Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is effectively the fifth Star Wars movie in a cinema legacy which has lasted for the past 25 years (since 1977). It is the second prequel produced in a wave of films that represent the 'back story' on the phenomenally successful Star Wars Trilogy. The first of the 'prequels', Episode I:The Phantom Menace, was released back in 1999 and for me was a fairly big disappointment. Looking back I can attribute a great deal of my disappointment with Episode I to the extremely high expectations I had for the film. I now wonder if it would have even been possible for George Lucas to make a film that could live up to memories we all have of the first Star Wars movie. Now after 3 years or so of time, and several DVD viewings, I think I've gotten a much better perspective on The Phantom Menace and found a place for it in my 'Star Wars fandom'.
While Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones wasn't as big of a let down for me, it still didn't quite meet my initial expectations. There is a lot to like about Episode II. It's a virtual feast for the eyes, with a depth to the visual effects like I've never seen before. I did really enjoy the action scenes on Coruscant with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, the fight on the water planet, and of course the Clone War and light-saber battles towards the end of the film. Even when there wasn't action on screen there's almost always something amazing and exciting to look at.
My excitement, however, over some of the more active and breathtaking scenes of Episode II is counterbalanced by my sheer boredom during some of the scenes focused on the political context of the Star Wars universe. I've never been extremely interested in this aspect of the series (although I can understand its general importance) and many of the scenes surrounding the Senate I found to be quite dull. Also, try as I may, I could never really get into the entire romance between Senator Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker. The chemistry between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman just didn't seem to be there, and the dialogue for many of the love scenes is just awful. But the slow and poor scenes in Episode II weren't enough to squelch my enjoyment of the film.
For me, the key to truly enjoying Episode II has come through the DVD experience. It has given me the ability to let some time pass from my initial experience, provided me with amazing context, and an insight into the creation of the movie and production. I've found that getting some perspective on Episode II is really the best way to not only enjoy it, but to appreciate the elements which are truly spectacular.
With Star Wars Episode II, Lucas decided to take the digital plunge, shooting the entire film on high definition video. From this he created a digital source which was used where Star Wars II: Attack of The Clones was shown in theaters with digital projection. Although shot on film, Episode I: The Phantom Menace was also shown digitally from a digital source created from film elements. When it came time to produce the Episode I DVD, Lucasfilm decided to use the film transfer over the digital source for the DVD.
For the Episode II DVD Lucas has continued his all-digital drive, and uses the direct digital source to create one of the most eye popping DVDs I've seen yet. Every frame of Episode II is crisp and clear, blacks are deep and saturated and skin tones are rich and true. The biggest delight is the fact that finally the digital effects and characters truly do match with the live action. It's so much easier in Episode II to 'suspend disbelief' for the all digital characters as they blend in so much better than in any other film I've seen. The best example of this is Jar-Jar (who I still don't like) who looks legions better in Episode II and matches with the live action elements much, much better.
One of the real treats in terms of the picture on the Star Wars Episode II DVD is that many of the extras and documentaries are enhanced for widescreen TVs. Many of the interview shots of Lucas and McCallum are as sharp and clear as I've seen video interviews get. This level of attention to detail throughout the DVD helps turn a great DVD into one of the year's best!
If you had any doubts about High Definition Video, the Episode II DVD will quickly put them to rest. The overall look takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do, it's easy to appreciate the amazing clarity and fidelity. Living in a smaller city, I saw Episode II projected from a film transfer of the digital source, but the direct digital transfer on the Episode II DVD easily blows away my theatrical viewing of the film!
There's no other way to put it - this DVD rocks! Star Wars Episode II is by far one of the best sounding DVDs I've heard. The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is so rich and enveloping that it really draws you in. The bass fidelity is incredible with some definite 'room shaking' scenes for anyone with even a modest subwoofer. A lot of the success of the audio for the Episode II DVD is due to a phenomenal sound mix which is so layered and complex that it's a virtual smorgasbord for the ears. What's amazing is how balanced the audio is; with all the layers of sound and effects, it would be easy to be overwhelmed. The audio mix of Episode II strikes a perfect balance between dialogue, effects, ambient sounds and John William's phenomenal score (one of the best he's done yet).
If you don't have a 5.1 system in your home, Episode II is the disc which will convince you to run out and get one, and if you do, this is the DVD you're going to pull out to show your friends and family how amazing a home theater can sound!
Audio Commentary - Once you've had a chance to watch the movie in all its 5.1 glory you'll want to check out the audio commentary track on Episode II. As with Episode I, there are on-screen titles as to who is speaking. This is EXTREMELY helpful and should be a standard for any audio commentary with more than one person talking. The Episode II commentary edits together the comments of George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll and Ben Snow. It's a great mix between the production process, specific information about how a scene came about, and the context of a scene in the Star Wars Saga.
For the Star Wars Episode II DVD, Lucasfilm took an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to the DVD, closely following the form and format of the Episode I DVD. While I would liked to have seen Producer Van Ling and the folks at Lucasfilm push the envelope yet again, I see nothing wrong with matching the level of one of the best DVDs produced!
