I’ve spent most of the last two days watching, listening to and thinking about the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace DVD. I was delighted to be invited to participate in the Lucasfilm press event September 6-7 for the launch of the Phantom Menace DVD. One of the best parts of the event was Q & A sessions with the DVD team, including Rick McCallum and George Lucas. Lucasfilm was kind enough to fully transcribe the sessions and they are all linked at the end of this review. Be sure and read them.
I’ve started my review with the end because one particular moment in the hour-long documentary included on the bonus extras disc struck me as particularly funny and begged me to be used to convey my feelings about the set. In the documentary, shot and told in a “fly-on-the-wall” style, we get to see Rick McCallum congratulating Ewan McGregor for signing on to do the prequels. Rick, who we all know uses pretty frank language, says hello with a very Hollywood “DUDE, I’m so *expletive deleted* happy…..” I’d revise his following words to say, “DUDE, you must get this DVD!”
If I think back to when it seemed to take an act of Congress for fans to get Lucasfilm to do the DVD now rather than later, I don’t think anybody had a hint of just how much work would be required to complete the DVD George Lucas envisioned for The Phantom Menace. Now, in retrospect, I can see how hard it was to turn the project from something he envisioned, into a finished product. To give you a hint of the huge task this was, the DVD has seven deleted scenes, which were conceived, shot and cut into the film at some point, but each was deleted before it was finished by ILM. Just completing these scenes required more than 100 people at ILM working between six and eight months!
What, A Special Edition?
Let me get this out of the way. The movie may be called by some, a Special Edition or Director’s Cut, but in fact George Lucas calls it the “DVD”, referring to the past practice of calling movies that have been changed from their original cut. Today, he says these kinds of changes are just called “The DVD”. There are additions to the final cut of the film we all saw, all of them cool and all of them you’re definitely going to want to see. More on this later.
Getting To The Details:
The two-disc set is divided with the movie on disc one and the bonus extras on disc two. The entire set was completed with and unprecedented and extraordinary level of help from Lucasfilm’s THX certification division, and enjoys a full Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX sound mix in English, in addition to the basic Dolby 2.0 Surround in both English and Spanish. The movie is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There are also English subtitles. The DVD was produced from a film master (a conscious decision even though there are digital masters of the film from the digital showings), looks incredible and is nicely divided into 50 chapters for quick and easy access to your favorite scenes.
The disc also includes a THX Sound and Video Optimizer. This is very useful because you would be surprised how many people think their complicated audio systems are set up correctly, but aren’t. Even if you’re sure yours is right, take a moment and verify it again.
Disc one can be played with commentary by George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires. The commentary is amazingly frank, very interesting to listen to because of the insight it gives you to the movie, and created in an unusual way. Audio from each of the contributors was recorded while they individually watched the movie. Then the audio was cut to the commentary track with each person identified with on-screen graphics when he is speaking. The result is a very effective way for the best commentary for each scene to make it to the disc. You’ll enjoy watching the commentary because of the insight it gives you to many pieces of the movie, especially as you come to realize it was done not too long ago and each of the contributors has Episode II on his mind as well.
Seven deleted scenes, of many available, were amazingly completed fully completely through film transfer and are presented on disc two. The scenes included are an expanded Podrace grid, expanded lap two of the Podrace, Coruscant air taxi ride, farewell to Jira, the waterfall sequence, dawn before the race and Anakin’s scuffle with Greedo. A common question is whether the movie can be watched seamlessly with the deleted scenes added back in. This is easily answered by understanding that the scenes, and the movie are on different discs.
You have the choice of watching a deleted scene documentary, with included dialogue about the scenes, or watching them without commentary at all. George specifically mentioned that some deleted scenes didn’t make the disc, either because they weren’t as important as these seven, or they just weren’t long enough to justify including them. I found the documentary on recreating the waterfall scene the most interesting as the assembly process for the scene is described in detail, step by step. Thinking about going to work for ILM? You’ll want to spend some extra time with this part.
Of the deleted scenes, much of the Podrace grid, specifically introducing other racers, the extended second lap, and the taxi ride and tour of Coruscant are all added to the film on the DVD. Fans are going to be very happy with the extra Podrace footage. It really fills in gaps, nicely introducing other racers and helps us see how it was that Anakin managed to come from the back of the pack to the front during the race.
“The Beginning” Documentary
Imagine the task of culling out just one hour of video from over 600 hours of “fly-on-the-wall” source material, gathered from four years of following the production of The Phantom Menace. This is an incredibly fun and fact filled feature of the disc like no other I’ve seen. Completed without narration, the documentary will take you from the beginning of The Phantom Menace, right through George Lucas taking pencil and paper and starting to write Episode II. This is one of the real jewels of the set.
