'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' (Blu-ray/DVD)
(Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, et al / Blu ray+DVD+Digital HD / PG-13 / 2016 / Walt Disney Studios)
Overview: Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
Blu ray Verdict: OK, first off, 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is incredibly fast paced which came as a big surprise to me, because I expected a longer intro and a much slower build up (which I wouldn't have minded, actually). The editing - thank God - is not of the fit-inducing, quick-cut kind that seems to be so popular among many younger directors, and I guess most people will be able to fully enjoy even the more hectic moments (at least in the 2-D version). I've watched the film three times now - in 3-D, in 2-D (both on the big screen), and now on crystal clear Blu-ray - and while the 3-D is not bad, I'd recommend the 2-D version just after this Blu-ray quality of vision.
And you need to watch it on the biggest screen possible, because the production design is simply gorgeous to look at. As far as I'm concerned, Abrams' old-school approach payed off big-time; the way you can see how even the tiniest detail was inspired by the original trilogy made the whole film feel like a nostalgic - and very welcome - trip back to my childhood.
As for the entertainment factor, 'The Force Awakens' is spectacular, in every sense, and its beautifully orchestrated action scenes are certainly eye-popping - but while Abrams propels the story forward at a very swift pace with lots of action, he uses the obligatory space battles, light-saber fights and chase scenes sparingly enough to make them count. As a result, they have an impact and feel truly epic.
It's that restraint which elevates 'The Force Awakens' over your usual blockbuster - and over the prequels - (despite a rather simple story), and it's also the reason why I believe Abrams was such a perfect choice for this insanely prestigious project: he has an almost "Spielbergian" gift for storytelling. In order for a story to really speak to its audience, it needs to have a heart as well as a soul (ok, that sounds cheesy, but it's true) and it's here where TFA truly exceeded my expectations. Through all the fun and spectacle, the film manages to touch you, move you - and even shock you.
As for credible world-building (another important element in storytelling), there is not a second in TFA where you might mistake the film for a video game. Every spacecraft and every creature as well as every planet: it all has a believable physicality to it that makes the film feel grounded in reality and vibrantly alive right from the first frame. And unlike Episodes I-III, Episode VII manages to convey a sense of mystery and wonder that permeates the story throughout the whole film.
It was a very clever decision (slight spoilers ahead) to make the new Star Wars adventure be a journey of discovery for its (new) protagonists, and I was even reminded a little of a certain quest from another mythical adventure (cough, Middle Earth, cough, cough) when Rey, Finn and Poe stumble over artifacts (not only in the physical sense) from battles (and films) long past. Their characters' ignorance of their worlds' history also provides some of the film's humor (of which there is thankfully a lot), especially during the banter between Han and Finn.
Speaking of which, the cast - old and new - is marvelous. Forgotten are the bland characters and wooden performances from the prequels (sorry, George) or the often cringe-worthy dialog (sorry again, George: you'll be forever in my heart as the visionary mind who created Star Wars). Especially Ford nails it as the grizzled, slightly battle-worn (but still wise-cracking) Han Solo, and newcomers Boyega, Ridley, Driver, Isaac (and the many others) fit as organically into Episode VII as if they had always belonged to the Star Wars universe. But the less you know about their roles the better, so I'll stop here.
If there is a downside to the film, then it would be that TFA is so much in awe of the original that it doesn't quite dare to be an original in its own right. As a result, the film sometimes feels a bit like an homage to (or even a remake of) the first two films - but who's to complain when it's such a joy to watch? Who's to complain when we get to hear John Williams' epic score again to the backdrop of this magical world? Which we get to enjoy without any annoying Gungans or a petulant child Darth Vader? Yes, the film might play it a tad too safe - but it's the kind of safe that I will gladly take over such original fare as Lucas' prequels any day! This is a Widescreen Presentation (2.40:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Secrets Of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey
The Story Awakens: The Table Read
Blueprint Of A Battle: The Snow Fight
John Williams: The Seventh Symphony
ILM: The Visual Magic Of The Force
Plus Deleted Scenes