Attack of the Clones DVD Press Preview Day
October 8, 2002
Rebelscum was delighted to have been invited to participate in the Lucasfilm Press Preview Day this past October 8th for the release of the Attack of the Clones DVD. This year the event took place at the Robert Zemeckis Center for the Digital Arts. Below is our impression of the event itself, along with a review of the 2-disk DVD set that will hit store shelves November 12th.
No matter what the reason, from the moment you walk through the doors of the Robert Zemeckis Center for the Digital Arts, you immediately realize you are in for something special. The walls, lined with autographed poster art from many of the key films and filmmakers of our time, speak volumes about the role the center is set to play in cinematic history.
The small, unassuming building located just off the University of Southern California campus, houses a cutting edge production and post-production facility including digital editing laboratory, blue and green screen theaters, CGI classrooms with compositing equipment, and the latest Digital sound equipment, including a Pro Tools station for audio editing. Students of the facility are, in practice, given hands-on training with industry standard technology, thus continuing USC's longstanding role in the movie and television industry. On any other day, the center alone would be enough to impress visitors, but today Lucasfilm was here for a special "press preview" of the upcoming Episode II: Attack of the Clones DVD.
Upon arrival to the event the dozen or so representatives from print, broadcast, and fan media were treated to a sumptuous continental breakfast and an opportunity to chitchat amongst themselves about what the program may have in store. After roughly thirty minutes of nervous anticipation guests were escorted across the hall for a brief screening of the DVD in its ideal environment: anamorphic widescreen on a thundering THX sound system.
"No matter what type of system you use to watch DVDs, this one will out shine anything you?ve seen before."
For the screening, a small room had been equipped with a widescreen high-definition television (Sony WEGA 60"), and the latest in surround sound THX-certified equipment. Jim Ward, Vice President of Marketing for Lucasfilm officially greeted the guests and introduced the group to their first peek of the Episode II: Attack of the Clones DVD. To highlight what viewers can expect from this DVD, one of the scenes guests were shown was the Coruscant chase sequence. As emphasized by Mr. Ward, and throughout the day's event, the digital capture transferred to DVD offers a picture that is strikingly clear and vibrant. The sound, multi-layered and rich, seemed to come from every nook and cranny of the room, giving the viewer a cinematic experience that very likely surpasses most theaters the movie played in during its original run. No matter what type of system you use to watch DVDs, this one will out shine anything you?ve seen before.
From there the group was given a brief tour of the Center whose soul purpose is to groom tomorrows television and moviemakers in the digital format. The state of the art facility was so impressive even Rob Coleman, Animation Director for Episode II, enviously noted that the film school he attended was a far cry from what the students here were enjoying...
"One of the highlights this time around includes an all-new battle scene between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett."
Following the tour, guests were escorted into the Ron Howard Screening Room for an introduction to the DVD?s many features. Again, Jim Ward led the presentation, which started (as all DVDs do) with an introduction to the menus found on the discs. Van Ling, designer of the menus for the award winning Episode I DVD, returns with a new set of images that both dazzle and maintain continuity with the previous DVD. One of the highlights this time around includes an all-new battle scene between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett. The scene is a "Van Ling original", composited with images from the digital capture and presented at an angle never seen before. The animation is nearly seamless and adds a fresh and exciting look to the Kamino-theme DVD menu. The other two menus also offer a few surprises - the Coruscant skyline is filled with interesting traffic, while the Droid Factories of Geonosis prove to be an extremely treacherous place, even for Geonosians!
From there the presentation shifted focus to the contents of the second disk, which Lucasfilm has loaded with special features. Television spots, trailers, print media, cut scenes, and a couple behind the scenes documentaries make the disk almost as compelling to watch as the movie itself. For the preview, guests were shown segments of the featurette "Crouching Yoda, Hidden Dooku," a behind the scenes look at how Rob Colman and his crew transformed the character of Yoda from puppet to fully realized CGI actor. For anyone under the impression that transitioning from puppet to computer generated imagery was an easy way out, this feature shows the incredible time and dedication it took to produce a performance that many now consider the anchor of Attack of the Clones.
"Clearly for Rick McCallum, introducing the film industry to the digital realm was one of the high marks for Episode II."
Following a quick break and chance to stretch, guests were brought back into the Ron Howard Theater for a short Q&A. Rick McCallum, Van Ling, Rob Coleman, and Frank Oz fielded questions from the group, and provided insight into what went on behind the scenes. Clearly for Rick McCallum, introducing the film industry to the digital realm was one of the high marks for Episode II. Seeing that film now make its DVD debut, and delivering the highest quality images and sound into homes, brings the experience full circle. Van Ling, charged with making the many features of the DVD accessible, commented on the challenges of maintaining the look and feel of the first DVD and the collaboration between his team and ILM. Finally, seated side by side, Rob Coleman and Frank Oz spoke about the creation of the original and CGI Yodas. In what can best be described as high compliments between masters, Rob elaborated on how studying the expert hand motions that so easily seemed to bring Yoda to life two decades ago were imperative when accurately recreating the CGI character for Episode II.
