(Planet Me)
Monday, March 12, 2012
 
STAR WARS : The Complete Saga - BluRay Box Set


Since you've seen the films, you know wether you should or want to buy these or not. Instead, this is a review of the discs, and not the films. Overall each film is presented flawlessly - though not at reference standard. The transfers for these BD's are taken from the 2004 transfers which are barely above the existing BR standard of 1080dpi.

PHANTOM MENACE / ATTACK OF THE CLONES / REVENGE OF THE SITH

"Menace" is a poor film presented well, with a new CGI Yoda and film-transfer presentation. "Clones" is probably the least impressive transfer of the films. "Sith" is absolutely flawless - shot on the highest resolution possible and state of the art.



PHANTOM MENACE

My son, aged 6, has never seen a Star Wars film at the cinema. Since he was born 7 weeks before "Revenge of The Sith" came out, he has never had the chance. Last week - 13 years since I first saw a 3rd generation VHS cam corded from an American cinema - I see this film in a way that I never even considered when I saw it six times in the cinema as a twenty five year old. My son sits next to me, and he sasses the film. My six year old, who wasn't even born when the final Star Wars film was finished, is slapping down on the use of the Grammar in this film.

That's my boy.

Watching "Phantom Menace" again reveals its logical and technical shortcomings in a cruel light.

From a wordy and dull opening crawl (Taxation? How tediously politic), to the absolutely nonsensical activities of the Jedi, this film delivers a sumptuious visual spectacle wrapped in a black hole of logic, plotting, or common sense. There is no heroes journey in this film : Obi Wan meets a man-lizard-fish-rabbit thing, and a small boy. In fact, I could spend a year describing the logical plotholes, the crazed and insane Jedi tactics, the bewilderingly silly prophecy, the bizarre lack of common sense the characters demonstrate.

When you have a bad feeling and unusual amount of fear, why would you drink blindly the beverages offered by your enemies?

Why would you split up? The two transports could land half a world away , and if you were discovered - which is twice as likely - there is also half the Jedipower.

Why attack from the front where the Droids can see you?

This is in the first twenty minutes. It is surely a bad day at Jedi Academy when they let these guys into the field. And these are meant to be the best? What nincompoops.



Aside from a plot more punctured than a particularly enthusiastic fetishist, the film itself is poorly constructed. Scenes do not sit well narratively next to each other. Moments and comments - Boss Nass' grating BLUBBLUBBLUBBA and Jar Jar Binks broken syntax - were such that even my six year old was criticising his grammar. And this boy of mine hasn't even got his own mobile phone.

Some shots, the well-known glory moments - are rich in detail, and visually stunning, presented in 2D, or 3D. And some of them, the CGI - animated plastic figures jumping down ventilation shafts - bend in a way that no human with a spine could do so. On the other hand, the more recent 2005-era CGI Yoda that replaced the 1999 puppet, is different, but also the same. Overall, Phantom Menace looks good - being shot on film - but suffers from being narratively redundant and adding nothing to the overall structure of the films. You could start at "Attack of The Clones", and miss nothing at all. Which I recommend you do.



ATTACK OF THE CLONES

Shot on contemporary digital cameras, "Clones" is probably the least impressive transfer of the films. The visuals are still splendid, the narrative is strong - but flawed - C3PO is very annoying, and, um, the love story is more strained than prison teabags. Like the rest of the films, it is basically a cinematic videogame where ciphers move through environments to get to the end of the level, but, on the other hand, this film at least attempts to place everything within the context of a political coup and the arrogance of established order that overlooks its own position. Certainly, it is a visual feast, but does also suffer, like the rest of the films, from Uncanny Valley : there's something not quite right about the visuals and despite the obvious talent and artistry on display, certain elements simply do not work effectively on the screen. The film echoes nicely with "Empire", in so much as the visual motifs and the end of the piece work as near beat-for-beat echoes of the 1980 masterpiece.



REVENGE OF THE SITH

Finally. In my eyes, the second or third best Star Wars film. Yep, easily better than "Jedi". In this, and believe me, if you haven't seen the films before, then see this, you'd be staggered. You'd think that there would be a battle and evil would be defeated, but no. This film is the kind of 'massive bummer', that - had we not known all along what was going to happen - would be hailed as brave, uncompromising, and brilliant. And, you know it. Unaltered from the cinematic version, the BR presentation is frankly flawless. And that last hour : when all the traps open, when all the barriers fall, and every king is deposed, is a classic theatrical tragedy delivered with confidence of a vision finally completed after thirty years. This is the film that has been in George's mind for decades.

