четверг, 24 апреля 2008 г.


1979-1983 (2004) - (Lucasfilm) 20th Century Fox

The Star Wars Trilogy (widescreen - front of box)The Star Wars Trilogy (widescreen - back of box)

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Episode IV - A New Hope

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B

Specs and Features

125 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 63:08 at the start of chapter 28), keep case packaging with custom slipcase, audio commentary (with writer/director George Lucas, star Carrie Fisher, sound designer Ben Burtt and special effects supervisor Dennis Muren), THX Optimizer, DVD-ROM weblink, 3 random animated film-themed menus sets with sound and music, scene access (50 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & 2.0 Surround), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

Specs and Features

127 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 58:02 in chapter 27), keep case packaging with custom slipcase, audio commentary (with writer/producer George Lucas, director Irvin Kershner, star Carrie Fisher, sound designer Ben Burtt and special effects supervisor Dennis Muren), THX Optimizer, DVD-ROM weblink, 3 random animated film-themed menus sets with sound and music, scene access (50 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & 2.0 Surround), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

Specs and Features

135 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 62:38 at the start of chapter 22), keep case packaging with custom slipcase, audio commentary (with writer/producer George Lucas, star Carrie Fisher, sound designer Ben Burtt and special effects supervisor Dennis Muren), THX Optimizer, DVD-ROM weblink, 3 random animated film-themed menus sets with sound and music, scene access (50 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & 2.0 Surround), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Star Wars Trilogy - Bonus Material

Star Wars Trilogy - Bonus Material

Disc Rating (Extras): B

Specs and Features

Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy documentary (151 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0, 12 chapters), The Characters of Star Wars featurette (19 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), The Birth of the Lightsaber featurette (16 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), The Force is with Them: The Legacy of Star Wars featurette (13 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), 10 theatrical trailers & 11 TV spots (all 16x9), production photo gallery, poster art gallery, Episode III preview featurette (The Return of Darth Vader - 9 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Episode III: Making the Game featurette (6 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), videogame trailer, playable Star Wars Battlefront Xbox game demo, Easter egg, DVD-ROM weblink, keep case packaging with custom slipcase, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, feature access, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

воскресенье, 13 апреля 2008 г.

Lego Star Wars

Fans of Legos and / or Star Wars are in for a treat with Lego Star Wars: The Videogame from Eidos. It skips the boring parts of the prequel Star Wars trilogy and jumps right to the best bits for some podracing, lightsaber dueling, action adventure game fun. It isn’t the longest or most complex game, but Lego Star Wars is undeniably fun and is worth checking out.
Kids Game? Nah ...
First off, don’t be scared by the fact that every preview and review has called Lego Star Wars a kids game. To me, it seems like a great disservice to Traveller’s Tales and Eidos to call this a kids game because that label will only scare away people that would likely really enjoy it. It isn’t the most complicated game out there and the characters are pretty cute, but I don’t see why this is a “kids game”. Sure, kids will enjoy it, but those of us that grew up playing with Legos and dreaming we were off in a galaxy far, far away will be able to appreciate it even more. Don’t be fooled by other sites that want to give everything a label and categorize it. You will enjoy Lego Star Wars whether you’re 8 or 88 and that is what is most important.

Lego Star Wars is a retelling of the stories from Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III. It skips all of the lame parts and lets you play through the best parts of these movies. You’ll duel with Darth Maul and Count Dooku as well as take part in the coliseum battle at the end of Ep II and podracing on Tatooine along with much more. Everything is built with Lego blocks which give the game a unique look and feel so it really stands out among all of the uber-realistic games we see on Xbox.

The gameplay is simple and fairly easy, but there is something about Lego Star Wars that keeps you coming back. In each level you have at least one and sometimes more AI buddies. You can switch back and forth between the characters in order to take advantage of each ones special abilities. For example: Jedi have lightsabers and can double jump. Blaster characters can’t jump as high but have grappling hooks. Some characters (such as Jar Jar …) can jump extra high and reach things other characters can’t. And there are droids that you have to use to open up certain doors. This two character (or more) system makes the game very interesting to play through because you are always switching back and forth and getting a lot of different styles of play. When you beat a level, you unlock characters as well as “Free Play” mode for that level. Free Play mode allows you to pick any characters and play levels over again to find hidden items.
All of this is well and good, but how does the game actually play? Pretty darn well, but like I said, it is simple and easy. Combat consists of button mashing to either hack through enemies with your lightsaber or shoot them with a blaster. Exploration of the levels is mostly pretty tame platform jumping stuff, nothing too tricky and you won’t ever get lost. There are a handful of trickier puzzles thrown in which keep the game interesting, but overall the game isn’t much of a challenge. Also, you can play through all 17 story missions in about 4-5 hours, which is rather short. What the game lacks in length or depth, however, it more than makes up for with sheer fun.

