DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


George Lucas
Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson , Terence Stamp
Writing Credits:
George Lucas

Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is a journey back to the beginning of the epic saga where a momentous meeting takes place between Anakin Skywalker, a hopeful nine-year-old boy, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, a determined young Jedi, that will change the course of galactic history. The film follows Anakin as he pursues his dreams and confronts his fears in the midst of a galaxy in turmoil. Episode I is rich in art, design, costumes, architecture and break-through visual effects.

Box Office:
115 million.
Opening Weekend
$64.81 million on 2970 screens.
Domestic Gross
$352.1 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 6.1
English Dolby Descriptive Audio 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Quebecois Dolby Digital 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 136 min.
Price: $139.99
Release Date: 9/16/2011

Available as Part of ďStar Wars: The Complete SagaĒ

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George Lucas, Producer Rick McCallum, Editor/Sound Designer Ben Burtt, Animation Director Rob Coleman, Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Squires, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren, and Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll
• Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Saga) [Blu-Ray] (1999)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 26, 2011)

From one point of view, 1999ís The Phantom Menace was the ultimate ďcanít-missĒ proposition. 22 years after Star Wars erupted onto movie screens, the series remained enormously popular, and the 16 year wait for a fourth entry to finally emerge created an incredible appetite for a new entry. As such, Menace enjoyed a huge built-in audience that almost guaranteed its huge success.

However, with that anticipation came severe expectations, and from a number of perspectives. Financially, Menace needed to earn an incredible amount of money to be considered a hit. Hollywood likes to pretend that $100 million is the benchmark for a success, but that figure became woefully inadequate by the turn of the millennium. During 2000, 22 movies attained that goal, while 21 made it in 1999. By 2010, a full 30 movies had hit the $100 million level.

The situation seemed particularly harsh for Menace because of the pre-sold audience. Happily for its crew, not many really expected it to compete with the all-time best box office gross of 1997ís Titanic. A year earlier, some had touted Godzilla as a potential champion, but I think that flickís relative failure financially - it ended up with $136 million and ninth place for 1998 - chastened many similar ideas about Menace. Nonetheless, expectations remained sky-high, and it seemed clear that the film needed to make a huge amount of money to be seen as a true hit.

Personally, I felt that Menace had to take in at least $300 million in the US before it could be considered an actual success. To be sure, less money would have still left it profitable, especially when foreign markets and video sales are considered, but I thought that less than $300 million domestically would have be a relatively weak showing. Any figure lower than $200 million would have been a total disaster. Godzilla was seen as a flop with its $136 million; how bad would the carnage have been if Menace earned a similar figure?

All of this became a moot point since Menace eventually grabbed $431 million domestically and passed the $900 million mark worldwide. That left it with almost exactly half of Titanicís take, and it barely nudged out 1993ís Jurassic Park for the second spot on the worldwide chart; it was close, as Menace snagged $922 million compared to Jurassicís $920 million. Even for me, this was enough to consider the film a genuine hit financially.

In other ways, however, Menace ran into trouble. Sure, hoards of people flocked to theaters, but how many of them actually liked the thing? Over time, a myth grew that states Titanic succeeded due to hype. Thatís totally incorrect. Yes, we were inundated with Titanic media once the movie became it hit, but it made its box office money on its own. The pre-release publicity was pretty subdued for a major studio effort - especially one that cost so much to make - and expectations for it seemed rather low. Titanic became a success because a lot of people loved it. It went to another level partially due to curiosity - latecomers wanted to see what the fuss was about - but it had already proved itself by that point.

Menace, on the other hand, offered a completely presold phenomenon. Media attention was intense, as the film generated a level of advance interest virtually unseen. I remember some comments along the lines of ďMenace is the most eagerly anticipated film since The Godfather Part IIIĒ or some other flick. Technically this was correct, but the truth was that Menace was the most excitedly awaited movie ever. Never had so many looked forward to one film.

And I was among the fervent faithful. When Star Wars hit in 1977, I was 10, which placed me smack-dab in the middle of the movieís main demographic: dorky young boys. Along with all my friends, we embraced Star Wars as the greatest thing ever, and I maintained that affection pretty much forever after that. Oh, I went through my geek-denial stage in the early Eighties when I tried to pretend I was too cool for silly sci-fi flicks. It didnít take, as my inherent nerdiness rose to the surface.

Long ago I ceased to fight this attitude, and I embraced my affection for all things Star Wars with fervor. When Kenner created a new line of action figures in 1995, I leapt to purchase them, and I continued to collect them for years. (Until Kennerís greed burned out my interest, but thatís a different story.) I purchased more reissues of the first three films on laserdisc and DVD than I care to admit; each allegedly offered something I needed to possess, so I did so gladly.

