Friday, September 16, 2011

Blu Ray Review: Star Wars - The Complete Saga (2011)

This will not be an exhaustive breakdown of the set, as I do not have the time to watch and critique each bonus feature.  But I will offer a few words for those who are inexplicably on the fence about the set.  Point being, I'm guessing you've either already ordered or purchased this, or have decided for whatever reason (not the original versions, already like the DVDs, etc) not the pick up this HD upgrade.  Anyway, all six films look varying degrees of spectacular.  I'd argue that the prequels look shinier and what-not, while the original trilogy looks more impressive in relation to its age and relative production value.  There has been talk that The Phantom Menace looks lousier than the others, but I had no real objections as I scanned to a few highlights (Duel of the Red Shirts looks super).  As you all know, my sound system is whatever my Samsung DLP TV offers, so I can only say that the audio sounded fine, with a clear distinction between dialogue, the score, and various sound effects with a generally even volume level at all times (offhand, the big screw-up with the music during the 'Battle of Yavin' has been fixed).

But of course the real appeal of the set are the copious extra features included for all six films.  If you count the two commentaries (one from the DVD releases, one newly comprised of various interviews and what-not from cast/crew), you get about 40 hours of material.  The remaining 16 hours is comprised of three discs.  The first two bonus discs are the mostly new bonus material archives.  Disc one has the prequel stuff while disc two has the original trilogy material.  It's technically organized by location (IE - Naboo, Tatooine, etc.) but easily accessible otherwise. Under the PLAY ALL option, you can separately access the interviews, deleted scenes, art galleries, interactive 360-degree models of various props and costumes and the like (two hours worth for the original trilogy and 2.5 hours worth for the prequels), and about thirty minutes of art galleries for each trilogy.

Disc one has 49 minutes of deleted scenes (mostly from Revenge of the Sith and most in very rough animatronic form), 69 minutes of interviews, 150 minutes of the above-noted 'museum' feature, and 30 minutes of art galleries.  So that's 5 hours and two minutes worth of material right there.  Disc two (the original trilogy) has 60 minutes worth of interviews, 50 minutes worth of deleted scenes (including a rough extended Cantina scene in black and white with the original 'Han shoots first' bit), 130 minutes worth of 'museum' material, and about 35 minutes worth of art galleries.  So disc two has about 4 hours and 32 minutes for the original trilogy.  So the first two bonus discs has NINE and a HALF hours!

The third bonus disc is divided up into two parts.  There are 97 minutes worth of excerpts from various Star Wars parodies.  I suppose this is amusing, but considering what isn't on here (more on that later), it feels like a waste of space.  The meat of disc three is a collection of seven vintage documentaries spanning from 1977 to the 2010 retrospective chat with Irvin Kershner concerning the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back.  These mostly older documentaries run 326 minutes total, so the cumulative content on disc three is just over seven hours.  In terms of pure video-based features, you get about 997 minutes, or 16 hours and 37 minutes on three discs.

That's the good news.  The bad news is what is NOT on these discs.  Obviously the original theatrical versions of these pictures are not included, and yes Lucas and company saw fit to play around with the films yet again.  The good news is that the all-CGI Yoda of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith replaces the weirdly off-model puppet from The Phantom Menace.  The bad news is that, yes, Darth Vader does scream 'No!' when he kills the Emperor at the finale of Return of the Jedi.  It's annoying, but it's almost (ALMOST) subtle enough to not be that big of a deal (you can barely hear the first 'No.').  I could take or leave blinking Ewoks.  I probably wouldn't have noticed had it not been pointed out as an alteration.  If that's a deal-breaker, so be it.

I'm personally more annoyed about the fact that none of the copious and high-quality bonus material (aside from the commentaries) from the previous DVD editions of these films has been ported over.  We lose the deleted scenes from the prequel DVDs (including the tragically deleted Rebel Alliance subplot from Revenge of the Sith), and the 2.5 hour "Empire of Dreams" documentary from the original trilogy DVD set released seven years ago this month.  We lose the fantastic documentary from the Phantom Menace DVD ("The Beginning") that shows, among other uncommonly honest moments, Lucas picking the wrong kid among two finalists to play Anakin (if ever there was a time for James Earl Jones to scream 'NOOOO!').  Point being, there was lots of high-quality material on the previous releases, and any set calling itself 'comprehensive' should damn-well have included them.

But in the end, the box set is absolutely worth the purchase if you're a fan of the series who can get past the (somewhat understandable) frustration regarding the never-ending tinkering.  The films look and sound terrific, the packaging is gorgeous and compact (too compact to cram the other DVDs in, alas).  All of the bonus material is subtitled, to which I say kudos to Fox (you try reading lips when the volume is down because two kids are asleep across the hall).  And, bonus points, Fox doesn't hold you hostage for pausing and scanning (at 1.5x speed at least) with an insufferable pop-up timeline that covers chunks of the screen.  I don't know why so many studios do that these days (I don't care if it involves BD-Live or Java, I should be able to pause my damn Blu Ray and see the whole image), but it's nice to see that Fox and Universal have allowed it to be an option.

So quibbles both major and minor about missing bonus material and altered versions of the film aside, this is a genuinely impressive set for any Star Wars fan.  The choice is yours.

Scott Mendelson  

1 comment:

corysims said...

So happy to hear that there is a play all function on the bonus discs so I don't have to select each planet to get to the good stuff. And Scott, when you get a chance, check out those archival commentaries. I've only listed to the ones for A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back but they are gold. I'm dying to hear the archival commentaries for the Prequels.

That will be Saturday.


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