The Phantom Menace appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The only Prequel shot on film, this one came with strengths and weaknesses.
Actually, all the pros and cons reflected sharpness. Perhaps to make it match better with the native 2K of the subsequent Prequels, Menace displayed moderate digital noise reduction at times, and those instances could leave us with slightly mushy material.
Many other shots looked tight and well-defined, so the product displayed inconsistency. Most of it appeared solid, but those noise-reduced elements created distractions.
I noticed no issues with jaggies or shimmering, but light edge haloes popped up at times.. No source flaws marred the film.
Colors appeared vivid and vibrant, as the movie offered a 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 4K.
Given how commonly modern action movies use highly stylized palettes, it was nice to see so many lively colors on display. The disc’s HDR gave these hues extra range and punch as well.
Black levels looked deep and rich throughout the movie. The film showed dark and solid tones at all times, and outside of some clunky “day for night” shots, shadow detail appeared to be appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy.
The HDR contributed depth to the dark elements as well as nice brightness to whites and positive contrast. Despite the sporadic instances of mildly soft shots, this was largely an appealing presentation.
Expect audio of the highest quality from the film’s Dolby Atmos track. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, I attempted to convince myself not to give the soundtrack an “A+”, but I couldn’t. Make no mistake: this was an amazing piece of work, and it offered one of the smoothest and most enveloping soundfields I’ve 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 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 film’s overall impact.
Audio quality also seemed to be excellent. Some dialogue showed its looped roots - a few lines didn’t 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 don’t 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 film’s climax. The latter stands as a test for your system’s bass response.
The podracer engines really blasted the low-end as well, and both scenes provided a stiff challenge. If your system can handle it, though, you’ll encounter the most solid part of the movie, as all of the soundtrack’s 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 didn’t stand in isolation. The Phantom Menace boasted an extremely solid soundtrack from start to finish.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray from 2011? The Atmos mix added a bit more range and spread to the prior mix.
As for visuals, the occasional softness of the 4K restricted its room for growth. However, other scenes offered superior delineation, and the 4K’s colors and blacks felt warmer and more appealing. Despite the image’s drawbacks, its strengths made it an upgrade over the Blu-ray.
Most of the 2011 package’s extras repeat here, plus some from the old DVD, and we find 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 remains fairly screen-specific, most of the participants appear to have been recorded separately. Knoll, Squires and Coleman seem to be together, but the rest sound solo.
That’s fine with me, as the format allows for a fair amount of spontaneity but it comes across as a tight, well-edited piece. As a whole, the commentary offers a lot of very solid information. Due to the qualifications of most of the participants, technical realms dominate the proceedings, but not to the degree one might anticipate.
The discussion moves briskly across effects issues and overall story points, and Lucas becomess a very active speaker. He talks about a mix of issues that concerned him, such as fitting this story into the six-part whole and his editorial challenges. McCallum also contributes a lot of information about those topics.
The others provide a slew of fun facts about the technical side, and Burtt emerges as perhaps the most compelling speaker. As was the case during the Cast Away commentary - on which Randy Thom richly discussed his work - I love this opportunity to learn more about sound design, and Burtt adds some great material to the table. Overall, the commentary for Menace isn’t a classic, but it offers a consistently entertaining and informative listen that I really enjoyed.
New to the 2011 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 “archival” commentary seems similar to the track from the original DVD. That’s 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 release’s chats.
Which is fine with me, as we get plenty of new insights. The addition of the others – especially the actors – adds spark and helps flesh out the details. We find a surprising amount of dead air, but that’s not a huge concern, so the second commentary entertains and informs.
On a separate Blu-ray, we get a mix of other extras. Found on the 2001 DVD but omitted from the Blu-ray, The Beginning brings a one-hour, six-minute, 21-second documentary.
Directed and filmed by John Shenk, this program offers a genuinely fascinating look at the production of Menace. Note that the piece doesn’t attempt to be a traditional “making of” show in which we find a narrator and a neatly organized package. Instead, “The Beginning” takes a looser path, but it remains absolutely compelling.
No real interviews took place, but we hear the thoughts of a slew of participants. Of course, Lucas dominates the piece, but we also see shots of producer McCallum and a slew of additional crew. They may make some comments about their work as we watch them, but there were no attempts to question them in the sense of a traditional interview.
All of this may make it sound like “The Beginning” becomes a mess, but the truth is totally opposite. Instead, it moves at an appropriate pace and lets the participants’ actions tell the story.
It offers a wonderful “fly on the wall” tone that makes it enthralling. I won’t list all of the great moments, for we get too many, but a few stand out, such as screen tests for Jake Lloyd and competitors - at least one of whom probably should have gotten the part. We also get the young actor’s frustrations when unable to pronounce “Coruscant”, as instead of saying “Kor-oo-sant”, he’d call it “Kor-OOO-skant”.
We also see early rehearsal footage, Ewan McGregor’s haircut, the after-effects of a huge sandstorm, the first script reading, and a great deal more. I especially love one moment when McCallum declares, “I think everybody’s in the right frame of mind” and the show then cuts to a couple of extremely tired and demoralized looking crewmembers.
Amazingly, “The Beginning” remains loose and candid but still seems tight and concise. Shenk deserves much praise for this piece, as it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen. Its only fault stems from its length - it’s way too short! I could watch hours of this stuff.
One odd aspect of the show stems from some language used. A few participants - most notably McCallum - say the “F”-word on occasion. The audio blocks part of the phrase, so no “beeps” occur but a little editing covers part of the term.
The version of the film on the 4K UHD – and all home video releases other than a laserdisc from Japan - provides an extended sequence, but we get the original via Pod Race Theatrical Edit. It runs 12 minutes, 28 seconds and indeed gives us the cut of this scene that appeared on screens in 1999.
Don’t expect massive changes, but it’s good to see the original edit. Also don’t expect great quality from the clip, as the “Race” looks decent but not as clear as it could.
We find 22 minutes, 47 seconds of Interviews here. In these, we hear from writer/director/producer George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, design director Doug Chiang, visual effects supervisor John Knoll, and actor Liam Neeson.
They discuss effects, visual design, relaunching the Star Wars franchise, characters and story, locations, and some other elements. Much of this material appeared in the various commentaries, but we still get some good insights here. I especially like McCallum’s discussion of what he saw when he returned to Tunisia.
10 Deleted/Extended Scenes fill a total of 16 minutes, 59 seconds. A lot of these offer extensions, particularly in regard to the pod race, as those two sequences take up 10 minutes, 56 seconds of the total.
Overall, the snippets seem inconsequential, but that doesn’t make them worthless. I like the look at young Greedo, and we also see a glimpse of Bail Organa before he got recast for Attack of the Clones.
The Collection lets us look closer at visual elements and fills a total of 55 minutes, 37 seconds. It gives us “360 Turnarounds” of models, maquettes and costumes and also delivers “video commentaries” about the subjects.
We find “Jar Jar Maquette”, “Trade Federation Battleship Concept Model”, “Republic Cruiser Concept Model”, “Queen Amidala Throne Room Costume”, “Full Sized Battle Droid”, “Naboo Starfighter Concept Model”, a “Sando Aqua Monster Maquette”, “Darth Maul Costume”, “Palpatine’s Shuttle Model”, “Queen’s Royal Starship Concept Model”, “Eopie with Anakin Maquette”, “Watto Maquette”, “Sebulba Maquette”, “Dud Bolt Puppet”, “Anakin’s Podracer ‘Tabletop’ Model”, “Sith Speeder Model”, “Coruscant Air Taxi Model”, “Queen Amidala Senate Costume”, “Queen Amidala Pre-Senate Address Costume”, and “Senate Guard Costume”.
We can explore these in a variety of ways. The “360 Turnarounds” film the objects in the expected circular manner to show them from all sides, and we can also get closer “Detail” photos. I’m not wild about the “turnarounds”, but the detailed pictures can be interesting.
I most enjoy the “Video Commentaries”. These deliver short featurettes about the different elements and feature notes from Doug Chiang, concept artist Terryl Whitlatch, concept model makers John Duncan and John Goodson, model supervisor Steve Gawley, special effects supervisor Geoff Heron, costume designer Trisha Biggar, concept sculptors Richard Miller and Marc Siegel, model maker Danny Wagner, and costume assistant Gillian Libbert.
Throughout these, we learn a lot about the various elements. The participants delve into influences/inspirations for the different items and also chat about how the designs were executed. The format’s a bit awkward – I’d like a simple option to play all of the “video commentaries” and skip the rest – but we get enough good information to make the commentaries worth the effort.
(Note that not all of the “Collection” elements receive all the different treatments. Some lack “video commentaries”, and some provide other forms of footage other than actual “turnarounds”.)
We also find an Archive Fly-Through. This runs three minutes, 40 seconds as it zooms around Skywalker Ranch and into that location’s treasure trove of models, costumes and other Star Wars memorabilia.
This covers the first six movies, and it’s a fun take on a place most people will never be able to visit. Note that this offers the same clip that appears on the Star Wars bonus disc.
The last three segments didn’t appear on the prior DVD or Blu-ray editions, and Conversations fills five minutes, 23 seconds. Design director Doug Chiang discusses his work and what he learned from his collaborations on the Star Wars films. Chiang provides some interesting insights.
Discoveries from Inside spans four minutes, 17 seconds and features film historian JW Rinzler with model shop supervisors Lorne Peterson and Steve Gawley. They give us a tour of some ship and character designs in this brief but delightful clip.
Finally. George Lucas on the Digital Revolution goes for seven minutes, 51 seconds and delivers notes from Lucas, Muren, McCallum and Pixar president Ed Catmull.
They provide thoughts about how filmmaking moved toward computer-related elements. Though short, it becomes an engaging little history.
Although The Phantom Menace isn’t a great movie and it doesn’t 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 didn’t reside in the Star Wars universe? Perhaps not, but that’s irrelevant at this point, and my moderate endorsement of the film stands.
The 4K UHD offers top-notch audio and useful supplements but picture seems erratic. I suspect Phantom Menace will always remain a much hated movie, but I enjoy it.
To rate this film, visit the orignal review of THE PHANTOM MENACE