Star Wars on DVD - Reviews - Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars DVD Reviews:
The DVD format first appeared on shelves in March 1997. Almost immediately, fans began calling for LucasFilm and Fox to provide the Star Wars movies on the new format. In late 2001 (four and a half years after the format was launched), Episode I became the first Star Wars movie to arrive on DVD. Episode II followed swiftly in late 2002, less than seven months after premiering in theaters. Episode III appeared in theaters in May 2005, and even as it was appearing there were reliable rumors of LucasFilm telling retail partners to expect it on DVD by November of that year (for the record, it arrived on November 1, 2005). The movies that fans have wanted most, however, are the original trilogy, and it was those three movies that remained the most elusive. By the time that Lucasfilm officially announced plans to release the trilogy on DVD on September 21, 2004 as a four-disc set, countless bootlegs had seeped out of Hong Kong and elsewhere by means of eBay auctions and a number of often-elusive overseas online stores. Even after the trilogy arrived on shelves, there remained strong interest in bootlegs of the trilogy in their original theatrical form the way they were before the 1997 Special Edition introduced a number of digital revisions that were further modified for the 2004 DVD's. The arrival of the Limited Edition DVD's in 2006 finally brought the original theatrical versions to an offical DVD release, but the decision to use the 1993 transfers to produce those discs didn't inspire any great confidence in fans. Over the years, I've pulled together a few reviews of both the official releases and some of the numerous "bootleg" copies.
Anyone who is desperately craving copies of all of the Star Wars movies on DVD should look over the options available and think about what they want, because at this point there are good commercial copies of all six movies readily available. The discs that we have finally received from Fox prove that LucasFilm does at least provide high quality audio and video as well as some good extras, when they finally get around to releasing a title on DVD. The original trilogy's 2004 DVD release, reviewed below, makes any SE bootleg irrelevent, just as the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith discs did in 2001, 2002, and 2005. I've retained reviews of the Phantom Menace and SE trilogy bootlegs just for the sake of amusement at this point, even though I don't recommend wasting your time on any prequel or Special Edition bootlegs. Bootleg activity continued beyond 2004, however, solely because of the changes made by Lucas to the original trilogy for the 1997 Special Edition re-release and the subsequent changes for the 2004 DVD's. Fans' desire to have a digital archive of the original theatrical versions of the trilogy led to a strong interest in bootlegs based on the 1993 or 1995 LaserDisc releases. By the time the Limited Edition discs arrived, those bootlegs had gotten surprisingly sophisticated, so I've left my reviews of those discs in place along with the reviews of the official releases. Links to each page are available below and are reproduced at the top of each review.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The arrival of this two-disc set on October 16, 2001 spelled the end of Phantom Menace bootlegs. It's as simple as that. A very impressive transfer, reference quality Dolby Digital EX soundtrack, eye-popping and very easy to use animated menus, and a second disc loaded to the edges with really cool extras. Why try to find a bootleg and pay $25 or $30 for it when you can pick this up for about $23? That's a rhetorical question, by the way -- there's a very good reasons that the numerous Phantom Menace bootlegs disappeared from the Internet within days of the official DVD release. Reviews of this disc are plentiful online (The Digital Bits, DVD File, etc.). Some have commented on some digital artifacts and edge enhancement that prevents the transfer from being "perfect," but it is worth noting that these flaws are extremely difficult to find. Extremely. I didn't see any on my 27" Mitsubishi. And there's a layer change in there somewhere, but I didn't see any sign of it. Keep your eyes open for the couple of brief additions made to the movie, primarily during the pod race. Not surprisingly, they blend in almost perfectly, noticeable only because they weren't there before. Some of the driver introductions didn't seem to fit in perfectly, but that may have been because they stood out a bit as character introductions of sorts.
So the audio and video quality are all you could have hoped for. What about extras? The teaser and theatrical trailers look spectacular, and sound good even with only a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. And the menus throughout the two-disc set are fast and easy to navigate. The commentary track is informative and enjoyable, and the assortment of information on disc two is tremendously wide-ranging and entertaining. As has been said in many of the other online reviews, the overall package is first rate.
If you are at all a Star Wars fan and you own a DVD player, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. Yes, it's probably the weakest of the movies to date (and hopefully the weakest of the six once Lucas is done), but it's an important part of the story arc. Besides, it's a great deal of fun to watch and listen to.
Specifications for Episode I: The Phantom Menace
There are a couple easter eggs included on the set, and at a friend's request I'm adding them to the review. First, you can select which of the three menus you get when loading the movie disc: press "1", "2", or "3" during the FBI warning screen to choose which menu scheme is used ("1" is Coruscant, "2" is Tatooine, and "3" is Naboo). An outtakes is hidden in the "Options" menu; it can be accessed by pressing either "11" or "10+" and "1", waiting for a pause, then "3" followed by a pause, and then "8". There are also a few goodies tucked away on the bonus disc. First, there are a behind-the-scenes segments on the Podrace which can be accessed from "Deleted Scenes and Documentaries" under "Deleted Scenes Only." On the Complete Podrace Grid Sequence page, highlight Doc Menu and then move the cursor to the right to highlight a small box and press "Enter" to see the first segment. On the Extended Podrace Lap Two page, highlight Doc Menu and then move the cursor to teh right to highlight a small box and press "Enter" to see the second segment. Lastly, the credits of the "Deleted Scenes" documentary includes some additional outtakes; to see these, just wait for the credits to run past.
- The Phantom Menace, mastered by THX, presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with Dolby 5.1 Surround EX (English), Dolby 2.0 Surround (English and Spanish), and Dolby 2.0 Surround (French, for Canadian release).
- Audio commentary by writer-directory George Lucas; producer Rick McCallum; co-editor and sound designer Ben Burtt; visual effects supervisors Scott Squires, John Knoll and Dennus Muren; and animation supervisor Rob Coleman.
- Seven deleted scenes (all with the special effects completed by ILM specifically for the DVD release).
- Documentary "The Beginning" -- an hour-long documentary created for the DVD from 600+ hours of footage offering a look inside LucasFilm and ILM during the making of the movie.
- Multi-angle storyboard to animatic to finished film feature, that lets you flip through the various phases of development of key action sequences.
- Five behind-the-scenes featurettes looking at Phantom Menace's storyline, designs, costumes, visual effects, and fight scenes.
- The "Duel of the Fates" music video.
- All 12 parts of the Lynne's Diaries (web documentaries that originally appeared on starwars.com).
- Galleries of theatrical posters, print campaign, and never-before-seen production photos.
- The original theatrical teaser and launch trailers, plus seven TV spots including five "tone poems."