A short time ago in a city not too far away…. Episode I INTERVIEW WITH LUCASFILM THE FIRST PART In an effort to find out more about the Blu-ray release, Home Theater Forum travels to the home base of Lucasfilm located in San Francisco within the California system. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few months, the Star Wars films are finally making their way to Blu-ray on September 16th (internationally on the 12th). There will be three versions available: The three disc Prequel Trilogy (films I, II and III), the three disc Original Trilogy (films IV, V and VI) and the Complete Saga consisting of all 6 films and over 40 hours of bonus features on 9 discs. On August 19th, 2011, Home Theater Forum was one of a select group invited to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic to take an exclusive sneak peek at the upcoming Blu-ray release. Actual Stormtroopers escorted us to a room where we were given the opportunity to go “hands-on” with the most current check discs---specifically discs five (Episode V The Empire Strikes Back), seven (Star Wars Archives : Episodes I-III) and eight (Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI). The final packaging was there as well (click on any thumbnail for a larger image): Empire Strikes Back Let’s face it. I’ve seen Empire Strikes Back, you’ve seen Empire Strikes Back. If you were given disc five (Empire Strikes Back) and disc eight (newly created bonus features) which would you spend your time playing with? That’s what I thought. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching it, but for the brief time I did, I didn’t see anything on the approximately 46-50” monitor to indicate any problems with the picture quality. Our full review will confirm if that's truly the case, but I don't anticipate any major issues. I watched scenes from Hoth and Dagobah. Menus were great looking, easy to navigate and responsive. Special Features The special features on discs seven and eight were organized first by film and then location. It seemed a bit odd when I first saw it, but after playing with it for a minute, it became very intuitive. For example on disc eight, once you selected Episode V (Empire Strikes Back) the extras were organized by Hoth, Dagobah, etc. Once you picked a location you could navigate between the different types of features for that location. Selecting Hoth would give you a menu to show all the deleted, alternate and extended scenes, prop turnarounds and other relevant special features from that location in Episode V. Here also, the menus were great looking, easy to navigate and responsive. Deleted Scenes: NOTE: Lucasfilm asked us not to disclose the contents of the deleted scenes we watched. When I saw the deleted scenes trailer from Comic-Con, I was nervous that the deleted scenes would be brief snippets shown in a lengthy clip. They aren’t. Each clip had a title card that briefly introduced the scene and then the clip automatically played. Some of the scenes we saw were several minutes long. The quality of the source material varied for each scene. The clips in the Comic-Con trailer are a good representation of the variation I saw: After the hands-on session, we met with Kayleen Walters from Lucasfilm to find out more about the overall packaging and what was done to ready the films for Blu-ray. Here are excerpts from that presentation: Kayleen Walters: Thank you all for coming. I’m Kayleen Walters, Senior Director of Marketing, and I’ve had the great privilege to be a part of the team to develop and release this product on Blu-ray. It’s been a really extensive undertaking for us, we’ve been working on this for just over 3 years now, with a lot of material that we’ve uncovered and lot of work that we’ve done on the movies themselves. (Tauntaun issue (see puppeteer in lower L corner): DVD on top, Blu-ray on bottom. Click to open a larger image.) Other issues we address: You know how things just look different when they go into HD or DVD, just by the nature of how the video treats the color space? A perfect example is in 2004 with the light sabers, how in the original trilogy all of the light sabers sort of dimmed, you lost that really hot, white core. Well, we went back and wanted to really be true to the original intention of the films, so we brightened up the light saber colors and we brought back that hot, white core that was original to the film. (Lightsaber issue: DVD on top, Blu-ray on bottom. Click to open a larger image. ) Another thing, it’s not just the original trilogy that really benefited, the prequel trilogy benefited from this restoration process as well, especially Episode 1. It was 1999 when Episode 1 was created; over 2000 visual effects were done, including digital animation, environments and digital compositing. But the entire movie was captured on film, so when we went from film process into the DVD, a lot of the things from the DVD magnify the image of the film, and we lost about 8% of the picture there. With this restoration, we went back to the original digital files for Episode I, not the film apps, to go through and really check every frame to make sure they were restored. We were also much more selective about minimizing that blow-up, so we have more of that image to see. (Picture loss issue: DVD on top, Blu-ray on bottom; note the additional picture image on the Blu-ray release. Click to open a larger image.) Overall, because we went frame-by-frame, it’s just a much cleaner, crisper