As with Episode I, the real stars of the Episode II DVD extras are the documentaries which provide great depth and insight into the making of the film. On the Episode I DVD the star of the show was the documentary 'The Beginning'. This time around rather than one masterful documentary covering the production process, we are given three very focused documentaries:
From Puppets to Pixels (hich is better titled 'Everything you ever wanted to know about digital character animation but were afraid to ask') goes into painstaking detail on all the steps involved with bringing a digital character to the screen. The main focus of the documentary is the entire (and I do mean entire) process of moving from a Yoda puppet (in previous episodes) into an entirely digital Yoda. I found the process fascinating, especially for the extreme dedication on all parties involved to remain true to the image we all have of Yoda. I was also impressed with the level of involvement that George Lucas had every step of the way. It's clear that in the digital world, the concept of 'Director' is truly redefined. Running just under an hour, From Puppets to Pixels is a fantastic look at what ultimately will be the 'early years' of digital character animation and gives a look into the exciting new way movies will be made.
State of the Art: The Previsualization Process of Episode II is the weakest of three main documentaries on the DVD. Running about half as long as 'From Puppets to Pixels', it catalogs the process of creating pre-visualizations, used to see how the digitally heavy scenes will work on screen. There are some very entertaining moments in this documentary, like when some of the previsualization techs do a home video mock-up of the Coruscant sky chase and a look at some early previsualizations done for the original Star Wars, but not enough of them to make this one work. Unfortunately 'State of the Art' falls into the trap that many mediocre documentaries do as it spends more time on people talking about how great the process went and how great everyone on the team was, than anything else.
Films Are Not Released; They Escape is, for some reason, not listed under the documentary section of the DVD; instead, it's stashed away in the Dex's Kitchen area. By far my favorite of the three main documentaries on the disc, 'Films Are Not Released' gives a window into the behind the scenes production process of how Digital Films are really made. What I particularly liked about 'Films are Not Released' is the focus on Editor and Sound Designer Ben Burtt. Typically a lot of attention gets paid to the mastery of George Lucas and the involvement of producer Rick McCallum and so it was nice to get a real sense of the talent of Ben Burtt. 'Films Are Not Released' does a great job of showing how all the elements come together to make a movie, where all those sounds come from, and how everything gets sorted out before release. If you're looking for a Documentary with the same kind of tone and enjoyment like 'The Beginning' from Episode I, be sure not to miss 'Films are Not Released'.
The Web Documentaries - It's extremely easy to overlook the 12 Web Documentaries on this disc, but to do so would be a great mistake. I absolutely loved these 12 Mini-docs, which each do a great job of being extremely focused on an aspect of the movie. Most important is the first Web Doc which is really the only place on the disc where they talk specifically about filming in HD. Also this is really the only place to hear some of the actors discuss the making of the film (the only other place where the actors appear is in the featurettes). Don't let the fact that these documentaries appeared on the web fool you, the quality of picture and sound on the DVD for them are top notch all worth watching.
In addition to the main documentaries there are a number of featurettes (many of which are much like featurettes found on other DVDs).
Episode II Visual Effects Montage is effectively a promo for LucasFilm. It shows several scenes of the film with quick cuts between the previsualization, the shooting footage, and the final scene. It's all set to a boppy music track and all in all it last just a few minutes. The only really amusing thing about this featurette is at the end with some visual effects bloopers.
R2-D2: Beneath The Dome Trailer is a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary trailer with highlights from the 20 minute mockumentary (which can be seen on StarWars.com). It's mildly amusing but never really funny. It's the kind of thing someone does for a company party when they have too much time on their hands and tons of creative energy.
Story, Love and Action, three plot-based featurettes running just under ten minutes a piece, cover the non-technical side of the film. These featurettes are pretty surface and don't bring much new insight and are kind of things that are made to promote a film more than anything else.
With the Episode I DVD, Lucas went back and had his production team produce several new scenes that weren't produced for the film (they only existed in pre-visualization). This time around it seems that the eight included deleted scenes were in fact produced and then deleted from the film. As a result many of the deleted scenes are long and talky, the kinds of things typically deleted from movies. I like how you can chose to look at the eight scenes individually or play them all with introductions. It's becoming clearer and clearer that this style of introductions are much more watchable than audio commentary on deleted scenes. Unfortunately there really aren't any WOW scenes among the deleted scenes, something that I had expected given what we saw on the Episode I DVD. All in all these eight are pretty forgettable scenes, which you'll probably watch once and forget. One nice thing is that none of the deleted scenes have been edited back in the DVD version of Episode II.
As with Episode I, this DVD links off to the special Star Wars DVD web site. At press time there wasn't anything up there of note, but we expect that to change when the DVD is officially released. In addition to the link to the Star Wars DVD site there's also the full 'Holonet' news site (a mock Coruscant/Republic news site), which is mildly interesting. To get to the DVD-Rom part of the DVD I had to launch the Interactual Player and then play the DVD (which is not my default player). It would be nice if at some point all DVD-Rom software out there could support the ROM part of DVDs, as I'm not much a fan of the Interactual player or even having to launch another player.
By all accounts Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is an amazing DVD. Without reservation, I give it DVD Talk's highest rating. It excels on all fronts with reference quality picture and sound, has extremely well produced supporting material and provides a home theater experience which you will want to revisit again and again. Most importantly the Episode II DVD gives you the chance to let a little time pass from the insane frenzy which surrounds Star Wars films and truly appreciate and judge it for what it is - a groundbreaking technical achievement.