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Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

In the 16 years after Return of the Jedi — which left the Star Wars series' success ratio at an impressive 2.5/3, Ewoks notwithstanding — the epic had become holy writ, a sort of cinematic religion. Creator George Lucas had pulled off a remarkable, three-pronged artistic achievement with his original trilogy: He'd pushed the technical envelope of moviemaking with as much audacity as Melies, Harryhausen and Griffith; he'd blended Kurosawa, Joseph Campbell, Westerns and Flash Gordon to create a beautifully escalating modern fable; and, in pure business terms, he'd used his success to take control of his creation and become history's most successful independent filmmaker. Reading the above resume, it's easy to argue that, with Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Lucas couldn't help but disappoint. Asking the director to one-up the mythology that had grown around him is a bit like asking Atlas to shot-put the world in addition to carrying it. Then again, taken on its own artistic merits, Menace is a maddening mixed bag. Sure, John Williams' music is lovely, and Lucas proves once again his ability to create fully formed worldscapes with rich, idiosyncratic histories. But a handful of quality moments simply aren't enough, and Menace fails on several fundamental levels, with dull dialogue, a hole-riddled plot, and even — dear Lord — a fart joke. Such noted, Fox's two-disc The Phantom Menace is one of the better DVDs yet produced. It feels definitive; it grants remarkable access to the filmmakers; it looks and sounds great; the menus are clever and for the most part not too cumbersome; and it's packed with deleted scenes and fascinating nonsense, with precious little waste or redundancy. In addition to the flawless anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and Dolby 5.1 Surround EX audio, supplements include a commentary with Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires; seven deleted scenes; the "making-of" documentary "The Beginning"; two multi-angle storyboard/animatic/final-film segments; five featurettes; 12 Web documentaries; two theatrical trailers; seven TV spots; the "Duel of the Fates" music video; a print-campaign gallery, poster gallery, and production-photo gallery; and additional DVD-ROM content. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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