пятница, 4 апреля 2008 г.

Revenge of the Sith

"Henceforth you will be known as Darth Vader!" These dire words, addressed to a tormented Anakin Skywalker as he crosses the threshold to the much-mentioned Dark Side, mark the definitive moment of his Luciferian journey, which will end with him in a black, neo-Wehrmacht helmet-mask, with incipient emphysema and a walk that makes him look as if he has had concrete hip replacements.

It supposedly forms the mythic heart of the gigantic Third Episode of George Lucas's colossally inflated Star Wars prequel trilogy. Yet when this moment happens - after what seems like seven hours of CGI action as dramatically weightless as the movement of tropical fish in an aquarium - I looked blearily around the cinema and sensed thousands of scalps failing to prickle. We had all been bored into submission long ago.

George Lucas is now not so much a director as chief executive-cum-potentate in charge of a vastly profitable franchise empire in which striking back is not an option. And within this empire's boundaries, Lucas is so mind-bogglingly powerful that none of his lieutenants dares tell him the truth: that yet another Something of the Something title, after Attack of the Clones and Return of the Jedi, is pretty annoying. (It's actually his fourth, if you count the original script title to the first Star Wars: Adventures of the Starkiller.) But here at any rate, finally, is the end of the road, or rather the middle of the road - the moment in 1977 where we came in. Lucas has taken three pointlessly long and artificially complicated movies to get to the point: precisely how did Luke Skywalker's father come to embrace the forces of darkness?

Hayden Christensen is Anakin, the talented but mercurial Jedi pupil of Obi-Wan Kenobi, in which role Ewan McGregor wears a big and bushy beard, to indicate the aged wisdom that we know is his destiny. Their mighty contest is to be at the centre of this movie, during which in quiet moments leading characters will gaze out over massive futuristic cityscapes resembling the photorealist artwork once used for 1970s sci-fi paperbacks: pointy buildings with swarms of pointy aircraft criss-crossing overhead, often bathed in crimson sunsets.

Once again, McGregor speaks in a simperingly lifeless Rada-English accent, a muddled and misconceived backdating of the Guinness original - the young fogey with the light-sabre. In boringness he is matched by that Jedi master of woodenness: Hayden Christensen, the flatliner to end all flatliners. As an actor Christensen must show the terrible embryo of future wickedness within himself. And how does he do this? By tilting his head down, looking up through lowered brows and giving the unmistakable impression that he is very, very cross. If Princess Diana had gone to the Dark Side, she would have looked a lot like this.

So why does Anakin desert the forces of light? It is his passionate love and concern for his pregnant wife, Princess Amidala, coupled with a sense of his own slighted dignity that are to be the tragic and fateful factors leading to the most unconvincing evil act you can imagine, an event weirdly neutralised by the bloodless unreality that surrounds everything. The vicious Anakin massacres - oh, horror! - a bunch of innocent Jedi children.

But that is not how Lucas's solemnly high-flown script chooses to refer to them. With sub-Shakespearian gravitas, McGregor intones: "Not even the younglings survived." I'm sorry, not even the what? Is that their surname or something? Are Mr and Mrs Youngling going to come home to find a nursery bloodbath?

One of the things about the previous film, Attack of the Clones, that made you think things might be looking up was the terrific performance by Christopher Lee as the sinister Count Dooku. Almost the very first thing Lucas does here is kill him off. It is a crippling blow that leaves us with a range of scandalously dull secondary characters. People such as Senator Bail Organa, played by Jimmy Smits, and Samuel L Jackson as the fiercely uninteresting Mace Windu. They are acting as if on some kind of medication.

