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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Blu-ray)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // PG // November 11, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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It started with
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a throwaway line in the original Star Wars, but that offhand mention of 'The Clone Wars' fascinated the movie's legion of fans. The war bridging Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith would never really be explored in the prequels that followed -- that'd be left to comic books, spin-off novels, videogames, and Genndy Tartakovsky's animated assaults. George Lucas decided to use the breathing room a TV series would offer to better explore the three year gap between those two movies, and he was so impressed with the early results of this computer animated series that he had a feature-length movie put into production. There didn't really seem to be all that much anticipation for The Clone Wars, though, and it failed to make any real impact at the box office. The Clone Wars feels like the first few episodes of a TV show that hasn't really found its footing yet, and its weak premise and low-budget animation don't make for all that compelling a movie.

The Republic has been struggling against insurgent forces in the outer rim, and free passage through the Hutts' shipping lanes to transport weaponry and supplies may hold the key to victory there. These intergalactic gangsters normally wouldn't bother to ally themselves with either side of the conflict, but Jabba's infant son has been kidnapped, and he's willing to grudgingly grant passage to whichever faction can return him safe and sound. While Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) negotiates with the Hutts, Anakin (Matt Lanter) and Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) -- his brash, impulsive young Padawan -- mount a rescue. The Separatists, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), put up a convincing fight but want the stinky little tyke to be rescued. By framing the Jedi knights for the death of Jabba's sickly son,
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Dooku hopes to turn the tide of the war, and he's dispatched his top assassin, Asajj Ventress (Nika Futterman), to ensure that no one survives to tell the Hutts otherwise.

The Clone Wars was met pretty much the world over with an indifferent shrug, and even in forums like DVD Talk where an offhand Star Wars mention somehow snowballs into thirty-four pages of non-stop bickering, hardly anyone seemed to find it worth the trouble. The Clone Wars is okay, but it's disappointingly disposable and forgettable. This just feels like a few episodes of a TV show cut together and dropped into theaters, complete with an over-the-top "previously on The Clone Wars..." recap taking the place of the familiar, iconic opening crawl. It wouldn't have even been a strong start for the series on the Cartoon Network, and it's really tough to picture anyone watching a rough cut and thinking, "this...! This needs to be in theaters."

While the streamlined character designs do look like they could've been nicked from an Xbox 360 cutscene, I like the general concept. The designs are exaggerated but still instantly recognizable, and being a fan of Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation that was clearly a point of reference here, the blocky heads of so many of these characters kind of work. Some of the character designs are a mess, though -- the clone soldiers look like tinted Lego heads -- and the animation suffers from its basic cable budget. The CG models aren't all that expressive, and their movements are too frequently stiff and unnatural. The backgrounds behind these characters are so sparse and plain that they really look unfinished. There's a lot to like about The Clone Wars' visual style -- the mood and atmosphere its lighting sets, eye-poppingly vivid colors, and fairly clever character designs -- and I'd bet even a little additional time or money to polish would've made a dramatic difference.

A few actors from
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the live-action movies step into the recording booth for The Clone Wars -- including Anthony Daniels, Samuel L. Jackson, and, most memorably, Christopher Lee -- and that helps bridge Lucas' movies with the animated series. The other voice actors are convincing enough as these characters in their own right, but carrying over at least a handful of talent adds just that extra level of authenticity. The only voicework I'm not all that thrilled with...? Ashley Eckstein sounds too artificially precious as the bratty Ahsoka, and Ziro the Hutt is a preening trainwreck. Ziro is part of the movie's oddball sense of humor too, most of it coming from droids that are stuck with clumsy gags like "Yes sir...I mean, ma'am...I mean, sir". Ziro, though...yikes! Jabba's purple uncle speaks in an effeminate, horrifyingly over-the-top lisp in between drags from a Holly Golightly cigarette holder.

