STAR WARS: EPISODE ONE
The Phantom Menace
Review by Michael Jacobson
Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid
Director: George Lucas
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 133 Minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2001
is the path to the Dark Side. Fear
leads to anger. Anger leads to
hate. Hate leads to suffering.
sense much fear in youÖĒ
years later after it officially ended, the saga beginsÖ
Star Wars first flickered on movie screens across the world in 1977,
George Lucas had always planned to go back to the beginning and tell the story
of how it all startedÖthe Jedi Knights in their heyday, the birth of Luke and
Leia, the evolution of the Empire, and of course, the most intriguing aspect of
all, how a good young Jedi named Anakin Skywalker gets seduced by the Dark Side
of the Force to become Darth Vadar.
long-awaited Episode One finally came to be in 1999, drawing huge box
office numbers worldwide but decidedly mixed reviews. George Lucas, master of fantasy that he is, imagined and
created worlds the likes of which had never been viewed on a screen before.
But his storytelling, once the heart of his beloved films, seemed to take
a bit of a back seat.
like the film well enough, myselfÖit has its flaws, to be sure, but overall,
it works as pure escapist entertainment. I
liken it to a big junk sculpture: sometimes,
it seems as though Lucas assembled his movie with scrap material and throwaway
pieces, but managed to put them together in such a way as to make an interesting
and amusing new creation out of it. It
works as long as you stay back and view it as a whole.
If you start looking too closely, all you see is the junk.
characters were kind of a staple of the first trilogy, so the fact that they
exist here isnít much of a bother to me.
At least there are some worthwhile actors to flesh them out on screen.
Liam Neeson has long been a favorite of mine, and he brings a strength
and quiet dignity to the role of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn.
Equally impressive is Ewan McGregor, faced with the difficult task of
realizing the young version of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
In speech and mannerisms, he really does remind one of a young Alec
Guinness, and what at first seemed to be odd casting for an edgy independent
cinema actor turned out to be a perfect choice.
the midrange is the usually good Natalie Portman. As Queen Amidala, she is buried under too much funky make-up
and weird hair to project, and as Padme, she is trying to build on a watery
foundation. Knowing the basic path
of the future story, one can only assume that her best work in this series is
I hate to be critical of little kids, but Jake Lloyd as young Anakin is just
another in a never-ending parade of cute but unqualified child actors that has
been coming out of Hollywood for decades. Lucas
settled for far too little with his blossoming character here, so I donít
entirely fault Lloyd. But neither
can I fully overlook that certain scenes with him just donít work well at all.
for Jar Jar Binks, the first completely CGI rendered character in a ďrealĒ
movie, the bad sentiments have already been far, wide and famous.
This was perhaps Lucasí most gross miscalculation.
The best I can say about him is that, having seen the picture three times
now, I think he gets slightly less annoying each time.
I donít think Iíll ever like him, but I havenít given up hope that
by the time Iíve seen Episode One as many times as Iíve seen the
original Star Wars, Iíll be able to simply ignore him.
the epicís beginning, Lucas seems to be following the old analogy about
dropping a small pebble into a big pondÖthe tiny ripples eventually disrupt
the entire calm of the water. He
starts with a planet, Naboo, and a Federation trying to force it into treaty.
A seemingly small event, to be sure, but this humble beginning would
eventually lead to the fall of the Galactic Republic and the birth of the
EmpireÖbut thatís getting too far ahead.
strength and the problem of Episode One is its dependence on the greater
whole. To accept it as merely the
beginning of a much larger story is to appreciate it a little more, I
thinkÖbut mere beginnings by themselves donít necessarily amount to much.
Imagine, if you will, somebody filming ONLY the first one-sixth of Moby
Dick. What you would see on
screen could never be as impressive as what you know will come later.
for all its difficulties, Episode One has merit.
Itís one of the most visually striking and imaginative films Iíve
ever seen, creating astonishing new worlds and landscapes for its story and
characters. The underwater city (as
well as the subsequent journey to Naboo) is a jaw dropping sequence, and itís
only the beginning. The now-legendary pod race sequence is a thrill ride, and the
final battle with its cross-cutting between three plains of action is a worthy
climax. And through it all, the
story Lucas wanted to tell does get toldÖhow young Anakin goes from slave
child to Jedi apprentice.
scenes still require some fan imagination for impact, though.
