were about the Count of St. Germain. Now, to be clear, I do not think the Count is immortal. I do not think he had discovered the elixir of life. I think it is far more likely that he was a type of showman that moved in influential and powerful circles. For fun, I like to think he was the Doctor, and that Stephen Moffat missed an opportunity when he wrote “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

I’m already getting off topic.

The Count was actually my gateway to Western alchemy, and I became interested in the history alchemy. I was similarly interested in discussions of Chinese alchemy when I took a class on Religions of China and Japan while completing a religious studies degree. And while I think alchemy is interesting from a history-of-science-and-medicine standpoint, I think the symbolic language and concepts in alchemy are very powerful. Alchemy can be a useful metaphor for personal and spiritual growth.

In my religious studies class, we learned that Chinese alchemy started favoring spiritual refinement and development because, in a very practical sense, many early alchemists ended up poisoning themselves. But from that came theories of herbs and energy in Chinese medicine—and many blends of tea! In the West, alchemy led to early chemistry and medicine. It flourished in the early Muslim world. Indeed, the word alchemy is derived from Arabic: al-kīmiyā. One major difference between alchemy and modern chemistry, however, is the spiritual component. Chinese alchemy went on to refer to the refinement of the soul with the possibility of immortality. Western alchemy focused more on material goals of immortality and wealth—though prayer was still a strong component of Western alchemy.

I find the spiritual side of alchemy very intriguing: the idea that our bodies (or the self) are a container into which we put elements (ideas, concepts, theories) with the intention of refining ourselves, to reach greater understanding, enlightenment, or further discerning truth and reality. Granted, this includes the a priori assumption that an objective truth or reality exists outside of us—something that I think we must actually assume in order to move forward in any type of work. Science itself assumes that natural laws are knowable and stable; if they are not, we have no ability to measure and observe because they can shift or change. Likewise, if we want to refine ourselves and our understanding of life and reality, we have to assume such refinement is possible, which means there must be something outside the self to measure against. For some, that is the natural sciences, for others, God or spirituality. It can be ideals, dogma, or a code, but self-improvement is predicated on a rubric.

The interesting thing is that we often refine our rubric as we go . . . or at least, this INTP does. It’s kind of an INTP thing. I have come to refer to this attempt to understand reality and refine myself as The Great Work. In alchemical terms, the great work (or magnum opus) is the search for the philosopher’s stone. The philosopher’s stone is something you create (or another has created). The philosopher’s stone can lead one to immortality. Or, in the hermetic (and more metaphorical traditions), it is the pursuit of spiritual and intellectual transformation. It is individuation.

For my purposes, The Great Work is my attempt to understand reality and refine myself toward that understanding. It is the attempt to figure out if God is really there. It is the attempt to find that which brings me to life . . . that inspires me to move . . . that brings purpose and meaning. I struggle with all of these things. I joke that on my worst days, I’m a Nihilist; on my best, I’m an Existentialist.

This may not actually be a joke.

In my life, I have consumed many things that actually poisoned my attempt to refine myself. At times, these were consumed without much choice in the matter. But how we continue to refine ourselves is the key. I believe we can continue to move forward, though sometimes it may be hard.

And so, I may from time to time write about this journey, this Great Work. I will continue to research alchemy, to mine it for useful and essential elements to help bring together this artistic metaphor. I may try out theories as I develop them. This search may take years, and I may abandon the alchemy metaphor at some point. But, for now, this metaphor helps me create a framework for my search. It helps me organize thoughts, and allows me to embody them in a way that has previously been a struggle.

But the most important thing, at the moment, is that it is helping me to keep moving, to keep searching, and to keep hoping.

