Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace

Featured In Issue 161, November 2011

WSR Score4
Basic Information on new release titles is posted as soon as titles are announced. Once reviewed, additional data is added to the database.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
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George Lucas
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Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS HD Lossless 6.1, DTS 5.1
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Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace opens with the Trade Federation, under the guidance of Darth Sidious, initiating a hostile takeover of the planet Naboo. Sent to negotiate, Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) get caught up in the ensuing battle and flee, along with Naboo's leader, Queen Amidala (Portman). The group travels to the familiar desert planet of Tatooine to repair their ship that was damaged in the escape. It is there where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Lloyd). Sensing that young Anakin can bring balance to the Force, Qui-Gon begins training him as a Jedi. Later, on Coruscant, Amidala is aided in her plight by one Senator Palpatine (who suspiciously looks and sounds a lot like Darth Sidious, hmmm!). Traveling back to Naboo, the heroes join forces with the Gungans, the native inhabitants of Naboo, and wage battle with the Trade Federation's army to restore freedom to the galaxy...and to set up Episode II. (Michael Coate)

Special features include commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren, and Scott Squires and commentary from archival interviews with cast and crew, including Ahmed Best, Gavin Bocquet, Ben Burtt, Doug Chiang, Rob Coleman, Nick Gillard, Samuel L. Jackson, John Knoll, Jake Lloyd, George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ian McDiarmid, Ewan McGregor, Dennis Muren, Liam Neeson, Ray Park, Natalie Portman, and Scott Squires.

In prior reviews on LaserDisc and DVD, the weakest element of image quality had to do with the scenes, which were lacking in detail. The new Blu-ray 1080p AVC release is quite impressive, with deep, revealing blacks and excellent shadow delineation, no doubt due to greatly improved contrast. The color palette is vivid, with rich and warm hues that are effectively saturated and well balanced. The THX® Digitally Mastered 2.35:1 Blu-ray Disc is pristine throughout, with a distinctively improved level of refinement and clarity, compared to the previous DVDs, which dramatically enhances the visual quality. (Suzanne Hodges/Gary Reber)

With each new transfer the sound quality of the soundtrack has benefited from further attention given to it by the creative forces at Skywalker Sound. This translation to the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio™ format has benefited the perceived sound quality with layers of refinement, both in terms of low-level resolution and dynamic impact. This is an aggressive, prominent film soundtrack that can be loud and possibly bright at times, even with Re-EQ engaged. Nonetheless, the fidelity is first rate and indicative of an excellent film sound production. The engagement of the soundfield results in a fully spacious and enveloping listening experience that is highly worthy of commendation. All channels are actively engaged, yielding an energetic soundstage from all directions that places the listener right into the exciting and intense action sequences. The sound design of this film, from Ben Burtt, is uniquely remarkable in that the crafting and placement of sound effects seem to create the intended visceral effect in ways that just aren't experienced in other films. This was the first theatrical release to feature Dolby® Digital Surround EX, which adds a back surround channel to the 5.1-channel configuration. Re-recording mixers Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, and Shawn Murphy have effectively and artfully engaged the back surround to elicit a convincing sense of both space and events happening from behind you. John Williams' music score is exciting and engaging as usual, and Shawn Murphy's excellent work with recording/mixing the score is revealed in the final sound mix. The result is a rich, expansive presence that is indicative of Murphy's other works. The dialogue production is very good, with voices sounding natural and matching well with the visual environments. Perhaps the most noteworthy element of the soundtrack is the low frequencies, which distinguish themselves from other films in that the bass is incredibly deep, clean, and penetrating with extension to well below 25 Hz in all channels, to the extent that you can detect individual cycles of subsonic acoustic energies! Star Wars: Episode I continues the Lucasfilm tradition of offering great movie sound for a great movie experience, and the creative team behind the soundtrack deserves their credit for a wonderful production effort that fully delivers the intended visceral effect from the storytelling. (Perry Sun/Gary Reber)