Frighteningly, by the time Menace hit screens in 1999, Iíd waited literally half of my life to see it. I was 16 when its predecessor, 1983ís Return of the Jedi, appeared, and I was 32 when Menace emerged. Thatís a looong time between movies, and though the publicís appetite for Star Wars diminished for a period in the early Nineties, by 1999 the series clearly had regained its prominence.

That occurred largely due to the reissue of the first three films in 1997. Packaged as updated ďspecial editionsĒ, those flicks performed shockingly well at the box office. The first two sequels in the saga - 1980ís The Empire Strikes Back and Jedi - did nicely for reissues, as they grabbed $67 million and $45 million respectively. However, the original Star Wars really brought home the bacon, as the SE nabbed an amazing $138 million. That meant it actually placed eighth in the yearís top-grossing film chart, an absolutely unprecedented accomplishment.

Would the mania for Menace have reached the same heights without the success of the SEs? Perhaps, but I doubt it. They made the Star Wars saga vital for an entirely new generation, and it became a hit with kids who otherwise might never have encountered it to such a degree. To be sure, any Star Wars sequel created in the late Nineties would have done spectacularly well, but I feel the SEs helped generate a new allegiance.

In any case, geeky aging fanboys like myself would have attended nonetheless, and I greeted the May 1999 release of Menace with fervor. I actually did my best to screen out any information about the film prior to my first screening, which was awfully tough. Still, I did well, and almost all of what I saw was new to me.

Really, all I knew about Menace before that showing came from some negative critical notices. Early reviews absolutely panned the film, so while I wasnít aware of the specifics, I was informed that it inspired a lot of unfavorable opinions.

Those thoughts continued well after the movieís release. Frankly, I have no idea what the general public consensus is, but among the fanboy faithful, the reaction wasnít good. Personally, I felt Menace wasnít a great film, but I thought it had enough going for it to keep my attention and entertain me, which was all I really expected of a Star Wars flick.

Also known as ďEpisode IĒ, Menace falls as the first segment in a six-part saga; Star Wars, Empire and Jedi create the fourth, fifth and sixth installments of the series, respectively, while 2002ís Attack of the Clones and 2005ís Revenge of the Sith act as Episodes II and III.

Menace sets up the story of little Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), the boy who eventually becomes Darth Vader. We see his involvement in Jedi training by master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his wary pupil Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). We also meet Amidala (Natalie Portman), the lovely young queen of a planet called Naboo, and that planetís representative at the Galactic Council, Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

The plot of Menace seems almost inconsequential, as it exists mainly to introduce all of these characters to us and to each other. Menace strongly echoes Star Wars itself, as some similar challenges and situations crop up along the way. Itís not a carbon copy of the first movie, but the connections clearly seem intentional.

One could argue that Menace was doomed to be a disappointment of sorts due to its inherent purpose. It stands as the most expositional of the six films. Star Wars really should take that honor, but because it was the only one that really was meant to stand on its own, it was made in a much more concise manner. Sure, Lucas may have desired to create a longer saga after Star Wars, but he didnít know if this would be possible, so the first film exists as a stand-alone entity in ways the others donít.

Although Menace relates to worlds and characters with which weíre already familiar, thereís enough new to make this movie largely a piece of exposition. Due to that factor, it can be slow-paced and clumsy at times. Much of the second act - in which we meet Anakin - moves at a turgid rate, especially because this part of the flick offers the most background information. A fun podrace sequence enlivens this area, but it remains the movieís biggest weakness.

Otherwise, the first and third acts work pretty well. The opening period suffers somewhat from vagueness and a tentative quality, but it includes some solid action scenes and gets the ball rolling fairly effectively. As for the filmís conclusion, it also provides some scattered focus, especially during a four-pronged climax. However, that area includes the movieís best work, which appeared during a fantastic lightsaber battle. Iíve seen Menace many times now, but that part of the film never fails to give me goosebumps; even if the rest of the flick totally stunk, Iíd still endorse it just for that sequence.

The remainder of Menace doesnít stink, but it remains a bit flat and lackluster. I must admit that the film hasnít endured repeated viewings especially well. I still enjoy it, but the flaws come through more clearly each time I watch it. I just canít get into it to the degree that the ďoriginal trilogyĒ films involve me.

Ultimately that may be the greatest sin committed by The Phantom Menace: itís not one of the first three films. In its own right, I think itís a fairly entertaining and enjoyable film. The movie seems very erratic, but most of it works reasonably well. Is ďreasonably wellĒ good enough for a Star Wars film? Perhaps not, but I continue to find it to offer a fun and engaging experience for the most part.

