STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE
Fox Home Entertainment, $29.98
THE ONLY BELL or whistle this fanboy's wet dream doesn't have is once-in-touch-with-reality director George Lucas musing "Jar Jar . . . shit, I blew it." Despite granting exclusive access to the casting, costuming, and editing of his shockingly flat 1999 prequel, the Star Czar only concedes one error: the confusing, banal senate machinations that plague Phantom's first act.
In case previous installments of this column haven't clued you in yet, most major-studio DVD packages focus on how-the-hell-did-they-do-that? visual effects features, not insights into storytelling nuance. This one is no exception. Its proliferation of detailed animatics bonuses beat the fun out of Phantom's two best sequences—the light saber three-way and the pod race. At least three times, Lucas reminds us that Queen Amidala's freaky outfits are elaborate because Phantom's universe, predating Star Wars by all of 30 years, was far more sophisticated. Oh, that explains it.
More interesting is the battle among three potential Anakins—including irksome ultimate winner Jake Lloyd—complete with read-throughs with Natalie Portman. Amazingly, Lloyd was the cream of a weak finalist crop. Producer Rick McCallum contributes welcome, profane honesty to the stellar making-of documentary The Beginning. After an overnight sandstorm obliterates Tattooine sets in Tunisia, he surveys the wreckage and mutters, "This is fucking grim." Prophetic words indeed.
TOM GREEN somehow got Freddy Got Fingered on disc (speaking of disasters); it's due Oct. 23, when the fine Janet McTeer also bows in Songcatcher, which SW actually liked. A film we definitely didn't like, Swordfish, comes out the following week, starring John Travolta and co-starring his eccentric soul patch. In theory, a new print of Funny Girl will play in theaters before that 1968 film arrives as a special edition DVD; keep your fingers crossed, you fans of Babs. The strident but funny 1972 satire The Ruling Class is already out as a special edition disc; due soon are bonus-laden versions of David Lean's Dr. Zhivago and Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun—one of his better, yet oddly underrated, films.