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Update:Ain’t it Cool have now posted the full Spielberg interview referred to in this post: it’s here and well worth a read for Jaws fans.
Ain’t it Cool have released some snippets of a forthcoming interview with Steven Spielberg that are at once infuriating and gratifying.
Gratifying, in that Spielberg confirms that the Blu-Ray of Jaws (forthcoming at an undisclosed date) will have no Star Wars Special Edition-style alterations. Spielberg, it should be remembered, practically invented the modern craze for re-cutting movies with his “Special Edition” of Close Encounters in 1980. That movies’ muddied history shows both the best and worst of this kind of thing. The cut he eventually came up with the second time he revisited the film, in 1998, is in my view the best version of the film. Yet between 1980 and 1998 he managed to keep the original version out of circulation, prompting Pauline Kael’s memorable complaint that “…when you remember something in a movie with pleasure and its gone, you feel as if your memories had been mugged.” George Lucas’ butchering of Star Wars has become the key example of this kind of chicanery, although Spielberg’s recut E.T. is very nearly as bad.
American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973) and
Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971)
The pair of car-culture themed films being screened by the Astor theatre in Melbourne as a double bill from the 24th to 30th of April make a fascinating pair; at once complementary and highly contrasting.
George Lucas’ American Graffiti was an exercise in instant nostalgia: released in 1973, it had the temerity to be nostalgic for 1962, only eleven years before. At one level this might be partly excused by the extent of social and political change that occurred in those years. These days, however, we might more readily cast it as a sign of something lacking in George Lucas. He’s known now as a cold and technocratic filmmaker, more interested in fantasy and machinery than with people; and it’s easy to see American Graffiti as part of that pattern. Its escapist revelrie of an adolescence untouched by the social upheavals of the 1960s but glammed up by rock and roll, drive-in diners and hot rods can be painted as Lucas’ rejection of all subject matter that was more complex, troubling, contemporary, and adult.
Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar is at once a state-of-the-art journey through imagined interstellar landscapes, and a rather more prosaic expedition through familiar story-telling terrain. “Great effects, so-so story” is perhaps the classic form of review for post-1977 Hollywood movies, and it’s a little sheepishly that critics have arrived once again at this basic conclusion. Yet, they have, in droves, because at the fundamental level that’s the key conclusion to be drawn about Avatar. The more interesting points to make about the film, then, aren’t those most important but most obvious observations. The sub-plots here – like the progress of James Cameron’s once-imposing directorial career, or whether the film is a giant leap in the evolution of film technology – are rather more interesting.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008)
Man, this is some bad movie.
And keep in mind; this is from someone who managed to enjoy some of the Star Wars prequels.
It should have been the decision that finally let George Lucas rebuild his relationship with his fans. For years he had said that he would never release the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy on DVD (or in any format, for that matter). The versions he released in 2004, which included two rounds of digital interventions and alterations (one from the theatrical re-release in 1997, and then another for the DVD release), would be the only ones we’d ever see. This has been the source of much angst among fandom, and has kept a cottage industry of bootleg DVDs operating for years. And yet, at the start of May, he relented. Lucasfilm announced that in September, we will indeed get the original original Star Wars trilogy on DVD. The press release even used the unpopularity of Lucas’ alterations as a selling point:
See the title crawl to Star Wars before it was known as Episode IV; see the pioneering, if dated, motion control model work on the attack on the Death Star; groove to Lapti Nek or the Ewok Celebration song like you did when you were a kid; and yes, see Han Solo shoot first.
There’s something slighty perverse about getting excited by the fact that a paragraph of introductory text from a movie has been released. (I don’t think it happened with Blade Runner or Gladiator). But when it’s Revenge of the Sith… Well, I’m afraid I can’t control myself. The opening crawl is now up at www.starwars.com, and goes like this:
The last week or so has seen the news splash around the internet that Star Wars will arrive on DVD in September 2004, without the real question being answered: which version? Despite the breathless headlines “Original Trilogy on DVD,” nobody knows if we will in fact get the original trilogy as released in 1977 to 1983 (although those willing to take a punt have tended to state that we will get the 1997 Special Editions instead).
Attack of the Clones (George Lucas, 2002)
Part I: All Things Star Wars (The Story So Far)
I’m an unabashed fan of Star Wars… but lately when I say that, it always sounds defensive. I grew up with the original trilogy: while I was too young to enjoy the first two films’ release, they were a video fixture throughout my youth and I remember the excitement of seeing Return of the Jedi in cinemas in 1983. When Lucas re-released the trilogy in hacked-about versions in 1997, my disturbance at his poor creative decisions could not entirely stifle my excitement. As an adult cinema buff, this was my chance to experience the thrill of enjoying Star Wars properly, as a cinema experience. I knew the new trilogy was coming, and that every few years until 2005 I would get a new chance to relive the magic. In 1999, however, The Phantom Menace let me know I was in for a bumpy ride. A film so wretched in so many areas it almost defies any attempt to catalogue its faults (click here for my own attempt written at the time), it was particularly had to take because of the way it seemed to undermine the foundations of the earlier films. Entering the cinema hoping to be reunited with familiar characters, instead I had C-3PO with his skin ripped off. Wanting more quasi-mystical dialogue about Jedi knights sensing the “Force,” I instead was shown Obi-Wan Kenobi doing blood tests for “midi-chlorians” like an intern at the pathology lab.
The Phantom Menace (George Lucas), 1999
I guess you have to start any review of the new Star Wars movie with a little prologue explaining how excited you were to see it, how you had opening night tickets, how you queued for hours, how much Star Wars has meant to you, and so on… Well, yeah, I had opening night tickets, and yeah, I was excited, and yeah, I grew up with Star Wars and am amongst those who think that George Lucas wrought a great and marvellous thing back in 1977. I also, for the record, think The Empire Strikes Back is an even better film: one of the truly great works of fantasy cinema. But I don’t want to give the impression I went into the cinema sucked in by the hype and expecting a masterpiece. I don’t want my negative comments about the film written off as the sour grapes of someone who had waited sixteen years and could never have been pleased by Episode 1.