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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is the only film in recent memory that has been talked about, fought about, praised and panned as much as it was during the time of its release. It simply amazes me because from where I sit, people seemed to have spent more time arguing about “the new Star Wars” than they discussed current events or the global climate of the time (of course, I can’t recall what the global climate or the current events of the time were. Naturally, I was too busy talking about Star Wars).

I was born in 1984, and although Return of the Jedi had been released just a year prior, the mass hysteria surrounding the trilogy was beginning to die off, or was on the road to doing so. I was never bitten by the Star Wars bug, at least not the first time it attacked, but in 1997, when George Lucas decided to release the original trilogy in Special Edition form theatrically with all sorts of new CGI bells n’ whistles, my father went down memory lane and was like, “Son, I remember when I saw Star Wars,” (he meant Episode IV: A New Hope, even though no one calls it that, kind of like the way no one will ever call The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring anything but Lord of the Rings) my dad continued, “man was I blown away. You’re going to love these movies.” And I did.

Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace
Then another hair on Lucas’ flannelled butt decided to irritate him, and so he began production of “the new Star Wars”. By this time I was thoroughly under the influence of the Star Wars bug’s venom; I had every figure (one opened, one sealed), a well-worn boxset of the Trilogy Special Edition on VHS (widescreen, of course; DVD was an infant, though and I hadn’t picked up on it yet) and a real passion for the Lucasphere.

Much to my joy, I was invited in late 1998 by a few actor friends to accompany them to Skywalker Ranch in May of 1999 to see a celebrity screening of Episode I a few days before it came out (thanks to my mother of course, Business Manager extraordinaire). While there, I met all kinds of famous people: the producer Rick McCallum and even Lucas himself. I had him sign some stuff. He was a real nice, flannel-wearing guy.

But what about the movie?

That whole trip was a whirlwind for me; I got to miss a day of school to go see Star Wars at George Lucas’ house. I mean, c’mon. As far as I can remember, the first time I saw Episode I I thought it was great, the best of all the films. The only way I could be sure was to see the film five more times before summer was out and I was back in school. Not even The Matrix could distract me at this stage in my life. But alas, High School took effect and I forgot about Star Wars somewhat, simply because most of my studies (aside from the requirements) centred on film; how to analyse, how to interpret, how to critique... harshly if necessary. And I did so with all of the Star Wars films; as it turns out my favourite, Episode I, was the weakest of the bunch. I was saddened, simply because the film was still my favourite (Thankfully, Episode II turned out to be better, comparable to The Empire Strikes Back even).

However, my feelings on something that is so obviously subjective are much more important than anything else, or anyone else’s opinion, so I still believe that Episode I is a good film. No, I agree, there was no excuse for Jar Jar Binks; his flamboyance really took the picture down a notch, and I know Portman can do better. Seriously, all someone had to do was tell Jake Lloyd not to screech “Yippee!” and all would have been well. I just know that nothing more needs to be said about the film other than what has been.

This is just the beginning of a story we all know the end to. Attack of the Clones was good* in my opinion, so let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.

*Hayden Christianson is inherently whiny, get over it. Besides, only whiny bitches fall prey to the Dark Side anyway. Remember, all Luke had to do was slap good ‘ol Dad around a bit and he was right as rain. Well alright, he was dead, but at least he wasn’t complaining. Now that I think about it, Luke was a whiny bitch too... ah, never mind.

The real treat here is this spectacular DVD from 20th Century Fox- it’s just as grand as the film itself and will go down in DVD history as one of the best.

Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace
Video
If only...
Well, this is one spectacular disc. Its only weak link though is the video presentation. No, it’s not bad, not even close. It’s just that it’s not perfect... like the rest of the disc. Nooch. The one glaring flaw is what has been labelled on the Internet as the “Edge Enhancement From Hell”, and I agree; this transfer is phenomenal in all other respects. The blacks are black and colours are well balanced. No artefacts, no distracting moiré effects, but the edge enhancement is quite noticeable, especially on a 65” monitor. There are times where it is so distracting that it actually covers up detail in the background. Take a close look at the tops of the Battle Droids’ heads: they are all wearing little black hats!

Despite this, the transfer really is great, just as I said above, but obviously the people who authored the disc did not need to, well, enhance the edges so much.

NOTE: Go to the second disc and look at the footage used in the trailers that was taken from the film. If you look, the edge enhancement is there as well, but it is not nearly as predominant as it is throughout the actual film itself. Isn’t that strange?

Audio
Breathtaking, to say the least; Episode I is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and Dolby Digital 2.0 in both English and Spanish. Obviously, the mix that matters is the Dolby 5.1 EX, which I have to say is the most aggressive sound mix my ears have ever been privy to. From the opening scene right up until the end, this mix is a dream come true. The LFE channel has a near constant workout, perfectly in sync with every explosion, fly-by and lightsaber hiss. Also constant is the use of the surrounds, as a real sense of environment is established with transitions that are smooth and fluid (pay special attention to the entire Podrace, from start to finish, as well as the deleted footage from the race on disc two as well; absolutely mind-boggling!)

