Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



STAR WARS - Episode 1 The Phantom Menace
What the press says and the public's reaction to the Film and Soundtrack CD ****************************************************************************



[See also release of Star Wars Trilogy Original Soundtrack Anthology]

On the weekend the film opened the American public proved their loyalty by attending The Phantomn Menace en masse but the bad press and word of mouth publicity slowed down enthusiasm quickly for The Phantom Menace quickly slipped down the top ten box office weekly ratings losing out first to Austin Powers2- The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Below we reproduce some of the comment from the American press as Star Wars opened:-

Telephone lines were jammed and theatres were stormed for tickets. MovieFone, the nation's largest movie ticketing service, was processing thousands of transactions per minute, and reported that demand far exceeded what anyone had expected. "This is definitely the busiest afternoon we've ever had," they commented after sales day one.

John Williams's soundtrack was propelled to a top-three chart debut. The soundtrack to The Phantom Menace made the year's highest debut for a soundtrack album on Billboard 200 chart, coming in at No. 3. Its sales of 173,000 copies nearly topped the first-week record for full-length film soundtracks, held by Howard Stern's Private Parts, which bowed at No. 1 in February 1997 with 178,000 units sold, according to SoundScan data. (Snoop Doggy Dogg's soundtrack for the 1994 short film Murder Was the Case is classified as a soundtrack and technically holds the first-week sales record at 330,000.)

SoundScan did not begin electronically tabulating over-the-counter record sales until 1991, well after the release of soundtrack albums for the first three Star Wars albums. The Star Wars score peaked at No. 2 and has sold more than 3 million copies. The Empire Strikes Back score reached No. 4 but sold fewer than 1 million copies.

Critical reaction to John Williams score has been generally positive with a few side swipes. Here are a few clips from media throughout America:


Joshua Kosman, Music Critic -The San Francisco Chronicle

"Amid the rush of ancillary products accompanying the release of the new "Star Wars" movie, the soundtrack CD may well give the best value for themoney. There's barely a dull moment in this latest score by John Williams… From the opening "Star Wars" theme -- still amazingly catchy after all these years -- to the jazzy band music that accompanies the final scene,

Williams' soundtrack is an exciting blend of familiar components combined in slightly new ways.

The newest thing this time around is the presence of a chorus (London Voices with the New London Children's Choir), which belts out impassioned harmonies in a space-age version of "Carmina Burana." The words are either indecipherable or in a language known only on Naboo, but the sense of heightened drama comes through pretty clearly…"



By Theodore P. Mahne (The Times-Picayune, Orleans)

"…. More than any other composer working in films today, Williams knows how to

grab hold of an audience and manipulate its emotions grandly and memorably.

Which is precisely why his latest effort for "The Phantom Menace" is a bit disappointing…  There's no threat of this score overwhelming "The Phantom Menace." Indeed, if the entire "Star Wars" saga is seen as a space opera, the visuals likely will always win out over the music…"



Richard Harrington ,The Washington Post

Just as special-effects technology has changed drastically since the first "Star Wars" movie in 1977, so has sound technology. The original "Star Wars" helped popularize the Dolby noise reduction stereo system, and when the "Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition" soundtracks were released two years ago, director George Lucas created expanded and digitally remixed

soundtracks far superior to the magnetic tracks on the original 70mm prints.

For "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (Sony Classical), Lucas and composer John Williams are introducing Dolby Digital-Surround EX, an expanded surround-sound system, which translates as louder and liver, particularly when the London Symphony Orchestra kicks in full force during the action sequences…"



Don Heckman,  Los Angeles Times

"Williams was faced with an unusual problem with the music for "Phantom Menace": how to score a picture that predates the now-famous melodies associated with the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Some--the primary theme--could be used; others--Princess Leia's theme--could not.

To his credit, he's come up with a score that, as performed by the London Symphony, the London Voices and the New London Children's Choir, effectively matches the original music. Although it lacks the original's sheer melodic invention, it delivers some attractive themes, especially those associated with the characters Anakin and Queen Amidala, and makes

striking use of the carry-over melodies.

Somewhere, someday, a graduate student is going to write a dissertation on the influences on Williams' "Star Wars" scores--from Prokofiev and Ligeti to Bartok and Strauss. But he synthesizes it all in his own unique fashion, and there's no denying its enormous power as orchestral film music. Nobody does it better. ("Star Wars" fans, however, are warned to avoid reading the album track titles, which refer to specific story points, before seeing the picture.)



Richard Dyer, Chicago Sun-Times

"…One day 88 professional singers from London Voices arrive to record two episodes with chorus. One is funeral music an emotional climax; the other is for the closing credits, a terrifying, primitive pagan rite that makes Stravinsky's "Les Noces" sound tame. Lucas loves this dark, driven music so much he shows off the recording for Spielberg when he arrives. Spielberg says to Williams, "I'm glad I didn't drop around for a cigar on the day you wrote that." Lucas says Williams doesn't know it yet, but this music will accompany a crucial scene in the third new film.

The words the chorus is singing in this dark, demonic cue are clear, but the language is unfamiliar. It turns out it's Sanskrit.

"Sanskrit!" Lucas exclaims when Williams tells him. "That'll give the fans

something to figure out."

High tech will be everywhere on the screen, and in the studio there's far more of it than anyone could have imagined 22 years ago, when this adventure began. Williams' score is in a computer, which produces the parts for the players; even the speakers in the control room look like droids from the movie. "They have all this new stuff," Williams observes, a bit

ruefully. "But we're all still down there trying to make sure F-sharp is in tune."

Nothing seems to ruffle Williams' composure or the old-fashioned courtesy that seems fundamental to his nature -- not even 10 successive takes of the same passage. "Thank you," he says to the players after a problematic reading. "I have learned some more things that I needed to know. I think we can get it together better, and I know I can conduct it better." "Let's see if we can make a more noble sound," he will say to the brass and percussion, including himself in the equation. His experience shows in everything. "Could you menace without getting louder?" he asks. "The audience should feel this rather than hear it." "Let me ask the harp not to play here -- I think the sound of the harp will take the eye away from what

it needs to see right here."

Williams cannot conceal his delight at how some things are turning out. He will deftly sidestep a compliment: "That's my homage to old man Korngold," he says, paying tribute to the Viennese prodigy Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who fled from Hitler and wound up in Hollywood writing the scores to classic adventure movies such as "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and

"Captain Blood." After the charging rhythmic excitement of one cue, Williams jokes, "That ought to be enough to scare the children of the world."

When the music soars, Williams seems to soar a little, too. "I'm a very lucky man," he says, smiling. "If it weren't for the movies, no one would be able to write this kind of music anymore."

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