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page created: 6/19/01

Lucasfilm's Jim Ward answers
questions about Episode I on DVD

Well... it's been a pretty hectic day for the PR staff at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm. As you no doubt have heard by now, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was officially announced for release as a 2-disc DVD set on October 19th. We were fortunate enough to speak this afternoon with Jim Ward, Lucasfilm's Vice President of Marketing. Jim spent most of the day on a plane on his way to the Fox Home Entertainment retailer conference in New Orleans, and we certainly appreciate his time and energy. So here goes... enjoy!

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 2-disc set (streets 10/16)

Bill Hunt (The Digital Bits): Jim, I know you're pretty busy today, so let's get right to it. I understand that there are some seven deleted scenes that will appear on the DVD. Are those going to be incorporated into the film via seamless branching, or will they be available separately?

Jim Ward (Lucasfilm): No, they won't be incorporated into the film via seamless branching. There's about 20 minutes of deleted scenes in all, and they're available in two ways. One is that they're incorporated into the body of a 40-minute documentary, in which people talk about the creation of them, why they were cut, how they were finished and so forth. But they'll also be available individually, so that once you've seen the documentary, you can just cut to the chase and view each one by itself.

Bill Hunt: And I understand that you've gone in and fully post-produced them too, with completed special effects and fully-mixed audio...

Jim Ward: Absolutely. And if I'm beating a drum here, just let me just do it for a moment. What's different about these scenes is... deleted scenes may be really a bit of a misnomer. You know, normally, it's just picking them off the cutting room floor and putting them on the disc. But in the Star Wars world, deleted scenes are ninety percent blue screen. So you just can't put those on, because they're totally incomplete. So George decided, which is pretty bold, to take seven of these scenes and go back to Industrial Light and Magic, design them, have them create digital creatures and backgrounds and all the stuff that goes into doing this. And so they've really been created from the ground up, specifically for this DVD.

Bill Hunt: And obviously, many hundreds of hours went into that.

Jim Ward: Well, exactly right. I'm sure one of your questions is, "Why has it taken so long?" We think it's worth the wait, but that's the reason it's taken so long. ILM started this process a year ago, and they've been working on this, and all of the other things we're putting on the DVD, ever since.

Bill Hunt: All the while, they're also working on Episode II...

Jim Ward: You got it. And any number of other major movies that go through Industrial Light & Magic.

Bill Hunt: Are the deleted scenes presented on DVD in anamorphic widescreen video, and in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, the same as the film itself?

Jim Ward: Yes. That's correct.

Bill Hunt: Can you talk about what those scenes are in particular?

Jim Ward: You know, at this point in time, we're not releasing those details quite yet. You'll find out soon. But I will give you a hint. Certainly, a couple of them pertain to one of the most famous and loved parts of Episode I.

Bill Hunt: (laughing) Fair enough. Now we had heard that the film itself may be expanded by a couple of minutes - is that true?

Jim Ward: No, this is not a director's cut by any means.

Bill Hunt: So this is just the theatrical version of Episode I, which is Lucas' final version?

Jim Ward: Well... who knows whether it's the final version. As you know, that's George's ultimate decision. But this not a director's cut. The deleted scenes are handled entirely separately.

Bill Hunt: A lot of people want to know if there's going to be any kind of a preview on the disc for Episode II. For example, maybe a teaser trailer, or a featurette on the production...

Jim Ward: (thinks for a moment) Well... you know what? You never know...

Bill Hunt: (laughing) Hhhmm... okay... so a potential Easter egg then...

Jim Ward: You never know.

Bill Hunt: Was the film itself mastered from an actual film element, or was this a case where you went into ILM's digital files and rendered it out for DVD?

Jim Ward: No, this is not a direct-digital transfer. The film existed in its film format, and that was converted to digital video and that was used for the DVD.

Bill Hunt: And I assume that it was a high-definition transfer, with full THX involvement...?

Jim Ward: Oh, absolutely. The supervision by THX on this has been unprecedented, compared to other films. We have had them in there every step of the way. We're real proud of that.

Bill Hunt: Now, this is kind of a first for Lucas... doing an audio commentary track. Is this a case where Lucas and Rick McCallum and others got in the same room and watched the film while recording the track? I guess I'm asking, is it scene-specific?

Jim Ward: It's absolutely scene-specific, absolutely recorded just for the DVD. However, all the people who are on the track, including Ben Burtt and all the ILM people, were not necessarily in the same room at the same time. That just wouldn't have worked well. But what we did was to record each one of those guys, very scene-specific, and then edited together the track.

Bill Hunt: Was there ever a time when DTS was considered as an audio option for the disc?

Jim Ward: Sure. But one of the things that was a real challenge on this set, was that there's over six hours of value-added material - a lot of content. And to be honest with you, we had to make some tough choices as to what our priorities were, as far as what was going to make the final release. And that was one of the tough choices we had to make.

Bill Hunt: A lot of people also want to know if a 5.1 music-only track was ever considered... with the complete Williams' score. But then there's the fact that the complete score is already available as a 2-disc CD set...

Jim Ward: That's correct. It was considered, but again, it was one of the tough choices we had to make. There just wasn't enough room with everything else we wanted to include. And again, there is the CD already available.

Bill Hunt: I know it's always a juggling act to get things on the disc, and still maintain a high video and audio bit rate. That's particularly true, I imagine, with a film like Phantom Menace. There's so much fast-paced action and motion in the frame...

Jim Ward: Absolutely. And THX has done a wonderful job making it all look and sound great.

Bill Hunt: Now... I know you probably can't answer this, but we have to ask anyway. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars. Are there any plans in the works to start releasing additional films in the saga on DVD in 2002 and beyond?

Jim Ward: I'll be very honest with you... there just aren't any decisions or plans that have been made yet.

Bill Hunt: So things are still pretty tentative...

Jim Ward: Yeah.

Bill Hunt: I know that one of the things that people have wondered about future Star Wars DVDs is, what are the possibilities that the original, non-special edition versions of the films would be released on DVD? And again, I know you can't speak to the DVDs, but what is Lucas' position about those original, unaltered versions of the films? Do they, sort of... no longer exist in his mind? Does he consider the special editions the final versions of the films?

Jim Ward: Yeah, I think the special editions are the vision that George has for the films. I'm not going to guarantee that he wouldn't include the original versions at some point, but as of this moment, I think the special editions are his vision for the films.

Bill Hunt: Fair enough. I think that's what people suspected anyway. In terms of DVD releases, both of Episode I and of other Lucasfilm titles, does this release set a standard in terms of the kind of quality and extras we can expect on DVD from you in the future?

Jim Ward: Well... you know, I don't know. This is our first foray, at least with the Star Wars franchise, into the DVD world. As we've been discussing, we took extra pains to make sure that there was good added value to it. But I think before I can answer that, I'd like to see ultimately what fans think of this release. If it's well received. I mean, sure... that's the bar. But I'd kind of like to see what people think first.

Bill Hunt: Makes perfect sense. Before I forget, the SRP on this set is...?

Jim Ward: $29.98

Bill Hunt: That's actually a pretty good price, given the title we're talking about, and the content. Now, this is going to be a worldwide DVD release?

Jim Ward: Yes. The U.S. date is October 16th, and the other, worldwide street dates are right around that date, give or take a few days.

Bill Hunt: How many different countries are you releasing the disc in? Or, perhaps the better question is, how many different versions of the disc are you authoring?

Jim Ward: You know... I know that, but I don't want to give you the wrong number. Let me get back to you on that... the number of DLTs we're doing for the release...

Bill Hunt: Fair enough. Listen, Jim... I really appreciate your time. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Jim Ward: My pleasure, Bill.


The staff of The Digital Bits would like to thank Jim once again for taking the time out of his amazingly busy travel day to speak with us. Thanks also to everyone at Lucasfilm (including the ever helpful Lynne Hale), 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Bender/Helper Impact.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits
[email protected]

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