The Star Wars Trilogy
(20th Century Fox, 1977-1983) D: George Lucas, Irving Kershner, Richard Marquand, w/ Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford. Rating: NNN
THX 1138: Director's Cut
(Warner, 1970) D: George Lucas, w/ Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence. Rating: NNNN
I'm not a star wars fan. I was 22 when the first film came out and was busy with Buñuel and Renoir, and Star Wars struck me as fun but not worth spending much time on. The last time I watched any of the original trilogy was in a European hotel room, because the prospect of Star Wars in Italian was just too weird to resist. ("Dove Principessa Leia?") So if I'm watching these new DVDs and thinking, "Wait a minute, where did that come from?" I'm sure there are all kind of changes I'm not noticing.
The long-awaited DVD issue of the Star Wars Trilogy raises some interesting questions about the ownership of cultural artifacts. Lucas has stated more than once that we will never see the original Star Wars films again. These versions are updated, upgraded and retrofitted and are now canon. This is, legally, Lucas's right. He owns the films in every legal sense of the word.
If Lucas wants to, say, add digital characters to a scene or add a scene that was originally cut, or retrofit the mythology so that instead of being Luke Skywalker, From Apprentice To Jedi Master, Star Wars is now Darth Vader, His Rise, Fall And Redemption, he can - and, of course, he has.
But once something becomes part of the larger culture, it belongs to the culture as much as it does to its creator. The fans of Star Wars have made Lucas richer than God, or Oprah, and he owes them. One thing he owes them is the option of the original cuts of the film.
I have no problems with filmmakers going in and tidying up a film, as Spielberg did on the Raiders DVD when he removed that slight reflection of the cobra that appeared on the glass that "invisibly" separated the cobra from Indiana Jones.
There's a lot of that in these Star Wars issues, particularly regarding the travelling mattes that were never quite clean in the first film. Indeed, the films have never looked better, and the wide-ranging 5.1 soundtrack is spectacular. But the people who want these DVDs are getting the version in which Greedo shoots first - though a little less first than in the theatrical special edition. And the celebration on the Ewok planet after the final victory now has cutaways to celebrations on other worlds that look suspiciously like shots from Episode One. A detailed list of the alterations can be found at www.thedigitalbits.com.
Lucas has tweaked THX 1138, but the alterations are less drastic and the film has a less mythic place in the hearts of its audience. The white-on-white future looks stunning; THX didn't look this good when it was playing in theatres.
Each film comes with an array of extras: full commentaries, documentaries, a hilarious gag reel as an Easter Egg on the Star Wars fourth disc, a peculiar 1970 making-of on THX, and some cast observations that explain a lot about the dull acting in the latter-day Star Wars films. Robert Duvall describes Lucas as a director who leaves his actors alone, and if you're Robert Duvall, an experienced and virtually self-directing actor, that's a good thing. The young and inexperienced Star Wars cast, on the other hand, had problems. "George lost his voice, and it was three days before the actors noticed," says Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford, a little more blunt, says Lucas simply doesn't understand the acting process.
EXTRAS Star Wars: director/producer/effects/star (Fisher) commentary, feature-length making-of, short documentaries on the characters, the lightsaber and the series' legacy. Episode III preview; teasers and trailers for all three films; extensive retrofitting of the film's production mythology. The booklet at one point refers to Star Wars as a low-budget film (it cost $10 million in an era when the average studio film cost $5 million) and as an independent film, when it was financed by 20th Century Fox. English, French, Spanish versions and subtitles.
THX 1138: Lucas/Walter Murch commentary, sound-effects-only track, Theatre Of Noise sound masterclass with Murch, making-of, hour- long documentary on the birth of American Zoetrope, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1139 4EB, Lucas original student short, original trailers. English, French, Spanish versions and subtitles.
(Home Vision/Morningstar, 1965) D: Yoshitaro Nomura, w/ Yoshiko Kuga, Hizuru Takachiho. Rating: NNNN
(Home Vision/Morningstar, 1978) D: Yoshitaro Nomura, w/ Ken Ogata, Shima Imashita. Rating: NNNN
Homevision is working a very in teresting vein of late, opening up relatively unknown areas of the post-war Japanese cinema: new-to-North America issues of films by Seijun Suzuki (Kanto Wanderer, Underworld Beauty), Kinji Fukasaku (Graveyard Of Honor and forthcoming issues of his monumental series of mid-70s gangster films known collectively as The Yakuza Papers) and now this pair of films by Yoshitaro Nomura. Nomura is relatively unknown here, and occupies a curious position. A generation younger than Kurosawa, he was an experienced commercial director with a decade of films under his belt when the generation of 60s radicals - Oshima, Imamura and Suzuki - arrived on the scene. Zero Focus and The Demon are compact domestic thrillers linked by a fascination with perverse family mysteries.
Nomura has an icy formal control (the comparisons to Hitchcock in the liner notes to both films are apt) and an unflinching willingness to look his characters' darkest instincts square in the eye. This is definitely a director I want to see more from. And while we're at it, who owns the North American rights to Imamura's Intentions Of Murder and Oshima's The Sun's Burial?
EXTRAS Theatrical trailers, booklet essays. Japanese with English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, September 28
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet star in the latest oddity from the pen of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich).
Ellen: Complete Season One
(A&E Home Video) Or, as it was known at the time, These Friends Of Mine, back before Ellen was gay. Eleven episodes.
The Big Town/My New Gun
(Columbia/Tri-Star) Diane Lane alert! In the latter she plays a suburbanite whose husband brings home a gun for protection. In the former, she's a stripper.
(Columbia/TriStar) Another hole in the Polanski DVD-ography filled with this highly pictorial adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, with Nastassja Kinski as Tess.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb