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Eclectic DVD presents
The Phandom Menace (2000)

"I was a fan of Star Wars before it came out."
- Shane Morrissey

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 22, 2002

Stars: Shane Morrissey, Chris Brennan, Hugh Quarshie, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole
Director: Craig E. Tonkin, Warwick Holt

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:02m:31s
Release Date: April 23, 2002
UPC: 022891101291
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+C+B B+

DVD Review

Poking fun at rabid sci-fi fans is easy, and the faithful followers of the Star Wars universe are indeed some of the most comically intense (second only to Trekkies, I imagine). This sixty-two-minute documentary from 2000 follows the premiere of the long-awaited Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace in Australia, and the build up of the corresponding fan hoopla and anticipation. Though the film is narration-free, directors Craig E. Tonkin and Warwick Holt take a decidedly mocking tone through snippets of the often humorous, deep analytical comments from fans, most of which are members of an Aussie fan club called Starwalking. What is even more surprising is that Phandom Menace manages to deliver a rather twisty conclusion that is almost depressing in its honesty.

Tonkin and Holt focus on a few different areas of the Star Wars fan base, relying on fanboy sound bites and quick-cut interview segments pieced together including, most notably, obsessive collectors and the slightly nerdy inner circle of devoted followers of LucasFilms. A lot of the interview subjects come across as nothing more than well meaning fans admittedly a little too into the series, driven to collect and own as much related merchandise as possible (a trait I can identify with, though not when it comes to Star Wars). Their negative comments about the saturated Episode 1 line of toys ring true, though it didn't seem to stem their purchasing in any way.

The highlight of Phandom Menace is the recurring story of Shane Morrissey, the uber-serious head of Starwalking, whose fanaticism is almost religious in its seriousness. The long, slow wait for Episode 1 was extremely hard on Morrissey, and when he reads a long-winded message from LucasFilms before the Aussie midnight premiere, he is practically booed offstage. It is a weirdly bittersweet moment in an otherwise lightweight documentary, and though Morrissey's devotion to the Star Wars universe seems overblown, his treatment at the premiere is sadly the equivalent of getting heckled at your own birthday party.

One of the fans makes a comment about Episode 1, stating that "people are going to love it even if it's toilet paper." Well said, indeed. It's funny, and maybe a little too familiar, to see how the sixteen year wait for a new Star Wars epic created such a wave of eagerness and anticipation that it was literally impossible for any film to meet the expectations.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, The Phandom Menace can't hide its modestly-budgeted video documentary roots, and most of the footage varies in quality. Grain and color bleed are common occurrences throughout, and appropriate lighting also fluctuates greatly. This is primarily a talking heads type project, and the image flaws are not as significant as they would have been for a feature film.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo track is adequate, and naturally doesn't offer much in the way of excessive fidelity. Dialogue is clear and hiss-free, and that's really all a documentary like this is meant to deliver.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
4 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Craig Tonkin, Warwick Holt
Chris Brennan, Shane Morrissey
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Eclectic has included a decent compliment of extras here, certainly more than I would have expected for a sixty-minute documentary.

Commentaries
Two full-length, scene-specific commentaries are included, the first featuring directors Tonkin and Holt, the second given by Starwalking members (and Phandom Menace subjects) Chris Brennan and Shane Morrissey. The Tonkin/Holt track doesn't offer much insight, and it is extremely difficult to tell the speakers apart, due to identical sounding voices. They are openly sarcastic, and while they pretend to comment on the "is it a club or is it cult" concept, it's clear that they really just wanted to make fun of Star Wars fans, which they managed to do quite nicely. The Brennan/Morrissey track is equally lackluster, but is worth a listen to just for their comments during the scene where Morrissey is booed of the stage at the Aussie premier; it's embarrassing and awkward.

Extended Interviews
These interview segments feature a longer Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka from Episode 1) chat, as well as the quirky thirty-five minute interview with Shane Morrissey, a guy who became more oddly fascinating as the documentary unfolded.
The four extended scenes are:
Midnight Moon (02m:22s)
Leia's Buns (01m:55s)
Hugh Quarshie Interview (11m:21s)
Shane's Final Interview (35m:37s)

Soundtrack
The twelve techno electronic songs featured on the soundtrack are available via a menu screen, and include such unknown creations as Lost in the Stars by e-wok and Obi Won by Phonophobic. There is no "play all" option, unfortunately.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

This is an often funny, inadvertently touching documentary about Star Wars-mania in Australia, but it could really be anywhere. Did Episode 1 live up to its hype? Could any film? Though Tonkin and Holt mock the fans a bit, I don't think any serious Star Wars geek will take offense, as most of the interview subjects admit to the strangeness of their over-the-top loyalty.

Recommended.

 


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