OVERALL

Presentation of the sets video and audio is very clear and strong - the films have never looked so good in the home environment. There is occasional DNR and featureless detail that looks strange and stylised on the earlier films, but overall, these are visually gorgeous. Typically, they are barebones with just films and commentaries : if you want the extras you have to buy the mega box set.



A NEW HOPE

On Blu Ray, this film has never looked better or sounded as sharp in the home. In fact, I daresay that this is the sharpest presentation it has ever had. With this - as with each of the films - there has been some minor tinkering. Lucas said that the original theatrical releases only achieved 30% of what he had originally envisaged : of course, these tweaks must take the films up to something like 34.2%, overall. Not that it necessarily matters.

The films have never looked better. The inconsistent effects, the occasional, cheap vaseline smudges to hide practical effects, the garbage mattes (that is, transparent plates of low/high contrast used when composing plates in-fame) have been removed. About the only thing that hasn't been fixed is the presence of Jabba the Hutt as a giant CGI blob (it looked bad in 1997, and equally so now). Aside from that, one element that has always bothered me is the presence of under-detailed Death Star trenches : given the limitations of the budget and time for the 1977 release, surely Lucas could go back and add surface detail to the Death Star. The film goes from insanely detailed vistas, to fast moving, featureless surfaces that look exactly like grey painted cardboard. There have been tweaks to effects, some good, some bad (magical rocks, for The Force's sake!), but all, mostly pointless.

By the standards of today, Lucas is still a visionary. This film,and the entire saga, as such, is a brave telling of the heroes journey. Yes, the films are logically flawed, and often the contents can be balderdash : then again, anyone who expects every character to be the personification of considered sanity in the midst of a space battle is expecting more than I, or Han Solo, am capable of. Looked at now, thirty five years later, it's still a big film. Big in vision, big in charm, big in brass balls and bombast, and whereas most films set themselves as saving a race, this has a weapon that can blow up planets. Who'd've thought of that? Take your mind control, Neo, and stuff it up your jacksy. This is as big and bad as it gets.



EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Again, much like "Star Wars", the film has never looked better. The drawback is that the films are presented in barely-better than HD resolution based on the 2004 DVD transfers. Minor niggles - especially on the unforgiving Hoth scenery - have been almost entirely removed. On a technical level, Empire is the film that has been tampered with the least since release in 1980, and it has never looked so vibrant. The film's pace lags slightly in the middle with the introduction fo Yoda, which takes the film to obviously episodic levels of lethargy as Luke goes through his heroes journey at a tedious length. On the other side, the film looks stunning.



RETURN OF THE JEDI

Altered considerably since 1983, Jedi is now presented in its fourth home video cut (like the rest of the original trilogy). Changes are relatively major for the Blu Ray : an extra creature here, a larger door there, and perhaps most disturbing of all NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Darth Vader, instead of silently accepting his fate with a dignity, now vocalises ill-advisedly his stoic sacrifice. Presumably used to hark back to his same, mocked NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! In "Revenge Of The Sith", his great moment of redemption is soundtracked by a scream of unforgettable, unforgivable denial.

Ewoks blink, Dugs walk around Jabba's Palace, and "Jedi Rocks!" is still there, even though "Lapti Nek" and "Yub Nub" aren't. At least Ewoks still hold the dead, cold glass eyed stare of the painted lifeless eyes of.. oh. They blink now. And Hayden Christensen turns up creepily. What the?

Aside from these, it is still a great film. Of course, had they been made now, and made this way, nobody would complain. These films would be eagerly awaited. They would be hailed as visionary masterpieces. And, "Return Of The Jedi" would still be two summers away. But these films are modern myths. As big as any grand story, epic in scale, brazen in ambition and large in vision, the Star Wars films : taken as six, or three, are still, and always, tales of the type of shameless size that not enough film makers would dare to consider.

PRESENTATION

BR video and sound is clear, but this set contains only the commentaries. Extras hounds will have to go for the full box set.



I-III BONUS MATERIAL

A frustrating ragbag of offcuts and leftovers excluded from the original 2001-2005 DVD releases, these extras discs are much akin to never seeing the full picture. The core narrative of making the prequels is only ever touched upon obliquely. There are deleted scenes, but these are unfinished and as sloppy as a bag of defrosted oven chips. The menu navigation is also frustratingly intricate and awkward. The option, for example, to "play all deleted scenes", is absent. You have to navigate to a film, then a 'world', then pick out each scene seperately : at least nine separate top menus to view all the deleted scenes, some of which take longer to load than they do to play. Thankfully there is a "Play All" option - if you have five hours spare.