A few quick comments before I move on to a discussion of the Blu-ray itself: 1) I donít mind Jar-Jar; 2) Jake Lloyd was atrocious as Anakin. While the former received the bulk of the filmís criticism, I thought the latter deserved more. Lloyd was the gaping hole at the heart of Menace, as his thick, ham-fisted performance was painful to watch at times. The boy couldnít act, and he made the film falter consistently.

Despite her longer rťsumť, Portman wasnít a great deal better than Lloyd. Actually, thatís too harsh, but Portman seemed very flat and listless. Perhaps this occurred because so many of her scenes came opposite Lloyd.

Of the remaining actors, both McGregor and Neeson were good but not special. I think Ewan suffered because he didnít have much to do; in Menace, he functioned as little more than Qui-Gonís errand boy. When provoked in Menace - such as during the climax - McGregor came to life.

The only actors I felt distinguished themselves in Menace were McDiarmid and Pernilla August. The latter played Anakinís mother and she brought a wonderful depth and sense of pain to the role; she created an emotional core than her son lacked. As for McDiarmid, those familiar with his role know where heíll end up eventually, and he did a great job of playing with that future. He embodied the slick politician and clearly had fun in the part.

By the way, The Phantom Menace goes by a slew of different names. Some call it Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, some refer to it as Star Wars: Episode I, some say itís Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, while some just name it Episode I. Why do I choose The Phantom Menace? Because thatís consistent with the common terminology for the first two sequels. No one refers to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back or Episode VI. Theyíre The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and thatís that.

As for the first flick, itís Star Wars, not A New Hope or Episode IV. Yes, I realize that this insistence on calling it Star Wars seems inconsistent alongside my other attitudes, but when it first came out, there was none of this A New Hope or Episode IV nonsense - it was just Star Wars, and I refuse to call it anything else.

One more note: the Blu-ray doesnít offer the theatrical cut of the film. For the 2001 DVD, Lucas reinserted some shots left out of the release version. These included some additional introductions prior to the pod race, a little footage during the competition, and an ďair taxiĒ ride when our heroes made it to Coruscant. The Blu-ray also offers a computer-generated Yoda instead of the original movieís puppet. I donít think the Blu-ray makes any other alterations.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A+/ Bonus NA

The Phantom Menace appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image was usually quite nice.

Overall sharpness was good. A little softness occasionally appeared, mostly due to the integration of visual effects with live-action material; those shots could be a bit tentative. Most of the movie displayed solid clarity and definition, however. I noticed no issues with jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent. Some digital noise reduction was used, and that affected overall definition, but I didnít think this was a big concern. No source flaws marred the film, either.

Colors appeared quite vivid and vibrant, as the movie offered a nicely varied and lively palette. From the mix of planetary settings to the costumes - especially those worn by Amidala - Menace really went for a solid spectrum of hues, and these seemed to be well replicated on the Blu-ray. Given how commonly modern action movies use highly stylized palettes, it was nice to see so many lively colors on display.

Black levels looked very deep and rich throughout the movie. The film showed dark and solid tones at all times, and shadow detail usually appeared to be appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. This all added up to a good visual presentation.

Expect audio of the highest quality from the filmís DTS-HD MA 6.1 track. As I watched the movie, I actively attempted to convince myself not to give the soundtrack an ďA+Ē, but I couldnít. Make no mistake: this was an amazing piece of work, and it offered one of the smoothest and most enveloping soundfields Iíve ever heard.

All the channels received an insanely active workout, as they were used for the vast majority of the film. Music remained mostly anchored to the front, where the score benefited from solid stereo separation and presence, but it also spread warmly to the surrounds. Some speech emanated from side and rear speakers at times as well.

Ultimately, though, the effects were the stars of the show, and they made this an incredible experience. Throughout the film, elements both loud and soft appeared from all around, and the mix melded together in a tremendously clean and believable manner. A great deal of unique audio cropped up in each speaker, and these pieces moved smoothly from channel to channel, with a presence that seemed to be virtually seamless. Nothing ever felt forced or awkward as it transitioned; instead, the elements cruised past us neatly. It was a wonderfully well-integrated soundfield that added to the filmís overall impact.

Audio quality also seemed to be excellent. Some dialogue showed its looped roots - a few lines didnít fit the action well - but as a whole I thought the speech appeared natural and warm, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Overall the score was bright and dynamic, and it exhibited good dynamic range.

And then there are the effects. Across the board, these elements seemed to be extremely bold and aggressive, but they maintained excellent fidelity and showed no signs of distortion or harshness. A great deal of effort went into creating most of the stems, as much of the film used sounds that donít exist in real life. They always appeared to be clear and realistic, and they sounded quite strong. Bass response was consistently deep and rich as well as loud, but the low-end stayed tight and warm.