As with everyone else - certainly with McGregor and Christensen and the incorrigibly clunky Natalie Portman as Princess Amidala - a heavy blanket of self-consciousness descends, under which they must act out the stilted myth on which depend the hopes and expectations of millions of fans. There are zero comic moments. C-3PO is allowed on to whinge briefly and unfunnily.

Revenge of the Sith has some almost decent things. Yoda is good value as ever, though his character is never allowed to breathe in the airless galaxy Lucas creates, and there is a good sequence at the end showing the "birth" of Darth Vader while Princess Amidala is delivered of her twins. It has what the rest of the film so conspicuously lacks: a spark of real dramatic life. But it comes far too late and it is over immediately. How depressing to compare any of this with the fun and gusto of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in the first movie. As for the elephantine trilogy as a whole, it was all too clearly a product of George Lucas's overweening production giant Industrial Light and Magic. No magic, little light, but an awful lot of heavy industry.

суббота, 29 марта 2008 г.

Second part of review

The most important part of any DVD presentation is the video and audio quality of the film itself. So how do the Star Wars Trilogy DVDs stack up in this regard?

Simply put, the Star Wars films have never (and I mean EVER) looked this good before. The films presented on these discs absolutely sparkle, in all their anamorphic widescreen glory. The folks at THX and Lowry Digital worked for months to create new high-definition digital masters of these films, transferred directly from the original negatives. Once the films were transferred, painstaking efforts were made to clean the digital masters of dust, dirt, scratches and excessive grain. To give you an idea of just how much work was involved, more than 100 bits of debris were digitally removed from EACH FRAME - ultimately entailing the removal of over 10 million such blemishes in all over the three films combined. As a result, you will not find a single speck ANYWHERE on any of these films. The snow-white slopes of Hoth and the sand-baked dunes of Tatooine have never looked so pure.

Because the transfers were done from the original negatives, you're going to see detail in these films that you've never seen before. You'll notice this right from the opening shot of A New Hope, when the Star Destroyer chases its quarry over the surface of Tatooine. Just look at the subtle swirl of cloud patterns on the planet below - astonishing. Best of all, not a lick of added edge enhancement was required to bring out this detail. What else is good? The color palette here is more lush and accurate than ever before. You're going to be blown away by everything from subtle flesh tones to the vibrant gold plating on C-3PO's chest to the bright orange flightsuits of the Rebel pilots. Contrast is also spectacular, with deep detailed blacks and clear, accurate whites. All three films in this set are just going to absolutely blow you away, and the bigger your screen the better it gets. The Star Wars Trilogy on DVD is the best excuse you're ever going to have to go out and buy yourself a good anamorphic widescreen display. Until true high-definition arrives, it just doesn't get better than this.

On the audio side, all three films have been fully re-mixed in true Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX. The dynamic range in these mixes is impressive - everything from the softest passages of John Williams' signature score to the most explosive moments of action will full your home theater space with natural, immersive sound. The mixes are packed with atmospheric fill, active panning and surround play. The matrix-ed EX center back channel is nicely active - you'll definitely be glad you have an extra speaker back there. Dialogue is almost always clear, with the exception of a few lines of dialogue in A New Hope (listen to Tarkin's line: "You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system." The tonal quality changes during the line and it's distracting). We suspect this is the result of the deterioration of the original sound elements and was unavoidable. In the mixes for all three films, the LFE will really give your subwoofer a workout. The new 5.1 EX mixes are a generally appropriate match to the near perfect image quality. To be fair, the problem with the Tarkin dialogue, along with the aforementioned deliberate change in the prominence of the music during the Death Star battle, have caused us to lower our audio grade slightly for A New Hope alone. In any case, we suspect that the overall sonic experience of these films on DVD will floor you.

As with the previous DVDs for The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, each movie disc features three different menu sets themed to the various planets visited in the film. These appear at random when you boot up the disc (although there are codes you can use to see specific sets - see the Easter egg guide on the previous page).

