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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (DVD)
Member Name: Sputnik_257
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (DVD)
Date: 19/10/01, updated on 19/10/01 (190 review reads)
Advantages: Read the review, I didn't write it for nothing ;)
The Phantom Menace, as we all know, is the first of a series of three prequels planned to introduce us to the trilogy we're all (except me, of course ;) ) used to. George Lucas, sitting down to write at the end of 1994, had a phenomenal task ahead of him -- to create a movie that can stand up next to the existing films, and one that will continue the story by telling some of the events that occurred before Star Wars. The Phantom Menace is set thirty-two years before Star Wars, and tells the story of Anakin Skywalker, a young slave boy on the planet of Tatooine who will later become < dramatic pause> Darth Vader < boo, hiss >. But we can forget this for much of the movie, as young Anakin (Jake Lloyd) is a "good guy" for Episode One. Another element of the overall story is that of the planet of Naboo, a peaceful planet, ancient in style and ruled by young queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), as well as providing the home for the Gungans (strange amphibious creatures). Naboo is attacked by forces of the Trade Federation (behind which stands an evil Sith lord -- yik
es!) during negotiations by a couple of Jedi. The Jedi are, of course, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), the latter the older Jedi's apprentice. The two find themselves stuck onboard a Trade Federation ship as Naboo is attacked, but manage to fight their way down to the surface of the planet with their trusty lightsabres.
Down on Naboo, they regroup amidst the onslaught of invasion, meeing Jar Jar Binks, a clumsy Gungan, cast out by his people for being clumsy and stupid! Jar Jar offers pretty much all of the comedy element of the film. Some hate him for being slapstick and ridiculous, other's love him for being cute and funny. Personally I think he's a nice little addition to the film, bringing with him some sweet laughs. Anyway, the Jedi Knights meet up with Queen Amilda, and together with a few maidens and her bodyguards and advisors, they all flee the planet .... but hot on their tail is Darth Maul (Ray Park). And here the story really kicks off.
Forced to land on the backwards desert planet of Tatooine, our friends encounter a young slave boy Anakin Skywalker. The boy seems to posses incredible Jedi powers, and Qui-Gon becomes fascinated by him. Tatooine is of course where the immortal pod race occurs. A fantastic sequence, almost entirely created by computers, the pod race is excellent -- fast and exciting, it's a showcase for sound over music, computers over models. The story progresses, but I'm certainly not going to spoil any more of it (what's that? You know the story already? Well yes, so did I ... but that's not the point!) Some spectacular fights and battles ensue. We have the Gungans versus the stormtrooper-prerequisites (humanoid droid fighters who are pretty useless and impotent, but serve as an interesting story element as the armies that were to become the infamous Stormtroopers). We also have a few blaster-fights, and of course a fair bit of lightsabre act
ion. Trying to beat the previous lightsabre battles, Lucas and co have created some pretty good fights. Ewan McGregor and Ray Park in particular are (or at least became during the training process) fantastic swordsmen, and the swordplay is fast and looks very authentic (indeed, as the extra features disclose, the final battle was as much a war between two actors trying to better each other at swordfighting, as a climax for the story). The final half hour or so is excellent, finishing off a very good film in a spectacular, big-budget fashion.
The acting is all very good, if a little strange in one or two places. Ewan McGregor's accent and forced high-pitch voice is, perhaps, the worse single element of the film, but never mind -- the rest of him performs superbly! Liam Neeson is excellent as the wiser, older Jedi, quick on his toes and with a commanding vocal presence. Natalie Portman is wonderful as the Queen. A little psuedo-English twang is noticeable, but other than that she gives a very good and beautiful to watch performance, a great achievement for her age (sixteen and seventeen at the time of filming). Jake Lloyd, picked from many top-quality young actors, is a fantastic Anakin Skywalker. Other than bearing one or two likenesses to Mark Hamil (if I know that Hamil is Darth Vader's son, then I know you do!), he's also a great young actor. Dialogue is natural and fluid, and body language and facial expression pretty much faultless. The rest of the cast is also on fine form, and they all pull together well.
Special effects are the order of the day, with more blue screen shots and computer generated images than ever seen in a supposedly live-action film. The effects are excellent, often very convincing and hard to tell apart from the real thing, at other times clearly fake but still very smooth, detailed and flowing. And let's not forget the musical score. John Williams yet again excels himself, creating a fantastic
score that is original as well as holding firmly onto its roots.
Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace is a fantastic film. It is not one of the best films I've ever seen, far from it, and can be faulted on many counts. One problem I see clearly is to do with the film's jerkiness -- we're shocked from one scene to another rather too speedily, and some less hurried shooting and editing may have made the film better. Maybe. But anyway, as a prequel to an immortal series, The Phantom Menace is superb. A thoroughly enjoyable and captivating movie, it's entertaining and fun whilst being impressive to watch upon repeated viewings.
Right, film done, now the DVD. And what a nice package it is too. The picture quality is excellent, if not fantastic. Sharp and smooth, nicely contrast and colourful. The sound is also very healthy, giving the old speaker set up a good day in court. You get either a 5.1 Dolby Surround EX track, or a 2.0 version. Subtitles are available in just a few languages (including English).
