George Lucas is the star of the DVD of his 1999 blockbuster, "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace" (Fox, $30). Not only does he supply audio commentary on the sci-fi adventure, he also appears in several documentaries on the second disc.
Low-key to the extreme, Lucas is a calm, personable host, but one who is very much in charge of his Lucasfilm empire.
The two-disc set, which is highly enjoyable but not as inspiring as the recent "The Godfather DVD Collection" and the digital edition of "Snow White," boasts eight hours of material.
The highlight of the second disc is a comprehensive documentary on the making of "Phantom Menace," from early pre-production meetings to casting, the first table read, the creation of the elaborate special effects and the actual filming in England and Tunisia. Included are interviews with Lucas; producer Rick McCallum; stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd; composer John Williams and several of the special-effects supervisors.
One scene finds Lucas giving his friend Steven Spielberg a tour of some of the sets and creatures for the film.
Another extra on the second disc is a documentary featuring interviews with Lucas and directors Francis Ford Coppola and Phil Kaufman about why some scenes end up on the cutting-room floor. Lucas then introduces seven deleted scenes from "Phantom Menace" that were completed for the disc and explains why they were cut. These include two extended pod race sequences and a comic bit in which Jar Jar Binks nearly drowns while trying to escape from a submarine.
There are also five featurettes--all anchored by Lucas--exploring such topics as visual effects, costume, production design and the fight sequences. Then there are trailers, TV spots, a gallery of never-before-seen cast and crew photos and an interactive feature that utilizes the angle button to allow viewers to jump from storyboards to animatics (digital storyboards) to final film composites.
The digitally mastered film is presented in wide screen and includes terrific commentary from Lucas, McCallum, editor Ben Burtt and several special-effects personnel, including Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires.
Lucas says that "Phantom Menace" and the three previous "Star War" films are constructed like silent films; the visuals and the music carry the story, and the dialogue is of only secondary importance. He says that each film is composed like a piece of music, with different themes recurring in each. As an example, Lucas cites McGregor's line, "I have a bad feeling about this," noting that it also is heard in the other movies--"a melodic device used again and again."
In his thoughtful audio commentary on the DVD of his romantic drama "Angel Eyes" (Warner, $25), director Luis Mandoki pays tribute to the contributions of his cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, who died in his sleep earlier this year at the age of 43. Sobocinski and Mandoki were in the middle of making another film, "24 Hours," when the Polish cinematographer suddenly died.
"Angel Eyes" stars Jennifer Lopez as a hardened Chicago policewoman who falls in love with a mysterious stranger (Jim Caviezel). Mandoki praises Lopez for her professionalism and production designer Dean Tavoulairs for going the extra mile in finding unusual locations for the movie.
The best thing about the DVD of the family comedy "Cats & Dogs" (Warner, $27) is the extremely clever screen tests involving the crafty feline Mr. Tinkles as he auditions for the animal versions of such films as "Casablanca." The disc, which is available in both a wide-screen and standard version, is divided into a cat section and a dog section. Extras include a trivia game, storyboard-to-scene comparisons, an average "HBO First Look" special, amusing animated menus and passable commentary from Sean Hayes (the voice of Mr. Tinkles), producer Chris DeFaria, art director James D. Bissell and director Lawrence Guterman.
Margaret Cho received rave reviews for "I'm the One That I Want," her one-woman show and subsequent concert film adaptation. Fans of the Korean American comedian will get a kick out of the DVD version (Winstar, $20), which includes a fun 40-minute "making-of" documentary, the trailer, the wide-screen edition of the film, footage of Cho receiving various awards and commentary from producer Lorene Machado and executive producer Karen Taussig (who is also Cho's manager). The only thing missing is commentary from Cho herself.
For the director's cut of their 1984 film debut, "Blood Simple" (Universal, $25), filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have enlisted the services of a "Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films" to provide the commentary. But Loring isn't real; it's a devilish parody from the Coens delivered by an actor in a tony British accent that spoofs the all-too-often dry, deadly serious commentary by film historians and journalists on other DVDs.