In terms of extras, each movie disc also features a full length audio commentary track with members of the cast and crew. For all three films, George Lucas provides his thoughts on the overall themes and concepts, as well as interesting anecdotes on the characters and production. Actress Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) chimes in as well with her thoughts and shares some particularly funny behind-the-scenes stories about working on the films. Sound designer Ben Burtt discusses his audio work and the creation of various sounds for each character, vehicle, prop and environment. And Dennis Muren addresses the elaborate special effects work. For the Empire commentary, director Irvin Kershner joins this group to provide his insights on the making of the film. As with the The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones commentaries, the name of the person talking will occasionally appear at the top of the screen to help you identify them. I don't want to spoil anything here - you've all been waiting so long for these DVDs that it's just better for you to experience it all yourself. Just know that the commentaries are fascinating and absolutely worth listening to.

The majority of the extras in this set are contained on its fourth disc, appropriately titled Bonus Material. This opens with an animated menu that depicts the Falcon flying through the asteroid field in Empire (you eventually end up in the Falcon's cockpit to make your selections). I should also note here that nearly every item on this disc is presented in anamorphic widescreen video - a very nice touch.

Arguably the most important bonus feature on the disc is Kevin Burns' 151-minute Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy documentary. Burns was given full access to the expansive Lucasfilm Archives and was able to uncover hours of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of these films that you've definitely never seen before. The documentary begins with Lucas' original idea for the films, then covers the development, pre-production, filming and post-production of the original Star Wars in tremendous depth. Burns' idea was to take you back to 1977, to relive not only the struggle that was the making of the original film but also the film-going climate into which it was ultimately released. You are there are at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, waiting in line to see the film for the first time. You actually get to see the original version of the opening crawl, sans the Episode IV - A New Hope tag (and it will give you chills to see, believe me). You get to hear from absolutely everyone involved in the making of these films. Over 40 new, in-depth and original interviews were conducted with all the major cast members, the production staffers, etc. They're all here to give you their thoughts on the films.

The first hour of Empire of Dreams is devoted exclusively to A New Hope, and then the remaining time is split between the making of Empire and Jedi. As I said, you're going to see things you never knew existed - footage of the cast clowning around on the set, a couple alternate versions of scenes from the films, plenty of production artwork and still photos - you name it. Irvin Kershner tells a great story about how the secret of Luke's parentage was kept hidden from the cast, crew and fans. It's pretty amazing stuff. The documentary does drag a little bit once you get past the first hour, but you'll still enjoy every minute of it and you'll probably watch it more than once if you're a fan.

Also on this disc are a set of three production featurettes. The Characters of Star Wars tells of the development of each character within the story and how each major role was cast. This includes some great, never-before-seen video of actors who tried out for the parts but didn't get them. Can you imagine Kurt Russell as Han Solo? Cindy Williams as Leia? William Katt (yeah... The Greatest American Hero) as Luke? It's fun stuff.

The Birth of the Lightsaber addresses how the traditional weapon of the Jedi came to be. We get to see rare video of fight rehearsals and on-set raw footage (without the blades rotoscoped in). Ben Burtt tells you how he came up with the sound, etc. Again, good stuff.

The Force is with Them: The Legacy of Star Wars looks at the influence the Star Wars films have had on Hollywood filmmaking (and filmmakers) as a whole. It features new interviews with the likes of Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and many others as they each talk about how the success of these films affected their careers and their work.

Fans of Star Wars minutiae will be pleased to learn that a whole gallery of rare theatrical trailers and TV spots for each film has been included on this disc, each in anamorphic widescreen video and presented in quality you've never seen before. There are also galleries of original poster art for the films, as well as a gallery of rare production photos. The production photos are very cool to see, but they're also a little frustrating because they include images from many deleted scenes we've all been waiting to see for years. That's all fine and good... except none of these actual scenes are included on the disc. That's right - you will not get to see Luke and Biggs on Tatooine from A New Hope, the Wampa attack from Empire, or the sandstorm from Jedi. The fact that they're not here is deliberate and tells you something else - they've been held back for inclusion on a more elaborate special edition release of these films in the future (I actually have word from sources that Lucasfilm is already planning the high-definition box set of the whole 6-film saga, possibly for the original film's 30th anniversary in 2007). It shouldn't come as any surprise that more elaborate special editions will eventually be released, but I found the lack of deleted scenes here to be irritating and I think others will as well. It's a major strike against the extras on this set.

