This review was written by TheForce.Net's Chris Knight
Published on November 19, 2000
The Phantom Menace -
The Ultimate Edition Soundtrack
Published by Sony Classical
Chris's rating: 1.1138 out of 5
Some things you just have to look into for yourself. It's not that another's perspective doesn't count, but there are times when you want to strive for extreme objectivity: for the sake of your readers. For the sake of the company you're about to blast 'cause you really do want to give them the benefit of the doubt. And for yourself, that you won't be swayed easily by the opinions of others until you weigh their claims against what you are led to conclude.
Before launching into this review of Sony Classical's Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - The Ultimate Edition soundtrack, let me state from the getgo that yes, I'm aware of TheFullScore.net and their criticism of the Ultimate Edition. I've known of the site but a few days ago, made a conscious decision NOT to read their critique of this soundtrack. If there were any problems with the CD, I wanted them to be my own findings, not those of others. As my list began to grow, however, I did go to their site, just to make sure that my ears weren't really playing tricks on me - that other people had caught these also - and corroborate against their findings. Then I compared the tracks from the Ultimate Edition CD set to the actual score on my VHS copy of the film as a "final judge" sort of thing.
So what's the judgement? Imagine watching Episode I, bereft of all the visuals and with all the spoken dialogue and special effects magically wiped off the audio track. All you're left with is the score standing naked before you.
And it is an ugly nakedness.
I'm not the brightest bulb on the planet when it comes to musical terminology. But looking back over this CD, I can't help but reluctantly agree with what others have commented about this "soundtrack". In a nutshell: This is NOT the complete score to Episode I. Let me be particularly emphatic about that point: this is NOT the complete score to Episode I! What this should be called, if anything, is a rough draft of what should have been the defining collection of all the music that John Williams composed for the first prequel. But to call it a complete soundtrack is a serious falsehood. I would even go so far as to consider it a blatant lie.
Let's start with the aesthetics of the thing. Remember when RCA Victor released the Special Edition soundtracks nearly four years ago? The original issues, with the beautiful black slipcase and the foil logo on the front? Inside each were two CDs of the music Williams scored for the re-release - as far as we know this was ALL of the music. The CDs came with companion books/CD holders that not only featured thoughtfully placed stills, but had insightful commentary about the musical nature of the saga.
The RCA Victor soundtracks were simple, but elegant. They were sincere to the saga. Four years later and they're the pride of my collection. I cringe to look at the Ultimate Edition soundtrack. No serious John Williams score should have someone who was a one-gimmick villain with cheap dental work glowering on the cover like KISS on bad acid. Especially in this shiny metallic blue that, apart from a medium distance away, is murder on the eyes. There's no slipcase book like the SE release but a fold-out CD holder with the book glued in. A few of the photos I had not seen before, but otherwise it was bland, giving no additional appreciation of John Williams or the London Symphony or George Lucas's mythic vision for the prequels.
There are two ways to market Star Wars: by the myth and by the money. The Ultimate Edition was geared towards making money, with no thought towards what will invariably last longer... the story. It's a mistake made throughout the selling of Episode I that is made painfully transparent here. And that's just the packaging. We haven't even touch on the actual "music" yet...
The most obvious problem is that many tracks that Williams wrote were not put on this CD, but we know that other tracks do exist. I have many of them on my hard drive in MP3 format, taken from various sources. The scene of the worst crime is Disc 2, where much of the music from the final battles is not given time on this "complete" collection, including several variations from "Duel Of The Fates" for the lightsaber duel. Where's "The Great Duel", for instance? John Williams conducted that piece, and we have proof: he was shown (and heard) conducting it with the London Symphony during the Star Wars story that 60 Minutes ran in March 1999. If that wasn't John Williams, who was it... an evil clone? There are at least two tracks from the space battle that didn't make the "complete" cut. Again: if John Williams wrote it for The Phantom Menace, it should have gone on here, used in the final film or not.
An entire alternate ending score of Anakin's victory in the podrace is missing from this collection. That composition of "Duel Of The Fates" minus the choral accompaniment? Nowhere to be found. I would have bought this CD just for that, simply to have all the variations of "Duel Of The Fates", even with the other problems of this set. Alas, they do not exist on these discs. There is a "Duel Of The Fates" dialogue version at the end of the set, essentially what we heard in the music video minus the sound of trucks and George Lucas shouting "go!", but it's pale compensation for what we should have received. The final version of "Duel Of The Fates" that appeared in the movie's credits isn't here either... how did THAT happen?!
But it gets way sloppier, because then there are the missing portions of tracks that DID make the Ultimate Edition. One of the worst is "Augies Great Municipal Band" on the original soundtrack, "The Parade" on the Ultimate Edition... IT'S THE EXACT SAME TRACK!! And it's anything but what we heard at the end of Episode I. The film's ending score is significantly longer, and not so repetitive. Listen to the part in the movie where Boss Nass begins ascending the palace steps: the "yah-yah-yah-yah-YAH-YAH" is stretched out, given a shade more stress that the rest of the track. You won't find that anywhere on the CD. The flag parade before the podrace is also chopped up. Again, you can tell where parts of it are omitted by the resonance, especially during that closeup of Threepio and the other flagbearers. There are portions missing from Jar-Jar's introduction. And there were more: I cringe to think of how many times music was cut, because it was quite a lot. No doubt a complete list is going to appear on the Internet over the next few weeks, but trust me: this is the John Williams's CD equivalent of the Edsel, minus quite a few nuts and bolts.
