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Like many of my peers, I grew up with Star Wars. As a child I loved the films and owned virtually every bit of merchandise imaginable, including those dodgy-looking lightsabers that were, to be honest, little more than a torch with a plastic tube stuck on the end. Like many I eagerly awaited the release of the prequels to the ‘Holy Trilogy’, and like many I was somewhat disappointed with The Phantom Menace. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not the sort of person who despises the film and slates it at every opportunity. On the contrary, I found much of the film enjoyable. The opening dual between the Jedi and the battle droids, the pod race sequence and the stunning climactic battle with Darth Maul fully deserve a place in the annals of Star Wars history, alongside such classic moments as Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star, the Battle of Hoth, and the lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Of course there is also much to loath about the film. The humour is, for want of a better word, puerile. Gone is the intelligent, subtle comedy of the originals, to be replaced with slapstick and fart jokes. Obviously much of this criticism relates directly to the nightmare that is Jar Jar Binks, but there were certainly other problems with the film, notably the excessive use of CGI and some very stilted dialogue.

Here we go again!
In light of this it was with some trepidation that I strode to my local cinema and handed over my cash to watch the most recent film in the saga, Attack of the Clones. With my view of the franchise tainted by some of the less palatable elements of The Phantom Menace, I was hoping that Clones would restore my faith to full strength. I had heard good things prior to the release, and I was quietly confidant as the lights dimmed and that familiar fanfare began to play. Now, thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment I’m able to relive the excitement courtesy of the Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones DVD set.

Feature


The film opens with the familiar scrolling text that explains how the galaxy is under threat from a separatist movement lead by the mysterious Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who has convinced several hundred star-systems to leave the republic and join his cause. In order to combat the increasing threat of the separatists, the Galactic Senate is voting on the contentious issue of creating a clone army. Enter Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), the former Queen of Naboo who now represents her planet in the Senate. Upon her arrival on Courascant, the central system in the Republic, Padme is the victim of a failed assassination attempt that leaves her starship in flames and her decoy dead.

In the wake of this treacherous attack, the Jedi Council appoint two Jedi Knights to protect the senator. These guardians are Obi-Wan Kenobi (once again played by Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (newcomer Hayden Christensen). Skywalker has matured into an exceptionally gifted, yet arrogant young Jedi, far removed from the little boy Padme first encountered ten years ago. Anakin has also been infatuated with Padme for the last decade, believing himself to be in love with her (more of which later). A second attempt on the senator’s life leads to an exhilarating speeder chase through the skies of Courascant, as Obi-Wan and Anakin track down the would-be assassin. But as the Jedi apprehended the suspect, she is assassinated by a mysterious bounty hunter, leaving them with more questions than answers.

No, I don't want to buy a rose...
At this point, Obi-Wan is charged with the task of discovering the identity of the bounty hunter. His assignment leads him to the aquatic planet of Kamino, where he discovers a huge clone army created to serve the Republic at the behest of a long-since-deceased Jedi Master. Obi-Wan also encounters the bounty hunter Jango Fett, and his son Boba, which leads to intense life-or-death struggle atop a Kaminoan landing pad.

While Obi-Wan investigates events on Kamino, Padme returns to her home planet, taking Anakin along for protection. On Naboo Anakin’s love for Padme grows, but she is more cautious than the headstrong young Jedi, putting duty before affairs of the heart. At the same time Anakin has a vision of his mother, a vision so powerful it causes him to disobey orders and head to Tatooine. But young Skywalker is destined to find only pain and suffering on the desert planet, and the events that unfold will have far-reaching consequences for the entire galaxy…

So, what did I think of Attack of the Clones? Well for one thing I think it’s a definite improvement over the first prequel, featuring as it does more action, a larger universe and an ever-thickening plot filled with some very pleasing twists. However, the acting is certainly a very mixed bag. Both Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee are in fine form as the villains of the piece, while Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is a more mature version of the character we met in The Phantom Menace. McGregor delivers an assured performance and revels in the chance to explore his character more fully than the restrictions of The Phantom Menace’s script allowed. Much of the humour in the film, at least the humour that works, stems from Obi-Wan, including an especially amusing little ‘mind trick’ early on. Sam Jackson’s Mace Windu also has a lot more to do in this instalment, and he certainly has to be in the running for the title of ‘Coolest Jedi in the Galaxy!’

