Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blu-ray Review
The 2.35:1 image for Clone Wars looked very impressive up there on the big screen, totally belying the fact that this enterprise was actually devised for TV, and it looks just as impressive when brought down to the smaller screen too. Despite being incredibly colourful - some of the skies look amazing and the lightsabers and blaster-beams are a true delight of retina-seducing intensity - the film has a gritty look to it that, as it unfolds, can veer from chaotic smoke and urban devastation to lush landscapes and epic sand-dunes, and from cool, shadow-bathed interiors to an almost noir-ish, hazy neon fugue in the seedier quarters of Coruscant, namely Ziro's nefarious establishment. The transfer is naturally without a hint of damage, and grain, DNR, edge enhancement and artefacting are not in evidence.
The animation looks strong and tight throughout with saturation atmospheric and entrancing. The VC-1 transfer handles the often thick swathes of colour with fine levels of gradation and a truly captivating depiction of the red, orange or yellow of Tattooine, the vibrant slices of bright energy beams - blasters, canons and, of course, lightsabers - the cool pale blues of the frequent holograms, the fantastical smears of purple of green (Palpatine's quarters, for example) and splendid fireballs of immediate eye-candy. The visual bathing of pink that heralds the assault on the imposing edifice that poor little Rotta is held atop is an unusual ingredient, but it filters through the image with style. Console lights that suffuse the operators with their glow also comes across well - the technicians on the battleships, for instance. The Clone Wars, and its the ensuing TV series, possesses some of the most bewitching colour schemes this side of Pixar, with smooth shades of such thick, indulgent hues that the impression of looking at a living canvas is marvellously evoked. Some of the background skies are just like water-colours and even if this seems a tad out of place set against such wildly concise CG, then it recalls the backdrops seen in Empire and Jedi quite nicely.
Fast action didn't pose a problem with the acrobatics and mass attacks appearing quite flawless and astoundingly well-composed. As I said in the review, the animation actually improves as you go into the series, itself, with the movements becoming far more fluid. Watching the movie now does reveal some slight stiltedness to the individual stances and counter-attacks - but hey ... I'm nit-picking for the sake of it now. Three-dimensional qualities of the image are consistent and rewarding - from the individual skirmishes to the swinging around of vast battleships poised in space.
But there is a downside to this transfer and, sadly, it is exactly what I had foretold back when I reviewed the theatrical release. Banding is pretty overt during some of the more unusual skies - the purple ones, the dusky ones, the ones above Tattooine. This is even rendered with a shimmery curve in a couple of cases that seems to have a few echoes of itself warbling away behind. Now, this is nothing particularly major, and certainly nothing to get worked up about - we've seen it before in the likes of TMNT and some of Marvel's animated releases to a worse degree, perhaps - but it is still something of shame when everything else seems to have been done so damn well.
Anyway, The Clone Wars has an awesome picture, folks. It is the kind of thing that you just love to be smothered in - thick, opulent and dripping with texture.
Clone Wars is powered by a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that is certainly an enjoyable experience. The soundfield is wide and immersive, packed with dynamic blasts and impacts and bristling with force-imbued energy. However, it is not the most detailed of tracks and the intention is surely one of energetic aggression over nuance, ambience and subtlety. Whereas the visuals attempt to depict the battles with a keen sense of realism, the sound department is not so assured. Explosions may have a mighty wallop to them, but we are shorn of the scattering of debris, the vacuum created by the shock-waves and the type of rear support that a live-action version would have strived for. But don't, for one minute, suspect that this is actually a let-down of a track. Far from it.
Bass levels are superb. We may not get terrific LFE sweeps - which would have come in handy when the droid army advances across the bridge or the clone tanks scale the walls - but the weight and presence of crunching metal and tumbling masonry is very nicely rendered, just the same. The roar of spacecraft blasting through the firmament is finely carried and the hurtling sound of fighters, STAPs and their laser canons is always sharply delivered with definite attention paid to directionality. There are several occasions when things come straight at us and we have at least, a partial split-channel wraparound effect to enjoy. The rears are active, although I was never overly wowed by the detail that they picked up. A lot of ambience resides there and they also help to bolster Kiner's score which, by the way, comes over with warmth, swelling melodic sweep and percussive power.
The frontal array is very well catered-for with a wide spread across the channels and some fine depth. Panning is interesting and the on-screen action is certainly followed with accuracy. If I was to really complain about anything at all, it would possibly be that the dialogue may be cranked a little too low down in the mix. But, having said that, I still had no trouble hearing any of it. Basically, this is a great track that delivers a very warm and enveloping atmosphere that captures the adventure of the film with ease. It is aggressive, but it won't worry you neighbours.
There are also DD5.1 and DD EX 5.1 tracks on offer, but I stuck with the TrueHD - it is clearer and richer and the more enjoyable of the bunch.
The UK disc comes with just as many extra features as its US counterpart.
