|05-05-2006, 12:17 PM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Florida, USA
Hell Freezes Over
What has happened to Horror Express? Don't we report on horror films? Why report on what has already got the greatest internet fan base, much less right after trashing the most recent film in the franchise in the previous story? Because this news is going to be all over the place, and trust me most of us would not have increased our scope to all facets of fantasy cinema were it not for the imagery in the original STAR WARS movies. From the official site:
Fans can look forward to a September filled with classic Star Wars nostalgia, led by the premiere of LEGO STAR WARS II: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY video game and the long-awaited DVD release of the original theatrical incarnations of the classic STAR WARS trilogy.
In response to overwhelming demand, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release attractively priced individual two-disc releases of STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. Each release includes the 2004 digitally remastered version of the movie and, as bonus material, the theatrical edition of the film. That means you'll be able to enjoy STAR WARS as it first appeared in 1977, EMPIRE in 1980, and JEDI in 1983.
This release will only be available for a limited time: from September 12th to December 31st. International release will follow on or about the same day. Each original theatrical version will feature Dolby 2.0 Surround sound, close-captioning, and subtitles in English, French and Spanish for their U.S. release. International sound and subtitling vary by territory.
"Over the years, a truly countless number of fans have told us that they would love to see and own the original version that they remember experiencing in theaters," said Jim Ward, President of LucasArts and Senior Vice President of Lucasfilm Ltd. "We returned to the Lucasfilm Archives to search exhaustively for source material that could be presented on DVD. This is something that we're very excited to be able to give to fans in response to their continuing enthusiasm for STAR WARS. Topping it off with a new interactive adventure makes September 12 a red-letter day for STAR WARS fans."
Whether Lucas finally got off his high horce, or whether he decided he could make some extra cash, who cares? This is what the folks who saw these films unaltered all those years ago have wanted.
Scott W. Davis
|05-24-2006, 01:01 AM||#2|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Florida, USA
Okay, here's the deal. Lucas is still an asshole and if you've been reading The Digital Bits you know why.
Word came down from on high that the films will be released to DVD in non-anamorphic widescreen (anamorphic is the industry standard, especially with the sale of so many widescreen sets these days). Furthermore, the prints would not be cleaned up beyond the condition of the 1992 laserdiscs. Sheesh!
Here's the Bits first breaking the news on 5/17:
We've confirmed something today (directly with both Fox and Lucasfilm) that we'd begun to suspect... and it's probably going to disappoint a lot of you. It certainly disappoints us here at The Bits. Those new DVD editions of the Star Wars films? The original theatrical versions of the films are going to be non-anamorphic (our original post on this indicated otherwise, but we have confirmed that the widescreen versions will be letterboxed only). What this likely means is that Lucasfilm has simply re-purposed the non-anamorphic transfers that were done for previous laserdisc and VHS releases of the "original" versions of the films. And with that, our enthusiasm for this DVD release has just dropped through the floor. Anamorphic-enhanced versions of the theatrical editions, we'd buy in a heartbeat. But what we're going to get instead is little better than a ported-over laserdisc. In this day and age, releasing a widescreen film without anamorphic enhancement on DVD is just unacceptable. Does Lucasfilm really think fans want those versions of the films on DVD so badly that people just won't care? Yes Virginia, they do. How many versions of these films do you suppose Lucasfilm will try to get fans to buy in high-def over the coming years? And think about it... you just know the studio has to be prepping yet another standard DVD release for next year's 30th Anniversary of the original Star Wars. Do you suppose this means that the theatrical editions won't be included in the super-über box set of all six films? Probably. Ugh.
Line up like Jersey cows and grease up yer teats, Force fans. Or better yet... run for the south forty as fast as your hooves'll carry you. Stampede!
Then, on 5/18:
Well... it seems we've started a bit of a firestorm with this business we posted yesterday about the original versions of the Star Wars films on the forthcoming (9/12) DVD release being offered in non-anamorphic widescreen video only. So be it. Sometimes, you have to call it like you see it. The news is absolutely true by the way. We've confirmed it specifically with reps of both Lucasfilm and Fox. It is no rumor.
