Raw nerve

Film George Lucas must really hate the fans who paid for his ranch. Remember all the excitement a few months ago because the original, original versions of the Star Wars trilogy were being released? Forget it. Details have emerged and far from spending a few dollars to clean up the prints and releasing them in any kind of quality. They're apparently using the old laserdisc masters and dropping them onto the disk non-anamorphically which'll be fine if your tv set is square but if you're like me and widescreen it won't look that much better than high end VHS -- well ok that's an exageration, but it certainly won't have the same picture or sound quality that other films have enjoyed. There's also a useless space gulping X-Box demo which means the bit-rate'll be shot to pieces. It gets worse.

Rage in the fan community has led to statement from Lucasfilm's publicity. I'm going to reproduce it in full with commentary, because I haven't had a good textual rant in a while and this looks ripe for it ...

I wanted you to know how much we appreciate the passion and enthusiasm you have for Star Wars, and thank you for sharing your concerns about our upcoming DVD release.

Doesn't the tone of that sound a bit patronising. It reminds me of the Magrathean defence system on the Heart of Gold in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy .. 'We'd like to thank you for your interest in our planet and it's services...' Erm. We paid for Lucasfilm by endless buying your products. Be nice to us.

The DVDs being released in September will contain two versions of Star Wars: Episodes IV, V and VI - the Special Editions (which represent George?s vision of the movies) and the first versions, which will be included as bonus material. We hoped that releasing those 'original' movies on a bonus disc would be a way to have some additional fun with the debut of the movies as individual DVDs. We certainly did not want it to become a source of concern or frustration for any of our fans.

One step at a time. It's getting really tiresome when we hear that the special editions of the films are George's vision. Because weren't the original versions his vision? And the original special edition releases? Shouldn't that read George's vision (at the moment). Additionally it's always being said from a Wellesian perspective -- as in -- we'll never see Orson Welles' vision for The Magnificent Ambersons but we have seen a close approximation of Touch of Evil. If that's the case what about the visions of the other two directors of these films, Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand? Whilst the documentary which accompanied the last boxset went some way to debasing Marquand's contribution, the impression was that Kershner certainly had a lot to do with the success of Empire -- has anyone asked him if he wants all the digital jiggery pokery scuzzing up his vision?

After making some play about the fact that they were releasing the original versions we remember from our childhoods -- now it transpires that they're actually being considered 'bonus material' to films we've all bought anyway in a boxset with a bonus disk. How is it 'additional fun' to include them with individual versions of films (let me say it again) the vast majority of fans have bought already anyway. I'm not concerned or frustrated -- I'm annoyed -- because if I want to see those films on dvd as I remember seeing them with my dad at The Woolton Picture House when I was eight (double bill re-release Wars & Empire with ice-cream and Kiora in the middle) I'm going to have to buy a dvd that I already own and pay extra for the privilege. Err, thanks.

As you may know, an enormous amount of effort was put into digitally restoring the negatives for the Special Editions. In one scene alone, nearly 1 million pieces of dirt had to be removed, and the Special Editions were created through a frame-by-frame digital restoration. The negatives of the movies were permanently altered for the creation of the Special Editions, and existing prints of the first versions are in poor condition.

Here's what I don't understand. If the films were cleaned up for the special edition then presumably scanned into the computer for the CG and whatnot, surely these cleaned up versions are going to be the original versions except, err, cleaner. As they said once on South Park -- 'Chewbacca the wookie -- forest moon of Endor -- this does not make sense...' Has something interesting gone on with the negative that we as film fans (and possible historians) aren't privy to? The wierdness continues. The second sentence indicates that the original negatives for the films, those vital items from which all celluloid prints are struck have been "permanently altered for the creation of the Special Editions, and existing prints of the first versions are in poor condition." It's fairly ambiguous as to what that means but if it means that the original negatives have been damaged -- and by that I mean as well as being cleaned actually been physically changed in some way that's just terrible -- if only from a film archiving and history point of view becuase it means that when we're all gone and someone wants to visit a version of the original negative for educational purposes or new release in the future, they're not there. What's wrong wrong with them that they couldn't be used for this release?

So many fans have requested the original movies, we wanted to find a way to bring them to you.

OK. Thanks. How about releasing the newly cleaned up versions, with the original commentaries from the laserdisks and anamorphically, with the deleted scenes that we still know are knocking around because they appeared on the Behind The Magic CD-ROM last decade? Hell even a reasonably priced vanilla release would do.

But since these movies do not represent George's artistic vision, we could not put the extraordinary time and resources into this project as we did with the Special Editions. The 1993 Laserdisc masters represented the best source for providing the original versions as DVD bonus material. Although these are non-anamorphic versions, they do preserve the original widescreen composition of the movies.

About the only good thing about this is that the soundtrack might actually be closer to what we remember. Anyone reading this who's (a) not a fan of the series (b) not the slightly nerdy type of film fan or (c) thinks I'm crazy won't understand all this jesticulating. But really all I'm asking for is ...

- The chance to buy a reasonably priced version of my favourite film as I remember it from when I was kid (Dad, Woolton Picture House, Kiora) on dvd without having to buy a version I already own
- Anamorphically so that it fits my widescreen tv
- Shiny

And now, based on this apocalyptically bizarre statement ...

- some assurance that the original negatives are still in their archive, peachy clean and available to film historians of the future.

I think they touched a nerve. I'm glad I'm not a really big Star Wars fan or this would have been really annoying. I probably just needed to get some things of my chest and this statement was there for the taking. Oddly enough, I feel much better ...

Thanks George.

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