How about when Anakin meets Obi-Wan for the first time?
Itís treated almost as nothingÖmy God, some forty years later, the
younger is going to kill the elder!
there is foreshadowing in other places. Jedi
Master Yoda senses something wrong with the boy when they first meet.
ďClouded, his future seems,Ē he intones.
(Vague, his worries are.) But
we all know what happens, donít we?
in the end, I have to say I enjoy Episode One, both at face value and as
part of a greater sum, despite some flagrant flaws. Ultimately, itís a film just for the Star Wars fans,
and there are certainly enough of us out there that helped make it work.
been reviewing DVDs for almost four years now, and by my calculation, Iíve
seen somewhere between 900 and 1,000 different discs. Episode One is far and away the best transfer Iíve
ever seen. Seriously.
Think of the best looking disc youíve ever seen, one that made you
think that DVD canít possibly look any better than that, and then pop this one
in your player and prepare to have your horizons redefined.
The film itself is a virtual canvas of color, light, shadow, and
minuscule detail, and this anamorphic transfer captures all of it.
I donít think Iíve ever seen such a wide array of colors and subtle
shading in one film as I have with this one.
Itís more than eye candy; itís eye utopia.
the narrowest shots to the widest pans, there is not a detail anywhere that
isnít sharply rendered, distinct, and unmarred by compression, grain, or other
artifacts. Dark space scenes are
gorgeous, as are the brightly lit worlds of Naboo and Tatooine.
Look at the inside of the senate chamber for dimension and detail like
youíve never seen beforeÖand really, thatís only one tiny example.
I donít think weíll see the equal of this disc for a long time.
long have we waited to hear John Williams thundering opening music blasting from
our sound system in 5.1 glory? The
soundtrack is flat-out phenomenal. You
are IN the center of the action from start to finish. All channels are alive and abuzz with music and effects, and
the mix is incredibly smooth and the crossovers fluid. Want to check out the pod race first? Good start, but for my money, donít miss the light saber
fights at the beginning and the end. Every
time one of those weapons gets swirled around, you hear it slice through all
dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the dynamic range is strongÖalmost
too strong, as certain quiet scenes have extremely low levels in contrast to the
thunderous action sequences. But
all in all, Iím sure this is what George Lucas really wants to hear from a THX
waited a long time because Lucas promised the Star Wars DVDs would be
something special. If Episode
One is an indication, he knew what he was doing.
This two set is loaded with impressive extras. Disc One features a full length commentary track by George
Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, and technical people Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John
Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires. The
only complaint is that apart from Lucas, itís hard to tell whoís who.
But for informative value, this track is quite a treat.
Though it sounds like all the principals were recorded separately, they
have been smoothly edited together, and it works great.
Lucas will discuss the story, the characters, and the relationship of Episode
One to the rest of the series. During
effects shots, crew members come forth to discuss how they were created, from
the visual stylings to the audio recording.
There are plenty of interesting trivia bits along the way, too.
Two contains a terrific hour-plus documentary that follows the making of the
movie. It includes plenty of
terrific behind-the-scenes footage, including screen tests, fight training, the
first script reading, effects shots, how certain scenes were manipulated
digitally, the soundtrack recording, the scoring, and much more, ending with the
exciting midnight premiere of the film.
are also seven deleted scenes, which were completed solely for this DVD release
(completed meaning that effects were finished and 5.1 sound flushed out).
They include some extended pod racing bits, a near miss over a waterfall,
and some scenes that were less effects-oriented and more dramatic.
You can watch them separately or as part of a second documentary, in
which Lucas, along with other directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Philip
Kaufman discuss why certain scenes are cut despite their apparent value.
are also a series of animatics, or computer animated storyboards, with
multi-angle comparisons, featurettes on storyline, design, costumes, effects and
fight scenes, the famed 12-part website documentary that chronicled the
evolution of the film, the ďDuel of the FatesĒ music video, posters and
print ads, two trailers and seven TV spots, DVD ROM extras and a promo for the
video game. Outstanding package!