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Click above to purchase "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace Special Edition" at amazon.com

 

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Special Edition

review by Zach B.

 

Rated PG

Studio: Fox

Running Time: 135 minutes

Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Written and Directed by George Lucas

Retail Price: $29.98

Features:
Disc 1 - Extended Cut, Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George Lucas, Producer Rick McCallum, co-editor Ben Burtt, and Special Effects people Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires. DVD-ROM: stawars.com Weblink

Disc 2 - Deleted Scenes, Deleted Scenes Documentary, "The Beginning" Making Episode 1 Documentary, Web Documentaries, Featurettes, Introduction To Animatics, Animatics, Exclusive Production Photos, Print Campaign, Posters, Star Wars Starfighter: Making The Game, Teaser Trailer, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots. DVD-ROM: starwars.com Weblink

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Chapter Search (50 Chapters), Two-Disc Set, THX Certified

Released: October 16th, 2001

Ever since the dawn of DVD, movie fans have had to wait and wait for their favorite "big" titles to get released. The big blockbuster hits, the classic favorites... everyone wanted them on DVD. As the format progressed and got popular, favorite films did see release on everyone's favorite video format. The term "save the best for last" couldn't be more accurate when describing films on DVD. While not every film has been released on DVD yet and there are still some big titles left to be seen, there's actually been a lot of big titles released and it just seems every year more and more them are being released as the format continues to greatly expand. But with October 2001 however, a giant step has been taken with some anticipated titles. "The Godfather Trilogy", "Snow White" and now... "Star Wars Episode 1".

There's no doubt that the "Star Wars" films have been the most anticipated titles to hit DVD. The constant nagging from fans, the various campaigns and the one most asked question in the world "When are the 'Star Wars' movies coming out on DVD!?"... it now seems George Lucas has finally given in to their demands. So it does pay to ask and bug, I guess. While the first trilogy has yet to be announced, "Episode 1" is an incredible release that is more than likely to shut up fans... or start the question "When are episodes 4, 5 and 6 going to be released? They released Episode 1!". The original trilogy won't be out for another few years according to Lucas himself, but things always change. I believe Lucas is going to wait until the prequel trilogy is finished (just as I did predict), but this DVD release is going to please fans for a long time, and he will be releasing episodes 2 and 3 on DVD after their releases.

For one, I actually did respect Lucas's original decision to wait until the prequel trilogy was done to release all the films. While DVD may be dead in a few years (no one knows for sure with the constant technologies coming out), many fans just kept wanting it and wanting it. Lucas is obviously a busy guy working on two additional chapters into the series, and I really did see his "big picture" about waiting until the films were done. It'd just make things seem more complete. But enough of the "Star Wars" DVD madness for now... let's talk about the madness "Episode 1" caused.

Released back in May 1999, "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" was riding a wave called maximum hype for quite a long time. Lucas announced several years before he was going to make a prequel trilogy to one of the biggest film series of all time and one of the biggest things ever in popular culture. As fans anticipated the film, the hype began and began... November 1998 saw teaser posters and a teaser trailer where people paid for "Meet Joe Black" just to get a first glimpse at one of the most anticipated movies of all time. The following spring, another trailer was released just adding more fuel to the fire. Add secrecy, a ton of merchandise (that went to clearance racks rather quickly) and all the hype... you got yourself an instant hit. Not to mention fans who waited outside theaters weeks before to buy tickets and fans who waited on line at toy stores a few weeks before the film opened at midnight so they could be first on their block with the new figures.

However, when a film has so much hype and so much riding on it, it simply can not live up to the hype. Never. Not then, not now and not in a million years. That was the case with "The Phantom Menace". Many critics gave it lukewarm reviews, many fans were incredibly disappointed and the name "Jar Jar Binks" reached the top of everyone's enemies list.

