By Scott Chitwood
A new TFN perspective
I recently got the chance to check out the Episode I DVD, and I'm going to look at this disc from a little different perspective than Josh.
I've followed Episode I from its earliest stages up of its creation until the release of this DVD.
I've devoured every detail from the movie, the books, the games, magazines, and more.
I watched the TV shows, downloaded the movies, and visited the Celebration in Denver.
So having seen all of that, it was going to be a pretty tall order for Lucasfilm to dazzle me with this highly anticipated disc. Did they do it?
Yes and no. For the most part, yes. Most of the "No" is my own fault. Hopefully I can explain why here.
This has been hyped as one of the best DVDs ever made. It certainly is very good and ranks as one of the best. Is it THE best? Not really. The DVD doesn't break any new ground or have any new features that haven't been done on DVDs like Terminator 2, Gladiator, or the others. Here are my thoughts on the features:
Widescreen Movie & Director's Commentary
I loved The Phantom Menace when it came out. I went and saw it multiple times like everyone else. When the VHS tape came out, I bought it and watched it once. For some reason I've never had the desire to watch it much since. It's not because I don't like it. I guess I'm more inclined to watch the classic trilogy if I want Star Wars.
This DVD version of Episode I has scenes added back in on Coruscant and some extra Pod Race moments, so I guess it makes it a "Special Edition Lite".
I had hoped more of the deleted scenes would be incorporated into the film itself, but they weren't. Luckily, we get to see them elsewhere in the DVD.
The movie is still worth checking out by the die hard fans, though. It looks and sounds great. But aside from the movie itself, the commentary is the big treat.
It's fun to listen to the creators talk about the making of the film. I enjoyed listening to Ben Burtt the most describing how he made many of the sound effects. Sometimes the commentary drifts away from what's happening on the film, but otherwise it's impressive and informative.
Deleted Scenes Documentary
This is the main thing I wanted the DVD for and the first thing I looked at when popping it in. There are seven new sequences and each are preceded by an introduction describing how they were made, what was done to them, and why they were cut. I think this is what many of the hard core fans are interested in, too, because it's all new.
One of my favorite deleted scenes is from the pod race. The Sand People take shots at the pods as they go by and they actually destroy one of them. After it crashes, Jawas come out of the rocks and raid the wreckage. The Sand People start taking shots at them, too. It was hilarious and a lot of fun to check out.
Another great highlight is the waterfall scene. After arriving in Naboo, the Gungan sub stalls and starts to go over the Theed waterfall. Our heroes escape, of course, before and impressive crash at the bottom of the waterfall.
But one of the best things in this feature is the credits of the documentary. It shows animatic Gungans pulling Three Stooges tricks, Fambaas scooting around like dogs, and other really hilarious things. I guess this is what ILM does when they get bored animating Jar Jar. Make sure you don't miss it.
Unfortunately, several prominent deleted scenes don't make it on the DVD. We don't see Maul jump on the ramp of the Queen's ship. We don't see Obi-Wan come up out of the swamp. We don't see Qui-Gon lecture Obi-Wan about his lightsaber. The ironic thing is that pictures and hints and behind the scenes footage of all these are shown elsewhere on the DVD, but not offered in the deleted scenes feature.
One other problem in the documentary part - there are several tedious scenes where directors from films totally unrelated to Star Wars talk about deleted scenes. Why should I care about the deleted scenes from the film "Julia"???
"The Beginning" Documentary
If the Deleted Scenes aren't the best part of this DVD, then this documentary may be it. It's an hour long look at the making of Episode I from beginning to end. It's an incredible behind the scenes look. You see the auditions for Anakin. You see Ewan getting his Obi-Wan haircut. You see the first reading of the script with all the actors. You even see George Lucas start penning the script to Episode II. This was an awesome feature.
It's also surprisingly candid. Josh mentioned that Rick McCallum utters the word "f***" several times in the documentary. Despite being bleeped out, anyone cal tell exactly what he's saying. It was kind of a surprising thing for me to see on a DVD rated PG. I'm not sure what some parents will think of it. You can make an interesting game out of the number of times Rick McCallum says , "f***", "bold", and "fantastic".
Multi-Angle Storyboard-to-animatic-to-film segment
Again, this is more stuff that people haven't seen. It was the third thing I checked out on the DVD. However, I didn't bother using the angle feature or the split screen feature. I only wanted to see the animatics.