We get the PiP Commentary track that runs through the movie in a little box-out, featuring the likes of Filoni, the writer Henry Gilroy, editor Jason Tucker and show producer Catherine Winder. The topics discussed are fairly obvious, with nods to the animation style, the characterisation, how the plots are constructed and fitted in to the grand scheme of things and the development of the story as a whole. Thankfully, the piece is quite scene-specific and we even get to see some conceptual artwork and pre-viz ideas to help flesh it out. Note that this is actually a SD encoded version of the movie with the commentary and its little asides actually incorporated within it, thus the feature is not Profile 1.1.
The Clone Wars: The Untold Stories (25 mins) is a tantalising look at the series to follow, a lot of which has, of course, already aired at the time of writing. We get to see plenty of clips featuring the characters that will weave their exploits in ever-more exciting - and increasingly violent - encounters and the feature, which is little more than a promo, can't help but give away a few spoilers here and there.
The Voices Of The Clone Wars (10 mins) is exactly as it sounds - a little look behind the scenes at the recording sessions of the voice cast lending their tonsils to the animation. There is some humour to found here and the notion of a commentary track provided by the cast in-character would have been a great addition.
A New Score (10.45 mins) is a very justified meeting with Clone Wars composer Kevin Kiner. Here's a guy who knew going in just what a tough challenge he was facing when following in the phenomenal footsteps of John Williams and how he would have to both pay tribute to the known themes and be brave enough to stamp his own identity upon the score. As far as I am concerned, he succeeded. He brings a freshness and a diverse energy to the music that Williams, himself, completely lacked in the two most recent movies. Footage of the Prague recording sessions and even of Kiner facing the increasingly Jabba-esque George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch rounds a feature that is interesting and fairly sincere, if a little too slight and superficial at the end of the day for score-lovers.
A Gallery comes next which offers us images and conceptual visualisations of characters, vehicles, settings and locations. There are clones and their weapons, droids and their STAPs, costume designs and some maquettes and some beautiful visions of Tattooine sunsets etc.
Next up are four Deleted Scenes which, using the Play All option, run for 11 mins. There really isn't a great deal of added value here and the scenes would not have improved the flow of the movie had they been left intact, even if the sight of Anakin battling bald-bonced Asajj Ventress down in the Rancor Pit is quite arresting and a vastly extended Platform Droid Fight even comes to resemble a scene from Starship Troopers with a huge lumbering insectoid droid-fighter.
Then we get something of a throwback feature - that old chestnut of a collection of Webisodes. Typically short and punchy, there are six of these and you can choose to watch them individually or all together. Themed around the characters, the situations and the overall direction that the concept is geared towards, these are inevitably slight and act as little more than promotional fluff. Nice that they are here, but hardly something that you are likely to return to.
Then comes the Hologram Memory Challenge game. Three short clips from the TV series are your reward if you can correctly match the images that the game cunningly seeks to hide from you. Ho-um.
Rounding things off, then, is a set of three Trailers - two for the movie and one for the videogame.
A decent enough set of extras that certainly whiles away another couple of hours or so after the movie has ended. Whilst nothing is examined in any great detail, there is still a sense that all bases have been covered.
Once you have gotten used to the different voices for Obi-Wan and Anakin - and Anakin's bizarre pug-nose - and settled into the purely episodic format, then the action takes control and the adrenalin of the set-pieces glosses over the huge inadequacies of the woefully juvenile plot and the script. It is certainly fair to say that those who were the most averse to the prequels will find nothing here to temper that sorry judgement and, for them at least, The Clone Wars is a no-go zone. But for true Star Wars fans who love this universe and all the variations, spins and off-shoots that it can support, there is much to savour here. Like those endless World War II movies I alluded to earlier, there really is no end to the stories that can be woven out of this dynamic and lightning-emblazoned fabric and, just like I can never tire of cowboys and Indians, GI's and Panzers etc, etc, I can't imagine my childlike zeal of clones, droids, Jedi and Sith battling it out ever fading away either. I also like the way that Ahsoka Tano is shaping up, but there is something in her theme-tune that sounds a little sad and forlorn, something fateful. Given that we know most of the Jedi end up getting wiped-out (and that's hardly a spoiler, folks), I can sense that the series will ultimately have to delve into tragedy and, as a character, she really is growing on me. Hmmm ... dark and troubled days ahead, I think.
I, too, had reservations about the prequels but, over the years, I've come to realise and appreciate the simplicity and daftness of them and see them for what they really are. It's no religion. It's just good, colourful and imaginative fun. Always was. Always will be. I may have gone through a few love it/loathe it permutations regarding the series, myself. But, given the infinite ironies of film fandom I can't help but feel that my love for the Force has now been rekindled and, with the new series continually adding excitement and an escalating ferocity, I can't see it dwindling away in the near future.
An excellent AV transfer and some interesting, though expectedly fluffy extras help recommended The Clone Wars for a dumbed-down, shoot-em-up adrenaline-kick after you've been floored by the likes of WALL-E.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £26.99
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