Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Directors!

Today’s lecture concerns directors who shit on their own classics. Yes, I am looking at you, George Lucas.

Bill Hunt, the editor of The Digital Bits website, was given a sneak preview of the new Star Wars Blu-ray discs last Thursday, and he has revealed something in his preliminary review that is NOT ASTOUNDING AT ALL. More on that later.

THE STORY SO FAR: My son was introduced to the Star Wars galaxy during its latency period, that great gap between 1983‘s Revenge... er, uh... Return of the Jedi and 1999’s The Phantom Suck-a-thon.  This was so long ago (my son is now in his late fifties) that he watched the original trilogy on laserdisc. He was a mere tot then and did not understand that the films were 12, 15, and even 18 years old... because they were timeless masterpieces. So I am very familiar with the original trilogy, thanks to my son’s desire to watch and re-watch these films on a seemingly endless loop over the course of many years. Kids!

The original three Star Wars films are classics by any standard. Geeky fanboy nit-pickery aside, they are tremendous adventure films that can teach young people amazing lessons about the world in a captivating and entertaining way.

Then George Lucas fucked with them.

At first I was excited about the prospect of honest-to-goodness theatrical re-releases. My son’s generation would finally be able to enjoy the original trilogy on the big screen. We lined up on opening day -- just as his mom and I had, almost 20 years before -- with almost giddy anticipation. The lights went down, the crowd hushed. It was big! It was bright! It was... ruined!

Okay, I admit, like one’s first taste of heroin, it was thrilling at first. Oh, look! New robots outside the Tatooine cantina (and new toys to buy.) Oh, joy! A very strange-looking Jabba the Hut now makes an appearance in the newly re-titled A New Hope. Oh, hooray! Greedo shoots first. Wait, what? Oh, shit.

I know this has been written about endlessly on thousands of “blogs” (which, if I understand correctly, are a very very elaborate series of tubes). Check the Google. But for the record: a) just because one can do something does not mean that one should and b) that little revision changes the story in a way that makes me wonder if George Lucas even understands the character that he himself created.

Han Solo is a bounder, a rapscallion, a lovable rogue.  One of the wonderful lessons of the original trilogy is that such a person can be turned from a life of greed, self-interest, and socio-pathology to become a freedom fighter, a good guy, and a hero.

If Greedo shoots first, Han kills him in self-defense.  But in the original version, Han kills Greedo in cold blood BECAUSE HAN IS A BAD AND DANGEROUS MAN. What is accomplished by the tweak?  Everything is made a little nicer, a little safer, a little neater, ignoring the fact that it is uncomfortable ambiguity (those little narrative bumps in the road) that gives drama its flavor and purpose.

It also denies Han Solo his redemption. You know -- the reason he is in the film. Thanks, George.  None of the other changes to the original trilogy add anything to the movies themselves; they are eye-candy, they are an obsessive fan’s baseball card checklist (“Oh, look, that other thing way over there is different too!”), they are designed to squeeze more money out of a Star Wars-loving public.

Steven Spielberg was actually the first to give in to the dark side when he re-jiggered Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Because of a rushed release date forced upon him by the studio, Spielberg claimed he was never completely happy with the original film. You remember, the original release that made millions upon millions of dollars and is beloved in the hearts of many people, to whom it brought astounding joy and wonder. Anyways, he convinced Columbia Pictures to re-release the film by promising them a new ending, with newly shot special effects of Richard Dreyfuss inside the alien mothership! The results are underwhelming. On the Blu-ray release of CE3K, which I believe contains at least 217 different versions of the film, Spielberg’s most recent “Director’s Cut” no longer contains the new footage. Sheesh. Make up your mind, dream-spinner!

But Spielberg is slow to learn.  The subsequent theatrical re-release of E.T. famously featured similar tomfoolery: a weirdly cartoonish digital E.T. was added in some scenes to replace the original puppet, and policemen’s rifles were transformed to walkie-talkies using CGI chicanery.

I am curious: Do children really not understand that the police in this country carry guns?  Why would Spielberg try to pasteurize their universe? This is the guy who made Jaws, right?

The parable that goes the furthest in explaining the sheer folly of these endeavors is well known and often told.  Seems a famous painter was once caught in a museum with a can of paint and a brush, touching up his own painting. As he escorted the painter out of the building in handcuffs, the security guard was heard to shout, “Buddy, your painting is finished-- it’s hanging in the Louvre!”

The original Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters, and E.T. are famous and beloved for good reasons.  They were masterpieces. They were hanging in the Louvre. They were finished.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE DIGITAL BITS: On Friday, Bill Hunt reported that fans will notice a big change in Lucas’ 1999 film Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace to Society when it is released on Blu-ray in September. They have replaced the puppet Yoda with a digital Yoda, so he “better matches the CGI Yoda in the subsequent two prequels.”

You know I am not joking, right?  He is going to do that. No one can stop him from doing that. And because this is the United States, no one can stop me from poking out both my eyes so I will never see it.

I hate Digital Yoda. I liked the puppet in The Empire Strikes Back just fine. In fact, my least favorite moment in Attack of the Revenge of the Return of the Sith Clones was Digital Yoda fighting Count Dookie and flipping around like a frog on a hotplate. I always thought Yoda was a thoughtful elder statesman whose mastery of reason and patience and the Force meant that he never had to resort to silly acrobatic displays.

Guess I was wrong. Well, that doesn’t matter now, because I have to go get in line to buy tickets for The Lion King in 3-D.

Poke! Poke!

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