There are three other cool extras on this disc you'll want to check out (and others many of you won't give a rip about). The cool stuff includes a long-awaited sneak peek at the forthcoming Episode III. This takes the form of a featurette on the return of Darth Vader. We get to see the production staff building the new Vader costume, actor Hayden Christensen talking about what it's like to don the familiar black helmet, and Christensen and co-star Ewan McGregor practicing the infamous lightsaber duel that will climax the film. I think it will get you sufficiently pumped for the last Star Wars film ever... at least enough to hold you over until November when the teaser trailer for the film will arrive in theaters.

Speaking of trailers, as with the previous Star Wars DVDs, these discs include DVD-ROM weblinks to an exclusive online site where you may get the first look at additional footage from these films, the Episode III trailer, etc.

The other cool extra is a nifty Easter egg hidden in the bonus disc's menus. Like the previous DVDs, "1138" is the code to unlock it. When you do this successfully, you'll be treated to a funny gag reel from the original Star Wars films (see the Easter egg guide on the previous page for instructions on how to access it). I should also note that two of the aforementioned production featurettes on this DVD have funny little moments during the credits that you'll enjoy as well.

What's left on this disc is the not so cool, by which I mean the marketing fluff. This includes a trailer for the Star Wars Battlefront Xbox game and a preview teasing the making of the forthcoming Episode III videogame. I frankly don't care about either, but I suppose some of you out there will. It's also worth noting here that if you put this disc in your Xbox machine, you'll get to play a complete preview level of Star Wars Battlefront. Again, I couldn't give a rip, but I'm sure some of you will appreciate this.

So that's the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD, circa 2004. The films themselves definitely look and sound better than you've ever seen them before, and there are enough little (and not so little) tweaks and changes to each one to either thrill you or make you want to pull your hair out (or both). The extras on this 4-disc set are generally quite good, with the exception of the marketing material and the lack of deleted scenes. None of it is truly great, but it's certainly good and worthy of your time. Going through these extras, you definitely get the sense that what's been included here is just the tip of the iceberg, and that much more elaborate special editions of these films are likely to find their way to disc in the years ahead. Given the long wait to get these films on DVD... well, no DVD release could probably be equal to that level of anticipation. Still, with picture and sound quality like this, it's pretty easy to justify the purchase price for this set. Throw in the documentary and the audio commentaries, and it's really a no-brainer.

After all my bitching and moaning about getting these films on DVD over the years... my occasional tantrums and frequent soap box proclamations... am I finally a happy Star Wars fan? You know, I don't even know what the words "happy Star Wars fan" mean anymore. But am I secretly giddy that I finally have these films on DVD? Yeah, I am. I hate myself a little for it, but such is the curse of Star Wars geeks everywhere. No matter how angry and jaded I get, I still get chills when that logo crashes across my screen and that familiar John Williams fanfare blares over my speakers. Yeah, I got a bit of the goosebumps when, after sitting through a lengthy Lucasfilm dog and pony show at Comic-Con, we finally found out that Episode III was going to be called Revenge of the Sith. And yeah, I'll go to whatever crap movie the Revenge of the Sith teaser trailer is attached to just for a couple minutes of eXtreme geek-out time. Don't even try to pretend that a lot of you don't feel the exact same way. We're a pretty pathetic bunch aren't we?

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy these DVDs. God knows you've waited long enough to get them.

Bill Hunt

The Films & Changes

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

It's very strange to finally be writing a review of these films on DVD. I don't think a single day has gone by in the eight years we've been running The Digital Bits that we weren't asked: "When is Star Wars coming out on DVD?" We've struggled to answer that question as best we could of course, constantly checking with both 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm. We've repeatedly tried to convince George Lucas himself to release these films on DVD, eventually succeeding in getting at least the prequel films on disc (after a LONG campaign with other websites in which we jointly collected over 30,000 signatures and took out a full page ad in Daily Variety). But as to the ultimate question of when Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi would be released on our favorite format, Lucasfilm's answer was always "eventually". Well... eventually has finally arrived, hard though it is to believe.

The Star Wars Trilogy arrives on DVD in the form of a new 4-disc box set, containing not only the much-loved movies, but also a separate disc of all-new bonus material. So let's take a closer look, shall we? We'll start with the films themselves.

