George Lucas is a genius. He has managed to raise to the level of an art form the ability to package and repackage his movies with restored, added or enhanced features over and over, and we all keep on buying them and making him richer and richer.
For years, he held off on putting the original Star Wars films out on DVD. When he finally did, they were the “special editions” that he released theatrically in 1997 with new special effects and other changes like Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor in “The Empire Strikes Back,” instead of Clive Revill. Greedo shooting first. Carrie Fisher being upstaged by furry midgets (no, wait — sorry, that actually was part of the original film).
Then, when people cried that they wanted the films in their original, unaltered versions — in other words, the same films that they could only watch on those old VHS tapes — eventually Lucas granted their wish, although the DVDs we got were not exactly remastered to the same technical quality that their “special edition” brethren were. Still, it was better than not having the old films at all.
Now, they just released a new version of the Indiana Jones DVD box set — which baffles me, because it does not have the just-released fourth film. Did they figure it would stink so badly that no one would bother wanting to buy it and prefer to just remember Indy as he was? No — this way, they can put out yet another “ultimate” Indy collection later on with all four films in one set so that people can buy them AGAIN.
Personally, I have no intention of buying the Indy films again. I have not even decided whether I will buy “Crystal Skull” when it comes out on DVD. I am hoping that my wife will realize it is an ideal holiday gift and surprise me with it — because I am a completist in that way. If it’s a franchise I like, I have to have every installment, even the lackluster ones. Although I’ve refrained from buying Superman IV, even used. Some travesties are best forgotten.
Speaking of Supes, the existence of the Richard Donner cut — which is kind of another example of this resell business under discussion here — left me with mixed feelings. SPOILERS FOLLOW, so if you have not seen it, you may want to stop reading now.
First of all, yes I did go out and buy it, even never having seen it. I’ll admit, the hype fooled me into believing I was about to see a classic, to have an epiphany that would have me looking at this movie in a different way from now on. But frankly, I think they should have left the original version alone.
For one thing, although some people talked about the pacing being better without the whole Eiffel Tower bit at the beginning, I realized that without that whole sequence, the first time we really see Superman in earnest (not counting the flashbacks that play over the opening credits) comes almost 40 minutes into the movie when we get to Niagara Falls and he saves the little boy. That’s way too long to wait to see the Man of Steel in action. (Superman Returns was sort of guilty of the same thing, although I cannot recall if it was quite 40 minutes in to get to the airplane sequence.)
Yeah, the Marlon Brando stuff in the Donner cut was nice, and it was interesting that in this version, Supes and Lois had their fling before he gave up his powers rather than after. That does sort of put his sacrifice in a bit of a different context, I guess. But the big problem I had is with the ending. It’s just the same turn back time thing from the first film again. I mean, is he going to do that every time something happens he doesn’t like? After a while, it just doesn’t have the same impact, and story credibility and suspense lose something if we know that no matter what happens, Superman can just put it all to rights at the end.
Also, some people had remarked that the Donner version is the one that better leads into Superman Returns, but think about it. If he turned back time to where the supervillains never broke free from the Phantom Zone, it also means he and Lois never had their romance, and that consequently she never got pregnant. So, really, Superman Returns could only have proceeded from the Lester version, which clearly was the one Bryan Singer had seen.
Out of curiosity, I also bought (used) a copy of the European cut of Dawn of the Dead, as I had never seen that version. The faster pacing was interesting, and there actually were some instances of added dialogue where we learn a little more about the main characters. And the Goblin score is more prevalent. But somehow, it lacked those little “Romero moments” that made the original version special. Though for those who really love the film, I think the Ultimate Edition box set is the rare example of getting your money’s worth from buying the film again.
For the most part, though, I’d say buyer beware. And to filmmakers: If you’re going to make the fans buy your movies again, make sure what you’re giving them actually improves on the original.