Star Wars

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Widescreen VHS


Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 130 Minutes  Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper Not applicable
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region Not applicable Director George Lucas
Lucasfilm Limited
20th Century Fox
Starring Liam Neeson
Ewan McGregor
Natalie Portman
Jake Lloyd
Ian McDiarmid
Case VHS
RRP $29.95 Music John Williams

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital None
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages 2.0 
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

    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.

Plot Synopsis

    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.

Transfer Quality


    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, Ahmed 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 dubbing.

    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 in NTSC?


    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.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
April 11, 2000.

Review Equipment
VCR Panasonic HD650
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer