Star Wars: Prequel Trilogy Blu-ray Review
All three entries in the Prequel Trilogy come to Blu-ray presented with 1080p High Definition video renditions in the movies’ original theatrical aspect ratios of 2.35:1 widescreen.
The Phantom Menace (7/10)
If any of the video presentations were going to be controversial, it surely had to be that of the first movie. As many fans will already know, The Phantom Menace was the last of the Star Wars movies to be shot on standard 35mm film, the resulting anamorphic print unfortunately not really standing up when compared to the digitally-shot later movies. On SD-DVD it looked awful, plagued by noise and edge enhancement, as well as heavy grain, a strangely muted colour palette, and a shamefully cropped image (although the same aspect ratio, all the edges were trimmed to avoid the damage that is most prevalent there). Clearly this was the movie that was going to need the most work.
Well, first the good news: The Phantom Menace has had a brand new 2K transfer struck, the resulting much-needed remastered image looking considerably better than the film ever did on SD-DVD. The colours are much brighter, much more vibrant, and more vivid too, bringing it more in-line with the other prequels. Sure, skin tones often border on the over-saturated, veering in a distinctly orange direction, but that’s still certainly an improvement over the pale, muted look from before. The detail is also greatly improved; the CG-based segments – particularly the more panoramic landscape shots or battle sequences – look simply perfect. There are several jaw-dropping moments; the CG also appears to be better integrated into the proceedings; and the heavy layer of overbearing grain has also been swept away. It’s a marked improvement, and one which should impress fans considerably.
That said, there is some bad news: in polishing up the image to make it cleaner and more digital-looking, it appears that a fair amount of DNR has been implemented. Whilst I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that it has had as bad an effect as we have seen on, say, the Predator Blu-ray, it is certainly going in that direction: we’re talking about waxy faces and a perpetually polished look for many of the cast. Liam Neeson appears to have suffered the worst, and there are one or two freeze-frame moments where the entire image takes on the look of a painted comic book (pause towards the end of the scene where Qui-Gon is trying to persuade the Council to allow him to take Anakin as an apprentice). This overbearing application of DNR is far from fatal, however; the resulting edge enhancement is surprisingly negligible, and, as stated above, the more effects-driven moments actually clearly shine through with stunning clarity. The CG characters – even that idiot Binks – look better than ever before, lovingly polished up and yet blending into the backgrounds like you would not believe, with scant few instances where they stand out in a strikingly obvious way and interfere with your enjoyment of the movie.
Furthermore the image benefits greatly from the wider original scope, the image returned to its original ‘fuller’ size, with more information now around the edges. At the end of the day, whilst you may baulk at what they’ve done with many of the faces, for the most part you will likely be really quite impressed by the surprising improvement over SD-DVD. The Phantom Menace has never looked better. Yes, it’s nowhere near demo quality. Yes, it’s got its problems, but, by far this is much more enjoyable viewing experience.
Attack of the Clones (8/10)
Attack of the Clones was the first Star Wars film to be shot digitally. As such, on SD-DVD, it looked, at the time, gorgeous – particularly when compared to the presentation of its lacklustre predecessor. Unfortunately, whilst certainly not having as many disadvantages as The Phantom Menace, there were still some issues with the way in which ‘Clones was shot, and the result is still shy of demo quality. Basically, because it was one of the first movies to be realised using Digital technology, it was also one of the early few which were still suffering from the ‘testing’ of the process – Lucas himself felt that the preview footage shot was simply too sharp and clear and thus it was processed to take the edge off and look a little softer. This has the result of marginally restraining the final film presentation, preventing it from having that glorious 3D pop, depth of image and stunning clarity that you may have hoped for (and which the next film would have).
That said, ‘Clones is not only a significant improvement over ‘Menace, but it is also resoundingly good almost throughout. Certainly softness becoming an issue is the exception, not the rule, and for the most part the detail is excellent – the movie once again benefitting a great deal from all the CG effects – basically the more CG there is on screen, the better the image generally looks (and, once again, the CG characters are generally extremely well-integrated, smoothly blended into the proceedings for the most part). The colour scheme is also well rendered, taking on a slightly bluer hue than before, but possibly even improving as a result.
Revenge of the Sith (10/10)
Well we come to the cream of the crop. Again, technology had moved on by the time ‘Revenge was filmed, with better HD cameras, and better processing, that this time required no horrendous digital filtering and subsequent softness. As a result Revenge of the Sith looks absolutely stunning, true reference quality material, and up there with the best of the best on Blu-ray.
For starters detail is astounding on all the shots now, not just the CG-dominated ones, faces and live action elements standing up to even the closest examination. This time there’s no sign of wanton DNR application, or aberrant digital defects: there’s no edge enhancement, no banding, pretty-much nothing to complain about whatsoever. The colour scheme has been lavishly reproduced with no obvious alteration, the palette rendered vividly and realistically – and yet with all the vibrance you would expect from a Star Wars adventure. Black levels are truly astounding as well, offering up a brilliant backdrop to the proceedings, which are often bathed in deep shadows. With some significant 3D pop too, this remains an outstanding, demo quality presentation, and the highlight of both the package and the trilogy.
There really is no point in splitting up the reviews of the audio side to things as all three chapters in the Prequel Trilogy sound undeniably amazing in High Def. Perfect 10s across the board.
