Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Details At A Glance
Cast & Crew
20th Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio
||Annoying Product Placement
|Action In or After Credits
A general note, here: the reason this review
exists is to say two things to the millions of suckers who bought this
film on VHS. The first is a big thank-you for giving George Lucas justification
for restricting the greatest film made last year to a medium that looks
like shit even on the first play. I really hope that you are proud of yourselves.
The second is a friendly reminder that you have been ripped off, and I
hope you feel every inch of it, now that you've bought Lucas' rhetoric
against buying the pirated DVD from Hong Kong. Through the kindness of
a friend working at a video distribution outlet who wishes to remain anonymous,
I was able to sit down and view this VHS presentation of a film I enjoyed
so much that I nearly saw it thirty times at the cinema. If I had known
that Lucas was going to treat me like this in return, I would have saved
my money and done something more satisfying with it, like travel to the
middle of nowhere and live in isolation for the rest of the year.
I'm not going to bore you with a plot synopsis, since
I am sure that every magazine and celluloid critic has already gone and
done it for me. Instead, I'm going to deliver the plot synopsis I formulated
in my head after reading several treatments of the story that obviously
never made it to the script. I think it would have made a much more interesting
film, and a better one to deliver on George's promise of a "much darker
trilogy". One bright, sunny day on Tattooine (are there any other kind?),
Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and his mother, Shmi (Pernilla
August), are toiling away at their daily slave labour, dreaming for
the day when they will be free. Out of nowhere arrives the Mandalorian
army, a rather nasty bunch who all wear strange-looking armour and decide
that they would like to enslave the entire planet. Naturally, some of the
local populace resists, and many of the human contingent are killed, including
Shmi. Naturally, Anakin blames himself for this in spite of the fact that
he is too young to be of much use against the Mandalorian army, who, as
it turns out, are using some kind of cloning technology to beef up their
numbers. In this incarnation of the story, Anakin is a fifteen-year-old,
incidentally. Eventually, a contingent of Republic soldiers and Jedi come
to battle with the Mandalorians, with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor)
being amongst their number. Upon finding the newly orphaned Anakin, he
takes the young boy to be his apprentice as a Jedi in the process of ridding
Tattooine of the Mandalorians. After this, Anakin is taken to Coruscant
to be tested by the Jedi Council, whereupon he meets his future wife (Natalie
Portman), who remained unnamed until the demise of this premise.
It sounds a heck of a lot more interesting than what
eventually came out after several critical and ominous scenes were left
out of the final theatrical cut of this movie, doesn't it? In case you
are wondering, here is a list of the scenes that appeared in the novelization
and, quite probably the final draft of the script, that never made it into
the final film:
Which do you think would have made a more watchable
collector's item? A cut of the film containing these sequences, placed
on a media that doesn't become unplayable as a direct result of normal
use? Or this plain-jane VHS version? You tell me.
An early pod race sequence in which Anakin crashes his pod and exchanges
some terse words with Watto, after which he is sent into the Dune Sea to
haggle for parts with a group of Jawas with C-3PO in tow. There are many
exchanges and scenes early on in the novel that may or may not be in some
drafts of the screenplay that better establish the character of Anakin.
Shortly after the haggling is finished, Anakin stops to assist an injured
Tusken Raider and stays with him overnight, during which time a group of
fellow Tusken Raiders come to collect their kin.
A better conversation between Darth Sidious and Daultay Dofine. After Dofine
finishes stating to the Sith Lord that they daren't go up against the Jedi,
Sidious says "Are you saying you would rather go up against me, Dofine?
I am amused." in the novel form of the story.
A moment in which Obi-Wan sees Jar Jar Binks for the first time, who in
turn is eating some clams quite calmly near the banks of the river. There
is also a much longer exchange after Qui-Gon meets Binks for the first
time, involving damage to Obi-Wan's lightsaber that was sustained as a
result of being submerged underwater.
An extended dialogue between Queen Amidala (in disguise, of course) and
Anakin Skywalker. Anakin states to Amidala that he foresees them getting
married, to which Amidala states that he is just a little boy. Anakin's
response to this is one of the most ominous lines: "I won't always be."
A young Greedo confronts Anakin after the race and accuses him of cheating.
Anakin responds to this by furiously attacking Greedo, and earning a lecture
about the dark side of the Force from Qui-Gon as a result.
Various dialogue throughout the film, but especially as the battle of Naboo
begins, that establishes Darth Maul as a more autonomous character.
Okay, so it is VHS and we have to make some allowances,
right? Even if we do make those allowances, this is an awful transfer of
the film that should never have seen the light of day, and makes a blatant
joke of the THX Certification. The film is presented in its original theatrical
aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and you can really tell a lot of the time that
this was achieved by discarding lines from the picture. A Pan & Scan
monstrosity is also available on another cassette, but this means a major
loss of important picture information, especially during such scenes as
the Senate debate and the three-way lightsaber duel. The sharpness of this
transfer is absolutely non-existent, with little details simply being lost
in the 4:3 downconversion. During the scene in which Qui-Gon is attempting
to cut his way through the blast doors, he is often seen speaking with
little discernible lip movement, which can fairly and squarely be blamed
on the lack of resolution in the VHS format. As a matter of fact, his entire
head looks like little more than a twenty-pixel blur during this shot,
and not even the shades of colour in his hair are discernible in this terrible
part of the transfer. Shadow detail was vague in the few sequences that
required it, and there was a natural abundance of low-level noise.