By the way, for those of you who don't know what anamorphic means on DVD, we refer you to our in-depth guide on the subject. [Editor's Note: Keep in mind that this guide was written some six years ago. Anamorphic enhancement has since been widely adopted as the industry standard for presenting widescreen films on DVD... and HD-DVD HAS obviously arrived. Just FYI.]
What you will, in fact, be getting on the second disc in each of these new 2-disc sets (unless something changes dramatically and soon) are transfers of the original films that were done for the 1993 "definitive collection" laserdisc box set release. (By way of confirmation, Lucasfilm's Jim Ward had this to say about the transfers in the recent USA Today story: "It is state of the art, as of 1993, and that's not as good as state of the art 2006.") Great. Thanks. Swell.
So the transfers, and the technology used to produce them, are MORE than a decade old. Of course, they're going to be digitally cleaned up a bit, and even a non-anamorphic transfer is going to look better in digital video on DVD than the same transfer would when presented on an analog laserdisc. Colors are going to bleed less, detail will be a little sharper. There's also apparently an additional bit of tweaking being done, because Episode IV will feature the original 1977 version of the opening crawl (sans the "Episode IV" text) which has NEVER been released on home video before, save for in excerpted form in the 2004 Empire of Dreams DVD documentary (which, we feel strangely compelled to point out, WAS ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN). In any case, the bottom line is that the transfers we're getting on DVD are old and they're non-anamorphic. The video resolution and quality is going to pale in comparison to the look of most other widescreen films on DVD.
A lot of people have been e-mailing us asking why Lucasfilm doesn't simply do new anamorphic, high-definition transfers of these versions of the films. Well... after confirming and posting the non-anamorphic information yesterday, we started making follow-up calls to various experts and industry insiders... you know, just to figure out what the hell was really going on. Were we crazy in feeling a little outraged about this? Was this really just a half-assed effort designed to milk Star Wars fans yet again? What was the real reason for the lack of new anamorphic transfers?
It's been reported previously that when Lucas went back to the original negatives of the Star Wars films in the mid 1990s, they were found to be in bad shape. Such bad shape, in fact, that had they not been restored immediately, the films could have been lost forever. So restoration is exactly what Lucas had done. Except that when he was creating the new 1997 Special Edition versions of the films... he cut the original negatives. So the original negatives of the theatrical versions no longer exist. Okay, we knew that. But what's the big deal? What about the original interpositive prints? What about high-quality release prints? Why can't Lucasfilm just use either of those elements to do a new transfer for DVD?
Well... at the same time as he was preparing the 1997 versions, Lucas apparently went on a little tear and recalled every release print of the theatrical versions that he could get his hands on, and he had them all destroyed. Which means that when Lucas said back in 1997 that the original theatrical versions of the Star Wars films no longer existed, he was serious. He apparently tried hard to make sure of it.
Nonetheless (and thankfully), we know for a FACT that beautiful dye transfer prints of the original versions of the films still exist in private hands, and that additional copies are preserved in a number of film archives around the world. What's more, Lucas would have been foolhardy if he didn't keep the original interpositives carefully stored in a climate-controlled vault for preservation's sake. Come on... of course he did. No one is THAT stupid that they'd just trash all the original elements of the films that made them rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
If good quality original elements don't exist, where did Lucasfilm get that footage of the 1977 opening crawl that was used in Empire of Dreams? And how could it have been presented in anamorphic widescreen on DVD unless a new anamorphic transfer of the footage was done or was already available? So why then can't anamorphic transfers of the films be done now for the new DVDs? It makes no sense whatsoever. In any case, neither the man himself nor senior Lucasfilm executives are willing to admit that they exist, because as Lucas has said many times in the past, "They no longer exist." So what we get are excuses and bogus claims: "We returned to the Lucasfilm Archives to search exhaustively for source material that could be presented on DVD." Right. Guess they didn't look too hard. Give us two days here at The Bits and we'll make some calls. We'll find you good quality source materials outside of the Lucasfilm Archives that could be presented in high quality on DVD... and in anamorphic widescreen too. All it takes is the money and the will to get it done right the first time.
