Spielberg Makes Sure Fans Know He Is NOT George Lucas

Say what you want about Steven Speilberg, but he is fast becoming a firm and vocal voice against the re-writing of film history. So much so that he has not shied away from some very vocal jabs against old pal George Lucas who has recently come under fire once again for his incessant altering of his Star Wars franchise to the point that there is a fan campaign to boycott the upcoming Blu-ray release of these films.

At a recent screening of a new digital restoration of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK at Los Angeles’ Hero Complex, Spielberg commented on filmmakers who alter their films, thus erasing their historical context:

“Speaking for myself, I tried this once and I learned to regret it. Not because of fan outrage, but simply because I was a little disappointed in myself. I got very kind of overly sensitive to some of the criticism E.T. had gotten from parent groups when it was first released in ’82. Having to do with Elliot saying penis breath or the guns with the CIA. And also there were some rough around the edges close-ups of E.T. that I had always thought if technology ever evolves to the point where I can do some facial enhancements with E.T. I would like to. So I did an E.T. pass for the third release of the movie and it was okay for a while then I realized that what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T. My only contrition that I could possibly do because I feel bad about that, the only contrition that I really performed was when E.T. came out on DVD for the first time. I told Universal, we’re going to do this or we’re not going to put E.T. on DVD. You have to put two movies in the box and one movie will be the 1982 version and the other will be the digitally enhanced version. What I’d like to ask is this. We’ll do a little poll here. I know we’re coming out with the Blu-ray of E.T. If I came out with just one E.T. on Blu-ray, the 1982 one, would anybody object to that? [Audience shouts ‘No!’] Ok, so be it.”

But friends and colleagues must be careful of just how “critical” they are of their pals. Spielberg also added:

“Let me put it this way, George does what he does because there’s only one George Lucas, and thank god for that. He’s the greatest person I’ve ever worked with as a filmmaker collaborator and he’s a conceptual genius. He puts together these amazing stories and he’s great at what he does. My feeling is that he can do anything he wants with his movies because they’re his movies and we wouldn’t have been raised with Star Wars or Indiana Jones had it not been for George.”

But luckily, Spielberg’s point has been made and it is a most welcome response to Lucas’ continued alterations and his open disdain for the people who are fighting for the very things he himself once stood before Congress and campaigned so vigorously for (see my post HERE). Let’s hope more filmmakers take the same stand Spielberg has. Which, in supporting the importance of film and its history, automatically sheds a light on just how selfish and misguided George Lucas has become. Perhaps one day, Lucas himself will come to understand and respect the wishes of those of us who care about preserving film and cultural history and remember that there was a time when he was one of us. Let’s hope that Mr. Spielberg is, in perfect Dickens fashion, the first of many ghosts to haunt Mr. Lucas.

Spielberg Makes Sure Fans Know He Is NOT George Lucas

Self-Proclaimed Barbarian: The Altering Of Our Cultural & Artistic Heritage

Let me begin by explaining here that I am not a rabid Star Wars fan. I did love the original film as a kid. I was, in fact, quite obsessed with it. But I was also 13 at the time. Now, at the ripe old age of 47, my desire to go back and see the original Star Wars films is one of nostalgia more than need or great passion. I think they’re terrifically fun films. But the reason I choose to write about these films and what Lucas is doing is simply because I strongly believe in preservation. I believe that film represents our culture. A time and place. Emotionally, sociologically and technologically. Lucas’ much reviled attitude toward fans of his work and his insistence on erasing history is as worthy a topic for my blog as it is for the many, many forums out there voicing their opinions on the subject. Certainly as worthy as Lucas himself bringing this same argument before Congress in 1988.

In that fateful year, George Lucas stood before Congress –with many other filmmakers by his side– and protested the altering of films and the resulting altering of film history. Since then, he has become the poster-child for such alterations with his constant reworking of his Original Star Wars films (though he only directed one of the three) and his insistence that the original versions not be seen. He did, under protest, release the original cuts to DVD years ago in low-grade, non-anamorphic transfers. The result is these films will disappear forever in this hi-tech world. And this is, according to Lucas himself, exactly what he wants to see happen.

Here is the transcript of his plea to Congress. How is it that one so passionate could lose all sense of self and environment to become the greatest transgressor of what he so articulately argued against?

My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board ofLucasfilm Ltd., a multi-faceted entertainment corporation.

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I’ve come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage. It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. 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.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.

I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public’s interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient. That’s an outrage! It’s not sufficient! If it were sufficient, why would I be here? Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of “The Maltese Falcon?” Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures. Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art–as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.

I ask, most humbly, that George Lucas heed his own impassioned words and allow the original cuts of these immensely influential films to be restored to their original state so as to be seen by, as he so eloquently put it, “those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.”

