widescreen.org - The Letterbox and Widescreen Advocacy page Defending the visions and intentions of filmmakers

2008     2007     2006     2005     2004     2003     2002     2001     2000     1999     1998     1997



July 2006

In my previous commentary I mentioned that my instincts were not completely content with respect to the release of the original, theatrical, Star Wars trilogy. I also stated that even though the release answers the cries of untold millions of fans, I still felt like we as fans were being slighted. Unfortunately, it turns out that my suspicions were accurate.

The release of the original trilogy is nothing more than a DVD port of the original, THX laserdiscs. No other remastering is being done. These original masterpieces are being given no more regard or respect than would be given to a behind-the-scenes featurette. Original prints are not being restored. Audio is not being cleaned up. The movies are not even going to be given the decency of a quality 16:9 transfer. The transfer will be a straight 4:3 letterbox.

I pondered if this release was being done for no reason other than to silence those of us who have wanted the original trilogy on DVD.

I stated that the release of the original theatrical editions feels more as though we're being told "There! I'm releasing them! Now, shut up about it and leave me alone!"

As much as I enjoy being right, this is one instance about which I hoped I would be wrong.

I already have the THX and non-THX, original trilogy on VHS in widescreen, of course. I also have the original trilogy on DVD known as the "Dr. Gonzo" set.

(Lucas has said in interviews that if people really want the original trilogy, we can always find the VHS or laserdisc releases. After-market products yield no income to him or Fox, so I admit with a clear conscience that I have the Dr. Gonzo laserdisc ports.)

To those who have not seen the Dr. Gonzo ports, they're quite good. Using the widescreen, Definitive Edition laserdiscs, he created DVDs that surpass the quality of what some studios put out - complete menus, chapter selections, audio commentaries, anamorphic encoding, and really good video/audio quality. The DVDs really were a labor of love from a fan who put a lot of time and effort to bringing a quality, laserdisc port to DVD.

Yet Fox and Lucas are giving the original trilogy no more attention or affection than they would give to a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Something is very wrong here. When a fan will put more effort and creativity into a movie release than the studio and owner will, that tells me not only what the studio thinks of the material but also of the fans.

Does Lucas believe that the time and effort spent would not be worth it? If that's the case, he is showing a great deal of ignorance, arrogance, or both. Considering how many millions of fans throughout the world have been screaming for the original trilogy to be released, how could anyone think that DVDs that are fully restored (as opposed to the unrestored, laserdisc ports) would languish on the shelves?

The whole situation reminds me of what recently happened with Star Trek V. I'll go against the grain here and say that I liked STV, not so much for what it was but what it could have been. I still firmly believe that the underlying story was one of the best ones of the whole movie series. A friend of mine who read the novel said that the story was really well written, but a lot of it could not easily be translated to the screen. He agrees with me that if the movie was able to reproduce the story as it was written, STV would have been one of the best of the series. Unfortunately, thanks to continual budget shortfalls and Industrial Light and Magic's inability to provide the special effects due to having a full schedule with other projects, we know what happened to STV.

A few years ago William Shatner asked for money from Paramount to go back and finish STV the way he wanted it to be shown in the first place - the same way that Robert Wise was allowed to go back and finish Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Paramount refused. The “completion” of STV was reportedly going to cost half a million dollars. I honestly think that if marketed properly Paramount would have been able to recoup those costs a dozen times over.

Now, keep in mind, this is a movie that is considered to be the worst of the series. Paramount knows that STV is not looked upon favorably by the Star Wars fan base, and they were understandably worried about getting their investment back. (I still think that they should have given Shatner the money, though. I would love to see STV “completed”.)

In contrast, millions of Star Wars fans would begin drooling uncontrollably if Fox announced that the original Star Wars trilogy was to be given a complete restoration from the original prints and the original recording material. There is no question in my mind that the costs of completely restoring the original trilogy would have been paid back tenfold. So the reason for Lucas to refuse to allow the original trilogy to be properly remastered baffles me.

And, no, I'm not being hypocritical with respect to STV and the original trilogy. Shatner said from the beginning that STV was never up to what he wanted it to be. Lucas didn't say that until twenty years later and then made changes that could have easily been made back in the 1970s while claiming that such changes were not possible. (The ability to make Greedo fire first wasn't possible, but the whole Death Star attack sequence was? My brain hurts thinking about that little dichotomy.)

I still have some soul searching to do on this, but I doubt that I'll be putting out my money for the new Star Wars set. If they treated the theatrical editions like they deserve to be treated skillfully remastered from the best available prints then I would have no problems paying for them. In this case I honestly don't see why I should bother. If they're not going to put forth the effort to properly preserve these historic masterpieces, then I don't see why I should put forth the cash to buy the upcoming set.

In my last commentary I closed with the statement "We won". That might be true, but the victory couldn't be more hollow.

Losing More Than Just Pretty Pictures

Michael at New Mexico State University sent me an e-mail that I thought made a great point, so I decided to just include it here.

I have friends that are pan-and-scan fanatics. Despite being shown examples from your site and others, they still prefer pan-and-scan and feel like they are missing something when the image doesn't take up the entire screen. They don't care if part of the picture gets cut off because “it wasn't important stuff anyway”.

I think I've finally found an example that proves pan-and-scan leaves out more than just pretty pictures. I recently had occasion to watch Stepmom in P&S shortly after watching the widescreen version (my mother-in-law won't watch widescreen). The final scene shows the entire family taking a group picture - including the once bitter rivals Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. In the P&S version Roberts smiles with no apparent cause right before the picture is taken. In the widescreen version you see that the reason she smiled was because Sarandon squeezed her shoulder in a gesture of friendship.

A critical moment - arguably the most important in the entire film - is completely lost in the P&S version. It's also an easy example to show people because both P&S and widescreen come on the same DVD. While I haven't won over everybody, this example has helped convince some that OAR is important. I thought this example might help.

That's certainly a powerful reason why widescreen needs to be supported and encouraged. When faced with examples like this, I'm still amazed by some people's attitudes regarding widescreen. It keeps life interesting, I suppose.

Until next time!