003797Reviews & Counting
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
DVD disk
10.07.2004 By: Professor Steve
Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace order
George Lucas

Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor
Natalie Portman


star Printer-Friendly version
A prequel to the STAR WARS trilogy, this film follows a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and his Jedi mentor Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) as they prevent a hostile takeover of the planet Naboo. They rescue Naboo's Queen Imidala (Portman) and, along with a goofy local named Jar Jar Binks, escort her to the Galactic Senate to plead for help. Along the way they make a pit stop at Tatooine and end up meeting the future Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who returns to Naboo with them to face the Trade Federation's droid army as well as the Emperor's evil apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park).
This is a pretty awesome movie that fails only in that it didn't meet the bloated expectations of millions of STAR WARS fans everywhere - myself included. The best part of the film was the months that led up to its release: the anticipation, the awesome trailers, the internet buzz, and heck, even the hours waiting in line for a ticket! I can remember downloading the first teaser trailer for an hour on my slow 56k connection, watching it over and over thinking that this was going to be the movie to end all movies. Well, it wasn't, but it's still a visual feast that captures at least some of the essence of the STAR WARS spirit. The visual design of the movie is truly groundbreaking, and it's nice to have a space film that isn't so dark and creepy as most are. The acting is good, but it's the special effects and action that steal the show. The CGI effects are intricate and technically impressive, and almost look real in some scenes. The lightsaber battles are kick-ass, and Ray Park's Darth Maul was the topic of conversation of most people walking out of the movie.

Everyone has at least one problem with this film, whether it be Jar Jar Binks, Jake Lloyd, the boring premise, the cheesy ending, too much CGI, etc... I even read once where someone hated the movie just because they called Anakin "Annie". My personal beef is that there were no memorable ships like the Millennium Falcon, and some of the creature's voices just weren't good - namely Jar Jar Binks. I liked Jar Jar otherwise, but he's no Chewbacca. I also felt like there wasn't much going on with R2D2, C-3PO, and Yoda, along with Samuel Jackson's Mace Windu. But as Lucas mentions throughout the DVD extras, this movie is an intro to the trilogy, and while it does manage to stand on its own, hopefully we will come to appreciate it and the characters more when the next two episodes come out. In the end, I've watched this movie many times and still enjoy it, but I just don't get the same tingly feeling as when I watched the original trilogy.
This is by far one of the best sets of extras I've seen on any DVD. Not only do they cover everything about the making of this film, but all of the features and documentaries are really funny and cool to watch. There's a lot here, too. Over six hours of stuff, and almost all of it is new for the DVD.

By far the best extra is "The Beginning", a 110-minute documentary on the making of the movie that starts with the initial storyboarding process and shows us everything up to a screening of the film with a bunch of hyped up moviegoers (us!). This thing is awesome. See Jake Lloyd screw up his first screen test by saying "spice pirates", then on to him signing his life away on the acting contract. Watch Ewan McGregor get his hair shaved off, Liam practice swordfighting, Spielberg stop in for a visit, and Frank Oz puppeteer Yoda. It has everything - the script read-through, prop creation, CGI editing, and location visits to Italy and Tunisia. This is a class act documentary that could easily be sold on its own - literally.

Next up is the full-length audio commentary by the whole Lucasfilm/ILM gang. George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, visual effects god Dennis Muren, editor Ben Burtt, and other animation and special effects guys give us a tag-team style commentary that is informative and entertaining. The only thing that surprised me was that they didn't even touch on the things that people ended up not liking about the film. And George Lucas saying that his favorite scene in the film is where Obi Wan and Qui-Gon meet Jar Jar! Come on!

There's a documentary on the deleted scenes, which include extensions to the pod race scene, a waterfall sequence after they leave Gungan city, a short Coruscant taxi sequence, and another short scene where Anakin has a quick run-in with a young Greedo (the green guy who tried to kill Han Solo in the cantina). But wait until the credits of this documentary and you'll get a treat: a bunch of funny CGI outtakes including one where Jar Jar bitch-slaps a battle droid. To top it all off, Lucas put some of these deleted scenes back into this DVD version of the film so if you watch it first you might do a double-take and think "Hey, I don't remember that!".

There are also five 10-minute long featurettes covering the visual effects, costumes, design, story, and fights in the movie. Much of this stuff is covered in the "The Beginning" documentary, but there are still a few unseen tidbits. My favorite was the "design" featurette with design director Doug Chiang, some of the artwork that never made it into the movie was pretty amazing. Three little "animatics" featurettes combine storyboards, test sequences, and the real scene all in one frame to show us how the pod race and underwater chase scenes were developed. If you didn't keep up with the starwars.com website, also included are the 12 web documentaries that were posted there before the film came out. I had seen these online, but watching them again on theTV screen was still a great treat. I love the first one which follows Lucas walking into his home office in 1994 where he talks about starting to write the movie. Classic.

Finally, on the DVD are the two great trailers to the film, seven TV spots, and the John Williams "Duel of the Fates" music video. There's also a bunch of still photos here including movie posters, production photos, and the whole cheesy "one hero - one destiny" Phantom Menace ad campaign. And of course, a making-of plug for the LucasArts "StarFighter" Star Wars video game.
This is a great dvd with superb extras that no aspiring jedi (or fanboy geek) would want to miss.
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