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Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace [1999] - £12.98

George Lucas transports audiences back to the future with Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace, the first instalment of a prequel trilogy in which the director imagines the foundation for the entire six-part saga. Reflecting the symbolic and mythological bases of at least five story arcs, The Phantom Menace wields a newly emerged, youthful vibrancy courtesy of Lucas' invigorating return to the director's chair and his healthy respect for the emotional sources of fantasy. Despite receiving a storm of adverse criticism (notably for Jar Jar Binks) Lucas continually fascinates with his ability to place his characters--some new, some old, some CGI--in the same dramatic situations posed in the original trilogy: whether it be the juxtaposition of primitives with technologically advanced societies or the timeless battle between good and evil, the very familiarity of these recurring scenarios and rhythms galvanises the viewer. Of course, the state-of-the-art visual effects contribute mightily to the final impact. Much has been written about the kinetic Pod Race sequence (compared favourably with the chariot race in Ben Hur) and the War and Peace-style military battles, but even these events are upstaged by the new planetary vistas: consider the Romanesque grandeur of Naboo, the underwater city of Otoh Gunga illuminated by Art Nouveau lamps, the decadent brio of Tatooine, or the dizzying skyscrapers of the city planet Coruscant (imagine Blade Runner in daylight). Despite the beauty of his iridescent images, Lucas exercises discipline, cutting fast within frames filled with rich detail and activity. As a result, The Phantom Menace lends itself to repeated viewings.

On the DVD: This spectacular two-disc DVD set was certainly worth the wait. Simply put, this is the most comprehensive packaging of supplementary materials so far assembled for DVD. Most importantly, Lucas film offers an anamorphic, 2.35:1 film transfer and a highly active Dolby 5.1 audio mix. Disc 1 includes an insightful commentary with Lucas--his first for DVD--and other key personnel, making for a great tour. The bulk of extra treasures can be found on Disc 2, including seven deleted scenes completed just for this set that possess the same quality as the film; in fact, some moments (the "Air Bus Taxi" and "Pod Race Grid" sequences) are so good that Lucas reincorporated them into the film proper. Viewers can also enjoy no less than 12 Web documentaries, five informative featurettes, the popular John Williams music video "Duel of the Fates" and numerous galleries of stills, trailers and television spots. Better yet, Lucas premieres "The Beginning," a 66-minute documentary edited from hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage. This is not your standard-issue studio documentary, instead "The Beginning" is an Oscar-worthy, cinema verityť-style exploration of the creative process behind every aspect of the film's production. One of the most memorable moments involves a late-day visit to the set by Steven Spielberg: watching Lucas and Spielberg behave like kids in a candy store is one more reminder why the Star Wars saga remains enduringly popular. --Kevin Mulhall

Customer reviews (av rating: 3.5):

Rating: 3:
The prequels begin : The first film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy was perhaps the most anticipated films in cinema history and I feel that is why many fans of the original dislike it so much, it didn't live up to their expectations. Admittedly the film is quite bad in places with some terrible acting, a poor script, a plot that doesn't seem to fit with the established continuity of the original trilogy and above all Jar Jar Binks.

Having said all this there are some good parts that pull the this film out of the doldrums such as the brilliant, if cartoony, CGI, the pod race and the Darth Maul lightsaber fight towards the end which is as good as anything in the original trilogy. The Phantom Menace does seem, above all, to be a kid's film and many hardcore fans will, and do, hate it. For everyone else it is a mediocre film that will never live up to its illustrious predecessors.

Rating: 4:
Ok film , great extras : Film - *** - The Phantom Menace has become infamous in the history of cinema. Loved by kids, hated by many 'hardcore' fans. In reality it's an ok movie, with a few poor sections, some amazing and with effects ahead of it's time.

If you haven't seen it I would suggest picking it up, espcially if you have kids. The lightsabre battle at the end is worth the 1:45hr wait.

Etras - ***** - The centre piece is an amazing documentary on the creation of The Phantom Menace. In many ways this is more interesting and engrossing than the film. It's 2 hours long and charts from inception up until the curtain raises at the premiere. Highly recommended if your interested in Star Wars, film production or special effects.

Rating: 3:
The weakest starwars, but it is still a decent movie. : Exposition heavy and aimed a litlle too squarely at kids. two of the main critisms levelled at this movie. Rightly so, maybe but they don't damn the film that much. Jar jar binks is annoying, but loved by kids, so George Lucas got it right there. The effects are very good, although CGI has come on leaps and bounds since. The cast are OK.the best I can say, neither script nor direction help the cast who are most fine actors but here there are somewhat cardboard. The story is one big set up for the next two movies. on its own it is ok, as part of a very good trilogy it is a fair opening.

Rating: 4:
And so it begins... : This was the first Star Wars film I ever saw, in 1999 - and I was eighteen at the time. While you ponder how I managed to get through my childhood not even knowing what Star Wars was, I'll get on with the review.

Having never seen any of the Star Wars films before I saw this one, I am probably more forgiving of its shortcomings than other reviewers who obviously have fond memories of the film from their childhoods. Allthough the CGI looks dated now, (why is it that the newer films age faster than the classics?) its still a perfectly watchable film, and although a bit slow, you still have to marvel at excellent set pieces like the pod race and the three way lightsaber duel.

For me, this was the film that introduced me to Star Wars. I liked it enough to borrow the original trilogy off a friend, which then officially introduced me to the Star Wars universe and turned me into an instant fan.

Yes, Jar Jar is annoying - but weren't the Ewoks a bit irritating at times as well? The film has its flaws, it's slow at times, and Padme's character really didn't interest me whatsoever, but its still worth buying.

Rating: 4:
Am I the only one that likes this? : I really like this film. I'm a long-time Star Wars fan. Whan I saw this in the cinema, I was really pleased with what Old Man Lucas had put together. Now, of all the prequel movies, this one feels the most like the original tilogy. Yes, Jar Jar is annoying, but no more annoying that C-3PO was first time around. The really big let down is Jake Lloyd. If Lucas had just written Anakin as a little bit olser then he wouldn't have needed to use a child "actor". Still, you live an you learn, eh George?

But there's pleny of great stuff in this film. R2-D2's heroic repairs atop the queen's damaged ship, the pod race and the escellent lightsaber duel against one of the most enigmatic villains in the series are there for the action fans while the political meanderings of Senator Palpatine and the mysterious appearance of Darth Sidious add to the intrigue. And we aren't forced to endure a love story in this one either - result!

Where Episode II is merely an effects fest and Epsiode III is frankly jut a waste of time, this movie is watchable, if a little flawed, and makes for a great introduction to the series. It's just a shame that it went downhill from here...

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