Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back : Limited Edition DVD Review
PictureYou'd expect the original version of the movie to be presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1. But surprisingly, it isn't.
Actually it's more than surprising, it's infuriating. How much effort can it take to make it anamorphic? Hardly any, surely. Yet the amount of detail in a non-anamorphic picture is significantly lower than in the anamorphic picture found on most DVDs these days.
I would say that the picture has been cleaned up to an extent, but there is still a little dirt there - although not as much as some recently released blockbuster DVDs I have seen. I have provided comparison screen grabs (original version at the top, special edition underneath) to illustrate the presence of grain and muted colours in the original version. Detail is also lost in some particularly light or dark areas. The special edition is rich and vibrant in comparison with more detail evident, but let's not forget that the SE has an exceptional transfer. Importantly neither version has significant edge enhancement and this alone brings the picture quality of the original version up a notch in comparison to most modern DVD releases. In fact when viewed in isolation, the original version of Empire is still very watchable. Its picture is better than Star Wars as you'd expect for a movie 3 years more recent. Only the fact that it's non-anamorphic brings the score down.
SoundThe audio on the original version was two channel and so we're not disappointed to have it here as well. Most peoples' amps will turn this into Dolby Prologic utilising 5 channels to give full surround with the subwoofer. There are plenty of opportunities to use the surround channel and from the battle in the snow, through the asteroid field to the escape from cloud city, the rears, as well as the subwoofer are given a hefty workout. Most home cinema owners these days use Dolby Digital 5.1 for all their movies and the experience of Dolby Prologic might be a new experience. Honestly when you become immersed in the movie, you completely forget that you're listening to Prologic rather than 5.1.
I noticed distinct differences between the SE audio and the original version audio. When the Hoth power generator explodes, for example, the 5.1 sub-bass is much louder, although the original version is still satisfying. Watching it in isolation is still an exciting experience and I'd be very happy to watch the original version any time.
ExtrasThe commentary track on the SE is the same as on the first editions of these DVDs and it's been covered in previous reviews. I'm not counting the original version as an extra since it's the main reason for buying these DVDs, so that leaves the Lego Star Wars II Xbox game and trailer. Not much in the way of extras, then.
VerdictWhat we have in this latest release, then, is George Lucas seemingly giving the hard core fans what they want. For years now, they have been demanding the original versions of the movies. On the whole I like the changes George made to the special editions. Most of them are so subtle that you wouldn't really notice. The odd sound effect here. The odd altered cut and effect there. Just as Mos Eisley was enhanced in episode IV, so cloud city has been given a makeover in episode V. Yes it looks lovely in the Special Edition, but do you really miss it when watching the original version? I didn't.
I have no doubt that real Star Wars fans are going to enjoy watching the original versions on DVD just as much as I did.
It's obvious that this Limited Edition has been released to appeal to hard-core fans and to promote Lego Star Wars II. However, the non-anamorphic picture of the original version is a real let down and I'm convinced it's been a deliberate move to leave scope to sell us the anamorphic version rumoured for release next year.
While the special edition has reference quality picture and sound, the overall score is marked down because of the non-anamorphic nature of the original version - which is the whole point of this DVD.
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