Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones on
By Jim Bray
Well, finally, we have here a DVD that does George Lucas'
imagination and penchant for technological advance justice. And which proves
that, if not dead, film is at least well on its way to being replaced by high
The latter point is obviously arguable, but having seen
II in the theater and now on DVD Im even less likely to visit
the local Cineplex again. As it stands I can only be dragged there for the
occasional film: in the past two years that has meant Fellowship of the Ring (the presentation of which was so
bad in the theater that I complained to
Harry Potter, Spiderman, and
Clones. Each of these viewings featured grainy and fuzzy visuals
and audio I can exceed in my (admittedly higher end) home theater - so why go
other than to spend too much money on a ticket and have my feet stick to the
And now, with Attack of the Clones, George Lucas has advanced the
state of the live action movie art to its next level and, at least
in the home video incarnation, given us the picture clarity of such all-digital
features as Monsters, Inc and the
This is a good thing! Thanks, Mr. Lucas!
This is the DVD that Phantom Menace should have been.
When Episode I premiered on DVD, it was hailed as a new reference standard for
the medium - but it wasnt. The digital characters and effects were indeed
crystal clear, but the live action was too soft, almost fuzzy. And the audio,
while excellent, was too quiet (on my home theater I had to turn the volume
knob up from its regular level to get the same sound out of
Menace). For a reference quality live action DVD it couldnt
hold a candle to such releases as The Fifth
But Episode II was shot entirely on high definition video, a
format known as 24P (24 frames per
second, progressively scanned), with lenses designed to give the same look
Lucas had achieved when using film. The result is eye-opening to say the least,
and since its genesis was all digital (as opposed to shooting on analog film
and then transferring it to video) it translates directly to the digital DVD
medium the same way as those all-digital Pixar and Disney flicks do.
So Episode II is head and shoulders better, and therefore more
satisfying as a DVD, than Episode I was. The live action is wonderfully sharp
and matches all the movie's computer-generated stuff much better than in
Episode I, to create the seamless blend that was missing from Phantom
Menace. Not only that, but the overall picture quality is nothing short
of superb, with razor sharp images and gorgeous colors.
The audio is also excellent, though perhaps theyve gone the
opposite way this time and made it a little too hot. I started running it at
the normal listening level, as I do with all DVDs, but it seemed that the
bass was a tad excessive because when Senator Amidalas decoy ship was
blown up in the opening scene, my subwoofer rattled mightily and I had to turn
it off. Id like to think it was the disc and not the subwoofer, which is
THX-certified (but which, to be fair, has packed it in before). Fortunately, my
main front speakers have built in powered subwoofers so we managed to continue
the viewing after a short pause to change the surround processors
configuration - but even then the bass was such that it rattled the loose
pictures on the walls more than most movies do.
You just cant please some people, can you?
We also noticed the odd bit of distortion at places during the
movie, but this was minor in the grand scheme of things. Overall, the audio
quality is as excellent as the picture - and very loud.
So hows the movie itself? Great but, as with Episode V
The Empire Strikes Back, since its the middle part of a
trilogy its very much darker than the other episodes - though probably
not as dark as Episode III will necessarily be.
It doesnt seem to have the pacing of the other entries,
either and, at 142 minutes, its also longer and the two factors combine
to make Clones seem even longer.
But thats a minor criticism of a film that, in the grand
"Star Wars" tradition, has more imagination and life to it than most of its
Set a decade after Episode I, the storyline advances the fall of
the Republic, which is already crumbling beneath the very eyes of the guardian
Jedi Knights who are being manipulated by forces they dont really
understand and who are finding themselves increasingly out of their depth.
Thousands of worlds are joining a secessionist movement and a civil war is
becoming increasingly likely.
Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), former Queen of Naboo and
now a senator from that lovely world, comes to Coruscant to vote against the
creation of an Army to combat the separatists. But an attempt on her life
causes her to go into hiding, under the protection of the Jedi order as
represented by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his student Anakin Skywalker
(Hayden Christensen) - the later of whom is even more gifted than when we last
saw him as a young boy and whos now chafing under the tutelage of his
mentor and the discipline necessary to become a true Jedi.
We know Anakin has to succumb to the dark side of the force if
hes to become Darth Vader (which, as we all know, he will), but from the
time we first see him in Attack of the Clones we can see the
beginnings of this descent into evil. Anakin is not yet evil, far from it in
fact, but hes headstrong, impatient, emotional, and far too impressed
with his own abilities for his own good. Hes also paying too much heed to
Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who we know (but he doesnt) is also
the dark lord who will become the Emperor and will turn him to the dark side.
Palpatine plays on the youths weaknesses, strokes his ego, and generally
does his best to keep him off balance (all in one very brief scene!).