The Clone Wars' biggest misstep, really, is saddling itself with such a bland plot. Mounting a rescue for Stinky the Hutt just isn't a story that screams out to be splashed across a 70 ft. screen, especially following six movies that are so epic in scope. Even with as frequently as the movie tries to hammer home how essential this mission is and how close Stinky is to keeling over, a bloated tadpole with a goofy nickname just isn't all that sharp of a dramatic hook. Still, the storytelling is clean and tightly focused, and The Clone Wars does a much more effective job juggling its sprawling cast of characters and string of plotlines than any of the prequels.

The movie is much more intensely focused on action than the nuts and bolts of the plot, though. There's an
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enormous scale to several of the battles, and the conflicts rage on for an impressively long time; it's a war, after all, not just brawls in quick, kinetic bursts. Even with that size and scope, I'll admit that the action doesn't really get my pulse racing all that much. It's big and competently staged, but I felt more like I was watching someone tear through a video game rather than watching a movie. There are some standout moments, though. I really loved the vertical assault on the mesa fortress as Anakin, his soldiers, and their heavy artillery claw their way up the face of a sheer cliff. Anakin swiping away at enemy droids with his lightsaber while bounding from one speeder to the next at dizzying heights might be the highpoint of the entire movie.

The Clone Wars is on the lower rungs of okay, but I wouldn't recommend shelling out thirty bucks sight-unseen to pick up this Blu-ray disc, and I'd really only even suggest it as a rental to Star Wars completists or parents of young, wide-eyed fans. Rent It.

Video: The visual design in Star Wars: The Clone Wars is too streamlined to dazzle all that much in high definition, but this direct-digital transfer looks as perfect as the animation really can. The 1080p video reveals a definition and texture that'd be lost on DVD, and its bright, brilliant colors are rendered flawlessly on Blu-ray. The scope image is consistently crisp, clean, and clear, and because it was animated entirely in the digital domain, there obviously aren't any issues with film grain, speckling, or wear.

The Clone Wars is
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presented on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The bitrate of this VC-1 encode tends to be fairly low, but I couldn't spot any hiccups in the compression.

Audio: Despite featuring a 16-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, Star Wars: The Clone Wars really sounds as if it had been mixed primarily with cable TV in mind. This is a movie with enormous, sprawling battle sequences, and yet the surrounds are almost never used to flesh out the action, instead reserving the rears to reinforce Kevin Kiner's orchestral score and little else. There are some smooth pans as spacecraft swoop across the screen, and I'd hear a laser pistol fire in the surrounds every once in a while, but I never really felt immersed or engaged by the soundtrack.

Bass response is wildly uneven too. Certain effects pack a wallop -- the roar of ships in flight, Jabba's gutteral growl, and chunks of droids plummeting to the ground -- but others are disappointingly anemic. There's an homage to Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr. where a massive wall tumbles down and crushes a small army of droids, but it's not bolstered by any bass whatsoever. Lightsabers and laser fire also sound fairly timid in the mix up until the climax. On the upside, the recording of the voice actors is clean, clear, and distinct throughout. This is an outstanding stereo track, but it's not feature film quality.

Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and subtitle streams are also included in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Extras: Star Wars: The Clone Wars piles on several hours of extras, the bulk of which are presented in 1080i. Annoyingly, most of the extras play with English subtitles automatically flipped on; I had to manually disable them, which was especially annoying during the webisodes where I had to mash the 'Subtitle' button on my remote somewhere in the neighborhood of eighteen times.
  • Video commentary: While
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    picture-in-picture commentary tracks aren't all that uncommon on Blu-ray these days, Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes an unconventional approach.

    This entirely separate presentation of the movie is limited to standard definition only. During the segments with director Dave Filoni, producer Catherine Winder, writer Henry Gilroy, and editor Jason W.A. Tucker in the screening room, The Clone Wars shrinks to make room for the picture-in-picture video. The video commentary is pieced together from several different recording sessions. This heavily edited approach feels kind of choppy, stepping away from the comfortable flow and conversational bent of most commentary tracks, and this leaves it not quite as engaging as usual.

