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'Phantom Menace' is a star bore

Darth Maul (Ray Park) is a Sith Lord

Darth Maul (Ray Park) is a Sith Lord who wages a brutal war against the Jedi Knights in "Star Wars: Episode One The Phantom Menace in 3D." Credit: Lucasfim Ltd.

The kind of film that will have kids fidgeting in their seats, "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace" got dismissive reviews in 1999, and it deserves the same today. But you probably know that. As that wizened space avocado Yoda might have put it -- long ago, and in a galaxy far, far away -- How looks the 3-D, your question is?

The sorry truth is that all the visual enhancements in the world won't make "Phantom Menace" a better story, won't inject life into its anemic performances (young Jake Lloyd, as 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker, is even worse than we remembered) and the sophomoric attempts at humor have only grown more stale with age. Oh, yes, the servile Jar Jar Binks is still an amalgam of every ethnic stereotype to ever pollute a B movie, even if his ethnicity has yet to be determined.

But while this reviewer saw the new 3-D rendition of the George Lucas movie in an AMC theater, rather than a state-of-the-art facility, the visual quality of "Phantom Menace" is something of a scandal. Much of it is problematically dark -- 3-D glasses dim the brightness enough, but even taking that into consideration, the supposedly reconfigured "Phantom Menace" seems to be cast in perpetual twilight.

No movie that has cost so much to make should be so hard to see. The audio's no treat either: Sure, there's a great deal of alien patois being flung around, but it shouldn't be this difficult to discern what the various Hutts or the two-headed sports announcer(s) are saying.

And, of course, when the tale at hand is as uninspired as "The Phantom Menace," it's easy to check out entirely. When Jedi knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are dispatched to order the rambunctious Trade Federation to cease its boycott of the planet Naboo, they have to fight their way out, taking Padme -- in actuality, Naboo's Princess Amidala (Natalie Portman) -- with them.

"Star Wars" completists will be drawn, like moths to a burning Death Star, to see this new "Phantom Menace." But unless you have a similar agenda, a bad idea it is, to be paying more for less.

PLOT Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi smell a (space) rat when they get involved in a tax dispute that has pitted the Republic against the Trade Federation. RATING PG (violence with light sabers)

CAST Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Still boring after all these years.

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