Well. Where to begin? At this point, no-one expected less than a truly amazing DVD release of Episode II from Fox, and true to form, they have certainly delivered. The Attack of the Clones release sets the new standard for audio and video, as did Episode I before it.
It is interesting, though, to examine this DVD relative to the release of Episode I. The Phantom Menace DVD had a lot riding on it – the first Star Wars film to be released on DVD would set the precedent for future releases, and it had the furt…er onus of salvaging a terrible film. The Episode I disc endeared itself to the masses by meeting and exceeding both of these expectations. Episode II is a fantastic release as well, but it doesn’t have quite the same impact as Episode I, much as a new BMW being released today among its stablemates is singled out for a much lesser degree of adulation than it would receive if it were the first and only BMW on the market.
On the topic of the movie itself, I would say that George Lucas has redeemed himself. I’m not sure that I would like to work for Mr. Lucas myself (more on this later), but he has proven himself worthy of great respect as a filmmaker (there was some question after the Phantom Menace…). I’m assuming that everyone’s seen it already, but Episode II brings back a great deal of what was fantastic about 4 to 6, particularly in over-the-top scenery and battles, and a feeling of epic foreboding. Episode II still falls short in terms of character development, however: where 4 to 6 were full of alternately charming and alarming (and easy to identify with) characters and their foils, the world of I and II are populated with either the aloof and disinterested Jedi, or their inscrutable familiars.
Ok – enough pithy whining already. Here’s the goods:
In summary, superb through-out.
Zero physical defects: The all-digital production process really shines as there are absolutely none of the dust marks, scratches, and so on that subtly permeate and detract from most movies.
A little too good: The extreme clarity of the high-definition video process, video encoding bit rate, and all-digital production regrettably highlight the CGI nature of some of the scenes. Take a look at the Kamino landing scene – on a good enough screen, it looks like a product of the Unreal gaming engine.
The evidence: Take a look at the deleted scenes on Disc 2. Nasty edge enhancements and poor color saturation mar all of these clips. This is evidence of the care shown to the movie’s video mastering and compression trickery. A final note is the suggestion that all-digital production saps the hue and vibrance from colors, resulting in flat reds and grey blacks – this disc firmly refutes these suggestions.
Compression artifacts? The famous opening scrolling storyline shows some strange color banding as it fades into the distance, the gold color fading to white and wavering. I’m not sure if this is compression or our setup (RCA 46’ rear projection, Yamaha Natural Sound DVD-S795). Also, some scenes seem dogged by ethereal blue tracers – the asteroid chase scene, for instance – which seem to bear no relation to on- or off-screen action or lighting sources. Artifacts or artistry? You be the judge.
5.1 EX, THX-mastered, creates a powerful ambiance at all times. Surround is complete with the rear and sides working continuously. Imaging is precise, with well-executed spatial placement; as with Episode I, sound follows the action on-screen perfectly.
- Notch down your sub. Bass is (to my ears) somewhat inconsistently applied. Long-stretches go by with very subtle sub action, punctuated with extreme rumbling that drowns out other sounds during explosions. Caveat: Our review audio setup is pretty extreme, with a full kit of Zu Cables (www.zucable.com) and Marantz monoblock amps. Regardless, be prepared to do some fiddling with your receiver.
- Centre channel dialog is muted and muffled at times. Again, this may be attributed to our setup, but you may find it helpful again to turn up your centre channel.
Ok, here we go: it’s the usual slew of fantastic, high-quality extras:
Documentaries: Disc 2 contains two excellent documentaries, “State of the Art” and “From Puppets to Pixels.” “State” is the better of the two, and is an absorbing examination of animatics and pre-visualization. There’s great side-by-side clips of World War II dogfight movies screened with clips from various Star Wars movies – eerie to see the stylistic adaptation. Its also great to see mock-ups of scenes rendered with various staff from around the studio playing the parts of Annakin and Obi-Wan – there’s a very cool speeder chase scene through Coruscant using Luke’s old Tatooine speeder as a prop.
”Puppets” is a good documentary too – it was interesting to see the process of selecting Dex, for instance, and then watch as scenes were mocked-up using what appeared to actually be a grizzled old short-order cook rushing up to give Obi-Wan a hug. This documentary is particularly noteable for the strange dynamic that it shows between Lucas and his crew. Anywhere Lucas goes, apparently, he’s followed by an entourage of 10 or 15 young people with clip-boards, who do nothing but take notes. They don’t say anything, they stand when he sits – they’re just there to be lackeys. Also, as noted after watching Episode I, Lucas has complete control over everything – all of the staff appear to beg for approval, and absolutely beam if he should utter a compliment. So, this is what I was referencing when I said earlier that I don’t think I’d like to work for Mr. Lucas – there doesn’t appear to be any semblance of team here – only George.
Mockumentary – “R2-D2: Under the Dome:” This is a cute and funny production exploring the character of R2-D2 as if he were a person. Great mock footage of R2 as an extra in Saving Private Ryan, and as a drama student at Arizon state. Then, brace yourself for Carrie Fisher discussing R2’s later substance abuse problems after initial fame – yikes – this mockumentary may be many-layered and R2 may not be the only target.
Deleted Scenes: These scenes were each deleted for a reason. Good intro’s explain each of these reasons. Generally speaking the scenes can be left unviewed – the most interesting is the Jedi Lab scene – interesting robots and machinery. A second one worth watching is the Launching Pad scene – this shows Obi-Wan and Mace walking down a hallway to a shuttle launch pad having a discussion. This same discussion footage is used in the movie, but with Yoda and a different background digitally added in – very cool to see.
Photos, Stills: There’s a pile of gallery’s scattered through-out. Generally mundane fare, already available on the website.
Web documentary and Featurettes: Again, these are predictably fluffy material. Entertaining to watch once, but that’s about where it ends. The web documentary series apparently won some awards online – to be honest, I’m not sure why – they’re pretty straight-forward.
Commentary: This is a disc 1 feature, and probably the best special feature in this release. Commentators include George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, editor and sound-meister Ben Burtt, and a gaggle of ILM crew. Lucas appears to be getting more and more verbose one Episode at a time, and really delivers some great commentary both on the production of the move and the story line. For instance, do you recall the “Clone Wars” being mentioned in the hologram the R2 plays for aged Obi-Wan in Episode 4? Well, George sure does, and he’s happy to tell you about. The rest of the commentary keeps up the same high level of quality. Finally, the text cues as to who’s talking are a welcome inclusion – they appear in the upper letter box.
And more…: There’s trailers, more featurettes, more pictures and bios, a music video, another documentary, and so on.
This release was overwhelming as usual, although not as much so (mercifully) as Episode I (which had even more features). Fantastic audio and video, complemented by a completely enjoyable movie combine to create a truly superb DVD experience. I heartily recommend this DVD to any collector.
A final comment: Personally, I can’t wait to see what gets dredged up in the way of Special Features for Episodes 4, 5, and 6 – it would be great if some of the mid-eighties Star Wars Christmas Specials and so on were resurrected. Ok – I’m done. Enjoy the DVD!
Special Features List
- Commentary with George Lucas and production crew
- 8 deleted scenes with intros
- “From Puppets to Pixels” – Digital character documentary
- “State of the Art” – Blue screen and pre-visualization documentary
- “Films Are Not Released: They Escape” – Sound documentary
- 3 Featurettes, and 12-part web documentary
- “R2-D2: Under the Dome” – Mockumentary
- “Across the Stars” music video
- Poster and print campaigns
- Trailers and TV spots
- Photo galleries
- ILM Effects Breakdown Montage
- Easter Eggs