Through a fair amount of documentaries, audiences have gained a perspective on what attracts American audiences to cults like "Star Trek" and "Star Wars". "The Phandom Menace" is actually an Aussie documentary that shows Australian audiences preparing for the release of "Star Wars: Episode 1". What also makes this film different is that the directors don't simply let a bunch of people dance around in the costumes they've created (something many of the other documentaries spend too much time on), they actually allow the fans to articulate their feelings about what makes/made the films important to them.
The documentary is a very enjoyable mixture of information, insight and pure fan praise for the pictures. The interviews are from a mixture of fans, comic book store owners, fan club heads and others. It's definitely interesting to hear how some of the comic book store owners have gotten some of the promotional merchandise through their connections and gotten amazing amounts of money on Ebay.
Many of the fans discuss how the "Star Wars" films were among the first that they saw and how they were hooked from frame one. As one teenager says, "I suck at school, but with "Star Wars", I seem to remember everything." They also talk about the reactions from their friends and family about having meetings regarding "Star Wars" and entire rooms full of merchandise. I liked how the documentary questioned, at least for a moment, whether or not the mass-production of merchandise regarding the films is exploiting the fans, but this discussion really isn't continued very long.
Overall, I liked "The Phandom Menace" because, while there are some silly moments, it was largely a very straight-forward and interesting exploration of this film's fan-base. While it's mostly a positive outlook about the "Star Wars" universe, I l9ked the fact that there is also some discussions of the negative aspects of the "Star Wars" universe, mostly in regards to "The Phantom Menace". It's a good documentary and the most intelligent and informative of the "fan" documentaries I've seen.
VIDEO: The show is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. The picture looks as if it was shot by an above-average video camera. Sharpness and detail are largely very good, although there are some inconsistent patches where the picture looks softer and more like "video".
Flaws were apparent, but they certainly weren't very distracting. The picture occasionally had that "digital" appearance that looks like video, with a little bit of artifacts here and there. Other than the appearance of some artifacts, there weren't any concerns. Colors looked very good, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The film is presented in stereo. As is expected, the film's audio is simply "documentary-style", clearly capturing the interviews and offering little else.
Commentaries: There are two commentary tracks included on this DVD edition; one is provided by current Starwalking director Chris and former Starwalking director Shane. The other commentary is from directors Craig Tolkin and Warwick Holt. Speaking of sci-fi, the two fan-club directors provide a "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-like discussion of the film, joyfully joking about some of the fans interviews and providing some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits and analysis. The directors provide a similarly goofy chat, making a little fun of some of the scenes in the film and talking about how they met up with some of the fans shown in the film. Both tracks have some slow points, but they are also often informative and very funny.
Also: 4 interview outtakes and the film's entire soundtrack (there is a song selection menu where you can listen to each song separately).
Final Thoughts: "Phandom Menace" is probably one of the strongest "fans" documentaries that I've seen, getting to the substance of what draws these people to the films. The DVD edition provides fine audio/video and a fine amount of supplements. This is a very nice effort from Eclectic Distribution and I'm looking forward to seeing what else they have in store.