George Lucas Wants Desperately To Preserve Old Movies... Unless They're His; So Fans Are Trying To Do It Instead

from the edit-wars dept

Kevin Carson points us to a fascinating story in The Atlantic about fans trying to recreate the "original" version of Star Wars ("Episode IV -- A New Hope for the folks who feel like being pedantic) from 1977. As various fans have pointed out repeatedly (mainly each time Lucas went back and "edited" Star Wars again), back in 1988 Lucas spoke to Congress about the importance of preserving original versions of movies, and avoiding the constant attempts to update and modernize them in ways that might erase the original versions. Key quote:
Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with "fresher faces," or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new "original" negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
This was part of his attempt to create so-called moral rights for content creators, but the wording seems kind of strange considering how Lucas himself later did pretty much everything he described above as being heinous and troubling. The Atlantic article highlights just a few of the more famous changes (though there are many, many more):
In the original versions of the films, for example, it’s clear that Han Solo pulled out his gun and shot the bounty hunter Greedo. In the 1997 version, Greedo shoots first. In the 2004 version, they shoot at the same time. With the release of the later films, later versions of the original trilogy were edited to add in appearances from Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen. Lucas even replaced the voice of Jason Wingreen—the original Boba Fett—with the voice of Temuera Morrison who played Jango Fett in Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Even worse, Lucas has actively resisted attempts to make the original copy available. When pressed about it a decade ago Lucas claimed that the original was "half completed" and he wants people to see the "finished" product instead:
The special edition, that’s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it’s on VHS, if anybody wants it. ... I’m not going to spend the, we’re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.
That's all well and good, but it's yet another example of the sense of entitlement some creators have in which they believe they not only hold the copyright on the original work (which they may), but also ownership over the experience of fans who watched/heard/experienced the content. And that's where things get tricky. When the artists start to muck with that experience.

And that's what led to the result here, whereby fans are painstakingly recreating the 1977 version of the film.
There's an incredible video highlighting how one of the main people involved in this project, a 25-year-old in the Czech Republic who goes by the name Harmy, goes about fixing things. It's fascinating:
The "new" version is amusingly called the "despecialized" version, and uses bits and pieces from the many, many releases to reconstruct the original. While some point out that there was a DVD release of "the original" film, the video notes that the techniques used to transfer the film to DVD were very problematic, leading to a variety of problems, including "motion smearing," faded colors and aliasing.

The lengths these fans go to in order to recreate the original is quite incredible, going through all the different versions, picking up pieces from one and inserting them in the other, doing careful color corrections, "upscaling" low res versions to make them HD. It's really quite incredible, and it appears Lucas would rather they disappear entirely. He even rejected a request from the National Film Registry when it requested a copy of the original to preserve.
Curators at the National Film Registry picked the 1977 version of Star Wars to preserve for history’s sake, but they still don’t have a copy in the registry. When they asked for a copy, Lucas refused, saying that he would no longer authorize the release of the original version.
While Lucas' changes and updates to his film bother some, I've never been that concerned about those attempts to re-imagine his own work, but it does seem particularly silly to try to block people from even having the choice to view the original. It's great that fans are putting in so much effort to reconstruct it by themselves, but it seems like Lucas could just speed that whole process along by making the original available.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:58am

    If we watched only a half-completed film, why did we pay full price to see it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:06am

    Once you release it to the world, it's no longer yours

    Once you publish something, anything at all, even if it's as small as this comment, it becomes part of the world's culture. It's no longer yours.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    I have had the despecialized editions for a few years, they are well worth the time to get and there difference between those and the new ones are incredible. The entire tone of the movies got changed by Lucas's meddling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Chris Brand, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:12am

    Re:

    Because that way he could charge you again to see the 3/4 finished film. And again to see the 85% completed film. and again. And again...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Jason, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    Re:

    It was clearly labelled as a beta on the release posters.

    Or, at least, it will have been, once the latest re-edits are made.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    wec, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:20am

    I don't understand Lucas either. The original film was what started revitalization of a genre of film making. That, to me, is what is so important. That part of the history of film making.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    Re: Re:

    That's why it was released in Betamax.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re:

    If he hadn't sold the rights to Disney, he might even be remaking the prequels by now. Not that that would be an entirely bad thing.