Given brand new DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 tracks, I can’t see anybody finding fault with them, as every single element has been balanced and presented well on the array. Dialogue is clear and coherent throughout, making it through even the most lively sequence intact, and generally emanating from the frontal array. The effects are myriad, and really light up the sound-stage, creating a palpable Star Wars atmosphere that goes a long way towards fully immersing you in these faraway worlds: the dominant sounds of laser blasts echoing around your room; the low thrum of the lightsabers making them truly come to life, the fizzle as they clash further raising those hairs on your neck; and bigger battles consequently come with far more LFE use, although it’s almost ever-presence, giving the soundtrack a lovely rumbling low edge to it, which makes it feel far more potent. John Williams’s score is presented well too, no matter how much they jumbled it around for the middle chapter, his haunting melodies, thematic moments and playful jibes all coming across as you have simply never heard them before. If Revenge of the Sith is an example of how you, ideally, would have wanted all of the Prequel Trilogy films to look, then you should rest assured that all three sound equally fantastic, and I can’t imagine anybody expecting any more from them. This is how you do it.
In terms of extra features the Prequel Trilogy, if purchased as a standalone set, only boasts two Commentaries for each film – all of the other extras can only be found on the full Complete Saga box set. I think this is a bit of a sting for those who only want to pick up their respective favourite trilogy. Sure, the Complete Saga could have come with an extra disc of extras, but to have all of the extras beyond the Commentaries stripped and placed only on the Complete Saga seems like a bit of a downgrade when you consider the comprehensive SD-DVD releases that these films have all previously had. Still, it’s clearly designed to make you pick up the big box set irrespective of which films you love/hate.
The original Commentaries were all already available, and have been ported straight over from the previous releases. Recorded separately, they are Lucas-dominated, and offer up a fair amount of background into the more technical side of the productions. Lucas talks about his original script ideas, the crew discuss some of the intricacies of the sets and detail the technological side of things – the animation, motion capture, CG developments and CG integration with live-action elements. They also acknowledge the use of the same shots repeated across all three films – i.e. the same effects sweeps and force moves are on display across the prequels, perhaps to save money on having to redo the same effects time and again. All in all, those who have not listened to these earlier Commentaries have a great deal to pick up here.
The new Commentaries are done in much the same way as the original Commentaries, i.e. a whole bunch of contributors, recorded separately, and integrated together across the films. You would think that, with so many damn voices to accompany the film it would just get chaotic, but the reality is that it is an extremely well-designed Commentary. As with the original tracks, these ones have been cleverly edited to remain remarkably scene-specific. If you’re watching the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan/Darth Maul fight at the end of The Phantom Menace, then, for the duration, you’ll hear background from a dozen different people into various aspects of the fight. And, when the action jumps to the Amidala conflict going on upstairs, similarly the Commentary contributions will change to offer background into that. Although it is not the same as having a roundtable group of narrators taking you through each film, arguably it is more precise, as the interview snippets have been merged together in such a way as to remain on-topic throughout.
The Phantom Menace
Audio Commentary by George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires.
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew, with Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Ray Park, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best, Gavin Bocquet, Ben Burtt, Doug Chiang, Rob Coleman, Nick Gillard, Jake Lloyd, George Lucas, John Knoll, Rick McCallum and Scott Squires.
Attack of the Clones
Audio Commentary by George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll and Ben Snow.
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew, with Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Temuera Morrison, Jimmy Smits, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Nick Gillard, Pablo Helman, John Knoll, George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Snow and John Williams.
Revenge of the Sith
Audio Commentary by George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, John Knoll and Roger Guyett.
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew, with Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee, Temuera Morrison, Jimmy Smits, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Ian McDiarmid, Silas Carson, Gavin Bocquet, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Nick Gillard, Roger Guyett, George Lucas, John Knoll and Rick McCallum.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoy everything about the Star Wars universe, which was expanded no end with the creation of the Prequel Trilogy. Although the movies themselves are massively and undeniably flawed, they have paved the way for no end of Star Wars adventures – whether the numerous Clone Wars animated series, or the books and graphic novels that detail the oft-forgotten backstories – and, in that respect, I’m glad that they exist. More Star Wars can surely only be a good thing. For me, I came here for the Jedi and the Jedi alone, the Samurai references abundant across the entirety of Lucas’s Saga, and never more poignant than in this Prequel Trilogy, where we basically watch the death of the Samurai as symbolised by his Jedi. Sure, the Original Trilogy had more heart and soul, but if you want some kick-ass lightsaber duels, some excellent force moves and dozens of distinctive Jedi characters rather than just a couple, then you have to take the bad with the good, and pick up these films too. For all their flaws, no collection would be complete without them.
The much maligned Prequel Trilogy finally comes to Blu-ray with video quality that looks considerably improved from the DVD releases, and audio tracks that are sheer perfection in every respect. Although The Phantom Menace is the obvious let down in terms of video, heavy-handed DNR giving that Predator-esque look to many of the faces, it still looks vastly better than before, and things only improve with Attack of the Clones, reaching reference quality, finally, with Revenge of the Sith, which looks absolutely stunning. If you want extras, you’ve bought the wrong box, as all we get here are a couple of Audio Commentaries per film. To get all the juicy stuff, you'll have to pick up the Complete Saga.
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