To cap the event guests were treated to lunch and an exclusive showing of the "Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes". This very low-tech stage performance, also seen during Celebration 2, produces a sort of "Readers Digest" version of the Trilogy that shouldn?t be missed. Everyone in attendance was most impressed - particularly Frank Oz, who was seen backstage after the performance talking with the talented actor who was able to deliver one mean Yoda impression...
So what about the DVD itself?
In a word: "Whoa."
Lucasfilm has once again set the bar for audio and visual standards. Mighty difficult to imagine a more splendid visual palette - the picture is crisp, rich, and vibrant, and should look pretty amazing on displays from the most expensive 65" RPTV to a small 5" LCD. In a 5.1 home theater environment the audio explodes into every corner of the room with surprisingly active rear and subwoofer channels. The disk of course comes with a THX optimizer that helps calibrate your home theater to deliver the best bang for your sonic buck.
Clones was the first live-action film to be shot entirely digitally - which means no film was involved at all with mastering the DVD. Each and every little pixel perfectly perserved in all their beautiful anamorphic, widescreen glory. With the entire process in a digital form from start to finish, it isn?t hard to imagine that piracy (and the ability to make perfect copies) is a growing issue on the mind of the filmmakers. At the Q&A session Rick McCallum expressed quite a bit of concern over the advent of high-speed connections and digital piracy. "Movies will change because the money will go away. The industry will implode unless we can stop the piracy."
One of more polished aspects of the 2-disk set is the presentation. The animated menus are mighty clever, and seeing all the new effects and environments are almost as much fun as watching cut-scenes or documentary footage. DVD producer Van Ling noted that there were over two hundred thousand frames of animation done exclusively for the menus, which are based on three E2 locations - Kamino, Geonosis, and Coruscant. The only downside are load times which, while a common issue among most DVDs today, can grow cumbersome, particularly when accessing the same area multiple times.
The commentary track found on the first disk is not only worthwhile, but downright compelling - the highlights of which are the countless glimpses into the film-making process, and the various hidden jokes, or "easter eggs", that can be seen if you know where and when to look (X-Wings on Coruscant!). You'll also find some answers and hints to questions about the next installment of the Star Wars prequels. The commentary combines the observations of Rick McCallum (producer), Ben Burt (sound design, editor), Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, Ben Show, John Knoll (visual effects), and George Lucas (The Maker) into one seamless track. While this helps insure there is something interesting to be said about every sequence in the film, it would?ve been nice to also hear George on his own stand-alone track, dispensing insights from a perspective on the entire trilogy that only he can give.
The first bit of supplemental material fans will no doubt jump to will be the deleted footage, which features the option to be heard with or without introductions. While they give new perspective to various aspects of the film, mainly where backstory and character growth are concerned, most were left on the cutting room floor (or cutting room harddrive, in the case of this movie) for good reason. The cut scenes, while featuring very nifty visual effects, are all fairly low-key and would only serve to slow down the film's momentum. Despite this, it would've been better had DVD producers use seamless branching techniques to allow fans to decide for themselves if they?d like to view the movie with the footage spliced back in? It also would?ve be great to see some of the more high-action scenes that were filmed (and documented at TFN) but never completed. We won?t be surprised to find this material take a more finished form years down the road (AotC:SE?)?
Outside of the deleted scenes, the documentaries are really the heart of disk two and though certainly worth watching, most don't manage to live up to the intimate standards set by the excellent "The Beginning" documentary found on the Episode I disk. Since one of the highlights of E2 was the Yoda/Dooku confrontation, it is fitting that the diminutive green Master be the focal point for one of the better documentaries, "From Pixels to Puppets", which is a must-see for those hip to the CGI scene.
Everything thing else on the second disk is pretty standard material - trailers, TV spots, photo gallery, web links, etc. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the trailer for the "mockumentary" R2-D2 Behind the Dome. Just a trailer? They really should?ve found a way to squeeze the entire short feature onto the disk...
Where the movie itself is concerned, the DVD is nothing short of perfection. A beautiful marriage of rich, detailed visuals and booming, dynamic audio. The supplemental materials are fun and informative, though don't quite manage the same heights found on the E1 disk. Still, Attack of the Clones is one of the best looking and sounding disks on the market today - a great film in a great format. Simply put, your life, as a Star Wars fan, is not complete without this DVD.
Ready to buy? Head on over here.
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Toshiba SD9200 Progressive-Scan DVD Player - $749.88
Also worth noting that on Nov. 12th The Phantom Menace will be coming to DVD in the (profoundly inferior) "fullscreen" format - click here to take a look.