Self-Proclaimed Barbarian: The Altering Of Our Cultural & Artistic Heritage

Spielberg Comes To His Digital Senses

Anyone who knows me knows I find digital alterations of older films sacrilege. While I fully support director’s cuts of films and the opportunity for a filmmaker to finally show the world the work he or she intended, I am equally adamant that once a film is out there, once it has been consumed by the public, become a part of our collective psyches, that it has a right to exist in its original form, as well as its director’s cut.

Thankfully, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and William Friedkin, to name a few, have honored that very concept by releasing both original and altered versions side by side (E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, BLADE RUNNER, THE EXORCIST respectively). However, filmmakers like George Lucas have gone out of their way to actually destroy original cuts of their films (the original STAR WARS TRILOGY) in the hope that those original versions would disappear from history altogether. Ironic since Lucas himself once argued to the Supreme Court when fighting colorization that once a film is out there it belongs to the public and should not be altered or manipulated. Since those coherent days, Lucas has become the poster-child for film alteration and history re-writing. Much to the dismay and anger of many of his once loyal fans (this writer included–for me the original STAR WARS TRILOGY films are dead, never to be watched again).

Luckily for us, director Steven Spielberg stated recently his desire to allow his films, warts and all, to remain as they were presented to the world in their original forms out of respect for the films themselves and the history they represent.

“There’s going to be no more digital enhancements or digital additions to anything based on any film I direct. I’m not going to do any corrections digitally to even wires that show… If 1941 comes on Blu-ray I’m not going to go back and take the wires out because the Blu-ray will bring the wires out that are guiding the airplane down Hollywood Blvd. At this point right now I think letting movies exist in the era, with all the flaws and all of the flourishes, is a wonderful way to mark time and mark history.” 

Now if only he could talk some sense into his long-time pal Lucas and convince him to follow suit and respect the films, the history they represent, and their loyal fans.

Spielberg Comes To His Digital Senses

Boo George Lucas. Again As Always.

My admiration for Mr. Lucas fizzled out many moons ago. His first three films were simply stunning. THX-1138, AMERICAN GRAFFITI and the very first STAR WARS. The man didn’t return to directing until he decided to single-handedly destroy the “franchise” he’d built in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The three STAR WARS prequels he helmed are among the worst films I’ve ever seen. Incompetently written, showcasing the largest collection of god-awful performances by some of our industry’s leading actors, and completely devoid of any heart, these films can only be loved by either very small children or geeks capable of extreme levels of blind devotion.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that my beef with Lucas has less to do with these abominations and more to do with the absolute rape he has committed to the original three films. While even at the time of its release RETURN OF THE JEDI started to reek of Mr. Lucas’ desire to make toys over films, it was still watchable and had some terrific moments. Of course much of the film and story’s darker edges were eliminated (see clip below), some in post and much as early as the script stage (goodbye Wookies, hello Ewoks). But despite the early signs of Mr. Lucas’ transition over to the “dark side,” I had never imagined at the time that the films I loved (warts and all) would one day be digitally manipulated to such a degree that they could barely be recognized as the same films. Even THX-1138 has been completely overhauled, and in so doing, thoroughly destroyed. AMERICAN GRAFFITI, luckily for us, had only one scene altered, leaving the bulk of the original movie-going experience intact. But STAR WARS and its early companion films can only be seen in their original, un-assaulted forms in crummy, non-anamorphic transfers on Standard DVD or laserdisc.

With the recent announcement that the STAR WARS films will finally be making their way to Blu-ray next year (sadly in a box set where one will be forced to buy the unwatchable prequels), Lucas has, again, denied the call of the films’ true fans and stated:

“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally. It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.”

In other words, the original versions will not be included.

And I dare say it will be a lifetime before they ever are. And, from what Lucas himself has stated in the past, there’s a good chance they never will be.

George Lucas may have started out as part of the new breed of filmmaker that emerged during the 70’s including Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Steven Speilberg (they were all friends and created a small but well-respected community around them), but his interests veered so far away from those ideals that he eventually became a marketing entity with no trace of filmmaker left to be found. And, sadly, those of us out here who still believe in something pure (like the Rebel Alliance itself), must suffer the consequences until someone steps in and makes things right. Perhaps after Lucas himself has left this world (and I am not urging that he do so any time soon), a lover of cinema and restoration will step up and return to the world that which was taken from us: an innocent and creative young man’s vision that touched millions and inspired almost as many.

One day, perhaps…

Here’s a scene cut from THE RETURN OF THE JEDI before its original release. It will be included as an extra on the new Blu-ray set. A set I will not be buying. It seems the scene was simply too dark. But one gets a sense of what the tone of this film could have been. Had Lucas not heard the whispers of the dark side…

Boo George Lucas. Again As Always.


WARNING: Spoilers.

No Lucas

Lots of ambitious work by young artists ends up in a dumpster after its warehouse debut. So an unknown artist’s big glass vitrine holding a rotting cow’s head covered by maggots and swarms of buzzing flies may be pretty unsellable. Until the artist becomes a star. Then he can sell anything he touches.

