It is both a joyous and sad time for Star Wars fans – the final film of the prequel trilogy is available to own on DVD... and, if George Lucas sticks with his plans, it’s the final film. Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, is the keystone motion picture for the entire Star Wars saga, tying together everything we’ve seen in Episodes I and II with what we already know from the original movies. Even more so than Episodes I and II, the events in Episode III allows one to look upon the original trilogy with a completely new perspective – who Darth Vader is and how he ultimately became that way. With a darker, more involving plotline and cutting-edge special effects surpassing any seen before, Episode III really is great entertainment.
In Revenge of the Sith, the Clone Wars first begun in Attack of the Clones have been raging for three long years. After Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker rescue the kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Anakin is appointed to the Jedi Council but not given the traditional rank of Master. Angry at the Council and plagued by visions of his secret wife Padme Amidala dying, Anakin becomes determined to do whatever it takes to save her and is soon taken under Palpatine’s sinister wing.
Although Revenge of the Sith was created purely in the digital realm and designed to be presented likewise, few theaters were able to show the digital version and instead had to work with traditional prints. I managed to catch a screening in pure digital and the result was stunningly clear, although perhaps a little too good – on a huge movie theater screen the high definition transfer wasn’t really high enough to hide the film’s native resolution, and so it was possible to see the actual pixel structure.
On DVD, Episode III is available in two separate versions – fullscreen pan-and-scan or the original 2.35:1 widescreen. Naturally the widescreen version is preferred and is being reviewed here.
The THX-certified digital video transfer on this disc is nothing short of amazing. The overall detail level is extremely high and, although I long for a true high definition version, this DVD is more than acceptable – for now... The rich colors and fantastic balance between brightness and shadow levels means this movie will more than impress anyone with a well calibrated display. Unlike many sequences in Episode I or Episode II, where thanks to noticeably different black and noise levels the live action portions were plainly separate from the inserted CGI, in Episode III the blending between the two mediums is practically perfect. It’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s computer generated – at least not based on the technical presentation!
Throughout the two-hour and twenty minute film I detected no obvious artifacting, visual glitches or excessive edge sharpening – so you’ll get an essentially flawless visual experience. The movie occupies a complete dual layered DVD disc with a total of 8.1 gigabytes of data, with the layer change occurring at 1:02.08 into the film, or 16 seconds into chapter 23 during a quiet scene.
The audio side of Episode III is as equally impressive as its video – the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack feels more alive than any previous Star Wars film with a wide soundstage and thunderous bass throughout that will have your furniture spontaneously rearranging itself. The surround channels are used almost continuously to great effect – and yet they never sound overbearing or unnecessary. Really, who needs DTS when Dolby Digital can sound this good?
The mix is detailed and well balanced so that even while ships are exploding with pounding bass, it’s still easy to understand all dialogue and pick out the individual instruments playing John Williams’ score. If I can detect any flaws it would have to be on the dialogue side, in the form of a slight peaking on a few loudly spoken lines, as well as some recorded background noise on several others – although this can be difficult to hear since the levels are turned down between each word. But these are both minor points and unlikely to be of any concern to listeners while they’re being immersed in an otherwise perfect sonic showpiece. Just don’t keep the neighbors up too late!
Also included alongside the English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track are Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks in English, French and Spanish. Subtitles and Closed Captioning is provided only in English.
The fully animated menus are available in three different themes, one chosen randomly when the disc starts up. Among the six hours of bonus material created especially for Episode III, the otherwise packed first disk is limited to an informative commentary track with director George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, animation director Rob Coleman, plus visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Roger Guyett. A special subtitle track can be used to indicate who is speaking. One Easter egg is available on disc 1, a rap video featuring – of all characters – Yoda!
The second disc is where the bonus material fun really starts with over 8.3 gigabytes of data. The menu structure is broken up into five categories: Documentary and Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Trailers and TV Spots, Web Documentaries and Video Games and Still Galleries.
“Documentary and Featurettes” showcases the amazing Within a Minute documentary which, over the span of 77 minutes and 34 chapters, explicitly details the 8 man years spent by 910 people to create a single minute-long scene. The documentary goes into incredible detail and covers every possible aspect of the scene’s multifaceted construction – from pre-visualization, props, cinematography and special effects, to costumes, sound, makeup and catering. Also in this section is It’s All For Real: The Stunts of Episode III, an 11-minute featurette on stunt choreography, along with the 14-minute long featurette The Chosen One, explaining the gradual transformation we see from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. All three are presented in anamorphic widescreen video and 2.0 sound.
The “Deleted Scenes” section will be of the most interest to casual viewers. A total of six scenes are provided, along with introductory explanatory videos for each, in full anamorphic video and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Even though some of the special effects in the first scene are obviously at a lower quality level than those of the finished film, the rest are quite interesting and I would really have liked to see an option to view them inserted back into the movie via seamless branching.
“Trailers and TV Spots” includes two theatrical trailers along with the A Hero Falls music video by John Williams, in anamorphic widescreen and 2.0 audio, plus an impressive collection of 15 different TV trailers in 4:3 video and 2.0 audio.
Next, in “Web Documentaries”, are 15 mini-documentaries originally available for download from the StarWars.com website prior to the film’s theatrical release. All are presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound – far better quality than the downloadable versions. All told there’s over 93 minutes of information here, covering everything from shooting scenes, creating characters, costumes, filming in HD and scoring music. If you didn’t see them on the website, you’ll want to watch them here!
Finally, in “Video Games and Still Galleries” you’ll find reference to the bundled two-level XBox demo of Star Wars Battlefront II, trailers to that game and Star Wars Empire at War, a production still photograph gallery with 105 photos complete with captions, plus a collection of marketing posters.
All in all this is an excellent DVD release: great movie, fantastic disc quality, and enough extras to turn anyone into an instant Star Wars expert. And what serious DVD collection would be complete without the central movie that ties the new and original Star Wars films together? Highly recommended!
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on November 7, 2005.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
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