Monday, September 19, 2011

A Reel Review: STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SAGA in Blu-ray

It’s rare, if ever, that Reel Speak reviews a home-video release. But in the case of the long-awaited and somewhat controversial STAR WARS COMPLETE SAGA in (glorious) Blu-ray, an exception can certainly be made. We all knew that the transfer would likely be gorgeous (it’s beyond that), but what about everything else?

The absolute first thing that must be talked about is the picture quality; It is absolutely mind-fucking stunning. the stars, explosions and laser blasts are more brilliant than ever. The brilliant white of Hoth and the stunning exterior shots are just eye-popping. In more intimate scenes, the level of fine detail creates a new experience in the STAR WARS universe; from Threepio’s scratches to Vader’s little LED lights, to every last rock and pebble on the desert floor. And who knew Carrie Fisher had such cute freckles? Set interiors, such as the cockpit of the Falcon can now be seen in their exquisite design and construction.

This blogger has always believed that the way a movie sounds is almost more important than how a movie looks; no one can stomach lousy audio no matter how great the visuals are. STAR WARS in Blu does not disappoint here; in fact, it is astounding. The films have always been known for its unique sound effects and music, and here it is crystal clear and mixed perfectly in glorious 6.1 surround. Lucasfilm has always understood that great sound is less about volume and more about presence; and the mix here is the best this blogger has ever heard in a home release. You are certainly surrounded by the movie.

The extras are well worth the price, with new interviews, commentary, and a collection of spoofs made over the long years. The real gem of it all is the long-awaited release of deleted scenes from the original trilogy; most especially the cut scenes from A NEW HOPE and EMPIRE. Without getting into the details, the scenes are awesome to see. However, they are not restored; they are in their roughest and rawest form with no scoring or editing. It would have been nice to see them cleaned up and restored, but hey; a lot of people prefer to see STAR WARS completely unaltered, so there ya go. There is also a fantastic fly-through tour of the Lucasfilm archives, which shows off everything from frozen Han to Jabba’s eyes to the Ark’s Nazi-crate. Outside of the film-specific bonus discs, the others present some real gems in the forms of original making-of docs, and the much heralded animated short-film in which Boba Fett made his debut to the world. It is worth noting that the bonus discs are NOT a repeat or rehash of the bonus materials found on the standard DVD release; it is all new stuff.

The alterations this time around are subtle in some places, and not-so-subtle in others. CGI Yoda in EPISODE I is a great improvement; the new facial expressions work very well and offer some insight into the character. The blinking Ewoks are kinda creepy and take some getting used to, and the new approach to Jabba’s palace door is pretty neat. Vader’s new “no” actually comes across better in Blu with good sound than it does when viewed on tiny YouTube clips, but it is still unnecessary and a result of overthinking. It doesn’t completely ruin the scene, as all the important elements are still there. Seriously, there are no changes here worth getting into a hate-filled rage over. And this blogger is pretty sure the Greedo/Han scene has been altered again…

BOTTOM LINE: If you are still clinging to the VHS or the standard DVD release, a truly incredible experience is being missed. The awesome picture and sound offers a new and fresh look at the films, and even long-time haters of the prequels may find a new experience. The sound and picture are so incredible it’s impossible to peel yourself away from it, and it really is like seeing them for the first time. For years, this blogger always held A NEW HOPE as his favorite; but after viewing EMPIRE in Blu, that has changed; the experience is incredibly engrossing.

There is a magic of rediscovery at work here, and the thrill is back.

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