This is the demo mix for anyone wanting to impress their friends, or piss off the neighbours, or blow the cat up...

Extras
20th Century Fox came into the game late, but has in the last two years made good on their transgressions. The Speed: 5 Star Collection DVD looks to be one helluva disc and anyone in the DVD community knows that (whether or not you liked the film). Fight Club was and still is one of the finest examples how to put a film on our favourite little five-inchers.

Obviously, no expense was spared in creating this DVD (what with the Lord of the Flannel himself backing it) because the array of bonus material is by far the most focused and well produced collection I have seen since Hannibal or T2: The Ultimate Edition. It is safe to say that Van Ling is truly an artist in the field of DVD creation. This is a 2-Disc release (not even touted as a Special Edition) and as such, I have to go in order.

On disc one there is a commentary track, which includes George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires. This commentary is well put together, for it sounds as though each of the participants were recorded separately (that wouldn’t surprise me, all of these men took a break from Episode II to take part in the creation of the Episode I DVD). Thankfully, the commentary never sags thanks to tight editing. All of the participants have a lot to say and all are rather deft in imparting their knowledge and anecdotes quickly and succinctly.

Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace
Lucas, despite what anyone says, is an amazing filmmaker. As far as I’m concerned, it takes quite a pair of bollocks to pioneer two of the most important tools in filmmaking (that would be visual effects and sound). He has a great many things to say about his stories, but thankfully he doesn’t hog the track. His ideas and thoughts regarding storytelling are very interesting, though the only problem is that he is far too comfortable with his own story-telling ability (does need a little work). The producer, McCallum, always seems as though he is trying to sell something (guess it comes with the title). Anyone who knows film knows who Dennis Muren is. He is the most interesting of the bunch, giving a real insight into his job. The funniest are the stories of attachment to the models his effects guys make and the remorse when the pyrotechnics guy blows them up. Knoll, Squires and Coleman are the three main computer effects men. It is obvious that they have a passion for what they do. John Knoll has this strange thing about not saying ‘no’ to George Lucas. It’s kind of weird. This is a good commentary, rather laid back though. For those of you out there not into tech-talk it might put you to sleep.

Also on the disc one is the THX Optimiser. This can be considered a special feature, simply because each and every DVD with the Optimiser has one that is specifically formatted for that film. Neat, huh?

Moving on to disc two, our first option is the section titled Trailers & T.V. Spots. In this section you will first find the Teaser Trailer and the Theatrical Trailer. Both are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound and have English Subs. Next there is the 1999 video music video for “Duel of the Fates” presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound and English Subs.

In the T.V. Spots section, we have the international Tone Poems. These are neat little commercials that rhythmically tell a character’s story, kind of like a Haiku poem. There are five of them, “One Love”, “One Dream”, “One Destiny”, “One Will” and “One Truth”. Each of them is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound and English Subs. Following the Tone Poems is the Adventure section which contains two small T.V. Spots called “The Saga Begins” and “All Over Again”. Both are presented in the same manner as the Tone Poems (1.85:1 non-anamorphic yadda-yadda-yadda...)

From the Main Menu, the next section is called Deleted Scenes & Documentaries. In here, we have three options. The first is the documentary titled “The Beginning: Making Episode I”. This documentary is the most even-handed and fair look at the creation of a film I have ever seen. Not since the documentary “The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkey’s” on Universal’s 12 Monkey’s Special Edition have I been so impressed with a piece of material of this nature. Culled from over 600 hours of footage, this documentary is Host-free and completely devoid of theme music (I hate that!) In the documentary, we are treated to a fly on the wall perspective of the events that took place during the production of Episode I. Everything from budgetary meetings to the disastrous sandstorm in Tunisia (that car-salesman McCallum has a potty-mouth). We are privy to Ewan McGregor receiving his lightsaber and a truly hysterical meeting between Lucas and Steven Spielberg. It is rumoured that the original cut of this documentary was 4 hours. Let me tell you, had it been left that way, it would have been three times more impressive. This piece is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound and has English Subs. A funny side note: the subtitles are blank whenever potty-mouth opens his cake-hole.

Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace
The second option is the Deleted Scenes Documentary. This is a very good look at the process a director, along with his editor are forced to go through when having bring a story down to its most basic and important elements, so as not include anything that could be detrimental to the film. Interviewed are Francis-Ford Coppola, Philip Kaufman and George Lucas among others. Editors Paul Martin Smith and Ben Burtt are interviewed as well. They show what an indelible role the editor has in the creation of a film. After the discussion concerning what should stay and what should be axed concludes, people more central to the production of Episode I take over and discuss in detail the scenes that were removed and why as well as why some of them and parts of others were reincorporated into the film. Following the introductions, the scenes themselves are shown (I’ll go into greater detail in the next paragraph). One scene in particular is focused on more so than the other, the Waterfall Sequence. Following this scene, Dean Yurke, one of the digital effects blokes gives a step-by-step explanation of how he created the Waterfall Sequence from nothing but new 3-D and old 2-D elements and very little live-action footage - simply amazing. This documentary is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound with English Subs. When the deleted scenes themselves are shown, they are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with both 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound EX as well as 2.0 Dolby Digital Sound and English Subs.