What are we left with? Either the films truly don't exist anymore, so it simply isn't possible to give them to you in state of the art quality (unlikely in the extreme, as we've said, despite public and private statements to the contrary)... or Lucasfilm DOES have copies of the original versions in their vaults, and they're just unwilling (or too damn cheap) to spend the money to give them to you in state of the art quality... yet. If the former is true, there can be no future anamorphic release of the original versions on DVD, and there can be no high-def release on the new Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD formats. Laserdisc is as good as it will ever get for those original theatrical cuts. If, on the other hand, the latter is true (and we believe it is)... Lucasfilm's greed is truly boundless.
Bottom line: This notion that Lucasfilm is doing the fans a favor by finally giving them the original versions on DVD in 2006... but in 1993 laserdisc quality... is baloney. In fact, it's unacceptable. Even though most of them probably don't even know what anamorphic means on DVD, or why they should care about it, the fact remains that the fans are getting bilked. We hate to say it, because we've known many of the folks at Lucasfilm for years now. But someone HAS to say it. It needs to be said. Lucasfilm can and should do better. Who knows? Maybe they're already planning to do better for the 30th Anniversary of the original Star Wars next year... and this is just one more bite at the pie in the meantime.
The strange thing is, Lucas himself doesn't seem to think the fans are even interested in the original theatrical versions of the films on DVD. Witness his comments in this recent interview at MTV.com: "It's just the original versions, as they were," Lucas said. "We didn't do anything to it at all. But we're not sure how many people want that." That's just an insane thing to say given how many Most Wanted DVD lists the original Star Wars films top around the Net, and the folks at Lucasfilm have to know it. So here's an unsettling thought... Lucas finally agrees to include the original versions on the new DVDs, but he won't pony up for new transfers. Do you suppose there's a deliberate reason for that? If people don't buy them because of the lack of quality, Lucas can simply say, "See? People didn't buy them. They don't want 'em." And if they do buy them, but in a year or two start asking for better quality, Lucas can say, "Gimme a break. I already gave them to you on DVD. Now quit bugging me about it." D'oh!
In any case, rest assured that we're as sick of talking about the Star Wars films on disc as you probably are of hearing it. But our motto here at The Bits is right up there in our logo: "Celebrating Film in the Digital Age." It's awfully damn hard to find anything worth celebrating about this. Which is a real shame... because it was pretty damn cool news there for a little while.
Scott W. Davis
|05-24-2006, 01:03 AM||#3|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Florida, USA
We want to take a few moments this morning to post some follow-up thoughts on our Star Wars DVD editorial from yesterday. Since we first posted the DVD transfer information, and especially after our comments of yesterday morning, we've received many hundreds of e-mails from Star Wars fans, home theater enthusiasts and industry insiders (our sincere thanks to all of you for your thoughts), nearly all of whom agree with our sentiments, specifically that if Lucasfilm is going to release the original theatrical versions of the Star Wars films on DVD, they should at least present them in anamorphic widescreen to ensure some semblance of acceptable video quality for fans who may wish to purchase them. Still, a few people felt we were making mountains out of molehills.
Whatever your personal opinions, however, there remains a reality that is hard to deny, which is this: Anamorphic enhancement is the widely accepted industry standard for the presentation of widescreen films on DVD. This is not pie in the sky 'unobtanium' technology that costs untold millions to implement... it's a basic technique that is standard practice on DVD and has been for many years now, since the fairly early days of the DVD format back in 1997. Keep in mind, we're not asking for 4K high-definition presentation at this point. We're simply asking that Lucas - who has in the past been so focused on the quality presentation of his films that he created THX (and the THX certification process) to ensure it - expend a little more effort and money to ensure that the Star Wars DVDs planned for release on 9/12, which are already set to offer the original theatrical versions of these films, offer them in reasonably acceptable video quality that is commensurate to the minimum level that's considered standard for the DVD format today.