Final Fantasy 2 Introduction

Original Final Fantasy 2 box art

Original Release Date: 1988

Playthrough Platform: Playstation

My History with the Game: Despite owning the PS One remake, I have never played all the way through this game. What I remember about the game is that the story was stronger and more dominant than the first game and that the game mechanics are very different. The mechanics are based around what actions you take. At the time, I didn’t care for this, but in the intervening years I have become a fan of The Elder Scrolls. I’m actually looking forward to the mechanics now. I think this is the only Final Fantasy game that uses this type of character progression. And I really like that Square established early on that they would take risks with these games and not just duplicate what came before. But more than anything, I am excited about playing a Final Fantasy game that I have never played before.

I can’t wait!

Final Fantasy 1 – Retrospective

Final Play Time: 15:22

Final Fantasy logo

Overview

Final Fantasy was the game that saved Square and launched the long-running, extremely popular series. It’s hard to recapture the context of this game and recognize how ground-breaking it was at the time. It feels dated, but this game revolutionized the jRPG genre. I’ve played through this game multiple times, and in honor of this year being the 30th anniversary, I have played through the game once more. Again, this was a groundbreaking game at the time, but this review reflects my experience with the game on this play through.

Story:  4

Final Fantasy starts with a “save-the-princess” trope that soon evolves into story that requires you to revive the elemental crystals and defeat the elemental fiends so you can open a time gate to fight an ancient evil, close a time loop, and erase an alternate dimension where chaos rules. It actually sounds cooler than it plays out. Most of the information on the plot is held until an info-dump prior to the final dungeon and a bit more prior to the final boss. The concept is good, but the execution is a bit weak. That said, I’m happy Square was ambitious with the concepts, and high concepts continue throughout the series.

World Building:  5

As world building goes, there’s not a lot to this one. There are your standard elves and dwarves, kings and queens, and so on. This game feels influenced by Dungeons & Dragons but with a bit of Japanese spin. When the game story introduces us to the ancient Sky People and their lost civilization, the world starts to expand a bit. In fact, lost civilizations with advanced technology become a trope in other Final Fantasy and Square games. But its treatment here is small. It’s interesting, but there’s not much to it. I wanted more lore than I got. But, it was a step up at the time. Compared to the lore in games like The Legend of Zelda (most of which was in the manual and not the game.

Characters: 0

Deep characterization was not really a thing when this game was released. While Garland, the ultimate evil in this game, is said to have succumbed to darkness and hatred, this isn’t something that we ever really see. Again, it is told, not shown. None of the main characters area really characters, merely avatars of the player.

Gameplay: 7

As I mentioned before, this game is seems influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. The most noticeable instance of this is the magic system, which is divided into spell levels, and each level only allows a certain number of casts. Once you have used all available castings, you must rest. Instead of short and long rests, you have sleeping bags, tents, and cabins, each of which restores increasingly greater amounts of health and magic. The combat requires a bit of strategy if you want efficient and quick combat, though in the remake there is less need for this strategy as in the original version (which didn’t re-target monsters as they died). The combat can be fun, but it can also be brutal at times. I spent a lot of time early on grinding gold and XP, and I still struggled against some monster later in the game. Combat can be frequent, too. Sometimes it is hard to go more than five steps without a random attack. This can be incredibly frustrating if a character dies, and you have to go back to a chapel to revive them, but you keep getting attacked. Let’s just say that I learned to hate the Marsh Cave at a very young age. I’ve always felt the game got easier after that. Or at the very least, gold was easier to come by after that.

Personal Enjoyment: 5

I’ll confess, I’ve never really cared for Final Fantasy. It was one of the few games I had on the NES, and it was years before I beat it. My love for the series actually started with Final Fantasy IV (2). That game won me over with the story and characters, and it was because of that game that I later went back to Final Fantasy I. I almost never think about it with fondness. Nor do I think of it with dislike. It’s just . . . there. I appreciate it as the starting point for this series, and I smile at the callbacks. But when it comes to craving a Final Fantasy experience, this first game has never been one I revisit with excitement. It kind of pains me to say all this. I appreciate what it did at the time, both as a game and for the RPG genre, but for me, it is a miss. It is an artefact that has many elements that would carry through into later games. And in those later games, they would often be used to greater effect.

Final Rating: 4.2/10