With the tagline "Every saga has a beginning", George Lucas goes "backwards" in the Star Wars franchise of movies and adds a new chapter - the first one. When the evil Trade Federation attempts to take over the peaceful planet of Naboo, Jedi warrior Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi travel to Naboo in an effort to save the peaceful inhabitants. It is eventually invaded by the evil Darth Maul, so Queen Amidala must flee to the faraway planet of Coruscant with the Jedi warriors and a small entourage in an effort to save their homeworld. Forced to land upon the desert world of Tatooine after an attack, they meet up with a very young Anakin Skywalker who appears to be strong with the Force.
Although the concept of producing a movie series out-of-sequence may seem a little strange, the end result of Star Wars Episode I is nevertheless quite impressive. State-of-the-art special effects combine with an immersive soundtrack, creating a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Despite an initial snub of the DVD format in favor of a mediocre VHS release, Lucas promised that this new version of The Phantom Menace would be stunning in every way - thus the delay. Does it live up to these heightened expectations? In one word: yes!
The video transfer on this release is comprised of an anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 widescreen picture that is practically perfect in every way. Not only is the image crisp and free of compression artifacts, but colors are marvelously rich and vibrant, black levels are solid and consistent, brightness is high without unwanted blooming and, even better, I could not see any evidence of dirt, dust, static or other imperfections. The detailed sets, outdoor scenery and battles with thousands of participants come across with stunning clarity and textures. This DVD really makes me wish that I had a front projector for the full experience! Beyond doubt, this is reference quality material that will be making its way into many test systems.
The 133 minute movie is divided into an impressive 50 chapters, replete with animated chapter previews accessible from three separate and complete sets of themed animated menus. The disc contains 8 gigabytes of data - notable considering that there are no extras on this particular disc - with the layer change occurring at 0:06.62 in chapter 17, or 0:50.40 into the entire movie.
Naturally, this disc delivers outstandingly on the audio front. It includes a marvelous Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix that, on a properly calibrated system, is enough to keep even the most drowsy listener wide-eyed and attentive. The rear channels are used almost continuously for both music and sound effects - the latter of which this movie is positively packed with. The dialogue track is clear without any recording imperfections, although I found it a little soft during certain scenes. John Williams' orchestral score comes through with a broad soundstage and dynamic range that magnifies the overall enjoyment of the movie. And the subwoofer - oh my, the amount of subwoofer usage in this film is phenomenal. Commanding, yet not overdone... shakes your entire house, yet doesn't cause other elements to become muffled. Throughout the movie I did not hear any imperfections. So, crank up the volume and enjoy the show!
In addition to the English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix you'll also find English 2.0, Spanish 2.0 (US only) and French 2.0 (Canada only) tracks, plus English subtitles. A full-length running commentary track features George Lucas (director), Rick McCallum (producer), Ben Burtt (editor), Rob Coleman (ILM animator director), John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires (all visual effects supervisors). Other items on the first disc include a new THX logo sequence and a "blooper" reel that runs during the DVD production credits (which you can find on Title 3).
The real supplementary meat is stored on the second disc, which contains another 8 gigabytes of data. Headlining the bonus features are 7 deleted scenes: the "full pod race grid sequence", "extended pod race lap 2", "waterfall sequence", "air taxi sequence", "dawn before the pod race", "Anakin's scuffle with Greedo", plus "farewell to Jira". None of these were originally completed and have only been finished for the DVD release. All are done in anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 audio and can be viewed separately, or as part of a "deleted scenes documentary" (also anamorphic widescreen but only 2.0 audio) that covers why some scenes are removed from movies and the reasoning behind the cutting of these particular ones. In addition, an in-depth look into the recreation of the waterfall sequence is provided.
A 65-minute documentary (anamorphic video and 2.0 audio) provides a non-narrated look behind the scenes of the making of Episode I, covering items such as building the sets, selecting cast, creating costumes, storyboards and props, script reading, filming, production disasters and the post production process. Additional material on the making of the movie includes 12 "web documentaries", originally released on StarWars.com, that total up to 57 minutes of video chronicling the creation of the movie.
Further in-depth detail can be found thanks to five video featurettes that cover visual effects, costumes, design, fights and the story. These add up to 40 minutes of footage and are provided in anamorphic widescreen and 2.0 audio. Two "anamatics" give thorough looks at how particular scenes progress during development via storyboard, rough and finished versions of the film. These can be toggled through with the "Angle" button on your remote, or viewed all at once split-screen.
Two trailers - the teaser and theatrical - are provided in anamorphic video and 2.0 audio, while a full seven TV spots are provided in fullscreen video and 2.0 audio. A "Dual of the Fates" music video is also available, disappointingly in 2.0 audio with various voiceovers and sound effects tacked on. Finally, the disc includes three galleries of production photographs (with text descriptions), print advertising and posters. A short video is included on the making of the LucasArts "Star Wars: Starfighter" video game. The disc also includes a link to an exclusive Star Wars web site for DVD owners.
Although this release does not include the most extensive collection of bonus features ever put out on DVD, there's more than enough material present to occupy hours of time. But what's best is that everything here is really quite interesting! These extras, combined with a near-perfect audio and video transfer, make Star Wars: The Phantom Menace a DVD that no sci-fi fan should be without.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on October 14, 2001.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
Sony DVP-S500D DVD Player
Marantz SR-18EX THX Receiver
Sony 32" XBR250 WEGA TV using Component
Nuance Spatial Baby Grand 3E & StarSat