picture throughout the entire movie. So those are just a few examples of the restoration. I wanted to touch a little on audio Just a head’s up: Ben Burtt, the original sound designer, came back and was a consultant on key aspects of the restoration, we were really glad to bring him back. The audio has been restored from its original masters. It is Lossless DTS HD MA 6.1. A little more about the product: The complete saga has all 6 movies together and over 40 hours of special features. We’re also releasing two trilogy SKUs so that if you really just want to own the movies and are not interested in the special features, you can get the individual trilogies as well. Each of those are 3 discs, we put one movie per disc to really optimize the picture and sound quality. And then there are 2 audio commentaries on each of the movies---one of them is actually an all-new commentary that has been constructed from archived material and there is a lot of never-before heard commentary that is a part of that, including a lot of the talent. In all 3 of the products, the movie discs are the same, so the 6 movie discs that are in the complete saga make up the 3 movie discs in each package. We did that so that the movies would have their own discs to really optimize the quality for them. On the special features, we spent 3 years sifting and digging through 30 years of material that is in the vaults at the Ranch, it’s been quite an undertaking. We uncovered boxes that hadn’t been opened in over 20 years, it was a very dirty experience! We looked through work prints, we found dailies, we went through behind-the scenes videos, we really uncovered a slew of new gems that we’re really excited to share with the fans. We’ve also gone into the physical Lucasfilms archives that house all of our props and costumes. It’s a rare experience and not many people get to go into the Lucasfilm archives. We’ve got props there from the original movies --- some of them are over 30 years old and they weren’t made to last a lifetime so they are starting to deteriorate and we’ve gone in and preserved them by filming them in high-definition with really detailed 360 turnarounds of the props, the costumes and the vehicles. We’ve captured the matte paintings that were on the original shower doors so you really get a feel for what it’s like to go into the Lucasfilm archives. It’s a really vast quantity of materials that we’re putting out there. For the fans that create their own costumes, create replica ships and vehicles, this will be a great reference material for them. They can finally get that detailed close-up of the lace on Amidala’s costume, or see how the engine on the pod racer should look, and so on--- really detailed views available for the fans. We think the bonus material that we’ve pulled together is a great representation of the best of the best that we have to offer. Whether you are a 6-year old fan of The Clone Wars or a 45-year old fan who just loves the original Star Wars, you are going to find something here that you will really enjoy over and over again. The Complete Saga is a 9 disc set. The first 6 discs are the movies, leaving us 3 bonus discs of special features. One bonus disc is chock-full of documentaries; we pulled some of the rarest, vintage documentaries that some fans may have heard of, may have seen only on television that haven’t ever been released to home video---we put them on this disc. We’ve also created some new documentaries: One of my favorites is “Conversation with the Masters” which was filmed last year on the 30th anniversary of Empire Strikes Back. We were able to interview the director, Irvin Kershner, and I believe it was the last interview before he passed away, so it’s a really special, touching documentary. It also includes George [Lucas] and John Williams, so it’s a really great documentary about Empire Strikes Back. Another included documentary is a 90-minute collection of Star Wars spoofs and parodies. It includes things like Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, Mel Brook’s Spaceballs, and more. Fans have really been creating entertainment with Star Wars around the world, so we culled through over 2000 parodies and clips to bring it down to the best and funniest to put together a 90-minute disc that we think will be a lot of laughs and something that the family will be able to sit down and really enjoy together. Q: Is the holiday special on there? A: You’ll have to wait and see! The holiday special is a challenge, but look for some Easter Eggs – what’s a Star Wars release without a couple of Easter Eggs?! [Note: see part three for more information and the location.] The other 2 bonus discs are all about the archives. Episodes I-III have their own separate disc and Episodes IV-VI have their own separate disc. The archives have never-been-seen deleted and alternate scenes, we included 400 pieces of concept art, we have interviews with the talent and crew, and then the collection of 360 turnarounds of costumes, props, vehicles and matte paintings. With almost all of the 360 turnarounds in the collection, we also have featurettes that were specially created for that particular piece, either with the creator or someone that was intimately involved with that piece talking about it. Links Part II: The Matthew Wood Audio Mixes Part III: Dennis Muren Bill Hunt was there as well and has posted his thoughts over on The Digital Bits. 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