–Charles Saatchiart collector and owner of the Saatchi Gallery

Would I seem too much the hypocrite if I followed that quote by saying that I didn’t hate INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL? Well, I didn’t. In fact, through much of it I kept thinking, “Why do so many people dislike this film? I’m having a great time.” I was thrilled to be back with Indy and (some) of the gang. Hell, I missed the guy. But as the film went on, I found it harder and harder to push aside all those nagging little moments that, on their own are forgivable, but in accumulation began to swarm over me like the killer ants that threatened to consume our long-lost heroes. 

Sure, this is just a movie and an over-the-top serial adventure at that, but there are still some lines that should not be crossed. One of the things that I always loved about Indy was that, well, he could get hurt. You feel pretty certain he’s not gonna die, but he’s also not a superhero either. He is, after all, a school teacher/archaelogist. So when the guy climbs into a fridge and survives a ground-zero nuclear explosion… well, you just sorta start to feel like he’s more The Hulk than the old Indy you remembered. Not to mention that now I have to mourn the fact that the guy’s gonna die a horrible death from radiation poisoning and doesn’t even have a clue (yeah, I know the fridge was lined with lead, but if you think that’s gonna save him, then you best start practicing your duck-and-cover maneuvers). I guess I just want to believe when Indy’s running away from a giant rolling boulder, if he doesn’t move, it’s gonna kill him. 

Now maybe it seems somewhat ludicrous to start drawing reality lines around this fictional character, but there should be rules to any story. And if there hadn’t been any Indy’s before this one, I’d say okay. But the rules were already set by the first film (and broken a few times since with dreadful results). The joy of Indy (for me) is that he’s a smart guy with a gun and a whip. Not a member of The Fantastic Four. 

But let’s concentrate on something more positive: Harrison Ford. Well, if anyone had any doubts about Ford’s ability to still play Indy, they can now put them to rest. He’s as charismatic to watch and as appealing as ever. I always wished he’d continued the serious acting career he started with WITNESS and THE MOSQUITO COAST, but he didn’t. He chose to be a high-paid movie-star over a versatile actor (not that the two can’t co-exist) and thank God it’s something he’s good at. In fact, better than most. Sadly, some of the folks around him have changed in rather dramatic ways. Which brings us to Mr. Lucas. 

If there was anyone left on the planet who didn’t figure out after the last three STAR WARS films that the George Lucas we once knew had been replaced by something else altogether, then what I assume are his contributions to this Indy film should be all the convincing they need that it’s about time a proper wake was held. 

“Whatever has happened in my quest for innovation has been part of my quest for immaculate reality”. 
–George Lucas 

Innovation… Immaculate reality… Hmmm.. I’d like to balance that quote with one from Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo:

 “Technically U.S. directors keep improving. But this technical expertise hides an emptiness that keeps getting bigger. They’re very good at saying nothing.” 

It seems to me that Mr. Lucas’ fascination with digital technology has completely consumed his ability to recognize (or possibly care about) the absence of those rather crucial film elements known as story and character (and when he’s directing, one can also add “performance” to that list). Whether Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Ford can see it or not I don’t know, but all of these things fall to the wayside in the effects extravaganza that is the climax of this film. In what has to be one of the  most unimpressive, ridiculous and vacuous endings ever put to film, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is ultimately the filmic equivalent of crawling into bed with a long-lost love, only to find yourself dry-humping a mannequin. 

This film abandons its characters, its story and, ultimately, its audience. And yet the answer as to how to make a good INDY film is so simple and, ironically, sitting right in the palms of the filmmakers’ hands: There’s a scene early on in the film where Indy and his son, Mutt (oops, did I give that away?) are on a motorcycle and they’re being chased by Russians in cars. One of the Russians reaches out of a car window and yanks Indy off the back of the motorcycle and in through the car window. Mutt races on the motorcycle around to the other side of the car while Indy clobbers the villains and proceeds to crawl out the opposite side window of the car and back onto the motorcycle. It’s one of the greatest moments in the film and pure Indiana Jones. That’s it. As simple as that. Old fashioned stunts done with old fashioned real people (at least I hope they were real) allowing us to feel the vibrancy and excitement of something that is actually happening. Sure it’s not all done in one take and it takes some real movie magic to pull it off, but the keyword here is “real”. Whether it’s a stuntman or Harrison Ford doesn’t matter. We’re watching Indy do what Indy does best. At the climax of KINGDOM, I’m not even sure where Indy is standing no less how he feels about what’s happening. 

And it’s not that I’m against digital effects. Quite the contrary. They have a place and are a part of our new cinematic language. But use it wisely, my fellow filmmakers. And never EVER let it overshadow story and character. Especially when all we want is heart. And Indy has so much heart. I wish the filmmakers here had been able to remember that as they were coming up with bigger “better” action scenes or creating digital environments that simply couldn’t hold a candle to the practical ones.

The truth is, most of us were just looking forward to a whip, a gun, and a dusty old hat.