Balance of the Force
Firstly I am an editor by profession. Secondly I am a huge Star Wars fan. Like many of our generation I was inspired by the Original Trilogy to enter into Film and Television production. You can therefore imagine my excitement to hear that a new cut of The Phantom Menace was doing the rounds. So, I contacted Rikter and promptly received the discs.
Having already seen the Phantom Edit some time ago I was not expecting a particularly slick effort. Whilst the Phantom Edit excised many of the frustrating elements of TPM it was still tantamount to polishing a turd. So I was surprised to see and read that the MagnoliaFan (MF) edit was not only Anamorphic and of fairly decent quality but that some story elements had been cleverly changed.
Happy From The Opening Crawl
I was pleased to see the changes on the opening crawl. If anything they served to remove the complicated (and boring!) back story of TPM and create a more intriguing one with certainly more weight and a darker feel from the off.
The re-dubbing work on the Neimoidians was a great idea and whilst it's clear that some reverse effects had been made on a European language track (German, Austrian?) it was a welcome change from the pseudo Japanese which for me really began to spoil TPM from a very early point when I first watched it back in '99.
I particularly liked the removal of "Master! Destroyers!" early on, immediately giving the impression that Qui Gon had sensed the arrival of the droids and adding a truer dimension to Neeson's Jedi character.
Jar Jar's introduction is one of the most painful parts of TPM for me so I was eager to see what MF had done. Like Gunray and co, Jar Jar has been given the dubbing treatment (using some backwards Spanish this time?). Not only does this remove the childish tone it enables a whole new and yet still clumsy character to come through. I liked the majority of the new lines (subtitles) for Jar Jar and the Trade Federation, however, I felt that some of them went a little too far. My impression was that this edit was to make TPM more in-line with the OT. Where in the original trilogy do we see alien's swearing at anyone, let alone kids!? MF's new Watto was far more balanced for me and worked far better. That said MF's Jar Jar is still a HUGE improvement over the original.
I am 2/3 of the way through editing the TPM myself (learning Final Cut Pro) so I was pleased to see that MF had trimmed some of the same dialog as me. Jake's performance does genuinely seem improved by simple trimming as does the scene between Qui Gon and Shmi by leaving out the virgin birth embarrassment. Also the reintroduction of the waterfall scene was welcome as was the removal of the extensive underwater bongo sequence that precedes it.
Technically MF has done as good a job as could be done. Some of the additional music and timing of the wipes didn't work for me but one can certainly see that a lot of effort has gone into 'Balance'. Being an editor I am all too aware of the frustrations of having to work with the available footage. A while MagnoliaFan has not created the slickest of films it is by far the slickest fan edit to date. It is clear that he has done as much as anybody could do with what Burtt and Lucas have left us with. Indeed imagine what MF could do with all of the source material that Lucasfilm had available to them.
I have since watched 'The Clone War' too. Despite AOTC being far far better than TPM in my opinion, MagnoliaFan has made a better film by far. By removing silly points and reintroducing some deleted character development scenes the film now feels right. Wonderful stuff!