As most of you know, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope tells the story of Luke Skywalker, a young farmboy living on a backwater planet with dreams escaping his humdrum plight for a life of heroism in outer space. It seems that the galaxy is embroiled in a massive civil war between the evil Galactic Empire and the freedom-loving Rebel Alliance. Luke longs to fight for what he believes in, but the conflict is raging a long way from his far-flung world... at least until a pair of bumbling droids suddenly arrives on his uncle's farm. Luke discovers that the droids are carrying a secret message from a Rebel princess, intended for a wizened Jedi Knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi, who happens to live nearby. The droids are also carrying the stolen plans for the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, a massive space station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet. Unless these plans can be safely delivered to the Rebel forces, their struggle for freedom and justice will be crushed once and for all. So with the help of Kenobi and a wise-cracking pirate named Han Solo, Luke suddenly finds himself whisked away into deep space on the adventure of his life, pursued all the while by the Empire's most sinister agent of evil... Darth Vader.

It's really unnecessary to say much more about this film, as you're all no doubt intimately familiar with it by now. Released as a lark in 1977 by 20th Century Fox, George Lucas' original Star Wars became a hugely successful blockbuster almost overnight and it quickly changed the landscape of Hollywood filmmaking, not only reviving a long-lost cinematic genre but also pioneering the field of movie visual effects. The film had an incalculable impact on my then ten-year-old life, opening my eyes to the possibilities of the film medium and firing my imagination like nothing before it. I'm certain that, like me, most of you have a very special place for the film in your hearts. But Star Wars today is somewhat different than you might remember it from 1977... or even the 1997 special edition re-release.

As you may have heard, a number of new digital changes have been made to the Star Wars films for this DVD release. As with the 1997 special edition, A New Hope has received the majority of the attention. Many shots have been altered in very subtle ways, which only the most zealous fans will notice. There are, however, a number of more major changes. In A New Hope, these include a revised opening shot as Luke's landspeeder enters Mos Eisley Spaceport (the speeder model is more detailed and moves more naturally), an improved version of the Han/Greedo fight (Greedo still shoots first, but only just - the blasts are much closer together and Han's movement is smoother), a new CG model of Jabba the Hutt (it's a revised version of the Episode I model of the character and is much improved) and re-rotoscoped lightsaber blades throughout the film (blade color is more pronounced and the animation is more like the prequel films). Personally, I quite like most of these changes. The Han/Greedo fight is still less than perfect, but it does look more natural. Han's head doesn't jerk like it did before - instead his whole upper body shifts over slightly. And the blaster shots are VERY close together now, so the encounter is not as implausible as it was in 1997. I still wish George would just let Han shoot first as he did originally in 1977, but I can at least stomach watching this scene now.

There is, however, one change I can't stomach, and it has to do with the music. During the first part of the Death Star battle at the end of the film, John Williams' score has been reduced in prominence in the sound mix. This is particularly obvious right as the X-Wings make their dive down to the surface to begin the attack - the familiar "Force Theme" trumpet fanfare is now almost inaudible. Lucasfilm says this was a deliberate creative decision and I absolutely hate it. Ah well... seems like there's always something to dislike when George tinkers with these films.

[Editor's Note: Click here to see screen shots of most of the major changes George Lucas has made to the Star Wars Trilogy for the 2004 DVD release.]

Three years after the release of the original film, Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back continued the epic adventure. After successfully destroying the Death Star, Luke and his Rebel friends have been pursued across the galaxy by Darth Vader and the Empire's mighty space fleet. While hiding out in a new secret base on the frozen planet of Hoth, the Rebels are discovered by Vader. After a massive snow battle, our heroes barely escape with their lives and are scattered across space. Luke finds his way to the jungle planet Dagobah, where he begins training to become a Jedi Knight. Meanwhile, Han and the princess find refuge on the planet Bespin, unaware that they've been followed by Vader's forces. Soon, Luke must abandon his training to come to his friends' rescue, ultimately risking his fate in a reckless confrontation with Vader himself.

Widely considered to be the best of the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back tells a much darker and more personal story than the original film, despite the inclusion of several dramatic action sequences. In a risky move, this unconventional sequel sees the good guys basically getting their asses kicked from the start of the film until the very end. It's not a happy or upbeat adventure by any means, and it ends with a stunning and unforeseen twist that left theater audiences hanging on the edge of their seats for more than three years after its original release in 1980. Despite the cliff-hanger ending (or perhaps because of it) Empire ranks easily among the best film sequels of all time. It holds up well to this day.

