15 August 2010

George Lucas, the Revisionist "Visionary"

Admit it.  You're already humming "The Imperial March."
At Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando, it was announced that all six Star Wars films will be released on Blu-ray Disc in a box set during the fourth quarter of 2011.  A previously unseen, deleted scene from Return of the Jedi was screened and has since hit the web; we're told there are other such gems from the vault that will make their first appearance on this forthcoming issue.  Fan response has been mixed; some are thrilled to have their favorite movie series on Blu-ray; others are turned off by the fact that Lucas has made clear that the original versions of the original trilogy will not be included.

Lucas claims that the original versions are cost-prohibitive to digitally re-master for a hi-def release.  Now, there are two obvious holes in this.  Firstly, the majority of film elements are the same from the original release to his Special Edition versions (especially The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).  It's not as though the entire films need to be restored from scratch.  Most of the work has already been done; there are only a handful of scenes that would require additional work.

More importantly, it's simply unfathomable that older films than these would find their way to Blu-ray but the gems of Lucasfilm would be somehow too difficult to update.  If The Wizard of Oz, twice the age of Star Wars, can be brought to the 21st Century there's absolutely no reason that Lucasfilm shouldn't be able to handle sifting through the original film elements for a handful of scenes to make available the original, theatrical cuts of these beloved features.  We are talking, after all, about the most profitable movie series of all time.  It's not like there's not an established, willing-to-pay fan base.

But then we get into the issue of artistry.  Lucas has cast himself over the years as a "visionary," and while I've always taken umbrage at the claim (sorry, but Dr. King was a visionary; you imagined some popcorn movies with aliens), it's not without some legitimacy.  Should he not have the right to make running edits and changes to the films he created?  There's the axiom that art is never finished; it's simply abandoned.  In the last hundred years, as art has become commercialized like never before, this has evolved that art is never finished, but given a release date.  It seems a violation of the rules that Lucas would dare to return to his work after its release date.

So far, the "leave it like we first saw it" camp has consisted only of the Original Trilogy ("OT") fans.  Younger fans, who came to the series with or after 1997's Special Edition release, don't get what the fuss is all about.  What difference does it make whether Greedo gets off a shot at Han Solo before dying?  Was the Ewok song really that important?  Those original versions saw the light of day on DVD in 2006, but they were non-anamorphic and presented with 2.0 stereo sound.  Surely, Lucasfilm--the cutting edge of film technology--was and is capable of better.

One of these will be
digitally replaced soon.
We have known since 2005 that Lucasfilm was working to replace the puppet Yoda in The Phantom Menace with a digital version more in keeping with the character's appearance in the other Prequel films.  I, for one, will be stunned if this is the only change Lucas makes to the more recent films.  It will be interesting to see is how the Prequel generation responds to this release.

In the DVD era, when even "lesser" films have been re-issued several times, is there not something to be said for Lucas offering fans something a little different each time these movies hit the market?  Does it not somehow justify double-dipping, knowing that this time won't necessarily be exactly like the last time?  Or is it insulting, to be effectively told that the last time out, you bought a draft of a work in progress?  One thing is certain: fans will buy the Blu-ray release.  And they will complain.

1 comment:

  1. I am not the biggest Star Wars fan, but I would have to say that I would be upset at the changes. At least give us the option of having a blue-ray version that is the same as the original theatrical version. Hell, there are enough fans out there that would buy BOTH versions to make it a profitable venture to produce both.

    Just my two pennies