     

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  9.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:39am

    Re:

    This is where the artist and the public part ways.

    The artist might feel the work was released too soon, might still have ideas to improve the work, and will offer up their complete vision at a later date, as has happened with the few films where the artist had the luxury to do that.

    But what the artist can't change is the experience the public has seeing it the first time. This is the culture part of art that has nothing to do with the artist. It's how the community at large experiences and assimilates a work of art. It's how the masses react to things, and it's what makes art public.

    It's also the reason why these insanely long copyright terms are detrimental to culture and the public. It might be adhere to the artist's wishes. It might be profitable for the copyright holder. But it's not beneficial to culture to take art out of the public sphere. The artist and the copyright holder are not the only ones that deserve a voice once a work of art has affected the entire culture (in this case everyone on the entire planet.)

    That's the whole reason the public domain and fair use exist, and it needs to be vigorously defended.

     

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  10.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'd rather have the fans remake the prequels.

     

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  11.  
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    zip, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:46am

    From Blade Runner to Pretty Baby

    The standard model seems to be leaving the original alone offering up a secondary "director's cut" -- or in the case of "Blade Runner" (the original "director's cut") a confusing array of different versions of the same film has resulted over the decades.

    Sometimes there are good reasons to exterminate the original film and [discretely] offer up a re-edited version in its place. Another film that coincidentally came out at about the same time as 'Star Wars' was 'Pretty Baby' -- and its original cinema version was also permanently redacted because of scenes that years later suddenly fit the legal (US) definition of child porn.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I believe some did, and actually made them better. You can guess what happened to all the copies on Youtube though...

     

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  13.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Re: From Blade Runner to Pretty Baby

    While I hate to seem like I'm defending child porn, I still don't see a good reason to exterminate anything work of art that has ever been released to the public. If it was legal when it was made, making it illegal after the fact is pure censorship.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    I would tell you why the George Lucas who said the key quote, and the George Lucas who remastered his movies are two "different" people, but I'd have to erase your memory.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    and how many times exactly does this sort of thing happen?

    'everything that others do is fine as long as it isn't done with mine!' is the order of the day! selfishness at it's most outrageous!

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:16am

    "do what I say, not what I do". the mating call of the self delusional

     

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  17.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:25am

    ...wait Jar Jar is in the originals? Oh my fucking god!
    Thing is though, I've been looking and can't find a clip. Any help guys?

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:31am

    We have always been at war with Eastasia. Just look it up.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re: From Blade Runner to Pretty Baby

    Time to invoke Godwin's law?

    I think I agree with you, but there are things that have been part of the social experience that society has actively sought to remove over time. Germany as a country is especially involved in this.

     

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  20.  
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    s7, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:02pm

    The People Vs. George Lucas

     

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  21.  
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    Trevor, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Ha

    I can just see the wheels spinning:

    "Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder..."

    Wait, today, engineers can add color, change soundtracks, speed up pace, and add material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder! THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: From Blade Runner to Pretty Baby

    ...and so history may treat the US to the identical sort of censorship.

    After all, for all intents and purposes we are following in the same footsteps. While the targeted enemy is different the methods are nearly the same.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    zip, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re: From Blade Runner to Pretty Baby

    I blame the "pedophile-lurking-behind-every-bush" scare largely on the internet.

    Because the percentage of people who are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children is extremely small (almost to the point of non-existence) the prevailing view of nudity in babies and young children has historically been uncontroversial. But the advent of the internet has allowed people with a rare (and especially shameful) proclivity to find each other and form mutually serving communities where they can feel accepted and not so weird.

    Then when these underground cells are discovered, there's widespread shock and outrage, and an effort to eradicate them ... by eradicating everything that brings them together in the first place. (not unlike the act of outright banning of a once-common farm crop because a few people discovered another [non-government-approved] way to use it ... by smoking it)

    Though the Internet contributed to the public pedophile scare, it seemed to start a few years earlier - at least from what I noticed. I remember being shocked at learning that employees at 1-hour photo processing labs (the kind that every shopping mall once had) were required to call the police whenever they saw any photos (of any kind) with nude children in them. So those innocent photos that my parents took of their children (including myself) as toddlers suddenly became illegal contraband years later.