    It's a decent commentary, though, touching on how drastically The Clone Wars was reshaped throughout production, shaping the stylized look of this universe, how closely involved George Lucas was every step of the way, and pointing out some of the subtle nods tossed in as a wink to fans. Sometimes the video commentary juggles several picture-in-picture windows at once, also offering a look at conceptual art, behind the scenes footage of production, wireframe models and animatics, stills and short clips from the live-action movies, and snippets of deleted scenes.

  • Webisodes (HD; 21 min.): Director Dave Filoni drives this set of six short behind-the-scenes featurettes, which introduce the concept of a series bridging Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the need to find some sort of human element in the sprawling battles, the sense of individuality within this army of clones, defining what makes a character a hero, shaping the design for the movie's villains, and fawning over Ahsoka, Anakin's plucky Padawan. The real highlight is seeing so much footage from the original trilogy in high definition, and here's hoping a Blu-ray set of that isn't all that far off.

  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Untold Stories (HD; 25 min.): This featurette is really just a teaser for the TV show, belting out clips and plot summaries for several episodes.

  • The Voices of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (HD; 10 min.): The movie's voice actors step in front of the camera here, touching on the process of casting and recording The Clone Wars' voicework. Its chief appeal is the way it places actors in the recording booth and the finished animation side-by-side, showing just how expressive the cast can be when they're belting out their lines.

  • A New Score (HD; 11 min.): Composer
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    Kevin Kiner describes his approach to picking up where John Williams left off, his close collaboration with George Lucas in coming up with the ethnic-tinged themes for each planet, and the thought process behind the cues he's written for The Clone Wars' new characters. Footage of a full orchestra recording the score in Prague has also been included.

  • Deleted scenes (11 min.): There are four additional action sequences: a lightsaber brawl that tumbles into a Rancor pit, Ahsoka and Anakin squaring off against a hovering droid and clumsily navigating their way through a sea of tanks, and Ahsoka nearly being sucked out of a speeding ship after dumping out its cargo. Impressively, these scenes are all fully-rendered -- not rough animatics or storyboards -- although they're not presented in high definition.

  • Gallery: The disc's still gallery serves up a peek at conceptual art, maquettes, scale charts, color studies, and design sheets, encompassing the interplanetary backdrops, fleets of spacecraft, and quite a few of the characters scattered throughout this animated universe. The scans aren't at all that high a resolution, taking up a fairly tiny portion of the screen.

  • Trailers (HD/SD; 5 min.): Two high definition trailers have also been included along with a minute long, standard definition plug for the Wii video game.

  • The Hologram Memory Challenge (HD): This interactive game boils down to "Concentration" with characters from the movie. All of their faces are briefly revealed, and players have ten seconds to memorize the placement of each pairing. Three missteps will knock players out of the game, and successfully solved puzzles are rewarded with a brief high definition clip from the Clone Wars TV series. The game gets progressively more difficult as it goes along, starting off with a grid of 12 holograms and expanding to 18 for the next level. Dunno how tough it gets after that, but since the reward for the first level was a fight scene that clocking under a minute, I didn't really feel compelled to keep going.

  • Digital copy: A second disc in the set features a digital copy of Star Wars: The Clone Wars for iPods and other portable media devices.
Conclusion: Star Wars: The Clone Wars is okay, but even with the enormous scale it tries to set for its action sequences, I never really felt as if I'd been watching a movie. It's a feature-length plug for a TV show, really, skewing fairly young and saddled with an awfully bland storyline about Jabba the Hutt's pint-sized tyke Stinky being kidnapped. The streamlined visual style lacks the detail and polish of most computer-animated theatrical releases, although it does look as slick as it really can on Blu-ray. This disc sports a decent set of high definition extras as well, even if a few too many of them seem more intensely focused on the television series than the movie itself. Rent It.
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