I saw the film in theaters, and after seeing it, I was pretty disappointed. It was a let down, as I did enjoy the original trilogy. However, the more I thought about it, the more I actually did like "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace". Of course it wasn't going to live up to the hype, but the more I thought about the great effects, great acting and how it would serve as a backdrop for the next two installments, I really didn't think it was as bad as everyone kept saying it was. I didn't think Jar Jar Binks was THAT annoying. While I did enjoy the other three more than "The Phantom Menace", but it could hold a candle to the original trilogy. It's simply a decent movie. It's good and I wouldn't go out and call it falt-out horrible. I must admit though that I have not seen the movie since I saw it in the theater. I never bought the video or rented it or saw it in the theater again. I wanted to give it a second look before this, but I never got the time. However, I have now when reviewing this DVD and I must officially confirm it's not as bad as I originally thought it was. Not to mention the movie on DVD features an extended cut (a nice surprise if you ask me though I didn't notice the new additions, but this is certainly something "Star Wars" fans will LOVE) with some slight additions. Since it's been over two years since I've last seen the movie, I didn't notice the new additions at all. Again, the more I though about it the more I liked it, and watching it again... I do like the movie. I bet George Lucas got a pretty bad wrap and a lot of anger from fans, but really, I could see what he was going for in this film and he didn't deserve the backlash he got. I mean, it's only a film series. People treat "Star Wars" like it's some kind of religon.

With that said, "The Phantom Menace" takes place a little over thirty years before "A New Hope" (the first "Star Wars"). We are introduced to many of the key characters that play key parts as well as implied parts in the future prequel installments as well as episode four, five and six. We meet a much younger Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Jedi master, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) who have to protect Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) from the evil Trade Federation. From there, they meet Jar-Jar Stinks, err, Binks and a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd)... the man with much "force" potential in him and the guy who will grow up to the galaxy's most feared villain... Darth Vader. As the two Jedis take in their new apprentice, we find there is something not quite right about him through Yoda as he is young. Meanwhile, the merry band of characters get caught up in all sorts of action adventures that including the famous Pod Race and an intertwining battle finale. And that basically is the first chapter of the long-awaited prequel trilogy.

I mentioned the dissatisfaction many felt over the film, but I really don't think it's such a bad movie. I think people were expecting the best, something to beat out all the other "Star Wars" films combined, but that's not what they got. Personally, I think it's a different kind of movie compared to the original trilogy. Forget the technological improvments, as far as tone, I just think it's more unique. Yes it has the familiar and great "Star Wars" elements... but something about the exotic settings, new characters, tones and themes make it a little hard to judge against the original trilogy. Lucas has a pretty strong script, and while I think it is a good introduction to the next two chapters, my main problem was character development. Sure, we learn who the characters are, their nature and things about them... but I felt there was more of an emphasis on the movie being driven by events rather than characters. Okay, so maybe Anakin was a little character driven... but wasn't finding him an event? Still, I felt we needed to learn more about the key characters, but Lucas still has Episodes 2 and 3 to flesh out. Overall, I can't compare Episode 1 to the original trilogy fully yet. After I see Episodes 2 and 3, I will see how it stands and how it all fits and feels into the puzzle.

Lucas' direction, I felt, was a bit rusty in the film but overall we could truly see his unique, creative and marvelous vision come to life with the outrageous characters and incredible special effects. This is the first movie he's directed in over twenty years, and I expected it to be a bit rusty, yet I think he gets the job done pretty well and I'm sure he'll improve when Episode 2 is released. While the movie can be a little uneven at times, it does go by rather fast and he sets it at a rather tight pace. Lucas sure knows how to create a stunning visual sequence, or sequences for that matter, and the editing as well as shots used are incredible to really put you into the mythlogical world has he has created. You really get a great glimpse of the action and into a world so many know and love.

