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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - September, 2011

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"Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Sixteen years after the release of Return of the Jedi, George Lucas took us back to the beginning of the saga.  The planet Naboo is under a trade blockade when two Jedi knights, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, are sent to intervene.  After surviving an attempt on their lives, they go to warn and protext Queen Amidala of Naboo.  Eventually winding up on Tatooine, they discover a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, who Qui-Gon senses has a strong connection with the force and needs to be protected and nurtured.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1999, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 16 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 30 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson
  • Directed by George Lucas
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

You can safely say that when The Phantom Menace was first released, there was no film I had ever been more excited to see.  As Star Wars was a large part of my childhood, my friends and I were among the crazy ones who camped out to get tickets and make sure to see it at Midnight when it was released.  Having not seen it again in the past 12 years, I can safely say it has not aged well at all.  Full of bad acting, cheesy dialogue, horrible supporting characters, and seeming aimed straight for a 5 year old, Episode I is really a disaster.  Mystical things like the Force, which everyone just accepted as a life energy that was all around, is given a technical explanation that adds nothing but takes away from the mystery of the world.

Perhaps nothing sums up Episode I better than the pod race scene in the middle of the film.    From the fact that it’s just jammed into the middle of the film to have an action sequence that really isn’t totally necessary, to the fart joke with Jar-Jar at the start of it, the horrible acting from everyone involved during it, and the horrible announcer that calls the race while it’s going on, the whole sequence is so horrible now that I can look back upon it without 16 years of build-up coloring my perceptions.  I only hope when my son starts to watch Star Wars and understand it better, he won’t fall in love with Jar-Jar, and will love the original trilogy instead.

I only wish that, since Lucas is so dedicated to going back and altering the flims as he sees fit, that he had made Jar-Jar talk in an undecipherable language and used subtitles for him instead.  That would have been a vast improvement.

Technical

Episode I was the only one of the original trilogy that was shot on 35mm film instead of digitally, but it looks very bad considering the age and budget of the film.  Lots of the CG is more apparent now that it was before and is a bit distracting.  A very liberal amount of DNR was been applied so faces are washed free of texture, and many shots in the film look like the transfer is very, very old and lack much detail at all.  During the pod race sequence mentioned above they’ll often switch over to shots of fans in the stands, which appear very noisy and lacking in detail.

However, the soundtrack does not disappoint you at all.  People have used the pod race sequence for a demo piece for years now, and this doesn’t change that at all.  Given a lossless audio track, the pod race completely surrounds you and puts you inside of a pod.  Dialogue is rendered very well in the rest of the film, and the film does a fantastic job of bringing you into the environment.

Extras

The disc itself features a pair of commentary tracks, but the complete box set contains a raft of extras about the film.