Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (U)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Deleted scenes and documentary featuring George Lucas, Rick McCallum and guests discussing what scenes make the final cut (View seven exclusive deleted sequences that were created specifically for this DVD and learn why they were eliminated from the final version of the film); Feature-length audio commentary. The creators of Episode One give you a unique insight into the film like no - one else can. Hear from Lucas, McCallum, sound designer and film co-editor Ben Burtt, ILM animation director Rob Coleman and ILM visual effects supervisors John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires; 'The Beginning' Making Episode One Documentary Film, an all-new hour-long documentary culled from over 600 hours of footage offering unprecedented access inside Lucasfilm and ILM during the making of the movie. Sit in on the film's production process, including pre-production; casting; principal photography; editing; rough-cut reviews; visual effects meetings; and other events; Multi-Angle Animatics; discover the techniques used to create two memorable sequences (submarine and podrace lap one) from storyboards to animatics to final composites; Featurettes; Web documentaries; Duel of the Fates music video; Exclusive production photo gallery; Posters and print campaign, trailers and TV spots, Star Wars: Starfighter Game; Exclusive DVD-Rom content, including an Internet preview of Episode Two.

NOT so long ago, in a continent quite far away, George Lucas announced he was to begin work on the prequels to the most successful film trilogy of all time.

The Phantom Menace subsequently became the most over-hyped but eagerly anticipated movie in history, smashing Box Office records both in the UK and in America despite a decidedly lukewarm critical reaction.

Now that it has finally arrived on DVD, the phenomenon remains a great, crowd-pleasing blockbuster - the type of movie which, while not the greatest film of the millennium, is certainly a worthy entry into the series.

Plot heavy and at times appallingly acted (Pernilla August as Anakin Skywalker's mother is particularly wooden), the film nevertheless boasts some jaw-dropping special effects (make sure you have a big TV screen or buy the wide-screen version) and some stunning set pieces - it's just that you have to wait a bloody long time for them.

It is 35 years before the beginning of Star Wars and the peaceful planet of Naboo is threatened by the menacing might of the Trade Federation, a ruling body controlled by a far darker and more powerful ally. Enter Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) who, together with a young Anakin Skywalker and the Queen of Naboo (Natalie Portman), must do all they can to prevent war.

With so much to live up to, it is little wonder that The Phantom Menace was knocked in some quarters, but fans of the series should not be disappointed and there is little doubt the DVD release will be among the year's best-sellers.

All the elements which made the first films so successful are there in abundance (colourful characters, great battles etc, etc), Neeson and McGregor acquit themselves well in roles which aren't that demanding, and, in Darth Maul, audiences have another ultra-cool villain - his climactic, double-sided light-sabre duel with the heroes is one of many high points and the reason why scene selection was invented.

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