The third option is the Deleted Scenes Only section in which you can access each scene directly. There are a total of seven deleted scenes: “Complete Podrace Grid Sequence” (partially reincorporated), “Extended Podrace Lap Two” (partially reincorporated), “The Waterfall Sequence”, “The Air Taxi Sequence” (reincorporated), “Dawn Before the Race”, “Anakin’s Scuffle With Greedo” and “Farewell to Jira”. All of the scenes were cut before completion, so Lucas went back to them with a hand-picked visual-effects team to finish them completely, and my, are they gorgeous! It’s obvious as to why these scenes were cut and disappointing that more of this footage wasn’t added. In particular, “Extended Podrace Lap Two”, while bits of the footage were reincorporated into the film, should have been completely reincorporated. The Podrace was nearly the most exciting scene in the film, and it is in my opinion that the footage in this deleted scene would have only added to the tension and excitement. But alas, The Great Flannelled one is in control. “The Waterfall Sequence”, while amazing, was severely hampered by Jar Jar’s idiocy. One other thought: “Anakin’s Scuffle With Greedo” would have been better in the film, but I guess the showcasing of Anakin’s penchant for anger wasn’t as important as getting our heroes to Coruscant in short order. Each of the seven deleted scenes is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound EX and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound with English Subs.

The third choice on the main menu is Featurettes & Web Documentaries. The Web Documentaries consist of twelve little vignettes that made up a mini-series that was shown on www.starwars.com in 1998/1999. These are very interesting pieces that were shot in the same fashion as “The Beginning” documentary. The twelve parts were “All I Need is an Idea”, “Thousands of Ideas”, “Home Sweet Home”, “Boys in Paradise”, “Prime of the Jedi”, “Assistant Directors”, “3,000 Anakin’s”, “It’s Like War Now”, “Costume Drama”, “Bad Droid Karma” and “Movie Music”. I’m not going to take the time to go into each of these, but of particular note are “All I need is an Idea” and “3,000 Anakin’s”. In "Idea" we get to see Lucas all the way back in 1994 on the day he began to write Episode I. It’s interesting to me just how normal he is. I’m not going to spoil the content of the short film, but I will say that Lucas should have waited one more day to start. In "3,000 Anakin’s" we are treated to the casting sessions with the final three worthy young boys up for the coveted role. All I can say here is that Jake Lloyd was severely miscast, and one of the other young boys was much more suited for the role. All twelve of the shorts are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 Dolby Digital sound with English Subs.

Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace
The Featurettes are five small Mini-Docs that deal with one specific area of production. There are individual spots for visual effects, costumes, design, fights and story. These are in the same style as the main documentary and the web-shorts. Not surprisingly, the least amount of time is dedicated to the section dealing with the story. Some of the footage is also present in “The Beginning”, but rarely is the ever any distracting duel use of footage.

The final option on the main menu is Anamatics & Still Galleries. In this section, you can find just that. More space is dedicated to the Anamatics of course, which has three sections. First, there is the Introduction to Anamatics then Podrace Lap One Anamatics and finally the Submarine Sequence Anamatics. During both the Podrace Lap One and Submarine Sequence Anamatics, there are multiple angles for viewing: the original story boards, anamatics and live-action tests, the competed scenes from the film and a split screen of all the angles. This is pretty great stuff, but nothing we haven’t seen on other DVD’s. The plus is that these three scenes are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic (2.35:1 for angle three) widescreen, with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound.

Lastly, there are the still galleries. There are three sections; the Exclusive Production Photos (90 photos), the Print Campaign (9 photos) and Posters (19 photos). Each of these can be viewed different ways. Especially neat is the option to look at the production photos with without captions or the ability to look at certain details on the theatrical posters using the arrows on your remote.

Whew! We are at the end! Just one more thing: “Star Wars Starfighter: The Making of a Game” is a terribly fluffy piece of commercial trash presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. Don’t bother checking this out, the game is terrible anyway.

Overall
Nothing else needs to be said about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace; the subject is tired. However, this DVD is top of the line and whether or not you like the movie, this disc should be on your shelf if you are a true DVD enthusiast. The video is flawed in a minor way, but the audio and extra material is top notch, best you can get for $22 bucks. I know this review is quite out of date, but the Star Wars fans from region one now have representation here at DVDAnswers.com. So if you haven't yet, go and buy this disc. GO!


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