Lucas also puts together a rather strong cast for the first chapter, and despite some criticisms, the actors really work well in their respective roles... well, they at least did for me. Liam Neeson brings much wisdom and strength to a one-of-a-kind Jedi Master, while Ewan McGregor creates a pretty great, well-rounded and brash Obi-Wan who I think will grow considerably in the next two installments. Lucas wanted him to be his own and not the late Sir Alec Guiness, and he does that. Frank Oz does some great work once again as Yoda (my personal favorite Star Wars character), while Samuel L. Jackson brings a strong presence in his all too short role of Jedi Mace Windu, but I'm not complaining since there will be more of him in Episode II. Natalie Portman, probably the finest young actress out there today, brings a great sense of poise and worth to Queen Amidala. And Jake Lloyd, who recieved probably the most criticism, does a very good job portraying an innocent and naive Anakin Skywalker. While the original film had a cast of unknowns pretty much, this trilogy has a cast that has a good body of work in them from before.

Like how the first "Star Wars" revolutionized special effects, this installment really shows what great technology that Lucas' own Industrial Light and Magic has developed and can pull off. Lucas waited a few years before starting to film the new installment, so the technology would be up to speed. How he and the ILM geniuses seamlessly combines live actors and settings with incredible computer designs and work is way beyond me. It looks really incredible, and so much of this movie is eye candy. Be it a costumed alien or a computer generated building, the amazing Pod Race or the climatic battle finale "Duel Of The Fates," we really do see what Lucas wanted and all his visual beauty and eye candy that we wanted. His world looks pretty real, no matter how fictional if you ask me.

"Star Wars - Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" is by no means a perfect movie. Out of the four "Star Wars" movies out there currently, it's probably my least favorite of the bunch. Despite the flaws in Lucas' script, he does deliver a pretty solid opening chapter complete with revolutionary effects, a strong cast and brilliant production values that prove in creativity, the sky is the limit. While "Star Wars" fans will line up to the see next one, there is no doubt they will be skeptical. For me, bring it on, as I am curious to see how Lucas extends the new trilogy. In the meantime, this DVD will keep me, and hopefully many of you happy. Truly a new standard for the digital video format. It was worth the wait.

 

The first chapter of the "Star Wars" saga is presented in a glorious and stunning 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This would almost be reference quality, but shimmering and artifacting keep it from achievening true perfection. Those annoying instances and sthe somewhat high contrast at points don't make this as pleasant as it could have been. It needed some more smoothing out. Still, what we do get here is rather fantastic. Lucas' wonderful world is brought to extreme visual life (and I mean extreme!). Black levels and detail are wonderful, while colors are incredibly solid and rich, popping off the screen with much vibrancy to them. There's no blemishes, scratches or dirt of any matter to get annoyed at. Overall, robots, humans and the wondrous special effects, locations and visuals are done justice in a lovely presentation.

 

If there's ever a movie that you want to show your sound system off with, look no further than "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace". Sure, there are plenty of other titles that have a lot of actions sequences and will truly get the most out of your speakers, but the experience of having a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track for this film is simply incredible and earth-shattering if you ask me. If you're disappointed with the sound at all on this track, you either need a brain transplant or need a new sound system. This is the BEST Dolby Digital 5.1 track I have heard on DVD yet... and I mean that to the fullest. Forget the fact that it doesn't have DTS (I was disappointed about that myself), the EX mix here will satisfy fans and home theater enthusiasts incredibly and you won't care for the lack of DTS, since it sounds so amazing.

This movie captivates you right from the start with it's auroa of plenitful sounds. It just starts and doesn't stop... it's really packed with amazing surrounds that puts you in the center of the "Star Wars" universe. From the familiar and classic opening theme from John Williams, to the podrace, veichles of all kind moving, lightsaber battles, guns being fired... there is just so much to be immersed in. Williams' score just sounds so amazing on this track plus all the ships flying and the action sequences... just wow. There is a great balance between music, effects and dialogue. Nothing overpowers the other as they all sound so crisp and are easy to hear. No muffling or distortion is to be found. .1 LFE extension is really tight, booming and constant. Enveloping, surround splits and sidewall imaging are also great.