The colour saturation is probably the second-worst
aspect of this transfer, with a dull, lifeless, and muted look to scenery
that was deliberately designed to be larger than life and leave you with
your jaw open. The first shot we see of the Naboo landscape (the Theed
Palace with the waterfalls around it) can leave you with the impression
that you're looking at a badly produced twenty-year-old B-grade fantasy
film, it looked so awful because of the limited resolution. The inherently
poor resolution of VHS also makes the lightsaber glow effects look like
a mess of bleeding pixels rather than a smooth line of laser, as it does
to many effects of this variety. VHS artefacts are by far the worst aspect
of this transfer, and given that this loaned-out video tape showed a massive
line of horizontal static less than thirty seconds into the film in spite
of having been played only once, it makes Lucas look all the more like
an idiot with his claims of being interested in bringing his work to the
best possible presentation. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of shimmering
in the edges of any chrome objects regardless of whether the camera was
moving or not. Film artefacts were the only good part of the transfer,
with the reel-change markings that were found in the original theatrical
exhibition having been taken out.
Matching the distinctly poor video transfer is a very
ordinary audio transfer. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital according
to the packaging, but it would be doing well to be considered a good Pro
Logic mix, which is hardly reflective of the immersive sound that accompanied
this film in the cinematic presentation. The dialogue was mostly easy to
make out, with the exception of Liam Neeson's low-frequency voice,
Best's wispy squealing, and Jake Lloyd's recitation of his dialogue,
which sounded consistent with the way most nine-year-olds speak. Audio
sync was spot-on for the humanoid characters, but very sloppy for some
of the animated characters, particularly for the various Trade Federation
employees. Some of Ian McDiarmid's lines appeared to be out of sync
when he was replaced by the CGI hologram, and Ray Park's lines were
less than perfectly dubbed by the much deeper-voiced Peter Serafinowicz.
A lot of the dialogue from these characters reeks of having been spoken
one way during principal photography and recited in another during post-production
The king of film scoring, the high and mighty John
Williams, is back, although you'd never know it from this shocking
transfer. Like the other three episodes in the series, Williams relies
heavily on a Wagnerian compositional technique called letitmotif,
which essentially translates into the marriage of specific pieces of music
to certain characters or events. The Anakin Skywalker theme is a great
example of this technique, with faint echoes of The Imperial March being
thrown in to provide the viewer with a sense that there is already a trace
of Darth Vader crawling around inside young Anakin. During A New
Hope, the first episode in the Star Wars saga to be filmed, Lucas
and Williams co-operate in making a scene with music so perfectly synthesized
that it is impossible to believe that one existed before the other. They
succeed in doing this again with the duel between Gui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and
Darth Maul, with the pieces of music that were edited together to make
up The Duel Of The Fates being out in full force. John Williams
is a film score composer without equal, and it is a pity that the surround
presence of the film severely hobbles his creative power...
The surround presence of this cassette is dire, and
makes a blatant joke out of both the THX certification and the Dolby Digital
label on the cover artwork. All too often, the frequencies are limited
by the analogue media to the point where the dialogue is just barely audible
above the sound effects. While this was slightly problematic in the theatrical
exhibition, it is a major cause for concern during many scenes in the home
video version. The limited frequency response also makes it extremely hard
to hear the subtle nuances of the aforementioned score music, with such
things as the Sanskrit chants of the choir simply being lost under the
other ambient sounds. The subwoofer tried hard to integrate itself with
the rest of the soundtrack and support the onscreen action, but it mostly
just produced an indistinct rumble.
A booklet full of coupons for freebies if you buy more
Lucas-endorsed products is the only extra you'll get from here. Funny,
I never figured Lucas to be the kind of man who resorts to bribery...
Australia vs The USA
I have heard mention that this video is presented as
part of a boxed set in the USA, but why the hell would you want a 4:3 downconversion
The Phantom Menace is a film that the
sheep who regurgitate everything the mass-media tell them damned. Real
critics like Roger
Ebert, however, gave it a slightly lesser thumbs up than the other
three episodes. Myself, I just watched it more times than any other movie
I've seen in my life, even Robocop.
The video quality is dire, even by VHS standards.
When I saw a line of static go through the picture less than thirty seconds
into the first play, I knew I was in for a disappointing ride.
This is an audio transfer of a film containing some
of the most dazzling duelling sequences in the history of filmmaking, accompanied
by score music by the greatest man in the game. You'd never know it from
this staggeringly limited transfer.
Extras? One word: bribery.
© Dean McIntosh (my bio
sucks... read it anyway)
April 11, 2000.
||Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite
input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input
||Built In (Amplifier)
||Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back
Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer