Dumb quote of the day--getting my nerd rage on edition

>> Saturday, February 11, 2012

Well, it's not a religious event. I hate to tell people that. It's a movie, just a movie. The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn't. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down.

It’s the same thing with Yoda. We tried to do Yoda in CGI in Episode I, but we just couldn't get it done in time. We couldn’t get the technology to work, so we had to use the puppet, but the puppet really wasn’t as good as the CGI. So when we did the reissue, we had to put the CGI back in, which was what it was meant to be.

If you look at Blade Runner, it's been cut sixteen ways from Sunday and there are all kinds of different versions of it. Star Wars, there's basically one version--it just keeps getting improved a little bit as we move forward. ... All art is technology and it improves every year. Whether it’s on the stage or in music or in painting, there are technological answers that happen, and because movies are so technological, the advances become more obvious.
George Lucas, as quoted by Alex Ben Block,
"5 Questions With George Lucas: Controversial
'Star Wars' Changes, SOPA and 'Indiana Jones 5'

The Hollywood Reporter, February, 9th, 2012

Yeah, um... no.

Look, a couple of things. The first and biggest, actually, is Lucas' disingenuous or clueless implication that he's somehow being mistreated because nobody, supposedly, cares about all the various cuts of Blade Runner. The problem with that comparison is actually twofold: (1) people actually do argue about which version is better, with some people very vocally favoring the original theatrical cut (which included voiceover narration and a happy ending) and the director's cut (which cuts the voiceover, restores several dream sequences, and has a purposely ambiguous ending); and, more importantly, (2) all of the several versions of Blade Runner have--unlike the original cuts of the original Star Wars films--remained available: in fact, a five disc collector's edition featuring a "final cut" version, the theatrical cut, the first "director's cut", and the "international version" was released in 2007, providing audiences with the chance to pick their favorite versions and giving film buffs/cinema geeks/Blade Runner fanatics the power to compare/contrast the assorted incarnations of the film. (By way of contrast, Lucas has maintained, at various times, that the original releases of Episodes IV-VI no longer exist, the only DVD release to feature the original versions is no longer in print and the originals were only presented as remasters from Laserdisc on "bonus" discs; the earlier Special Editions and previous cuts of the prequels have been superseded and have been "uncreated" as well.)

You know, I don't think it even occurs to Lucas that Star Wars geeks almost certainly wouldn't feel any nerd rage over his constant re-cutting if he actually went the Blade Runner route, which is what is so ironic and inappropriate about his comparison: if Lucas released a four-disc "super edition" of Episode IV featuring the original theatrical cut (if the negatives were in fact destroyed during the process of making the Special Editions, I'm sure fans would be satisfied by a digital remaster from a low-generation positive), the Special Edition version, an "ultimate" version and a disc of bonus features, I'm sure fans would be peeing themselves like a puppy whose owner just walked back in the front door. Lucas could, in fact, have his cake and eat it, too, even though that's supposedly impossible: he could insist that his latest tweaked version was the "real" movie while acknowledging that many fans will prefer the first version they saw in the theatre, and how releasing all these versions in one box will allow fans to better understand his evolving vision of the Star Wars universe, etc., blah-blah-blah.

This latter point being one of the other ironies about Lucas and Star Wars that really sticks in my craw: Lucas has spent a lot of money and time on movie preservation and restoration, and he and Lucasfilm deserve an enormous amount of credit for being at the forefront of salvaging old celluloid and guaranteeing that a number of movies that were literally disintegrating in storerooms will always be available for future generations of fans and historians alike. And yet, when it comes to his own work, his own movies fall on the punctum caecum, as if he simply cannot perceive that maybe somebody, sometime, maybe even somebody right now might actually want to see both versions of the original trilogy films, watching the original versions especially for the flaws and places where the effects pushed the technical limitations of the medium because the Star Wars films have historical value and have passed well beyond merely being pop culture ephemera.

The fact is, we don't just throw actual art out--or deface it--when it's technologically superseded. And, while there are a lot of reasons for this, one of the basic reasons for it is because new artists learn their craft from the old stuff. The saddest thing about Lucas replacing a puppet with CGI in The Phantom Menace or replacing practical effects with CGI in the original trilogy isn't that he triggers a whole new round of nerds whining about raped childhoods or some similar surge of hyperbole; the saddest thing about it is that he's inevitably denying future generations of filmmakers the opportunity to learn about film the same way Lucas did at USC: by watching a lot of old movies to see how their forebears used technology to tell stories.

All of this touches on what's become the most-irritating thing to me, personally, about the whole Han-shot-first business, too. At this point, it's almost less important that Lucas has decided, for some inexplicable reason, that Han Solo needs to be a less morally-ambiguous, shady, savvy, clever character and should be whitewashed and made more boring. What's gotten ridiculous is Lucas' perverse insistence that everybody who remembers things were any other way are confused, deluded or mistaken, that things were always the way he's recently edited them to be. I mean, I don't really agree with the idea that Lucas' films are his and he can do what he wants with them: once he shows a movie to even a single other person, that film becomes shared mental real estate, a communal experience in which the artist presents and the audience interprets, and the work becomes something else and more interesting; but even if I did agree with that premise, I have no idea where Lucas gets off thinking he can tell me I didn't see something I saw and in fact own on VHS and DVD (I have the previously-mentioned out-of-print original trilogy editions with the original movies as "bonus features") and can watch in slo-mo any time I'd like.

Last: whenever this subject boils up, someone inevitably suggests the complainant just not buy the latest version. Well, y'know, I won't. I have the editions of the movies I like, and I wish they would endure, but if they've gone down the memory hole as far as Lucas is concerned, that's that, then. I won't be buying the recent Blu-Ray box even if I get a Blu-Ray player separate from my laptop, and I have no intention of seeing the 3D releases coming to theatres over the next several years, starting this weekend with The Phantom Menace (given my druthers, I won't be seeing the 3D releases, but I won't completely rule out being dragged, grumbling, to any of them by friends if they really must; that's more about the social occasion than about the films at that point, you realize). I'm pretty much done with Lucas, I'm sad to say.

(H/t io9.)


Steve Buchheit Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 5:14:00 PM EST  

I guess Lucas never heard about how once you release a work into the wild, it's not longer yours alone. While in his head Solo may not have shot first, that's not how he cut and portrayed it in the first movie (well, EP IV). So the cannonical point is that, no, Solo shot first. That's how he created the first movie. A majority of people agree.

He choose the close ups. He choose what was cut. He was the story teller. The story he told was Han shot first. What I don't think he realizes is that the rest of us are rather okay and see it as an enhancement of the character arc.

S.R.Cates Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 9:23:00 AM EST  

I gotta break this up, since there’s a limit on characters… :

Pt 1)
so, normally I’m a pathetic lurker... but for whatever reason, i have to speak up today. Perhaps it's because of my inherent friend-jealousy at how much MORE of a geek Eric has always been in regards to Star Wars. I'm a fan, i love the movies, but i have no illusions. Eric has always been THE fan. Don, perhaps as much, and I've never actually SAID this, but i am strangely jealous of Eric... like, we fall into the classic childhood argument of "no, I'm a bigger geek!"... I ceded this myself to Eric a while ago, but i'm not sure if i actually said it. So there, I said it. Eric, with all my geekdom, you are a bigger geek/nerd/fan in some ways, and this is one of them, hands down. Don as well, but all i can speak to there is that Don is a bigger fan than i, although this might have more to do with his innate skills from birth of remembering and being able to quote whole movies from rote having only seen them once. Truly his knowledge and skill at movie dialog is unparalleled in my experience.

Now with that out of the way, i've always enjoyed the movies, loved them, grew up on them, etc, etc. And I've never been one to jump up and down crying like the 12 year old i really am inside over edits, changes and the like, but i do want to say that unlike the "special editions" which i kind of enjoy, or the originals, which i truly enjoy, the CHANGES being made by Lucas now are nothing short of staggering. Honestly, I've been to so many comic and sci-fi conventions i literally cannot count them, and the sheer volume of t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc, etc that all said "Han Shot First" should have been enough for Lucas. Han is NOT a 'paladin' hero. Per the original intention, per the moral and archetypical design HE created WITH the actual assistance of Joseph Campbell (Oft considered perhaps THE designated authority on myth, archetypes, and meaning behind stories) play out that Han is an anti-hero, or a flawed hero at best. He is not a nice man. Hell, he's a frakking smuggler. By his nature, he's intentionally breaking the law, not to thumb his nose at people, but to make money. This base, core, and innate truth cannot be denied. So, I have to say, the very idea that Lucas, with all his ironic decisions of re-writing his own history, re-interpreting his own views and acting as if they've always been that way seems absurd, and in truth, insulting. I shook my head at the way Lucas approached the re-edits, saying things like "this is my intention" or "i don't understand why people give a crap" or, the already infamous "it's just a movie" statements.

I've actually done some experiments that destroyed the original artwork on purpose. A particularly nice piece of Magik by Bill Sienkiewicz comes to mind… but with that concept, i had high quality scans of the originals, and went to artists saying... "here's a piece you made for me X years ago... I'd like t see what you think about taking it back, and seeing now with new eyes if you would change anything on it, add, adjust improve or erase" and handing it over just to see what came about. Some might see this as an insane risk, but i wanted to risk it, because on the off chance an artist understood, and said yes, more often than not, they came back with astounding results. People grow and change... hopefully, artists and creative individuals improve with time, and can look at some older work with new eyes, and perhaps nostalgia. At worst, an artist who is comfortable with themselves and their skill might cringe at earlier work, thinking that they don’t like to see their early stuff as it’s not “very good” by their standards today” but I’ve never met someone who said “that was not what I intended, it actually should be x” and taken artwork from me to re-do.

S.R.Cates Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 9:23:00 AM EST  

Pt 2)
My last comment on this would also be this… logically, empirically, the argument that the “original negatives” or the information thereof is “lost to the ages” is absurd.
Follow this logic:
a) Lucas wants to make the special editions
b) They have to use the original negatives
c) They want to do the best that they can by the “special editions” so they scan and import them in at wayyy more than they might orininally need. Perhaps this is why/how they got destroyed, because I simply have a hard time understanding how a piece of film gets destroyed by scanning, but that’s a different conversation.
d) They then make the special edition changes, additions, etc.
Now, as anyone with ANY experience in digital editing knows, for the past 15 plus years, there have been these things called “layers” in digital photos, video, etc, etc….
Layers allow artists to make changes in smaller bursts, segments, group them together, etc. it lets them hide changes of one type to work on another. This simple concept can get complex, and often in the end, a final product can have hundreds or more layers, even a photo, piece of art, video, etc. However, unless you actually delete an original file, overwrite it, AND then say “flatten the layers” or kill the separation between them, then any actions, any data, additions, changes, etc can be changed, adjusted, hidden, or even removed.
That being said, I simply don’t buy the argument the original editions don’t exist, because in order for them to not exist, two active destructive actions would have had to have occurred to the information. (not even counting the fact that I’m sure the original digital scans were not singular files, but broken out scenes and segments… multiplying the actions a hundredfold).
So, that’s my two cents there… but I digress.

They are just movies, but with technology, Lucas is perhaps not only trying to prove out the 1984 worlds and methodologies, but he seems to have convinced himself of those un-truths. I agree with you, Eric. I’m done with him, and honestly, I have no interest in the 3d versions either.
Now, I shall go hide in my hidey-hole, lurk, listen, and wait for the Mayan practical joke to unfold.

Eric Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 10:14:00 AM EST  

Excellent insights, Scott, and you should comment more often. For what it's worth, I've envied your comic book geek-fu for decades.

Re: the destroyed negatives: most film geeks who have addressed Lucas' claims think it's bullshit for essentially the reasons you describe. But there's another angle that makes Lucas' claims even nuttier: there are plenty of films that have been beautifully digitally restored for which the negatives have been lost or destroyed for up to a century-plus, including films Lucas has had a hand in restoring. Restoring from a negative is preferable if you have access to one, but that's because the negative is the earliest generation of the film. Assuming Lucas destroyed the negative of Star Wars for the special edition, it's inconceivable he didn't make an interpositive copy for the vaults, first; but even if he'd didn't, he has the capability to make a perfectly cromulent digital transfer from the positives that must be in Twentieth Century Fox's vaults, or from any or all of the hundreds or thousands if prints that are still floating around.

Put another way: by Lucas' rationale none of the digital remasters of Murau's Nosferatu you might think you're seen exist, since the negatives for that were destroyed nearly a century ago as a result of the Stoker estate's successful copyright suit when the movie came out. And that by-all-accounts glorious restoration of Lang's Metropolis? Forget what you heard or what you think you were lucky enough to see: the negatives have been lost for decades, so obviously the idea they could make anything out of collectors' prints is nonsense, just like your memory of Han shooting first.

Yeah, right.

Don,  Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 11:29:00 AM EST  

I think Steve actually comes very close to the issue: "That's how he created the first movie... He chose the close ups He chose what was cut." Here's the issue: George didn't always make the call.

In fact, George's ex-wife (who left him for another man) Marcia Lucas cut the first film. She cut the original trilogy. We can't overlook the strong possibility that this whole thing with re-cutting the original trilogy and his vision and blah blah blah is part of a well-documented, ongoing tendency on the part of George Lucas to rewrite history and cast himself as the prime genius behind Star Wars.

Frankly, the re-cut original trilogy and the prequels lend some credence to the theory that Star Wars owes almost as much to Marcia Lucas as it does to George. The studio release of Star Wars is a taut, fun adventure film set in space. Lucas's re-release is a lugubrious mess with a good movie in there somewhere.

Honestly, I don't think it's all about money for George. He has a ton, and has been fairly generous (with some exceptions) with licensing Star Wars material for all kinds of use. But I think it definitely is about ego and his sense of himself. I don't think George's ego can tolerate the major success of his life being due to anyone else's efforts but his own - certainly not the efforts of a woman who cuckolded him.

Eric Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 12:10:00 PM EST  

Don, you may be onto something. Whether it's bitterness over Marcia Lucas or some other unscratched psychological itch, I do think there's a consistent thread in his career of minimizing others' contributions to the work.

I've sometimes found myself wondering if part of the problem with the prequels and Special Editions is that Lucas almost seems to have an issue with the way a side-character--Han Solo--eclipsed his obvious surrogate--Luke(cas) Skywalker--in most fans' eyes. The way Annakin's story arc is whitewashed is suggestive to me of a clumsy attempt to re-tell the first trilogy without scene-stealing "sidekicks"; Annakin ends up being a kind of clone of his son in so many respects, instead of the Evil Establishment/Bad Samurai figure he was in the first round.

One more thing about the point you and Steve are making, Don: you're both right, except there is the issue that Lucas is pretty obviously lying in his whole "tight shots and I put in a wider shot" analysis. The only really tight shot in the original edit is the close up on Han's blaster. (C.f. a YouTube clip of the original cut.) I think one is pretty much left with the options that Lucas is either lying or delusional (I wouldn't commit good money to which one, myself).

Oh, and: "Lucas's re-release is a lugubrious mess with a good movie in there somewhere." may be the best Twitter-length comprehensive critique of the Special Editions I've ever seen. That belongs in one of those phone-book sized movie encyclopedias they used to publish before the Internet. Thank you!

Warner Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 12:42:00 PM EST  

20th Century Fox - chances of the negatives being destroyed are nil.

he might have been able to swing that on later films, although I doubt it, the library is the major asset.

And anything since the mid 90s would have been moved to super HD for editing and special effects. I was involved in writing the standards to network Hollywood.

I don't even think you can buy a new film camera anymore.

Nick from the O.C.,  Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 7:46:00 PM EST  

I have two kids and they badgered me into taking them to see the VERY SPECIAL THREE-DEE RELEASE OF THE PHANTOM MENACE (EPISODE 1) yesterday. The thing is, they don't care whether or not Han shot first, or if Lucas was knowingly following a Campbellian archetype or just winging it. They don't care whether a parsec is or is not a unit of measurement of time.

They just fucking love anything Star Wars. Anything. We have Lego sets and Lego Star Wars games. We have more light sabers than I can count. We have masks and costumes and ... shit, I think we are making Lucas another million or so as I type this.

What's my point? Well, I guess Lucas can worry about a morally ambiguous hero if he cares to. He can rewrite his personal history to clarify that Han was always Sir Lancelot or whatever. But my four year-old thinks Darth Maul is the best thing in the entire SW universe.

Why? Because he was a clear bad guy. No moral ambiguity, no flip-flopping between the Light and Dark Sides like some Skywalker I could name. Nope. Darth Maul threw his die and lived with the consequences. And that's moral courage, regardless of whether or not we agree with his choice.

And Lucas killed him off for it.

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