He might look like your grandad, but he's a right evil sod...
One of the most important elements of the film is the romance between youthful Jedi-in-training Anakin Skywalker and the beautiful Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). While I thought Hayden Christensen brought some much-needed arrogance to the character of Anakin (it’s not too big a stretch of the imagination to believe that this quick-tempered, impetuous youth will one day become the Dark Lord of the Sith himself) I wasn’t completely sold. At times Christensen’s performance is more Pinocchio than Pacino, and I can’t help wondering what a better actor would have done with the part. After escaping relatively unscathed from The Phantom Menace, Portman herself suffers somewhat in this film. Much of her performance is wooden, but again this could be down to some of the impossibly hackneyed dialogue she’s expected to deliver. While it’s obvious that the trite dialogue didn’t help matters, I just didn’t sense any chemistry between Christensen and Portman during the romantic scenes. This is a big problem considering we’re supposed to believe that they are madly in love with one another. In fact, most of the time Christensen just appears to be leering at Portman, like some kind of horny teenager (although who can really blame him for that?).

Jar-Jar haters (and surely this must be most of you) will rejoice to hear that not only has he been toned down, but almost completely removed from the proceedings. In fact, his presence is almost inconsequential save for one pivotal decision that will shape the course of events on a galactic scale! You think we vilified him? That’s nothing compared to what the citizens of the Republic would do if they found out what events he unwittingly set in motion! Unfortunately George Lucas has seen fit to replace Jar-Jar with another ‘comedic’ character that is almost as annoying as the floppy eared buffoon himself. Who is this mystery character? None other than C3-PO! Oh dear God George, why did you do it? One of the most beloved characters from the original trilogy reduced to making inexcusably cheesy puns and getting himself into all manner of scrapes. It’s Jar-Jar all over again… Thankfully R2-D2 is still around and largely unspoiled.

Beats McDonald's as a first date...
All of the above is in danger of sounding like I didn’t enjoy the film after all, so let me dispel any such thoughts. I believe that the biggest testament to my enjoyment of a film is how I feel a few days on, not as I walk out of the cinema. Upon leaving The Phantom Menace I was suitably entertained, but a few days later I had pretty much forgotten the years of excitement and anticipation. My expectations weren’t so high this time around, and perhaps that accounts for my feelings about Clones, but all I can say is that when I’m still thinking about a film a week later it must have done something right. Sure it’s still not a patch on any of the original Star Wars films (not even Jedi, and certainly not Empire as some blasphemers have dared to suggest), but it’s on the right track. Star Wars isn’t about long, sharply observed dialogue sequences (that’s what we have people like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith for), it’s about action, adventure and most of all, fun. Attack of the Clones has all of this and more.

At the end of the day, any film that has a two and a half foot frogling leaping around the place like Sonic the Hedgehog on speed is fine by me!

Video


Attack of the Clones was filmed digitally, allowing for a direct transfer to DVD, so you’d expect it to look nothing short of spectacular. Well I’m pleased to say that this THX certificated anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer certainly won’t disappoint! Although I didn’t imagine I’d see a huge difference between this digital transfer and some of my favourite reference quality ‘traditional’ transfers, I couldn’t have been more wrong! Without a doubt Attack of the Clones is the finest, sharpest, most detailed transfer I’ve ever seen. And I mean bar none. Not even the fantastic Lord of the Rings disc looks this good.

Crouching Jedi, Hidden Master...
In particular, owners of screens larger than my lowly 32” Toshiba will reap the rewards of such a stellar presentation, and there should be no moaning about edge enhancement this time around as I couldn’t spot any. In fact I didn’t really spot flaws of any kind. If I had to criticise anything it would be the way that the image is almost too perfect, which can make some of the CGI characters stick out like a sore thumb. Still, this is only nitpicking, as the good far outweighs the bad. Colours are incredibly vivid, especially the lush greens of Naboo, while black levels are rock solid and contrast is excellent. The detail and clarity during the Courascant speeder chase is phenomenal, while both the Jedi arena and Clone War battles simply have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately there’s no way that the screenshots on this page can possibly do the video justice, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The disc also comes with a THX Optimizer menu, so you can tweak your television set’s picture ‘til your heart’s content.

Audio


The Phantom Menace featured one of the best Dolby Digital soundtracks ever to grace the DVD format, and likewise Attack of the Clones certainly doesn’t disappoint in the audio department. While I didn’t find it quite as exciting as the Episode I track (there really is nothing like the rumble of the subwoofer the first time you hear a lightsaber ignite in glorious Dolby Digital 5.1 EX), Clones still features a reference quality soundtrack.