The digital changes to Empire for this DVD release are fewer than they are in A New Hope. In fact, there are only three major changes. These include the use of Temuera Morrison as the voice of Boba Fett (which I suppose makes sense given that Boba is a clone of Jango from Episode II), the elimination of Luke's scream when he jumps to escape Vader on Cloud City (which had been a source of much debate among fans - why would he scream if he were jumping willingly?), and the use of actor Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor (replacing the old woman and voice actor Clive Revill who played the character originally). I should note that the Emperor alteration also involves a change in the scene's dialogue - one that is at first confusing. The Emperor now tells Vader that he has no doubt "the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star" is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker, to which Vader replies "How is that possible?" That doesn't seem to make sense, because we know that Vader is aware of who Luke is from dialogue earlier in the film ("That's it. The Rebels are there. And I'm sure Skywalker is with them."). I suspect, however, that we'll find out in Episode III that Anakin DOES learn of Luke's existence as an infant, and he hides this knowledge from the Emperor. What that would mean is that Vader's been waiting all these years to find Luke as an adult and turn him to the Dark Side so that they can overthrow the Emperor together - a plot Vader ultimately confesses to Luke at the end of Empire. We'll have to wait for Episode III to see how this new bit of dialogue fits in.

Concluding the original trilogy in 1983, Episode VI - Return of the Jedi opens as Luke, now a fully trained Jedi Knight, returns with his friends to his home planet to rescue Han Solo from the vile crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Luke then revisits Dagobah and learns that he must ultimately confront Darth Vader if the galaxy is to have any hope of peace. Luke also learns a surprising secret before rejoining the Rebels as they prepare for the final, decisive battle in the conflict between Rebellion and Empire - an all-out assault on the Emperor's second and even more powerful Death Star.

As the final chapter of the Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi fails to be either as fresh as the original film or as surprising as Empire. Too much is predictable here (such as the appearance of a second Death Star) and too many compromises were made for the younger audience members (the very presence of the Ewoks, for example) which is especially noticeable after the more adult themes of the previous installment. That said, Jedi does manage to adequately complete the story arc of the original trilogy. There's nice symmetry with the way the character storylines are wrapped up, and there's enough action to keep the film interesting. I'll be curious to see how well this conclusion works in the context of the overall 6-film saga once Episode III arrives in theaters in May, 2005.

As with Empire, are three major digital changes to Jedi, all of which appear at the end of the film. When Luke removes Vader's mask to reveal his father's face, the eyebrows of actor Sebastian Shaw have been erased (presumably because Anakin's face will be badly burned in Episode III). Then, after the second Death Star is destroyed, when the film cuts to the various celebrations around the galaxy, Naboo is now included among the planets we see. Finally (and this is a big one), when the Force ghosts of Ben, Yoda and Anakin appear to Luke at the very end of the film, actor Sebastian Shaw has been replaced with Hayden Christensen (as he'll appear in Episode III). That's going to piss off a lot of fans, but it makes sense. Lucas' rational (as he actually explains briefly in the audio commentary - a rare instance where he comments on a change) is that when Vader joins the Force, he's able to retain his original identity as he was when he died as Anakin Skywalker (in Episode III). Since Yoda and Ben retained their good identities until they were old, that's how their Force ghosts appear. Yeah, maybe it's a stretch... but within the logic of the universe, it does make sense. Like it or not. There are also a couple minor changes - the shot of Coruscant now includes the Galactic Senate and Jedi Temple on the horizon (as seen in Episodes I & II). And for some reason, Luke and Darth's lightsaber blades now appear a little dimmer in a select few shots during their fight (particularly at the very beginning). Don't ask me why.

Ultimately, I've accepted that Lucas is entitled to change these films until he's happy with them. The fact is, he's been changing them since 1977 (for example, right after the first film was released and became a hit, Lucas quickly went back in and added the Episode IV - A New Hope tag). These new CG alterations are simply the logical continuation of his desire to overcome the technical challenges he faced when he originally made the films. I have to tell you, I'm as surprised as anyone to find myself actually appreciating most of these changes. With the sole exception of the Han/Greedo scene (which still bothers me, although less now than as it was in 1997), I think all of the changes are either genuine improvements or simply make sense given the ties to the prequel films. I still think Lucas has a responsibility to save the original versions of these films out of respect for the fans who have supported them all these years, the artists who creatively invested themselves in the original work, and as a way to remind us all just how far the films have come since they were first released. And I still have hope that we'll see those original versions released on disc... eventually... in a more elaborate box set of the entire saga. But more on that later.