IV-VI BONUS MATERIAL

As with the I-III bonus disc, this is a frustrating ragbag of unfocused bonus material : five hours in total, but missing the central overview.A veritable assortment of video junk that expands and complements the original DVD releases. About the only extra that is truly essential are the 40 or so deleted / unfinished scenes from the original trilogy presented here ; but they are in no way complete - many are not in full colour, temp-tracked, full of scratches and marks, and lacking music. Fascinating glimpses of what could have been, and, certainly some would've made useful, and unforgettable additions to the films as they are, they also represent less than the sum of the parts because despite the width and weight there is little in the way of any gravitas.



EXTRA DOCUMENTARIES

The ninth disc is mostly boring. There's 90 minutes of spoofs which are largely watch-once-and-never-again : though Kevin Spacey as Christopher Walken as Han Solo is genius. There's a 90 minute documentary on the guys who dress as Stormtroopers in their spare time. And you wonder why William Shatner ordered his fans to "Get A Life." 1997's "Anatomy Of A Dewback" is a pointless discussion of now obselete CGI technology in adding effects to the 1997 Special Editions : which are not on this set.

The final, half hour interview with Irwin Kershner as he discusses for the last time "Empire" is riveting viewing. It's worth every penny.

The real meat are standard def dupes of the the of-their-time respective 1977,1980, and 1983 documentaries. These were once available on the Executor VHS mega box set and are here represented in SD. They are curios, being basic puffpieces that are very much of their time.

There are some key omissions on this set. The 1983 overview - "From Star Wars To Jedi" - is missing. As is the 1983 video tour of the Lucasfilm archives. These two were also on the Executor, so their omission here is inexcusable.



Also missing? The short documentaries that preceded the 1997 VHS re-releases. 2004's superlative, definitive "Empire Of Dreams". Every extra on the DVD releases of the Prequels. The 1999 BBC Omnibus Documentary. 1999's "Mythology" interview. Warwick Davies "Return of The Ewok". 2005's largely essential History Channel "Star Wars : The Legacy Revealed" which engages the six films in historical echoes. That's at least 17 hours of geek cat nip.

The relatively low-res 2006 480dpi DVD transfers of the original theatrical cuts are also missing. Data is cheap and those three theatrical cuts could easily be released in Standard Def taking up barely half the capacity of one BR disc. In fact, you could easily capture the 17 hours of missing material - alongside the theatrical cuts - with three extra BD discs.

Anyone who thinks that this set allows you to 'own every moment' is clearly fibbing. It's neither complete, nor definitive. But then again, the extras are enormous in girth, with around 12 hours of new commentaries, and 15 hours of new video. However, see these are complements to the original DVD issues of the films, and, in order to keep everything, both the 2004 and 2006 issues of the original trilogy and the contemporary DVD releases of the prequels need to be kept to retain all the material. You have been warned.


Comments:
I suppose that it would be charitable to suggest that Lucas has always been interested in the technology of film-making, and that thus exploring BlueRay and 3D technology are a logical next step for him.

On the other hand, as someone who was seduced by the original films when they first appeared in the cinemas (more or less: I don't really remember seeing Star Wars in the cinema, but have a vivid memory of queuing in the rain to see ESB and actually counting the days to the release of RotJ....) I have reached the point where I feel like I've given Lucas enough of my money. I've owned several sets of the videos and a couple of sets of the DVDs. I've even paid to see the films in the cinema a couple of times.... just the original films, although by the end stuffed full of superfluous, meaningless CGI "improvements".

...and the new trilogy? Ah, all part of George's grand original vision, right? If that was even remotely true, why did he conjure up such a tedious plot? Why did he cast such bad actors? Why did he make good actors, people we know can be outstanding, look so awful?

The magic is still visible in the original films, but I can hardly see any in the new ones any more, even if I ever could before. Quite why I would want to watch them again on my DVDs is open to question, never mind watch them again in 3D or buy them on BlueRay. No way, George. It's too much.

...and don't even fucking THINK about another Indiana Jones. Step AWAY from the typewriter and certainly away from the actors.

Enough.

Also, thank you so much for the original films that have enriched my life so much and I've seen more than any other films.
 
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