In the animatics, you see a Sebulba puppet in action, Ben Burtt's son standing in for Anakin, and raw blue screen footage of the pod race announcers. It's amazing how close the animatics are to the final product.
There's also an interesting underwater animatic where Jerome Blake stands in for Qui-Gon and Silas Carson stands in for Jar Jar. What makes this interesting is that it was done long before the final filming took place and all of the actors were cast.
Unfortunately, there aren't many more in addition to this. Surely there's more to offer in the animatic department, right?
If you were at the Denver Celebration, then you probably saw these features. They cover TPM's storyline, design, costumes, effects, and fight scenes. Also, if you attended any Magic of Myth lectures, you probably saw these too.
I had already seen all of these, so there was nothing new for me here. However, they are excellent documentaries and a fantastic addition to your collection. They are also some of the few places you'll see Liam Neeson, Ray Park, and some of the other cast and crew on the DVD.
Like many of you, I saw all of these when they first came out, so again there was nothing new for me here. I watched every frame of the videos repeatedly when they came out. However, they were also presented in crappy streaming Real Video, were jumpy, and were teeny tiny. To have them on a big screen TV and not blipping out is a nice treat. It's also cool to have them as part of your collection.
Duel of the Fates Music Video
Again, this is something I watched over and over when it came out, so nothing new. And again, it's still cool to have in your collection.
Production Photo Gallery
There are some new photos here that I hadn't seen before. Some were mundane, some were really cool. However, I think the Episode I Insider's Guide had a better selection.
Theatrical Posters and Print Campaign
Well, I have the Episode I poster over my computer and I see it ever day, so it's not a special deal to see "Episode I" written in a dozen different languages on the same poster. The posters from the print campaign have also been in our multimedia section for years. Again, nice to have in a collection, but not the first thing you'll go after on this DVD.
Theatrical Teaser, Trailer, and TV Commercials
These were all things I devoured when they first hit in 1999. I watched the trailer so many times I have it memorized. We watched the TV commercials on the tube and at the Celebration so much that I know them by heart. And yes, again, it's nice to have on DVD for my collection. Anything's better than VHS.
I haven't looked at this yet because I don't think there's anything online to check out yet.
The menus are impressive, most impressive. They feature Coruscant, Tatooine, the Senate, and the Gungan city. Special footage was created just for these menus.
At times they are tedious and take a while to download. At times they are a little TOO busy. However, there are times when they are entertainment in themselves. On Disc Two in Watto's shop, there's a funny bit with the Pod Race droids that you'll want to see. You'll want to take time just checking them out.
There are only four Easter Eggs on this DVD.
The first is the option to select which menu you want to come up. Cute, but it's not exactly the Episode II trailer we all hoped for.
Another Easter Egg is on Disc One in the options menu. By hitting 1138 in the right sequence, you can bring up the blooper reel. R2-D2 falls down repeatedly. Alien extras walk into things. What amazing is that there's even special animation of Jar Jar just for these blooper reels. Yoda flubs a line. All of these take place while the DVD credits roll.
Then, on Disc Two, there are a couple of Easter Eggs that show behind the scenes footage on the making of the Deleted Scenes.
I'm not quite sure why these were chosen as Easter Eggs. They are such interesting and elaborate features, I really felt they should have been part of the main Deleted Scenes feature.
Anyway, that's all of the known Easter Eggs. I had hoped there would have been more.
So as you can see, there's a little something in here for everyone. This disc will blow away the casual fan and DVD collectors should be very happy. Most of them aren't the geek that I am and haven't seen all of the web documentaries, videos, etc. Those will be amazing new treats for them as they were for me when I first saw them.
Despite this, there are still new things on this disc that will dazzle the hard core fan (like me). But if you are that hard core fan, you may feel a little let down after realizing over half of the features on the DVD are things you've already seen. They're a must have for your collection, but you may not stay glued to your TV for 6 hours like other people will.
The other realization you'll have is that this DVD, despite having a LOT of content, does not have everything. There was a lot of documentary footage that was cut. There are still more deleted scenes that haven't been seen.
Just like with the VHS versions, you'll probably be buying yet another version of The Phantom Menace on DVD is a few years. But I'm OK with that. I finally got to see a Star Wars DVD!
Now we just have to wait even longer for the Classic Trilogy on DVD. But if there's one thing that we Star Wars fans know how to do a lot of, it's waiting.