    I apologise for the off-topic rant, but it's just always amazed me whenever the public attitude on an issue has been completely turned around, especially when through the use of propaganda, scare tactics and draconian laws that criminalize things that were once perfectly legal as well as widely accepted by society.

     

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  24.  
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    saulgoode (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:17pm

    The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.
    Shouldn't that be "where pirated copies of American films have been better preserved", Mr Lucas?

     

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  25.  
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    JoeCool (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The Magnolia Fan Edits are the best. The episodes make far more sense and are much more enjoyable to watch.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymously Brave, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    I have a bad feeling about this...

    Eventually, Lucas will release a restored HD copy of the original unedited films, when it is time to visit the public trough again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    JoeCool (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    Re:

    Has anyone seen him drink a milkshake? We can't be sure he isn't an android otherwise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Trevor, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:42pm

    Re:

    SHOTS FIRED

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 12:59pm

    As always, history is (re)written by the winners...

    We all should be glad that GL doesn't own a time-travel-enabled DeLorean...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: From Blade Runner to Pretty Baby

    It's especially ludicrous when a country tries to ban something that's legal in the rest of the world. Consider the extremely long ban in England on A Clockwork Orange, something that just seems ludicrous to an American.

    And if it's something you want removed from society, banning it just drives it underground and makes it seem cool, esp. with art - because most people know that art is harmless and it's silly to try and ban it. Society can easily register disgust with something without having to make it illegal.

     

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  31.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:10pm

    Re:

    Archivists owe a lot to pirates.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    DSchneider (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:14pm

    Re: I have a bad feeling about this...

    Now that he's sold everything to Disney there's actually a much better chance of this happening. The Mouse is going to be driven by profit motive rather than whatever weird artistic integrity motive the George tries to use; and they know releasing the original versions will bring in a metric ass ton of money. The only minor hold-back is that Fox has the distribution rights to "A New Hope" so they will need to come to some sort of agreement there, but with the potential money involved that shouldn't be a major issue. Many people are speculating we may even get them right before the new movie comes out next year, but that may be to quick a turnaround to get them done in time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    None Given, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:18pm

    Proposed change to copyright law:

    For an artistic work to enjoy protection under the copyright act, an equal quality(and accessability) reproduction--unemcumbered by encryption or any other type of obfuscation--has to be deposited with the library of congress. This reproduction will be released to the public upon completion of the 28 year period of rights enjoyed by the artist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:43pm

    Re: Re: I have a bad feeling about this...

    The fans might have their version done by then, but I doubt Disney would stoop so low as to officially release a fan-remastered movie.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:45pm

    Re:

    That's how it used to be, and I haven't seen any explanation of why it was a bad idea.

    They originally had to submit the entire film printed frame by frame on paper, which is the only way some early silent films have survived (and the image quality is fantastic).

     

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  36.  
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    Uriel-238 (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 1:58pm

    Actors' days are numbered.

    I'm waiting for Humphrey Bogart's next (entirely new content) movie.

    Because it is coming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Rich, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 2:29pm

    Actually, if you want to get really, really pedantic, "Episode IV" isn't even in the original crawler.

     

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  38.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 3:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: I have a bad feeling about this...

    No, but I doubt they'd show any hesitation killing off(or trying to) the fan-remastered version.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 3:41pm

    Re: Re:

    Because that takes work, and the fun of being handed a legal beatstick you can use on people is lessened considerably if it takes even a minor amount of effort to get it. /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    JoeCool (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:28pm

    Re:

    Yep! I remember that clearly, sitting in the theater at the ripe old age of 12. Star Wars affected me more than any other movie before, or since. While I don't get all pissy over what George has done to the movie, I do think he should still make the ORIGINAL available in as high a quality as possible. If he thinks it's "half made", he can sell a two-pack with the original and the latest and challenge people to see how he's "grown" as a movie maker.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 5:12pm

    Actually if you're being pedantic they are trying to recreate Star Wars since when it originally hit theaters the opening crawl did not have Episode IV - A New Hope in it. This was only added until the 1981 re-release.

    http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/2014/06/18/movie-legends-revealed-when-did-the-firs t-star-wars-become-episode-iv/

     

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  42.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Aug 30th, 2014 @ 2:34am

    very interesting point...

