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When the evil Trade Federation plots to take over the peaceful planet of Naboo, Jedi warrior Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) embark on an amazing adventure to save the planet. With them on their journey is the young queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), Gungan outcast JarJar Binks (Ahmed Best), and the powerful Captain Panaka (Hugh Quarshie), who will all travel to the faraway planets of Tatooine and Coruscant in a futile attempt to save their world from Darth Sidious, leader of the Trade Federation, and Darth Maul (Ray Park), the strongest Dark Lord of the Sith to ever wield a lightsaber. Also joining the odyssey is a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), whose home-built pod racer plays a crucial role in the adventure.

Disc One:
Bringing The Phantom Menace into your home is an opportunity to analyse the Star Wars filmic phenomenon closely, repeatedly and closely. The proximity of the screen and its digital veracity reveals both its strengths and its flaws. The latter includes some of the worst phoney accents on film, courtesy the two Numonians who sound like amateur theatricals mimicking a Japanese actor trying to sound Spanish. Irritatingly bad for a project of this nature, it also highlights other weaknesses in the dialogue and the script itself. As George Lucas points out in the commentary, the film was designed as a silent movie, dialogue and sound and music merely additions. And it shows.

But this weakness (Lucas finds scripting the hardest process) has an upside: the filmís visual language is incredibly powerful for the most part, and its sense of legend is unerring. The mythical or spiritual elements do come to the fore in the DVD viewing, and the attention to detail is mesmerising.

"the only thing you could wish for is a little more humility"

Then we come to the audio commentary: excellent concept to give voice to the seven key creatives involved, but so strange in execution! George Lucas is on the microphone as normal; itís a personal sound, talking to you and me. The others come in booming off a studio with echo enough to make them seem distant and in some other space. For a company so enamoured of sound design, this is truly perplexing. All this creates a distracting effect, but after you get used to it, the content is terrific. The speakers are always identified by surtitles in the black space above the widescreen picture, and the material is addictive. Informative, frank, revealing and detailed, itís everything a Star Wars fan could want. Every scene, every decision is scrutinised and the only thing you could wish for is a little more humility. And some admissions of failure. But then the film is a technological success, so perhaps there were no failures, since technology and how to achieve end result is what the commentary is all about.

Disc Two:
I began with a look at the Deleted Scenes feature: this is a real documentary, and even features people like Coppola and Walter Murch talking about filmmaking. These inclusions add great texture and depth to this feature, even without the extensive detail of the Lucas comments. The main item in this piece is the pod race, a sequence that is the subject of several other docos and references on the disc. Not surprising, as it is the single most complex and challenging scene in the entire movie. Here, we get an insight into the enormity of the pod race, from a filming perspective. The first assembly ran for 25 minutes; needless to say, it had to be truncated.

"My fascination didnít wane"

There is a great deal of detail here, and some of it Ė you could argue Ė is superfluous. But so is a menu of 20 meals in a restaurant: you donít have to order them all. My fascination didnít wane, even though the volume of material is awesome, although I get the feeling that there is so much attention to how things were done in this huge enterprise, not enough is invested in why, or how people felt. The exception to this is the catastrophic storm that destroyed the location at the beginning of the shoot in the Tunisian desert. Here, at last, we have a touch of emotion and humility. Not that the achievements of the entire gang isnít worthy of emotional response; itís just that everyone is so earnest and intense and determined and desperate to make this huge lumbering project come off. Some humour would help oil the digestion.

The animatics section is excellent and involving, and again, the pod race is a highlight. Different angles are offered to see the link through from story board, animatics to the finished shots. The animatics is like a minimalist version of the final film created in the computer before the actual shoot.

The 12-part doco series (first run on starwars.com) begins at the very beginning of George Lucasí writing process in November 1994, with a blank sheet of paper. The series documents the expansion of the process, and is a rare document that tries to get inside that process. Of course, it canít. You can watch a craftsman turn a lathe, or a silversmith fashion a bracelet, a glassblower work molten glass. But you canít watch a writerís mental process; you can only see the words coming out through the keyboard.

All the same, this is a unique, bite-size series of insights that is worth the viewing time. It contains little gems, like the casting process for Anakin; and the development of the Jedi fight stunts. The five featurettes are all workmanlike and generous, providing another textbook look at the filmmaking process on this unique film.

The music feature Ė always welcome Ė shows John Williams at work, and is more extensive than most music features on DVD. And so it should be.

"a vast and complex production"

It is little wonder that this DVD took so long to come onto the market: it is a vast and complex production, and boasts handsome graphics, an intelligent menu system and first class sound and music effects. The overall impact of the DVD features is to impress with the sheer size of the undertaking; it make you wonder how much faith these people must have had in the film to devote not only so much energy and invention, but so much of their lives to it.
Andrew L. Urban

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


Read Andrew L. Urban's interview with

Rick McCallum spoke to Andrew L. Urban live at Popcorn Taxi
(August 7, 2000)


CAST: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid

DIRECTOR: George Lucas

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes (feature only)

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 2001

Disc One:
Audio commentary by George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Denis Muren, Scott Squires
sound: Dolby 5.1; subtitles: English, English SDH, English text, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish

Disc Two:
Deleted scenes Ė seven sequences completed for the DVD; The Beginning Ė hour-long documentary inside Lucasfilm & ILM; multi-angle storyboard-to-animatic-to-film sequences; five featurettes on The Phantom Menace storyline, design, costujmes, VFX, fight scenes; 12 part web documentary on the production; music with John Williams; production photo gallery with special caption feature; international posters and print campaigns; teaser, trailer, TV spots; Star Wars: Starfighter Ė the making of a game; DVD ROM weblinks.

Star Wars Ep 1 DVD - back cover

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