And now Anakin is being haunted by nightmares of the mother he
hasnt seen for those ten years, and this is affecting his performance and
his judgement - seriously and tragically so, as well find out later in
the film when he takes a pivotal step towards the dark side.
As protector to Senator Amidala, hes charged with keeping
her safe - but hes also hopelessly in love with her - moreso than the
childish crush he had when he last saw her as a kid (Are you an
angel? he asked her in Phantom Menace). Yet as a Jedi he
cant love her, and as a Senator she cant love him - regardless of
the feelings stirring within her as well.
They have to fall in love, of course, because she has to give
birth to Luke and Leia Skywalker somewhere down the road, and over the course
of the film they do find that forbidden love.
Meanwhile, the Jedi discover that the people on a world
deliberately hidden from them has been quietly building a clone army for the
republic at the behest of a long dead Jedi. This comes as a complete surprise
to the Jedi, but the clones come in handy at movies climax when they and
the Jedi must face off against a new droid army being wielded by the evil Count
Dooku (Christopher Lee) who has turned to the dark side and taken the place of
Darth Maul from Phantom Menace.
Meanwhile, the Jedi council is being played for fools - and the
much-savaged Jar Jar Binks is manipulated in his role as substitute senator -
all while Dooku tells just enough of the truth to his ex-Jedi compatriots to
cause them to question their own perceptions of reality.
Thats a pretty superficial look at a movie that does an
excellent job of moving along the events of Phantom Menace while putting into
place many of the situations and characters that will happen in the
original Star Wars trilogy that, alas, shows no sign of appearing
on DVD any time soon.
Natalie Portman is very good as Senator Amidala, much grown up
from Phantom, and Ewan McGregor excels as Kenobi, trying to ride
herd on an apprentice whose abilities far outstrip his own. Christensen, though
hated by some, is perfectly cast as Anakin, combining youthful exuberance and
hormones with more than a touch of the darkness well undoubtedly be
seeing more of in the next installment.
Its wonderful to see Christopher Lee here. He has such great
presence - and he makes an interesting connection to the earlier
trilogy where Peter Cushing (Lees old compatriot from Hammer horror
films) also made an impact as Governor Tarkin. Samuel L. Jackson is better here
than in Menace and we now have the most fully fleshed out
performance from Yoda since, appropriately, Empire.
Much has been ballyhooed about how this time Yoda has moved from
puppet to all-digital creation and, while I didnt think it worked when I
saw the film in the theater, Im a lot more disposed to like him on my
second viewing. The digital version is better, but despite their efforts to
make the digital creation as faithful as possible to the original version,
hes just too animated (no pun intended) for me to completely suspend my
There isnt a lot of the R2D2/C3PO relationship which, to be
fair, is just beginning anyway, and the protocol droid seems there basically
for comedy relief in what could otherwise be an excessively serious film.
Im not sure he/it really works, but Ill give the droid and Mr.
Lucas the benefit of the doubt.
The effects, of course, are mind bending. Each Star Wars movie
gets better in this regard and thats great - though I still think the
best of the movies over all (effects notwithstanding) is the first
one, Episode IV A New Hope because of its freshness and energy. Sure, its
effects look a tad dated today, even the special editions, but I hope
they dont give it any more special edition treatments because its
clearly a case of gilding the lily.
And once again John Williams is on hand to give us yet another
sweeping, classic score full of themes both familiar and new, and Lucas uses
Williams genius to plant seeds about events to come and remind us of
But back to the DVD. As with Phantom Menace, you get a
lot more than just the movie. The two disc, THX-certified (no surprise, since
it was Lucas who first brought us THX - in every respect) DVD includes a gang
commentary on disc one, with enough extras on the second disc to keep Star Wars
fans happy for many an hour.
Those extras include a plethora of documentaries, and they're
fascinating. Best of all, virtually all of them are in anamorphic widescreen,
which is a real bonus to people with 16x9 TV's. The extras cover everything
from eschewing film to the creation of the special effects, sound design,
creatures, and just about every other aspect of the production. You also get a
music video feature Maestro John Williams in his element.
Fox has chosen to release this film in both widescreen and
Pan&Scan versions under separate cover, which really rubs me the wrong way
because it'll force those who buy the P&S version to shell out for the
widescreen one again when they upgrade to the new TV technology. I'd recommend
anyone interested in buying the disc to get the widescreen version and live
with the black bars; if the bars really bother you then just rent the P&S
disc and take it back when you're finished with it.
Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones, from 20th Century Fox Home
142 min., anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen,
Produced by Rick McCallum
Written by George Lucas and
Jonathan Hales, Directed by George Lucas
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