Bringing The Phantom Menace into your home is an opportunity to analyse the Star Wars
filmic phenomenon closely, repeatedly and closely. The proximity of the screen and its
digital veracity reveals both its strengths and its flaws. The latter includes some of the
worst phoney accents on film, courtesy the two Numonians who sound like amateur
theatricals mimicking a Japanese actor trying to sound Spanish. Irritatingly bad for a
project of this nature, it also highlights other weaknesses in the dialogue and the script
itself. As George Lucas points out in the commentary, the film was designed as a silent
movie, dialogue and sound and music merely additions. And it shows.
But this weakness (Lucas finds scripting the hardest process) has an upside: the
filmís visual language is incredibly powerful for the most part, and its sense of
legend is unerring. The mythical or spiritual elements do come to the fore in the DVD
viewing, and the attention to detail is mesmerising.
"the only thing you could wish for is a little more
Then we come to the audio commentary: excellent concept to give voice to the seven key
creatives involved, but so strange in execution! George Lucas is on the microphone as
normal; itís a personal sound, talking to you and me. The others come in booming off
a studio with echo enough to make them seem distant and in some other space. For a company
so enamoured of sound design, this is truly perplexing. All this creates a distracting
effect, but after you get used to it, the content is terrific. The speakers are always
identified by surtitles in the black space above the widescreen picture, and the material
is addictive. Informative, frank, revealing and detailed, itís everything a Star Wars
fan could want. Every scene, every decision is scrutinised and the only thing you could
wish for is a little more humility. And some admissions of failure. But then the film is a
technological success, so perhaps there were no failures, since technology and how to
achieve end result is what the commentary is all about.
I began with a look at the Deleted Scenes feature: this is a real documentary, and
even features people like Coppola and Walter Murch talking about filmmaking. These
inclusions add great texture and depth to this feature, even without the extensive detail
of the Lucas comments. The main item in this piece is the pod race, a sequence that is the
subject of several other docos and references on the disc. Not surprising, as it is the
single most complex and challenging scene in the entire movie. Here, we get an insight
into the enormity of the pod race, from a filming perspective. The first assembly ran for
25 minutes; needless to say, it had to be truncated.
"My fascination didnít wane"
There is a great deal of detail here, and some of it Ė you could argue Ė is
superfluous. But so is a menu of 20 meals in a restaurant: you donít have to order
them all. My fascination didnít wane, even though the volume of material is awesome,
although I get the feeling that there is so much attention to how things were done in this
huge enterprise, not enough is invested in why, or how people felt. The exception to this
is the catastrophic storm that destroyed the location at the beginning of the shoot in the
Tunisian desert. Here, at last, we have a touch of emotion and humility. Not that the
achievements of the entire gang isnít worthy of emotional response; itís just
that everyone is so earnest and intense and determined and desperate to make this huge
lumbering project come off. Some humour would help oil the digestion.
The animatics section is excellent and involving, and again, the pod race is a
highlight. Different angles are offered to see the link through from story board,
animatics to the finished shots. The animatics is like a minimalist version of the final
film created in the computer before the actual shoot.
The 12-part doco series (first run on starwars.com) begins at the very beginning of
George Lucasí writing process in November 1994, with a blank sheet of paper. The
series documents the expansion of the process, and is a rare document that tries to get
inside that process. Of course, it canít. You can watch a craftsman turn a lathe, or
a silversmith fashion a bracelet, a glassblower work molten glass. But you canít
watch a writerís mental process; you can only see the words coming out through the
All the same, this is a unique, bite-size series of insights that is worth the viewing
time. It contains little gems, like the casting process for Anakin; and the development of
the Jedi fight stunts. The five featurettes are all workmanlike and generous, providing
another textbook look at the filmmaking process on this unique film.
The music feature Ė always welcome Ė shows John Williams at work, and is more
extensive than most music features on DVD. And so it should be.
"a vast and complex production"
It is little wonder that this DVD took so long to come onto the market: it is a vast
and complex production, and boasts handsome graphics, an intelligent menu system and first
class sound and music effects. The overall impact of the DVD features is to impress with
the sheer size of the undertaking; it make you wonder how much faith these people must
have had in the film to devote not only so much energy and invention, but so much of their
lives to it.
Andrew L. Urban