There is always something going on in this mix, be it subtle ambient effects or the maelstrom of noise that is the climatic battle between the clone troopers and the dorid army. In fact, the battle provides some of the most enthralling use of the 5.1 track to be found in the film. Other key sequences include the fantastic speeder chase through the skies of Courascant and the excellent battle in the asteroid field as Jango Fett ruthlessly pursues Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi Starfighter. The use of the LFE channel in this sequence, specifically when the seismic charges detonate, is absolutely out of this world, and will set ornaments rattling all over the house! If I had to make one slight criticism it would be that the score is sometimes a little quiet in the mix, but that’s a personal thing.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
As always, John Williams' score sets the tone from the outset, but I have to admit that this is probably his weakest Star Wars score yet. Much of the music for the climactic battle was apparently temp-tracked from the Episode I score, with William’s original compositions being rejected by Lucas. However, I do love the way Williams is beginning to incorporate themes from the classic trilogy (such as the Imperial March) into the prequels. Attack of the Clones continues this trend in a number of key sequences, and even manages a brief reprise of the awesome ‘Dual of the Fates’. And just as The Phantom Menace had the fantastic ‘Duel of the Fates’, Attack of the Clones features its own anthem in the form of the astounding love theme ‘Across the Stars’. While not as exhilarating as ‘Duel of the Fates’, it is still a hauntingly beautiful, yet melancholic piece of music that manages to perfectly capture the mood of Anakin and Padme’s domed romance. Once again an isolated score would have been a nice touch, but after the Episode I DVD I wasn’t expecting it.
 

Extras


The animated menus strike an excellent balance between functionality and fluff, and none of the menu transitions are particularly long or intrusive. Like the Phantom Menace DVD before it, the Clones DVD features menus themed around locations found in the film. Disc one features three distinct menus based on Courascant, Kamino and Geonosis, with the Kaminoan menu being particularly impressive. In fact, there’s even an entirely new CGI battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett in one of the Kaminoan sub-menus! Disc two continues the impressive work with some exquisitely rendered scenes and brilliant transitions, all set to the tune of the wonderful John Williams score. Van Ling is certainly a man who knows his menus.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Moving onto the extras themselves, the first disc features a commentary track that is very similar to the one found on The Phantom Menace DVD, in that it concentrates more on technical aspects than story elements. The participants include George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, Ben Burtt, Pablo Hellman, John Knoll and Ben Snow, all of whom have their own unique spin on the proceedings. Like the Episode I commentary this makes for interesting, if not terribly exciting listening. George does provide us with a few hints on where the story will go in Episode III, as well as finally laying to rest the ‘Are Stormtroopers clones or not?’ debate.

Moving swiftly on to disc two, we come to the first of seven submenus. The first of these, entitled ‘Theatrical Trailers’ and ‘TV Spots’, is pretty self-explanatory. Almost everything used to promote the release of Episode II is included, from the three teaser trailers—‘Breathing’, ‘Mystery’ and ‘Forbidden Love’—to the full theatrical trailer. Like The Phantom Menace’s ‘Tone Poems’, Clones employed some brilliant marketing techniques prior to release. The TV spots are some of the best examples of this, with some of the spots being themed around characters (Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padme, Mace, Yoda, Artoo, Jango and the clone troopers), while others are themed around events. The spots to look out for include those for Jango Fett and the clone troopers, while an inspired parody of Columbia’s Spider-Man trailer, entitled ‘Biggest Action Hero’, holds a neat surprise for the viewer. The final feature in this section is the ‘Across the Stars’ music video, which features John Williams conducting his orchestra as clips and sound bites from the film are played. To be honest, this ‘music video’ contains much more of the score than just the love theme, although everyone who’s heard the Attack of the Clones score will know that the majestic ‘Across the Stars’ is the single most impressive piece of music in the film.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
The next menu item is ‘Documentaries’, and features two of said items. The first, entitled ‘From Puppets to Pixels – Digital Characters in Episode II’, is a fifty-odd minute long feature that takes us behind the scenes at ILM to meet the highly skilled team of animators responsible for creating the breathtaking digital characters found in Attack of the Clones. We get to see the animators demo the first shots of the all-new CGI Yoda to an expectant Lucas, as well as some of the early models for Dexter Jettster and the Kaminoans. One thing that does come through very clearly during the course of the documentary is that Lucas is definitely a man in love with digital technology; perhaps too much so. The second, twenty six minute documentary is entitled ‘State of the Art – The Previsualisation of Episode II’ and deals with the ‘rough’ effects shots that were assembled in order to give Lucas an idea of how the finished CGI shots might look, kind of like the old animatics used for the Walker scenes in The Empire Strikes back. These new ‘videomatics’ are actually pretty interesting to watch, and in some cases not too far off the finished article! Sequences for the speeder chase, droid factory and the opening battle of the Clone Wars are included, with the latter looking particularly impressive.

