Star Wars Episode 4.6.0: A New New New Hope
Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope was probably the reason why many of us got into the industry - motion pictures, special effects, animation, graphics, etc. In 1977 the movie was something that blew audiences away and became one of those films that redefined the industry. In 1997 technology had improved greatly; Starship Troopers came out that year that had animated special effects that made the effects from the ’77 flick pale in comparison. So what does Lucas do? He changes his film. Not only did he enhance the effects and clean it up, but in a couple of scenes he changed the whole tone of the film.
When I first heard that there were going to be new special effects and a cleaner print, I lined up like everyone else to see the Lucas 4.1 version. Yes, the effects were good. Yes, the movie looked so much better than the VHS wide screen version I had been watching. Cool! Mos Eisley was populated. Look how big it looks! Dewbacks and Jawas everywhere. Then the shocker that even today has Star Wars fans up in arms. Greedo shoots first. What the F!?!? Han Solo was supposed to be one of these tough as nails, shoot first, cocky guys, and Lucas reduced him to a guy who was reacting instead of taking charge.
A few weeks ago I found out that yes, Star Wars Episode Four is indeed coming to DVD. When asked if the DVD would include the original ’77 release in addition to the 4.1 version, Lucas said no, he doesn’t like that version. Come to find out, the DVD won’t even include the ’97 release. Instead Lucas is still tweaking and modifying his film yet again. He has even shot or is in the process of shooting additional material that he will include as part of the DVD release. This new new version will be the "Special Special Edition". Don’t throw out your original VHS collector’s editions yet kiddies.
I’m not just angry with Lucas, my other childhood hero Steven Spielberg has also crossed over to the dark side and modified some of his best work for the worst. Let’s look at E.T. for example. A very memorable moment in the film is when the alien causes Elliot and all of his friends to soar through the skies to evade capture. The reason they needed to fly away on their bikes in the first place? A police roadblock where officers were standing by with shotguns drawn. Definitely motivation enough to take flight and get as far away from these people as possible. What do we see in the new version? A police roadblock where officers are standing by with walkie-talkies drawn. Ooooo...scary. Makes me want to fly away. Fly away to the bathroom and throw up.
There are many more examples out there. Take what Disney did to the animated classic Melody Time. In the Pecos Bill sequence, executives decided to delete the scene where Pecos Bill lights up a cigarette because it wasn’t politically correct and gave off "the wrong message". What wrong message? Didn’t a large majority of cowboys of the old west light up (among other things)?
Maybe it is age catching up with these masterminds, or maybe it is the fact that they have children, and want to make their projects more "kid friendly".
If this kind of thing continues what’s next? Tweaking Jaws so that Quint doesn’t get eaten? Replacing the mechanical shark with an all CG one? I watched Jaws again over the weekend, and that big rubber hunk o’ junk still has the power to bring me near panic.
If this type of thing becomes fashionable perhaps we’ll see things we never expected from our favorite films. Perhaps Charles Foster Kane’s last words will be "Try AOL" when execs decide they need more advertising. Or maybe they’ll reedit some of the earlier James Bond films so he doesn’t always get the girl. Wouldn’t want to give people the wrong impression now would we?
Maybe we can change Batman so the Joker doesn’t die. That way Jack can reprise is role and the franchise can thrive again. Instead of Ash telling us the story of how he defeated the Army of Darkness, perhaps a new version will have our hero taking too much of the sleeping potion and waking up in the far future. Oh wait...that did happen in the Sam Rami Director’s cut.
My examples sound a bit absurd don’t they? Probably just as absurd as Greedo shooting first. This reworking of films is eventually going to backfire on the creators.
Look at what happened when Ted Turner decided people didn’t want to watch black and white movies anymore and started colorizing them. People were in uproar because Turner was changing the classics. In the end colorization failed because it messed with peoples memories and messed with the overall intent of motion picture.
I realize that in this digital world we live in it becomes very tempting refine our work after it has been released to the public. Add a little color here, clean up the image there, add some CGI in that spot, wrap it up and repackage it to the drooling masses as the new improved movie. It worked for the ten different versions of Blade Runner didn’t it?
So my plea is this - stop it. Stop taking the movies and films we grew up with and loved and changing them to make them (in your view) "better". These "new" versions are not the films I originally saw, and are not the films that made me want to get in the industry. In the end we’ll end up doing more harm than good.
Stephen Schleicher is the producer for www.digitalanimators.com and www.digitalwebcast.com. When not working deep in the labs of the DMN Central Division testing the latest and greatest software/hardware products he can be found at the local university teaching a few courses on video and web production. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org