'Star Wars' lands in bonus heaven
By Jordan Riefe
Special to The Advertiser
|Jake Lloyd in a scene from "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace," a top-notch science fiction fantasy with state-of-the-art visual effects and a powerhouse cast.
Gannett News Service
Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman, Terence Stamp
The first installment of the saga following 9-year-old Anakin Skywalker, who is mentored by Jedi knights in their quest to save the universe from dark forces.
Generally regarded as a disappointment upon its release in May 1999, "Phantom Menace" still went on to earn more than $100 million at the box office. Take another look; convoluted it may be, but "Phantom Menace" is still a top-notch sci-fi fantasy with state-of-the-art visual effects and a powerhouse cast.
The seven deleted scenes on this comprehensive two-disc set include an extended pod race sequence and an eye-popping sequence in which the protagonists narrowly escape disaster when their submarine plunges off a waterfall. An hour-long "making-of" eschews the usual promotional hoo-ha for a genuinely insightful look at the origins of the film from its planning stages, table readings, a sandstorm that wiped out some of the film's main sets, through post-production to release. Keep an eye peeled for director Steven Spielberg, who, while on a friendly visit to the set, nearly breaks one of the props.
A collection of short featurettes focusing on subjects such as visual effects, costumes, design and fight choreography is supplemented by 12 short documentaries produced for the film's Web site. In addition to writer/director George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum, a battery of technicians provides commentary. Aside from being crowded, the track is informative but heavily laden with technical details.
A collection of animatics (computer-animated mock-ups), is offered, as well as a gallery featuring production photos and posters. Trailers and TV spots round out the set, which totals more than six hours of bonus material.
"ANGEL EYES" (Warner Bros.) 2001
Jennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel, Sonia Braga, Terrence Howard
A tough cop is rescued by a mysterious stranger who just might be her guardian angel.
Not a total flop at the box office earlier this year, this pic's fortunes may have suffered when Lopez decided not to do publicity for it. Rumor has it she backed out when the studio refused to change her credit from Jennifer Lopez to J-Lo.
As it is, Warner Bros. has released the film with minimal bonus materials, including only director's commentary from Luis Mandoki. Discussion centers on working with cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski (now deceased), and production designer Dean Tavoularis ("Godfather"), as well as info on casting and technical details. "It's a very gratifying experience for a director when you can tell an actor subtle things like 'play this scene more gray or more green, or think about a bird, or think about metal,' and they know exactly what you're talking about," says Mandoki.
"HAXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES" (Criterion Collection) 1922
A unique documentary on witchcraft from the days of silent film.
Grave-robbing, torture, possessed nuns and a satanic Sabbath ... Danish director Benjamin Christensen explores the creepy and the crawly in a series of dramatic vignettes theorizing that witches of the middle ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients.
Artistic and imaginative, "HÉxan" includes commentary by Danish silent-film scholar Casper Tybjerg. Director Christensen's introduction to the film's 1941 re-release, special-effects tests and stills make up the bulk of the disc's added extras. Also included is "Witchcraft Through The Ages," a 76-minute version of the film released in 1968 featuring narration by William S. Burroughs and music by violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.
Hardly fun for the whole family, "HÉxan" is one of the most unusual films ever made.
Recommended: "Cats & Dogs" (2001). Voices of Sean Hayes, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon
Jordan Riefe is a Los Angeles-based writer and West Coast radio correspondent for Variety magazine.