    ...about how lucas et al had a copyright on the *original* movie, and if they changed it (barely? significantly?) do they still have a valid copyright ? ? ?
    seems if it were you and me (joe and jane nobody) if WE did something like that, it would be some sort of fraud against the state...
    also want to mention another after-the-fact editing which frosts my flakes: spielberg bowing to IDIOTIC pressure and 'touching up' ET (seems like another movie, too) where he took all the guns out of the hands of police chasing the kids/ET in that scene... kee-rist on a crutch...
    of course, the REALITY is, elliot, ET and the rest of the kids would be fucking shot dead on sight, these days...

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 6:12am

    Star Wars I used to know

    http://youtu.be/qJlbPXZEpRE

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Re: I have a bad feeling about this...

    Disney won't do it. They are masters of altering, reusing, and/or permanently burying old works. There are many old cartoons and movies which they will never release in the original, unaltered format. In many cases due to racist content, or because they prominently feature tobacco use... even ads.
    t

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 9:20am

    Re: Re:

    I was about that age, on a family camping trip, and we drove 30 miles to the nearest theater to see it the summer it was released ('77?). Had the same effect on me, too. :)

    To me it will only ever be called Star Wars and I will only ever want to see it as it was initially released (I've seen the 'edited' version and was underwhelmed). I find it so, well, obnoxious that the man responsible would deny those who made it the hit it was their memories. He can explain it all he likes, it still won't make sense.

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous Sith, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 9:28am

    A better master for fans to use than the VHS or DVD versions could be found on the laserdisc editions, some of which date back to the 80's and are, as with most LDs, direct transfers from the film stock.

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 12:07pm

    I have the original three Movies, on VHS. I still occasionally watch them. VHS is nice in that it allows single-stepping, frame by frame. Lotsa stuff gets revealed.
    .

     

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  48.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 12:23pm

    Re:

    I'm not sure I agree with that. LD require digitizing the film frames which introduces losses. VHS is an analog process that transcribes the frames directly. Yes, some losses occur in the copying process but, maybe, less than digitizing them.

     

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  49.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 2:17pm

    Prediction:

    Once the fans finish the remake of the original, Lucas will sue their butts off for copyrights infringement, or at least, try really damn hard to do so.

     

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  50.  
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    Reality bites, Aug 30th, 2014 @ 7:04pm

    Lukas is well known in the industry for being a princess

    He wants it his way, always, and never ever asks for advice.
    In his head everything he has ever done is the utter perfection possible. Someone should tell the twit arrogance isn't a virtue.

     

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  51.  
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    Niall (profile), Sep 1st, 2014 @ 7:09am

    Re: Re:

    Just look at the BBC and old episodes of Doctor Who - it's one area they are desperate that there was 'pirating'!

     

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  52.  
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    Rich, Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 10:47am

    Re: Re:

    What are you talking about? Laserdisc is analog, not digital.

     

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  53.  
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    Rich, Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 10:49am

    OK, I've got a question. What are they using as a reference, other than memory, to decide what it should look like?

     

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  54.  
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    Rich, Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 10:53am

    Re: Re:

    You are luckier than I. I didn't get to see it until after Empire. When the "Episode IV..." appeared, I thought I missed something.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
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    Uriel-238 (profile), Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 11:28am

    Re:

    There's a dvd version of the extended / expanded / deluxe / ewoks-ewoks-everywhere version that also includes the original theatrical releases in pan-and-scan grainy form.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
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    Rich, Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re:

    I know. I have than one (and it's not pan & scan. it's just not anamorphic). But they said in the article, the color, et. al., is wrong. So, how do they know what's right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
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    Uriel-238 (profile), Sep 2nd, 2014 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The ones that have been designated properly color-corrected? Contrast the first Blue-Ray release that was too red?

    There may be some personal taste involved.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 22nd, 2014 @ 11:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No. The first theatrical releases were calibrated for arc or xenon lamps in theater projectors. That's why too much red. A TV or computer monitor has a much narrower color gamut that a theater projector, so the home versions get recalibrated to that. Can result in many color errors. Sounds like the first BD releases were not properly recalibrated.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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