The sound on the film here is also THX-certified, just like the transfer... as it should be. Also included are Two words can describe it all: REFERENCE QUALITY. Even if you don't like "Star Wars" one bit, but do like showing off your home theater, this is a perfect investment for that. You won't find anything better. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captioning, plus Dolby Surround tracks in Spanish and English.

 

I'm sure "Star Wars" fans would have been happy to just have the movie on DVD in a good presentation, but this two-disc set is jammed packed with some great goodies that really represent the "Star Wars" universe, the film itself and the whole production. I was really impressed how much Fox and Lucasfilm has crammed on to this set. The film and "Star Wars" itself does deserve the extra material. While I realy hate to sound greedy, I was expecting JUST A LITTLE MORE in the extras... I know there are space limits on DVDs, but I seriously felt they should have just crammed as much as they could to give everything as far as the whole experience and just anything they had from making the movie and things involved with it. Don't get me wrong though, this is still one fantastic special edition that has some excellent supplements and has a lot more than I originally expected. It's certainly in-depth and there's a lot to absorb, it's just not as extensive as it probably could have been. Still, I was certainly more than pleased with the inclusions and all you fans will be too. And hey, who knows? Maybe once all the "Star Wars" films are released on our beloved format, there will be a re-release of this particular disc... a growing trend as of late. Again, don't misunderstand, there's a lot to dig into this set and the materials we are given are plentiful, well done and light years ahead of average. Anyway, let's get a look at the fabulous materials we are given...

On the first disc, we find, as I mentioned, you'll find the new extended cut (three more minutes of footage has been added). Also, there is an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George Lucas, Producer Rick McCallum, co-editor Ben Burtt, and Special Effects people Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires. I personally would have prefered seperate audio commentaries (or at least a seperate one from Lucas). This is one great track if I say so mysef, even if it is a bit too technical for my tastes. I wish there was a bit more focus on the characters and the story itself, but there are comments in there about that. I just wanted some more thoughts on them, and audience reaction. Still, there is input on that, I just desired more because Lucas' comments on the matter are rather insightful. Everyone has something good to contribute here. The visual effects, accomplishing some tough stuff and a whole lot more. Very well done, and I don't even have to sell "Star Wars" fans to listen to this. There are optional subtitles that come up when someone new speaks. Very cool. Oh, and there's a weblink to starwars.com.

On the second disc is where we find our bulk. In Trailers and TV Spots, we have the Teaser Trailer and the Theatrical Trailer that made us all drop our jaws in awe. They are in Dolby Surround (boo!) and anamorphic widescreen. I haven't seen them in awhile, and watching them again sent chills down my spine remembering witnessing them for the first time and getting hyped up about them (people paid money to see the trailers and then left the movie!). There's also seven TV Spots - the five beautiful and highly rewatchable "Tone Poems" and two general ones entitled "Adventure." There's also the interesting "Duel Of The Fates" Music Video (in non-anamorphic widescreen, bah!).

Under Deleted Scenes and Documentaries, we'll find a Deleted Scenes Documentary. Lucas invested millions into finishing scenes up from the film for the DVD release. This documentary is in anamorphic widescreen, and Lucas explains that he wanted the scenes on the DVD and seems to actually like the format. Editors Paul Martin Smith Ben Burtt are also interviewed, while Lucas discusses the joys of editing. Directors Philip Kaufman and Francis Ford Coppola also shares their thoughts on the editing process. More interviews are included and stills plus film footage. Nicely done.

And then... we have the Deleted Scenes (which can be viewed out of the documentary or start right after the documentary is finished). They're in anamorphic widescreen (looking rather incredible) and 5.1 Dolby Digital (yes!). I really enoyed these scenes, even if they don't mesh so well with the film or are too small to really fit anywhere. Some are short, some are long and most deal with the whole podrace area of the film. The seven scenes are "Complete Podrace Grid Sequence," "Extended Podrace Lap Two," "The Waterfall Sequence," "The Air Taxi Sequence," "Dawn Before The Race," "Anakin's Scuffle With Greedo" and "Farwell To Jira."

