It's clear that Disney took no effort or pleasure in bringing The Phantom Menace to the UHD format. The UHD appears to have been sourced from the existing master used for the Blu-ray disc with an HDR application slapped onto it. The image suffers from a number of problems, including some smeary textures, flat details, and little evidence of the original film source. Grain has been removed from the image, resulting in an inorganic façade that robs many of the movie's locations of their textural grace, whether worn-down dwellings on Tatooine or the rich and resplendent surfaces around Naboo, both within the palace and out in the open country. Faces are often far waxier than they should be, with close-ups showing only cursory detail within the smoothed-over imagery. There are also some trace examples of leftover edge enhancement, generally seen in high contrast juxtapositions (see Captain Panaka's hat at the 30:52 mark for a good example, and a few jaggies that appear around the edge, too). The visual effects don't hold up as well either on this format or as well as they did a couple of decades ago, and obviously the DNR doesn't help, either. There are, at least, some scattered moments when the original clarity and definition from the film source almost remain, such as when Anakin walks away from his mother, and everything he has ever known, in chapter 24. It's a simple shot but the terrain and the screen-filling structures are quite nicely defined. The raw increase in resolution certainly helps to alleviate the issues in some ways but also amplify them in others. Like the movie or not, it deserves better.
The HDR color spectrum is left as the primary point of improvement, and it does help to solidify the presentation, more or less. The picture is pleasantly bright, notably on Tatoonie and Naboo where sunlight helps bring life to beige deserts and healthy greens on each planet, respectively. HDR brings improvements to bright light sources, including lightsabers, laser blasts, and electrical fields that power pod racers. Colors overall fare a good bit better here over the Blu-ray, offering improved saturation and depth, though they appear a bit stymied by the textural dumbing-down, never quite able to really leap off the screen with commanding detail in support. Skin tones take on a pasty appearance and black crush is evident in a few scenes, such as when Qui-Gon takes Anakin's blood sample in chapter 17. The image is not a total loss. It's watchable, but watching it only leaves the viewer wishing Disney had taken some time to bring the movie to the format with the care and source faithfulness it deserves.
The Phantom Menace's Dolby Atmos track requires a fairly substantial volume adjustment; it's rather low and sounds flat at calibrated reference, but once the knob has been adjusted the track fares very well. Listeners will enjoy impressive instrumental definition and separation, as well as full stage engagement, accompanying the opening crawl. The Jedi ambassador ship powers through the stage in the shot to follow with authoritative depth and stage stretch. The ship explodes in a hangar a few minutes later; the laser blasts and subsequent boom present with well defined depth and stage spacing. These early scenes set the tone for the whole, and almost nothing disappoints. Music throughout is rich and balanced, offering impressive separation and full-stage saturation, including some modest but enjoyable overhead compliments that blend rather than stand apart. The top end isn't really used for anything obviously discrete, but the added fullness to music, battles, and general atmosphere come most welcome. Action scenes are a delight, notably the four that take turns taking center stage in the final minutes: the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul lightsaber battle, the space battle, the fight within the palace, and the clash out in the fields between the Gungans and the battle droids. All of them deliver quite a bit of sonic excitement by way of movement and bass, surround integration and healthy separation as necessary. Ditto the pod race, which is probably the sonic highlight in the entire film. For all the chaos in action, there's never a feel for jumbled elements. Dialogue is consistently clear, well prioritized, and firmly grounded in the front-center location. If only the accompanying video were so carefully put together and reproduced and downright enjoyable as this track.
4K Bluray detailsVideo
Codec: HEVC / H.265 (44.78 Mbps)
Resolution: Upscaled 4K (2160p)
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
French: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Japanese: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
4K Ultra HD
Three-disc set (1 BD-66, 1 BD-25, 1 BD-50)
Movies Anywhere, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
Slipcover in original pressing
4K Blu-ray: Region free
2K Blu-ray: Region free