‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’ makes for top-notch DVD

Jedi and Sith battle in 'Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace'
Jedi and Sith battle in ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’

[rating=3]Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best
Director(s): George Lucas
Writer(s): George Lucas

Like millions of others, I was excited to hear that Lucas—the supposed “leader” of the digital revolution in Hollywood—had finally relented and released one of his many great movies on DVD.

Unfortunately, he picked The Phantom Menace to be his first. This is not a comment on the DVD, which is top-notch. It is, however, a comment on the lack-luster prequel to his fun and exciting Star Wars trilogy.

For those “not in the know”, Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, is a space opera about two Jedi knights (Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor) as they rescue a queen (Natalie Portman), discover a child gifted in the Force (Jake Lloyd), and battle deadly droids and the evil Trade Federation, who are being manipulated by a Dark Jedi bent on ruling the galaxy.

It is the first part of a “six part” series of films, which began with the Star Wars trilogy released between 1977 and 1983.

A Star Wars fan since I was a wee boy, I snatched up this DVD the first day it came out last week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to sit and watch all it had to offer in one sitting. It took me several days to watch all the documentaries, deleted scenes and listen to the audio commentary (oh, and watch the movie, too). Actually, I still haven’t watched everything—I’d seen all the web documentaries when they were on the Internet, as well as the “poem” commercials, so I put them off until later.

Although I do not think The Phantom Menace was the greatest film in the world, I greatly enjoyed this DVD. The audio commentary, a person favorite of mine on most ANY DVD, was terrific. It operates in the “best-of” style, jumping from one person or another, as if capturing the best comments for that particular scene and playing it. Lucas chimes in often about filmmaking, the story, and what he was trying to accomplish or the difficulties he faced making TPM. Members of the special effects team also contribute to how the special effects where done, and the producer, Rick McCullum, adds a few comments here and there.

Palpatine manipulates Amidala in 'Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace'
Palpatine manipulates Amidala in ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’

The name of the speaker is flashed at the stop of the screen when they talk, so the watcher knows who is speaking—an interesting addition I’d never seen before.

The deleted scenes are another highlight, although it is fairly easy to see what Lucas decided to trim them out—some, however, have been placed back into the film on the DVD.

The much-talked about waterfall scene was really pretty lame. As was the additional footage at the beginning of the pod race. And as much as I enjoyed the scene where Anakin fights Greedo, it felt completely out of place, and wasn’t really well acted.

However, while there are only seven deleted scenes on the DVD, Lucas seemed to reveal that these were simply an example of scenes deleted from the film.

The brand-spankin’ new documentary, “The Beginning”, was terrific. Really well done, and actually revealed some new insights into the film. One portion shows the first viewing of the rough edit of the film. The long faces on everyone after the showing was a clear indicator, at least to me, that Lucas had missed the mark with The Phantom Menace. I swear, you can see the tension, as if they were all thinking, “My God, what the hell did we do?”

There are also special features that delve into the special effects and such, but, as much as I love movies, I don’t find these things particularly interesting. Not the behind-the-scenes, how they-did-that information, but simply the way the generally present it isn’t engaging.

Of course, the quality of the film, from the image to the sound, was outstanding.

One of the greatest little surprises on this DVD is the hidden “easter egg”, featuring a handful of outtakes. You can access them on Disc 1 by going to the “Options” menu, and entering “1138”. There are a few other easter eggs. For the best information, visit www.theforce.net.

Rated: PG
Run Time: 2 hr., 16 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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