Still, an incredible puppy the disc features is the anamorphic widescreen documentary "The Beginning" Making Episode 1. This is one fine documentary. I wouldn't say it's the best I've seen on DVD, but one of the best. It's only an hour long and was culled from well over 600 hours (!) shot by documentary filmmaker Jon Shenk, who was hired by Lucas and given full access by Lucas to shoot. A decent amount is covered - the start of the project to the world premiere, but it barely scratches the surface. It moves too quick. I wanted more behind the scenes footage, more detail and more everything. If it was longer and more was added (more on the sandstorm that wrecked the set would have been nice), it'd be more enjoyable. Still, don't miss this. It's an amazing documentary and has a lot of focus, it's just that there's way too much to fit in with a hour limit. Oh yeah, gotta love that Spielberg visit .

Under "Featurettes, Web Documentaries and Starwars.com" you'll find all twelve Web Documentaries featured on starwars.com leading up to Episode 1's launch. All twelve are here and are quite a treat. They are short, but put them together and you have a rather large documentary on such great tasks needed to make a movie like "Episode 1." "All I Need Is An Idea," "Thousands Of Things, "Home Sweet Home," "Boys In Paradise," "This Is A Creature Film.," "Prime Of The Jedi," "Assistant Directors," "3000 Anakins," "It's Like War Now," "Costume Drama," "Bad Droid Karma" and "Movie Music" are here. Each one is dated, and it gives you a glimpse of the timespan and when things were done. All of them are great and have a fine, specific focus. While they lack the intros as featured on the Star Wars website when aired there, you're not missing much. They're in anamorphic widescreen, and just really fascinating showing off such an amazing process that is truly "Episode 1."

Under Featurettes, you can watch five different ones, also dealing with a specific aspect. "Visual Effects," "Costumes," "Desgin," "Fights" and "Story." And yes, they too are in anamorphic widescreen. Interviews with McCallum, Lucas, Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and a host of other cast and crew are interviewd during these segments. They're not really insightful, but there is stuff to gain and are good watches. There's also a Weblink to starwars.com in this section.

And the last section, Animatics and Still Galleries is more technical and publicity driven. The Introduction To Animatics explains the process of animatics by Rick McCallum and others. The unique Lucas way is through rough computer animation, live action and storyboards. Clips are also included of doing the process. You can then watch animatics for the Podrace Lap One and Submarine Sequences. Using your DVD's multi-angle, you can view the storyboards (angle 1), the rough footage (angle 2) the final film (angle 3) and finally, all three together (angle 4). AND IT'S ALL IN GLORIOUS ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN.

Finally, there are Exclusive Production Photos, images under the Print Campaign, Posters and a brief feaurette Star Wars Starfighter: Making The Game. Yes, learn in four minutes how Lucas made February 2001's overrated Playstation 2 title, soon to be re-released for Xbox! It's all promo style!

It should be noted the animated and interactive menus are truly wonderful. They are well designed and have a great effect to them. Even more cool, there are different types of menus, three to be exact. So each time you turn on the disc, you'll be treated to a new one. Also, there's some neat easter eggs to find as well.

There you have it folks. "Star Wars" has finally hit DVD... thank Lucas and the lords. While it may not be the "Star Wars" film everyone wants, fans will devour this offering and it will keep them very busy until the next installments are released. The sound is incredible and reference quality, the transfer is superb and the supplements provided are astounding and should make everyone happy (hopefully). This purchase is a no-brainer for "Star Wars" fans. Even though some fans can be hard to please, I think nearly everyone will be satisfied with this two-disc set that just oozes quality. Even though the movie is a disappointment to some, all "Star Wars" fans with DVD players will be owning this. This is truly a new benchmark in DVD, and it really was worth the wait. My kudos goes to Lucas and those who really put their heart into this DVD. May the force be with you all...

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)

(4.5/5)

(5/5)

(4.5/5)

(4.5/5, NOT an average)

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