Now... we've heard all manner of excuses and contradictory official statements as to why this can't happen: 1) the original film negatives are gone, 2) the other existing original elements have deteriorated too badly, 3) there are just no quality film elements remaining anywhere that could be used, 4) the 1993 laserdisc masters are the best source material that can be found for use on DVD after exhaustive searches of the Lucasfilm Archives, etc. Some of these excuses run from the unlikely to the absurd, and all of them strike us as publicity machine spin.
We've debunked all of these excuses previously but, for the record, let's do so again:
1) The original negatives are gone, destroyed as part of the process of creating the 1997 special edition versions.
We're inclined to believe this is true. Still, the original negatives are not the only viable elements that can be used to transfer the films for home video release. There are numerous interpositive prints. There are the separation masters. Worst case, there are a number of high quality release prints available. In short, other elements exist that can be used for this purpose.
2) The other existing original elements have deteriorated too badly to be used.
We'll come back to this one in a minute.
3) There are just no quality film elements remaining anywhere that could be used.
See our answer to #1. Even if it's true that Lucas and his staff destroyed all of the original negatives, it's unlikely in the extreme that they also destroyed all of the interpositives, all of the separation masters, and all of the release prints. In fact, we know that they didn't. Where, for example, would the anamorphic footage of the original 1977 opening text crawl from A New Hope - the footage that appeared in the Empire of Dreams DVD documentary - have come from if not from quality surviving film elements? Still, even if Lucas did destroy every single scrap of original film available in the Lucasfilm Archives... we know for a fact that high quality die transfer release prints exist in the hands of a number of archives and private collectors. While not ideal, any of these could be given a high-definition transfer, a bit of digital clean-up and color-timing, and could be presented on DVD in anamorphic widescreen in quality that would be superior to a 1993 non-anamorphic laserdisc transfer.
4) The 1993 laserdisc masters are the best source material that can be found for use on DVD after exhaustive searches of the Lucasfilm Archives.
See our answer to #3. This is flatly absurd. If this were true, Lucasfilm's archivists should be ashamed of themselves. We know of few professionals tasked with the preservation of film materials that would allow such critically important film elements as the original Star Wars films to be lost, to deteriorate or be wholesale destroyed. And again, even if Lucasfilm's vaults were so woefully incomplete, we know for a fact that quality elements exist elsewhere. Given 48 hours notice, we could track them down ourselves. Surely, with its significant resources and influence, Lucasfilm could do the same. If the 1993 laserdisc masters are really the best that Lucasfilm can do, it's disturbing. If not, a statement like "We returned to the Lucasfilm Archives to search exhaustively for source material that could be presented on DVD..." seems terribly disingenuous - the corporate PR equivalent of "I'm so sorry, but the dog ate my homework."
But let's get back to #2...
2) The other existing original elements have deteriorated too badly to be used.
It just so happens that one of our regular contributors here at The Bits, the author of our ever illuminating Yellow Layer Failure, Vinegar Syndrome and Miscellaneous Musings column, is something of an expert on the subject of film preservation and restoration. Robert A. Harris, in point of fact, is one of the world's best known motion picture archivists, and has does significant work in this field through his company, Film Preserve. Robert's experiments in color technology and more recent advances in the digital domain have set standards in the industry. His reconstruction and restoration efforts, primarily in the large format field, have brought back to the screen some of the most important films ever produced, including Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, My Fair Lady, Vertigo and Rear Window.
We asked Robert what might be done with the original surviving elements of the Star Wars films in order to rejuvenate them and present them in high quality on DVD. Here's what he had to say on the subject:
"Bill Hunt has asked for an opinion regarding the element problems which we have been told exist in the various Star Wars films, and if they might be fixed.
We're aware of the extent of the problems, going back to fading of the original CRI sections - a problem shared with Close Encounters of the Third Kind - as well as the various cuts, re-cuts, etc. which have changed the conformation of the film elements.