The audio commentary of the film allows us to hear George Lucas himself, the producer Rick McCallum, the editor and sound editor Ben Burtt and a number of senior members from the visual effects team (John Knoll, Scott Squires, Dennis Muren and Rob Coleman). Getting straight to the point, and leaving no wasted space, this is a very good commentary that was clearly well thought through and edited. Many different aspects are discussed, the chief chunks assigned to the story (mostly covered by Lucas) and the visual effects, covered by the visual effects team. But the discussion is not limited to these topics, and the commentary is informative, with a few surprising and very interesting notes made, and easy to listen to. The only real complaint I have about it is how the various voices come from different channels -- yeah a nice idea, but it doesn't really work for a commentary. Also, while ther
e is some interaction between the participants of the track, we don't have any real friendly banter, which makes so many commentaries enjoyable. But what it may lack here (although some will see it as an advantage) it more than makes up for elsewhere. An impressive commentary, not one hundred percent perfect, but certainly a satisfying accompaniment.
Now just before I leave disc one and go to the second disc, there are a few hidden "easter eggs" on the DVDs. I'll only mention one though. ;) On the first disc, access track fifteen and you will be presented with a hilarious, if rather short, collection of on set bloopers! Most involve poor little R2-D2 either crashing over something, off something, or into something, and are a nice little addition.
Now: disc two. I'll start with the documentary "The Beginning: Making Episode 1". Documantaries are, in my opinion, the most valuable extra on a DVD, as long as they have enough in it, and enough care and money has been spent. This documentary is excellent, one of the best I've seen, containing a good amount of information, plenty of interesting behind the scenes footage (interesting, not the usual rubbish that we're offered), and some good editing and partitioning. Running at just over sixty five minutes, its one of the longer documentaries I've seen, but every minute is very well spent, and it's clear that vast amounts of footage must have been cut out to give us the choice cuts. The same information is not repeated over and over again, and we do not see an hour of "he was such a great actor, she was such a great actress, I'm such a great filmmaker" as is so often the case. We see plenty of George Lucas, doing what he does behind the camera, to the side of it, before the camera, and after the camera. Most of the stages of production are covered, with special effects taking up a fair amount of time, quite understandably, and ano
ther good sized chunk given to on set footage. Smaller sections are given to auditioning and the musical aspect, the latter in particular would have benefited from some fleshing out. I would also have loved to see something on the marketing aspect, sadly missing from the documentary despite the vast sums of money spent on it. But this is one of the very best documentaries I've seen, and despite a few omissions and minor grumbles, I'm still greatly impressed.
Next up, we have a nice selection of deleted scenes. This is very well done, vastly superior to the efforts of other DVD packages. You can either watch the seven deleted scenes (each a good few minutes and well worth a watch -- there were many other scenes shot but deemed unnecessary for the DVD, which can only be a statement of the chosen ones' quality). Or you can watch them as part of a documentary. Split into a few seamlessly flowing chunks, it's tricky to calculate the total running time, but it's pretty long! Some of the same points are repeated, and most of the documentary is about the benefits of cutting scenes out, which is more than common knowledge to most DVD-watchers by now, but it's still a fine documentary and an excellent way to display the deleted scenes. We see a much extended pre-race and race sequence around the pod racing event, as well as a few other scenes taken out to improve pacing -- all very good, but ultimately cast out as unnecessary.
Moving on, we have a nice collection of web documentaries and featurettes. The former were released on the internet before the film's release, and cover the film's progression, and one or two repeating small sections of the larger documentary (this is barely noticeable, however). We start a long time ago in a galaxy far far away (sorry!) back in 1994, as George Lucas starts to write Episode 1: The Beginning (as it was, for a very long time, called), with some interesting and laid back comme
nts on what he has to do. Then we jump a few years to the initial drawings and art designs, a very interesting section; before moving on to a bit of set making, yet again very well done. Next up is a good healthy look at props, then a section on the alien costumes. Then we see a bit of preparation for the lightsabre fights, a combination of behind the scenes training with Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Ray Park and a commentary by the stunt coordinator. Next is a bit on extras and setting up the set for filming, before some auditioning for Anakin Skywalker, and then a look at location-hunting. To finish off the web documentaries, we have footage on costumes, then the robotics of R2-D2, then a section on the music and John Williams (why some more of this wasn't included in the documentary I don't know -- maybe it would have dragged the documentary out a little too much). Then we have a few featurettes: on visual effects, costumes, a look at the mammoth job of designing the whole look of the film, the fighting, and finally the story and fitting Episode One into the Star Wars saga.
We're nearly finished with the second disc now, just a little more to get through! In the trailers section we have what was (and still is) a very effective teaser, before the full theatrical trailer -- a very impressive example of what "marketing" means, one of the better trailers of recent years. Then there are a few TV spots, just cut down mini-trailers as always, again fine examples of marketing, and also a music video -- not quite what you think, it's more a brief listen to the music of the film, and is, essentially, an excellent trailer that not only shows the film, but the making of the movie also. Yes we're still ploughing through the extras disc! Next, we're shown some computer generated animations, presented by various members of the crew, including an excellent multi-angle look at the pod race. Finally, rounding off a very im
pressive second disc, is a well-done photo gallery (despite a lack of music, the photos all bear brief text commentaries), lots of posters, and then an advertising feauturette (only just about a making-of) for the Star Wars: Starfighter computer game.
And there we have it -- Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace is out on DVD, and a stunning DVD package it is too. The extra features are very well chosen and produced, and are an excellent supplement to a fine film. Many dislike the film, but I find it enjoyable and technically, visually and aurally impressive. And for a Star Wars non-fan, that's not a bad accomplishment.
(Phew, did I write all that?? More to the point, did you read all that!?!)