Best of the bunch? The podrace scene and the filmís climax. The latter stands as a test for your systemís bass response; the podracer engines really blast the low-end, and they provide a stiff challenge. If your system can handle it, though, youíll encounter the most solid part of the movie, as all of the soundtrackís strengths emerged during this sequence.

The climax also worked well because of the variety of elements. It encompassed a number of situations, and each had its own challenges. The lightsaber battle seemed most compelling, if just because of the bass impact displayed by their hum and crash. Note that though these were the most compelling parts of the mix, they didnít stand in isolation. The Phantom Menace boasted an extremely solid soundtrack from start to finish.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2001 DVD release? The DVDís audio was already excellent, but the DTS-HD track added a level of smoothness to the mix that made it even more exciting.

Visuals demonstrated the biggest improvements. The DVD was often quite good, but it had problems; most notably, it suffered from too many distracting edge haloes. Those werenít an issue for the Blu-ray, and this disc exhibited much better clarity and vivacity. Though not the most attractive of the series, this transfer still boasted a big upgrade over the DVD.

This Phantom Menace Blu-ray comes as part of a nine-disc package called ďStar Wars: The Complete SagaĒ. It features one disc each for the six movies and three additional platters of extras.

Because so many of the filmís supplements show up on other discs, I wonít give Menace a specific grade for its bonus materials. Iíll wait until I get to a single ďwrap-upĒ page to look at the three discs and award an overall supplements mark.

We do find some extras here, though, via two audio commentaries. The first comes from the original DVD and features director/writer George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, senior visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, editor/sound designer Ben Burtt, animation director Rob Coleman, and visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Scott Squires. Although the commentary remained fairly screen-specific, most of the participants appear to have been recorded separately; Knoll, Squires and Coleman seemed to be together, but these rest sounded solo.

That was fine with me, as I thought the format allowed for a fair amount of spontaneity but it came across as a tight, well-edited piece. As a whole, the commentary offered a lot of very solid information. Due to the qualifications of most of the participants, technical realms dominated the proceedings, but not to the degree one might anticipate. The discussion moved briskly across effects issues and overall story points, and Lucas was a very active speaker. He talked about a mix of issues that concerned him, such as fitting this story into the six-part whole and his editorial challenges. McCallum also contributed a lot of information about those topics.

The others provided a slew of fun facts about the technical side, and Burtt emerged as perhaps the most compelling speaker. As was the case during the Cast Away commentary - on which Randy Thom richly discussed his work - I loved this opportunity to learn more about sound design, and Burtt added some great material to the table. Overall, the commentary for Menace wasnít a classic, but it offered a consistently entertaining and informative listen that I really enjoyed.

New to the Blu-ray, a second commentary collects material from archival sources. This one features Ben Burtt, George Lucas, John Knoll, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, visual effects production designer Doug Chiang, stunt coordinator Nick Gilliard, production designer Gavin Bocquet and actors Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Park. The track gets into effects and audio, visual and character design, cast, characters and performances, story topics, editing, and other subjects.

In many ways, this ďarchivalĒ commentary seems quite similar to the track from the original DVD. Thatís because it seems clear much of the content comes from the same sessions; Lucas and many of the others give us screen-specific remarks that appear to be outtakes from the 2001 releaseís chats.

Which is fine with me, as we get plenty of new insights. The addition of the others Ė especially the actors Ė adds spark and helps flesh out the details. We find a surprising amount of dead air, but thatís not a huge concern. The second commentary entertains and informs.

Although The Phantom Menace isnít a great movie and it doesnít compare with the first three films in the Star Wars saga, it offers enough fun and excitement to merit a look. Would I still like it as much if it didnít reside in the Star Wars universe? Perhaps not, but thatís irrelevant at this point, and my moderate endorsement of the film stands. The Blu-ray offers very good visuals, top-notch audio and two interesting audio commentaries. I suspect Phantom Menace will always remain a much hated movie, but I enjoy it, and the Blu-ray makes it look/sound better than ever.

Note that Phantom Menace can be found in two different packages. As mentioned when I went over the supplements, my copy came from ďStar Wars: The Complete SagaĒ, a nine-disc set with all six movies and three platters of extras. However, it also appears in a package called ďThe Prequel TrilogyĒ. That one only includes the three prequel movies: Menace, 2002ís Attack of the Clones and 2005ís Revenge of the Sith. It throws in the audio commentaries found on the movie discs but none of the other ďComplete SagaĒ supplements show up on it. Itís the way to go if you only want to own the prequels Ė and Iím sure someone out there likes those three movies and not the Original Trilogy Ė but realize that you lose a lot of extras in addition to the other flicks.

To rate this film, visit the orignal review of STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main