Multi-Angle Storyboard-to-Animatic Segments
Animatics are nicely explained by Rick McCallum as an introduction to this section of the disc. Once you have the basics down, you can head off to two examples of them. Using the angle control on your DVD remote, the first lap of the Podrace and the submarine sequences are presented four different ways; original storyboards, animatics and live action tests, completed film shots and three-way screen split of all three angles. I’m a fan of any DVD that uses the angle control to show off storyboards vs. the final film, but including the animatics, which were extensively used in The Phantom Menace, makes this a very special effort.
There is a large collection of never-before-seen still photographs that can be viewed either with or without text captions. Navigation in this section is very slick and the photos and text are crystal clear. This also included photos from some deleted scenes, such as the Darth Maul / Qui-Gon Jinn ramp battle on Tatooine.
(Thanks for the great photos Steve!)
This section includes a series of the “One Love” “One Hate” style prints, including a way to navigate to the different permutations of each creative. Guess which one is “One Clown”. Very cool.
There is a sampling of the domestic and international posters created by Drew Struzan.
The Making Of Star Wars Starfighter, The Video Game
This is a featurette from LucasArts. Frankly, with the “bit budget” that constrains what can go on the discs, this is a waste of DVD space and belongs on the LucasArts website instead of on The Phantom Menace DVD. It’s not a complete loss however, as they do talk about and show a vehicle from Episode II during the piece.
This is the complete twelve-part series of behind-the-scenes video documentaries originally released on starwars.com.
There are five short pieces that provide more behind-the-scenes insight to the making of the movie. The five included are: Special Effects, Costumes, Design, Fights and Story.
Trailers and TV Spots
Both the teaser trailer and theatrical trailer are included, as well as the music video, “Duel Of The Fates”. Boy, does this video bring back memories from the Star Wars Celebration in Denver. They premiered it to an incredibly wet and cramped crowd, twice, back to back. The excitement generated by this video made the rain and mud bearable.
The TV spots include five of the short videos called “Tone Poems” from the TV campaign that ran outside the U.S. (I believe). These are titled “One Love”, “One Dream”, “One Destiny”, “One Will” and “One Truth”. There is also two videos from the “Adventure Series”. Titled “The Saga Begins” and “All Over Again”. As expected, very nicely done and crystal clear.
I was unable to check out the DVD-ROM content, as though I have a nicely working DVD player in my PC, the software complained about my resolution and / or color depth being a problem. I messed with it a bit but never got it working. Which is probably ok at the moment, as there isn’t supposed to be anything to see at the dedicated weblink yet. However, it was strongly hinted that when it is there, it will be worth your effort to get there.
The Disc Interface
The DVD is full of very cool, nicely done animated menu graphics. You’ll be amazed at how each menu makes use of elements from the movie. On boot up, you’ll get one of three different planets as your startup screen. There’s a hidden way to choose each of the three, but I’ve not heard what it is. Wait too long at a menu to make a selection and you’ll generally be hurried on by an impatient reminder. You’ll want to visit every menu selection not only because of the content behind each, but just to see what they used for each of them.
Yes, there are Easter Eggs, and I’ve even seen one, which added some hilarious moments to the DVD disc credits, but darned if I know how to make it appear, or how many there are. It sounds like there will be some fun finding these.DVD Angle
keeps track of Easter Eggs so this is a good place to bookmark.
Generally, I watch a DVD in this order: Movie, deleted scenes, and commentary. However, with this disc I went at it differently: Deleted scenes, commentary and movie. Frankly, I suggest you give this order a try. I think it will make your next viewing of the movie even more enjoyable because of the new insight you’ll have.
Was it worth the wait? Absolutely, positively, yes. It is much more than I expected. Essentially the whole disc set is going to be watched by fans. The added scenes make the movie better in places it needed to be better. It should go without saying that this is probably the best work the THX certification team has ever done. It will look great on even modest audio / video systems, but will be brilliant on better systems. I doubt you’ll be able to tax the source material on even the best presentation equipment.
DVD Menu Screen Graphics
Q & A Transcripts
Rick McCallum - Producer, The Phantom Menace
Jim Ward - VP Marketing, Lucasfilm
Van Ling - Producer, The Phantom Menace DVD
Jon Shenk - Director, "The Beginning" Documentary
Richard Dean - Supervising Engineer, THX
Pablo Helman - Visual Effects Supervisor, ILM
The Phantom Menace DVD At Amazon.com $22.95
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