So that's the films as you'll find them on these new DVDs. Now let's talk about the DVDs themselves. Click to the next page of the review and I'll tell you all about it.

среда, 26 марта 2008 г.

Attack of the Clones

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
142 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:28, in chapter 28), dual-disc Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with writer/director George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, sound designer Ben Burtt, animation director Rob Coleman and effects supervisors Pablo Helman, John Knoll and Ben Snow), THX Optimizer, DVD-ROM weblink (to exclusive Star Wars DVD website), Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (50 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
From Puppets to Pixels: Digital Characters in Episode II documentary (52 mins, 5 chapters, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: English), State of the Art: The Previsualization of Episode II documentary (23 mins, 3 chapters, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: English), Films Are Not Released: They Escape documentary (26 mins, 1 chapters, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: English), 8 deleted scenes (with introduction by George Lucas, Rick McCallum and Ben Burtt - approx 20 mins total, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 5.1 EX - Padmé Addresses the Senate, Jedi Temple Analysis Room, Obi-Wan & Mace - Jedi Landing Platform, Extended Arrival on Naboo, Padmé's Parents' House, Padmé's Bedroom, Dooku Interrogates Padmé and Anakin and Padmé on Trial), 12 web documentaries (approx 5 mins each, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 2.0 - Here We Go Again, Wedgie 'Em Out, We Didn't Go to the Desert to Get a Suntan, Trying to Do My Thing, A Twinkle Beyond Pluto, It's All Magic, Revvin' It to The Next Level, A Jigsaw Puzzle, Bucket Head, Good to G.O., P-19 and Reel 6), 3 featurettes (approx 8-9 mins each, 16x9 enhanced - Love, Story and Action), 4 theatrical trailers (16x9, DD 2.0), 12 TV spots (4x3, DD 2.0), Across the Stars music video (16x9, DD 2.0), R2-D2: Beneath the Dome "mocumentary" trailer (6 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), production photo gallery, poster art gallery, print campaign gallery, Visual Effects Breakdown montage (3 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), DVD-ROM weblink (to exclusive Star Wars DVD website), Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music.

вторник, 25 марта 2008 г.

The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A+/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
136 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 50:40, in chapter 17), dual-disc Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director George Lucas, producer Rick McCallum, sound designer Ben Burtt, animation director Rob Coleman and visual effects supervisors Dennis Muren, John Knoll and Scott Squires), THX Optimizer, DVD-ROM weblink (to exclusive Star Wars DVD website), Easter egg, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (50 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX and 2.0) and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
The Beginning: Making Episode I documentary (66 mins, 5 chapters, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: English), The Deleted Scenes documentary (approx 40 mins, 15 chapters, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: English), 7 deleted scenes (approx 25 mins total, 16x9 enhanced, languages: English DD 5.1 EX - Complete Podrace Grid Sequence, Extended Podrace Lap Two, The Waterfall Sequence, The Air Taxi Sequence, Dawn Before the Race, Anakin's Scuffle with Greedo and Farewell to Jira), 12 web documentaries (approx 5 mins each, 16x9 enhanced - All I Need is an Idea, Thousands of Things, Home Sweet Home, Boys in Paradise, This is a Creature Film, Prime of the Jedi, Assistant Directors, 3000 Anakins, It's Like War Now, Costume Drama, Bad Droid Karma and Movie Music), 5 featurettes (approx 10 mins each, 16x9 enhanced - Visual Effects, Costumes, Design, Fights and Story), teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, Duel of the Fates music video, 5 "tone poem" TV spots, 2 "adventure" TV spots, 2 multi-angle "animatics" videos with introduction (Podrace Lap One and Submarine Sequence), gallery of never-before-seen production photos, gallery of print campaign artwork, gallery of movie poster artwork, Star Wars: Starfighter - The Making of a Game featurette (5 mins), DVD-ROM weblink (to exclusive Star Wars DVD website), 2 Easter eggs, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music.