A Talk With the Forces at Lucasfilm

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YodaAlmost immediately after the initial announcement of the scheduled DVD release of “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” in October, we have been able to catch up with the folks at Lucasfilm to find out a little more about this highly anticipated release. The “Star Wars” films are easily the most anticipated films to come to DVD and we asked VP of Marketing Jim Ward what took so long to bring the first film in the series to DVD.

“It takes a long time to put something together like this DVD, ” he points out. “Rather than simply slapping some stuff together, we wanted to take the time and effort to make it as special as anyhow possible. For example, we went back and rather than simply take deleted scenes from the cutting room floor we had to take a different approach. In “Star Wars” you can’t really do that because 90% of these scenes consists of bluescreen footage. They’re not finished. So, George Lucas took seven scenes that he had shot the live action for but were never created for the film, handed them over to ILM where they created these scenes from the ground up. The result is 20 minutes of new footage that simply rocks.”

The disc will also contain a 40-minute minute documentary on the subject, and Ward is quick to point out that none of the documentaries on the DVD your off-the-mill promo featurette. This documentary covers the creation of these deleted scenes for the DVD and how ILM went about creating these new scenes. “In addition to that, we also had a documentary crew follow George around for the entire 4 years that he was doing this film. We had over 600 hours of raw footage. It was edited down into a 1 hour of documentary film. It has a real fly-on-the-wall feel, and is not your typical talking heads promo featurette. These documentaries are really taking you on the inside. They take you into ILM and Lucasfilm like never before. They’re like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

Obviously, creating such content takes time, which explains in part why “The Phantom Menace” is surfacing on DVD only now. But also the painstaking mastering process the film itself went through took a long time. Mastered by the folks at THX, the transfer was scrutinized every bit of the way to make sure it looks as good as possible.

“We made this DVD for the fans,” Jim Ward points out. “We wanted to give them something really special. We want to make it worth their investment and give them the opportunity to learn more about us and the “Star Wars” universe.”

amidalaDuring this extensive period of waiting, repeatedly many fans voiced their disappointment how their favorite movies are not making their debut on DVD, and Lucasfilm always kept an eye on the situation in order not to alienate the fanbase that made the “Star Wars” films so successful in the first place. “We were in constant contact with the fans through websites, conventions and so forth,” Ward explains. “They’re a great bunch of people and most of the turmoil is them expressing their hopes and frustration. It’s part of being part of the Star Wars world. When the Special Edition initially came out there was a lot of controversy about the newly done scenes, but down the line, everyone turns out loving it. I am sure, when the fans see this DVD and the stuff that’s is on there they’ll understand why it took some time to prepare.”

Apart from these specially created featurettes and documentaries that will give fans a unique look behind the scenes of the film, the DVD also contains a gallery with never-before-seen photos. While at first glimpse this may not be anything special, consider the exposure anything related to “Star Wars” is getting. You would think every photo ever taken on the set or during the production of the movie has been published countless times somewhere before, but Ward tells me the DVD will contain shots you will never have seen before!

All in all, it is obvious that Lucasfilm has deliberately tried to create fresh content for this DVD release rather than rehashing promo featurettes and material you have seen numerous times before. Starting with the menus for the DVD, all the way to the last image in the galleries, this DVD will be a treasure trove in which even the most hard-core fans will be able to explore and find things they had not glimpsed at before.

Although the disc’s producer Van Ling along with Jon Shenk and other producers associated with this DVD is very familiar with various technologies that help push the envelope of DVD technology, the DVD for “The Phantom Menace” is fairly low-end compared to the current crop of releases that pop up. Unfortunately the fact that the production took 18 months by the time the disc finally ships is very much reason for that. Seamless branching was in its infancy at the time production on this title commenced, and was flawed with many problems. Other aspects had not even been explored at all, and instead of taking chances, Lucasfilm decided not to rely on such seamless integration of additional content in the actual film. Another consideration was the integrity of the film itself, as Jim Ward points out. “We want to make sure people enjoy the film itself and don’t get sidetracked by all sorts of extras that are integrated. This doesn’t necessarily mean we will never go down that path, but by the time we began this process, we wanted people to simply enjoy the film as it is.”

The DVD of “The Phantom Menace” will for the first time include a commentary track by George Lucas. Following the development of DVD closely, the current state of the industry and his wish to communicate more of his thoughts obviously helped to change his mind. “He was actually very eager to do it,” Ward tells me. “In the form of the DVD, with all the opportunities that come with it we all took the standpoint that a commentary track is a standard element of a DVD. Also, with “Episode I” there was lot of insight he wanted to share with people.”

Especially in the light that “The Phantom Menace” has increased the “Star Wars” consumer base by 42% makes this an interesting aspect of communicating with the fans. “More people saw “Episode I” than all other episodes combined,” Ward fills me in. He also reports that George Lucas was very actively involved in the creation of this DVD despite his extremely busy schedule while working on “Episode II.” “After all, he was the one who wanted to create the seven deleted scenes.”

AnakinOne of the notable things about the upcoming DVD of “The Phantom Menace” is the lack of a DTS audio track, something most fans would have certainly expected from the release. As in many instances before, ultimately the question became whether to include additional content, or the additional DTS audio track. “It’s a lot of content on that DVD,” Jim Ward explains. “With all the issues in content desires, we had to make some really tough choices, and dropping a DTS audio track was one we had to make, and at this point in time we do not have any plans to make a DTS version available separately”

With “Episode I” now finally coming to DVD, one question immediately burns in every fan’s mind. Is a DVD release of the other episodes also on the horizon? Sadly, Lucasfilm has o plans at this point to release any of the other three episodes on DVD anytime soon. However, Ward is eager to tell me that Lucasfilms’ “Willow” will finally see its DVD debut this fall.

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