Tim’s Review: The Force Awakens 3D Blu Ray and Abrams Commentary Deep Dive
Two weeks ago, Tommy gave his great review for the new 3D collector’s edition release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (here). Since he already took you through the big revelations from the commentary and the specifics of the new bonus features added to this new release, I’m going to take a different approach and go deeper into the content for a review of their ongoing appeal and value of owning for repeat viewings. So after the shock value of some of the news, or the impressiveness of some of the facts dished out in the bonus features wears off, what is left on this release and is it worth an addition to your home video catalog.
Lets start with the 3D:
3D Home video is usually a mixed bag and The Force Awakens is no different here. On one hand this is very clearly not the best 3D release I’ve seen. There are numerous ghosting issues, especially in the darker scenes of space or in the First Order ships and bases. There is frequent distortion during fast paced action, and occasional depth problems when bright lights in the background appear in the foreground of the 3D. This is all mildly distracting but not in any way a deal killer. It can take you out of the film in spots, but it is mostly easily overlooked if these things aren’t a pet peeve for you.
On the good side, The Force Awakens is the exact type of movie that can benefit from 3D viewing. Home theater 3D movies have a tendency to draw your eyes away from the foreground and let you look at, and become immersed in, the environment more. The Fore Awakens in 3D really benefits from this. Whether you are looking at background characters in Maz’s Cantina, details on the Millennium Falcon, or the beautiful forests of Takodana, this is a film that is rich with the type of visual depth that 3D amplifies.
It is also a lucky break that this is mostly a pretty bright movie. The stark whites and tans of Jakku, the bright greens of Takodana, and the blinding snow of Starkiller Base all look great in 3D and the action scenes in these locations shine as the highlight of this transfer. If you can look past a few of the artifacts and distortions, the darker scenes such as the Rathtar battle and Rey/Finn v Kylo Ren aren’t too shabby to look at either making this release an overall win on the 3D front as long as you don’t find the minor blemishes too distracting. This may not be your new 3D demo disc, but it is a worthwhile addition to the collection for any Star Wars fan.
On to those new bonus features:
Tommy went over these in depth two weeks ago so I won’t spend too much time on these, but suffice to say I see these in the same way I see the 3D transfer. Good, but could be better. There is nothing wrong with the new additional content. But at an average of 6-7 minutes for each feature, I was left thinking we could have benefited from some deeper analysis of what went into things like sound design, costume design, etc…. Star Wars fans have the desire and attention span for a special edition similar to what Weta and New Line did for the Lord of the Rings movies. Hopefully someday Lucasfilm will give us something along those lines. But all that being said, these are still a interesting watch for any Star Wars fan and are definitely worth watching even if I was left wanting to see much more.
As for the commentary:
Well, the commentary is the big selling point here, right? 3D is great fun if you have it, and the special features are nice, but brief and limited in scope. The commentary is the big addition to this version of the home release. Does the commentary make it worth the price of purchase alone? I’d lean towards yes, but not without some significant qualifiers.
To start with, Abrams has a relaxed presence and is an easy guy to listen to for 2 hours. There are times where it can sound like he’s clearly talking to some prepared points to fill time, but he does it in an affable way that makes you want to keep listening.
The biggest drawbacks of his commentary though, are that he was clearly strapped for discussion points and would have benefited greatly from some accompaniment from additional members of the film making team. In some scenes, JJ obviously had a lot to say about what was happening. In particular he had a lot to say about the performances of his leads and how grateful he was for those performances. But at other points he seemed to just be reading off a list of who did what in each scene to kill time until the next segment he really wanted to talk about.
And it’s that killing time that really seems like a wasted opportunity. Abrams frequently praises the work done on the practical effects, so a few additional commentators to discuss how these things were actually made and executed would be vastly more interesting than JJ simply identifying for us what was practical and what was not. Or get someone in there to explain to us the why’s of the world that was created. I’d love to someday see a Pablo Hidalgo commentary on one of these films so he can geek out in detail on the backstories and origins for all the characters and vehicles floating around in the background. That would make for an excellent commentary in my opinion.
But outside of those gaps there is a lot to love with the Abrams track. By now most of you have heard the big revelations such as Kylo Ren not having met Rey previous to their encounter on Takodana or Spielberg being responsible for the falling trees during the final lightsaber duel. But there are other smaller revelations throughout that are nearly as fascinating such as John Lasseter inspiring the now iconic BB-8 thumbs up, Michael Arndt being responsible for the cutting of Leia’s early scenes or Pablo Hidalgo coming up with Rey and Finn’s scheme to vent poison gas to take out some nonexistent Stormtroopers.
But in the end, I think the commentary is the most illuminating in how it takes us into JJ’s process and his priorities in telling this story. From the get go Abrams is very clear that he has two priorities in making this movie. Creating something that feels like Star Wars and building relatable character relationships. The former has been the subject of many debates. Did JJ go too far in recreating the exact feeling of the original trilogy? That’s a matter of opinion. But, what is clear from the commentary was that it was all intentional. Abrams wanted to concentrate on providing a very familiar landscape with tweaks in context to turn everything slightly on its head. The matter of everlasting debates will continue to be whether that “slightly” was enough of a tweak to the original formula.
Abrams’ other priority was more universally praised, and JJ goes far in the commentary to sell his unified vision of the character dynamics of these stories. Again and again, Abrams shows us how all of the leads in this film start in a place that is solitary and alone. The movie works over and over again to get them together, rip them apart, and then let them rejoin (rinse and repeat ad infinitum) to galvanize the relationships between our heroes (something JJ credits Lucas for) while the villains of the film remain isolated and alone with no relationships to humanize them.
There’s a great bit where JJ talks about the small gestures of Poe treating Finn like a person and Finn paying that forward to Rey. He talks about how that makes such a huge difference to someone who has always felt alone and bonds these characters together quickly. And that theme follows through all the way to the end, where Rey now having accepted that she is not alone and is now part of something greater than her, seeks out the man who can save them but has exiled himself into solitude.
Abrams’ exploration of this theme throughout the film’s commentary really made a difference for me in unifying the dynamics of the story and elevated the film in my eyes. He also makes it very clear just how much of his effort went into perfecting those characters. The sheer number of times he mentions a character beat or scene being reshot late in production was shocking to me. It is clear from this commentary that where Abrams is concerned character is king and he did whatever was necessary to get that part right. Even if that meant drastic, late changes to character dynamics.
So, even if there are some lulls and gaps in his anecdotes and explanation, the commentary on its own makes this release worthwhile. Add to that a decent 3D conversion and some solid bonus features and I feel comfortable suggesting this release as a worthwhile double dip for any of those already on the fence. And if for some reason you are reading this site and have not yet purchased the film for home consumption then it is a clear unqualified recommendation.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D Collector’s Edition Blu-ray will be released tomorrow, November 15 in the US.