I don't know why I'm on this Star Wars kick lately.
For those who don't know (and this is fairly old news) a while after The Phantom Menace came out, an editor going by the clever name of The Phantom Editor, reworked the movie to give it a stronger sense of story that he felt Lucas had abandoned.
Despite the news, it wasn't just editing out Jar Jar completely and inserting new lines for Anakin that weren't horrible to hear. There were a lot of cuts of the "oopses" and "yippees" and hemming and hawing Anakin did, but it was in an effort to strengthen his character and make him less of a lucky kid and more of a powerful yet uncertain child.
There was a lot of editing out of the scene stealing Jar Jar did. For all the flack, Binks had a purpose in the movie. His link to both the Gungans and the Naboo were the reason they had the army fight for them. But all his other gaffs, antics and lines that had no reason were removed.
One of the biggest cuts, and I couldn't agree more, was the entire underwater scene with the sub and the giant fish. It was showy and in the commentary the Editor said something I'd never thought of. Qui-Gon saves Binks so they could have a guide through "the core" but Binks proves nigh ineffectual. Leaving that scene out at least implied Jar Jar knew something and wasn't completely stupid. It's one thing to say early on you're clumsy, it's another to completely reinforce that with every single scene in the movie.
(My kids love Jar Jar. They think he's the best thing about Star Wars. They would have liked anything that inane and trivial as long as it flopped around and talked funny.)
Overall, the scenes were clipped to speed up action and focus on the story. A lot of exposition and redundancy was left out. Some of the cuts work, some don't. You'll have had to have seen the original (or if you have time and some coffee the original with the deleted scenes) in order to appreciate how strong the film is with these cuts.
And this just isn't a hack job by some nut fan with an ax to grind and an overclocked machine with photoshop and some editing software. This is a film school educated, professional editor who offered this as a critique of the highest order. This is what artists would call "an overlay." Meaning, don't just tell me what you didn't like, show me how you'd do it better and use my work as the base. It's a powerful tool and I for one think it should be done more often.
I haven't finished watching with the commentary, but I'm enjoying the heck out of it. It was 1am and I had to get some sleep. The Editor's views are insightful and make a lot of sense. He wanders a bit when he talks about The Edit being seeded online and Lucas saying he'd never watch it and a long story about him as a kid getting a poster from Ben Burt as a contest prize for young film makers and...well, this sentence is a good indication of how long that bit went on.
But it did show one thing: George Lucas opened a Pandora's Jar when he made Star Wars and he's since tried to cram it all back in and horde it for himself. He's a smart business man, he knew getting the royalties for all things related to the film was the way to go and it served him well. But I think he should take a page from The Phantom Editor and Irvin Kershner and Leigh Bracket and Lawrence Kasdin and Genndy Tartakovsky, all of whom have taken Lucas's idea and really made good products. The Empire Strikes Back, the strongest of the six films, wasn't directred by Lucas and the screenplay was someone else. The best thing to come out of the prequels was The Clone Wars cartoon. Had the movie been more like that in terms of pacing and character development, you wouldn't have legions of fans asking for an apology.
My next mission is to find the edits for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and see if they've been improved as deftly as Phantom Menace. The problem with all of the prequels, to me, is not the scene stealing of Jar Jar or the hokey dialog, it's really the truly poor performances from otherwise decent actors. Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman and Ewan McGreggor on their own should be a pretty decent recipe for success, but they're all very wooden and uninteresting. Jake Lloyd is the worst actor I've ever seen and The Editor did a great job of toning his overacting scrunchy face down. I'd be interested in seeing if he's successful with the emo statue that is Hayden Christensen.
I know this turned into a rant, but I honestly thought, as I watched this edited version, that I wouldn't have felt so bad about this movie if it was this version I saw. Really. It's that much of improvement. It's not a strong movie to begin with, and there are bits I'd STILL have taken out because to me they were a) fantastically ridiculous or b) obvious toy ideas. But if you're a fan of Star Wars, you owe it to yourself to download the torrent for this and give it a watch. You won't regret it.
PS. Here's just one of the links to the version of The Phantom Edit. Do a search for it, though. I got mine from Mininova using uTorrent. Your results may vary, but keep in mind it's a 1.3gb file and you'll probably need the VLC player to watch it unless you have a way to convert M4Vs to MP4s.