Over the past few years we have been experimenting with various means of handling and interrelating differing film elements, and what we have accomplished would enable us to bring Star Wars back to virtually its original state.
In all deference to Lucasfilm, there is no reason that they would be aware of our latest experiments, or how they might apply to Star Wars.
Essentially, the project would be a reconstruction concurrent with restoration.
We can state with absolute certainly that we would be able to deliver fully restored quality elements as might be requested by Lucasfilm, inclusive of a pristine quality high definition video master as well as a full resolution 35mm preservation negative, if so directed.
It would be both a pleasure and a challenge to bring these films back to virtually their original state, and given a proper budget, commensurate with the work entailed, we would be willing to take on the assignment from Lucasfilm, and deliver elements which would make the release of the original trilogy to DVD as startlingly beautiful an event as it should be.
These films are extremely important both cinematically and as cultural icons, and deserve to be seen in the finest quality possible.
So there you have it. It seems to those of us here at The Bits, that the only reasonable obstacles to Lucasfilm in releasing the original versions of the Star Wars film on DVD in high-quality are the will do to so and the willingness to spend a reasonable sum of money, such as might be required to get the job done properly. Certainly, any number of existing quality elements could be utilized for the purpose (and digitally cleaned up as needed) without breaking the bank. But considering the cinematic and cultural significance of these films, does it not seem reasonable and prudent to do so?
In any case, we sincerely hope that those in charge at Lucasfilm will reconsider their decision to use lackluster 1993 laserdisc masters to present the original Star Wars films on DVD in 2006. The films deserve better, and we believe it's the right thing to do for the fans. It might require a little more effort, a little more money spent up front. But we have to believe that it would be a significantly profitable enterprise... that countless life-long fans of the original films would thrill at the possibility of finally owning them on DVD in good, reasonable and acceptable quality.
It should be done. It CAN be done.
And most infuriating, 5/23:
First up today, Video Business has just posted a story on the Star Wars DVD issue. There are some quotes and comments in there that are probably going to piss a lot of you off. According to the piece: "[Lucasfilm] felt there was little need to invest resources into sprucing up films that have already been restored to pristine form." Says Lucasfilm spokesperson John Singh: "The late '90s theatrical versions represent George's vision for Star Wars. We hoped that by releasing the original movies as a bonus disc, it would be a way to give the fans something that is fun. We certainly didn't want to be become a source of frustration for fans." Hoooo-boy. Well... so much for that idea. You know what they say: If wishes were horses, we'd all be covered in hoofprints and dung.
The story further indicates that Lucasfilm will be contacting its fans directly (probably via their Star Wars.com website and newsletter) to explain the situation. In other words, their corporate spin machine is about to start telling you why they're doing you such a big favor, and why you shouldn't care that the original versions of these films are being handled so shoddily. ('Cause... you know... it's not like they REALLY exist anymore anyway, right?) And oh, by the way, would you all please quit yer bitching and just fork over another $90 already? Because, you see, George urgently needs to build the Skywalker Ranch - East out in The Hamptons or the Lucasfilm Empire will collapse. And just for you Jedi loyalists, every paying Hyperspace member that owns at least 10 different copies of these films on VHS, Betamax, SelectaVision, Laserdisc, VideoCD, DVD (and eventually HD-DVD, Blu-ray Disc and LucasDigital 3D-matic Download)... gets the EXCLUSIVE opportunity to purchase them all again, this time dipped in 12-karat gold (along with a special bonus disc featuring video of George Lucas telling you why making these movies was all just a big waste of his time and nobody should ever have liked them in the first place)!
Happy happy joy joy! Happy happy joy!
We overstate, of course... but only a little. You know... as much money as Lucasfilm rakes in from Star Wars, you think they could treat their fans (and their films) with just a little more respect.
Hhmmmm. This all reminds us of a line from a little art flick we liked back in the day. Lesseeee... we think it went something like...
"Buy more. Buy more now. Buy more and be happy." - THX-1138
Scott W. Davis
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