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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Review of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith is Lucasfilm's second full-length, live action film shot on high-definition video. As a result, like Attack of the Clones before it, Sith arrives on DVD with a straight-digital transfer. No actual film was involved - the anamorphic widescreen DVD image was created directly from the final digital master files for the film. So how does it look? In a word... jaw-dropping. Some others that apply: mind-blowing, ridiculous, stupefying (but in a good way). The quality here is spectacular. There's excellent contrast and shadow delineation, and an almost shockingly rich color pallet with stunningly vibrant shadings. The image clarity is so good that it conveys tremendous depth-of-field. The 24p HD video process used to shoot Sith renders a surprisingly film-like image on DVD (although as I noted above, the CG imagery is so over the top that its beauty is still a bit artificial looking). Given that there's so much complex motion and action going on in almost every frame, there IS some light compression artifacting visible from time to time. But it's definitely minor, and you're likely only to notice it on a very large projection screen. In any rate, there's just no doubt that this transfer is right at the cutting edge of what the current DVD format can do with 480p video. It's an extraordinary visual experience. To call it reference quality would almost be an insult. I pitty the fool who buys this disc and DOESN'T watch it on at least a 50" anamorphic display. Note that Sith on DVD is the exact same cut that was shown in theaters - no additional footage or scenes have been added for this release.

They say that audio is fully half of the cinema experience... so I'm sure you know what I'm going to say next. The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround track offered on this DVD is every bit as good as you'd expect from the likes of sound designer Ben Burtt, AND more. It's an incredibly aggressive mix, with an expansive front soundstage, deep and precise imaging, and smooth, enveloping use of the surrounds. The rear channels - especially that center back - expand the soundscape around the listener, wrapping you completely in the film's sonic environment. The panning and directional effects here will keep you right on the edge of your seat, as swarms of spacecraft, laser blasts and the electric hum of clashing sabers doppler-shift all around you. Dialogue is clear and John Williams' climactic score is wonderfully laced through the mix. And the bass! You'll feel the low-frequency rumble of cannon fire and explosions right in your guts. Just watch the opening space battle over Coruscant, or the final saber duel on Mustafar, and you will be amazed. Episode III is THE new reference DVD by a wide margin... as it damn well should be.

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