The disingenuousness is also evident in the loops: I lost count of 'em, but there has to be at least 30. Practically the entire mid portion of Disc 1, from tracks 7 to 23, gets looped at some point. Disc 2 is worse: the final action sequences sound chopped up, hacked around with, folded, spindled and mutilated, loops abounding: listen to tracks 26 and 27, f'rinstance.
Why the loops? Why the cuts? Why did anything have to be done at all to make it EXACTLY like the film's running order? How could Sony Classical have failed even that? Why couldn't they just render the master tapes onto CD and give that to us?
Something needs to be said about Williams's composition and the final edit of the film: the movie he scored to was, initially, the way the film was going to be presented to us. He had what was thought to be the finished draft, minus some special effects and color work, but otherwise a complete story. Williams was charged with the one thing that Lucas himself could not do: the music. Faith was put into Williams that he could do this. Williams wrote and conducted to the best of his ability.
There was a complete score that we could have been treated to, were it not for George Lucas showing the film to his friends, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Spielberg and Howard made... some suggestions. One apparently was to "tone down" the space battle above Naboo. They reportedly told Lucas that the spacefight was overshadowing everything else, particularly the Jedi-Sith duel. That was Lucas's big mistake: not putting enough faith in his own work that he had to take counsel from others about what his film should be like. It affected the film and mangled the score.
I don't know about you, but the final version of the battle is largely forgettable. This should have been the prequel counterpart to Luke's blowing away the Death Star in A New Hope. What Luke did on purpose in that chapter, his father Anakin replicates nearly beat for beat by accident in Episode I: it's still there, but it's missing the dramatic "umph" that people would have readily caught and enjoyed. That should have been what stuck out in most people's minds: how Anakin "was already a great pilot". That's not something to lose for the sake of a lightsaber battle with a non-recurring villain (I hope and pray it wasn't just to sell a few more Maul toys). And did anyone feel for the Naboo pilots as they did for Biggs, Porkins, and the rest in A New Hope? We know those guys. We don't know these Naboo pilots, nor could we really care for them like we did for Porkins.
We didn't need Episode I according to Steven Spielberg. We shouldn't care for Ron Howard's idea of it either. That's not to disparage either one for their directing talents, but this movie should have been the vision of a singular creative mind. That's not to blame Lucas for showing it to his friends first, but it's like he lost faith in his own creation. As if he had doubts about the film and took counsel with others who, though gifted in their own right, neither can or should fully encompass whatever Lucas has in mind for his own saga. This is Lucas's baby, all the way, and no one should take it from him in the least.
But the end result was that the structure of the finale was altered significantly, the impact it should have had was removed and for the issue at hand, the score's impact was destroyed. There wasn't enough time to accommodate the music for the edits that Lucas made per his friends' request. Whole tracks ended up being lifted out of the score, replaced, sliced apart, and rendered like cattle in a slaughterhouse.
All of which makes me wonder: what if we had seen TPM as Lucas originally edited it, with Williams's complete score? Someday I would love to see, not only a definitive soundtrack for The Phantom Menace, but a definitive movie also. The "director's cut", how Lucas originally had edited the story before showing it to his friends and effecting the changes. I would put good money down in saying that per Lucas's purest idea of how Episode I was going to be, it would have been far better. The timing was going to be better, there would have been a more epic "feel" to this chapter, and Anakin's role would have especially been stronger. And isn't this Anakin's story in the end anyway?
In retrospect, maybe it is a good thing that Sony Classical released the score exactly (more or less) as we heard it in the theater, because by its absence it indicates how the movie was going to originally be paced. How it should have been paced is more like it. Stripped of the visuals, some very rough editing decisions are made manifest. In the meantime, in regards to the Ultimate Edition soundtrack, they could have done better. They should have done better.
Would I recommend this collection to a discriminating, serious fan of John Williams? I would not hesitate to say "no". Sony Classical either should have been truthful in their packaging and press releases by saying "the score of TPM in running order" if this is the CD they wanted to release. Or better yet: actually release ALL the music that John Williams composed, whether it was used or not in the film, in the order that he wrote it in.
If any representatives from Sony Classical are reading this: guys, please, be honest to your customers. You weren't honest with us about the Ultimate Edition., and now you've been found out. I don't know what you might do from here, but an apology to both John Williams and his fans would be appropriate.
Then, let bygones be bygones: you at Sony Classical now have an opportunity to make things right. Somewhere, in an archive that probably hasn't been touched in a year and a half, is a set of master tapes of John Williams conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Those tapes contain the ENTIRE, COMPLETE, UNADULTERATED score for Episode I: The Phantom Menace, every last note of it. Find those tapes, ignore the running order per the final film, and just let us enjoy the score per Williams's vision. It should be a ridiculously simple thing to accomplish: just transfer those tapes to CD and give it to us, with no added fuss on your part. Put it in a cover that I won't be embarrassed to show to my girlfriend (she concurs: the Ultimate Edition is rather ugly). Give us something to be proud of. Do that, and I seriously doubt that you won't find fast forgiveness from the fans for this fiasco.
If anyone from Lucasfilm's licensing and marketing divisions are reading this, please realize something: we're not stupid. We buy the Star Wars merchandise with a tremendous demand that what we plunk down our hard-earned money for isn't going to be crap. The Ultimate Edition soundtrack is crap. Where was your oversight in this matter? Don't you have as high an expectation for product quality as the fans do? Does the bottom line matter so much that you'll approve anything with a Star Wars logo slapped onto it? Again, you used to market for the story and still made major moolah. You've lost your touch if this "complete collection" was allowed to fall through the cracks.
Be mindful next time, guys. This "soundtrack" is marketing at its worst. Now you've a chance to make things right. In the meantime, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - The Ultimate Edition should be avoided like a mange-infested ewok.
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