Much has been made of the deleted scenes since their announcement. From their titles many people felt that they might not be as exciting as those found on the Episode I DVD, and they weren’t far wrong. However, they do provide some much-needed back-story to the whole Anakin/Padme romance subplot, which is something I welcome. Eight scenes are included, and aside from the whole Padme/Anakin’s back-story (including two pivotal scenes at Padme’s house), they include a couple of sequences on Geonosis and a nice scene between Obi-Wan and Mace Windu in a Jedi Starfighter hangar. Those of you looking for some action in your deleted scenes will be a little disappointed though. It would have been nice to see some extended footage of the dual between Darth Tyranus and the Jedi, but perhaps no such footage exists… Each scene comes complete with an optional introduction from Lucas and friends.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
The ‘Featurettes’ menu contains three items—‘Story’, ‘Love’ and ‘Action’—and these follow the three main story arcs of Attack of the Clones. All three feature clips specific to the theme of the featurette and they are sprinkled with interviews and voiceovers from cast and crew. Each of these featurettes lasts for around ten minutes and make for interesting viewing.

Twelve ‘Web Documentaries’, each running for around five or six minutes, examine many facets of production and feature interviews and behind the scenes footage. The most enjoyable of these, for me anyway, was the one on digital filmmaking. Lucas and friends don’t try to maintain that digital technology is superior to celluloid, just that it is better suited to their own needs. When 99% of your movie has CGI effects, why bother scanning every frame of film into a computer when you can shoot everything digitally in the first place? Lucas also offers one or two titbits of information on Episode III, specifically that Tatooine won’t feature as predominantly as it has in the past two movies.

‘Dex’s Kitchen’ features both extensive still galleries and a number of short featurettes. The best of these is the thoroughly entertaining ‘Films Are Not Released, They Escape’. This features sound designer Ben Burtt as he takes us through the various processes involved in creating the final mix for Attack of the Clones. Particularly interesting are the insights into the ADR (dubbing) process, Foley (where people create out of this world sound effects with everyday objects) and the creation of alien languages for creatures such as the Geonosians.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
The second featurette is an ‘ILM Visual Effects Breakdown Montage’, which runs for around four minutes. This short item shows a number of effects sequences in both the early stages of development through to the completed shots. I didn’t find this particularly interesting, but it doesn’t harm the package. The third and final featurette is entitled R2-D2: Beneath the Dome, and is basically a trailer for the ‘mockumentary’ of the same name. This is pretty funny, and I wouldn’t mind watching the entire thing one day.

The extensive still galleries feature both production photos, which are basically behind the scenes pictures, and one-sheet posters. Bar one, all the posters are the same, with only the language of the title text changing! The ‘Outdoor Campaigns’ gallery showcases the posters you might have seen on bus shelters up and down the country. Some of them even reference the football World Cup, which is a bit naff in my opinion. When are people going to learn that not everyone likes bloody football?

A web link to the Star Wars DVD website is also included, which should unlock the Episode II related content when the disc is present in your drive. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the supplied Interactual Player to work (no surprise there then) so I couldn’t test it.

So then, another fine selection of extras that falls just short of reference quality. If the disc had included an isolated score it might just have bumped the extras up to a perfect ten, but as it is there’s plenty here for the discerning Star Wars fan to get their teeth into.

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Overall


Like The Phantom Menace before it we have a good, if not outstanding film with technically superb presentation and a generous amount of interesting additional material. However, where Clones scores points over its older sibling is in the video department, with a massive improvement in quality (especially when watching on a larger screen). For Star Wars fans this is a definite ‘no brainer’ purchase. For everyone else (if indeed there is anyone out there who doesn’t like Star Wars) this is still a very worthy addition to your DVD collection.

This is yet another fine release from Fox, and I for one am hotly anticipating the arrival of the third instalment of the saga. Of course, like most fans, what I’m really after are the DVD releases of the original trilogy (are you listening George?). If they’re anything like this set then we’re all in for a treat. One last thing—because this region two disc is slightly cut (a head butt has been removed) you may want to opt for the uncut region one release.


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