Digital Bits Editor Bill Hunt, who is, like, the dude when it comes to home theater stuff, posted his review of the Star Wars Blu-Rays today. Hunt sings the same refrain as so many others: While this set is far from what’s best in terms of current technology and many screw ups from the ’04 DVDs have carried over, it’s still the best Star Wars has looked since you paid to see it during Reagan’s presidency. Bill spilled an interesting/exclusive tidbit, however, while kvetching about the CGI revisions Lucasfilm whipped up for these Blu-Rays. To wit:
“For those of you who hate the past changes [to Star Wars] (and the new BD changes), believe me I get it. Let me just say, it could be a LOT worse. Sources well-positioned to know have told me that Lucas actually seriously considered replacing the puppet Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with the all-digital version, and even had tests conducted to see how it would look. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed…”
Emphasis added. It goes without saying that the “cooler heads” in this situation should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Painting over Frank Oz’s superb puppetry would have been some cold, disrespectful shit. Just thinking about it makes me want to draw giant magic marker penises on every American Graffiti poster I can find.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THAT, GEORGE LUCAS? IF I JUST DREW GIANT PENISES ALL OVER RON HOWARD’S CARTOONY FRECKLED FACE? YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO STOP ME, YOU COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE IN FRONT OF EVERY AMERICAN GRAFFITI POSTER AT ONCE.
Meanwhile, Howard the Duck is still atrocious, and Lucas does nothing to try and correct that.
Bluray.com posted their take on the Star Wars Blu-Ray set Monday, the final sentence of which finds writer Casey Broadwater triumphantly stating “the films have never looked or sounded better.” Sure, things aren’t perfect—Broadwater is especially disappointed with the soft image quality of Phantom Menace and tags the latest round of CGI updates as “goofy”—but that’s small potatoes since the original trilogy now looks “amazing,” apparently free here of the wild color fluctuations that plagued the 2004 DVDs.
Geoff Dearth of The Digital Fix disagrees on that last point, stating in his write-up (also posted Monday) that the colors of the original films on Blu-Ray are “still far too oversaturated.” “Skin tones vary wildy,” Dearth notes, “looking lobster-pink in one shot and golden brown the next.” Various audio elements also let down, particularly the ADR work heard in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. In the end, Dearth laments that these Blu-Rays “don’t quite do [the Star Wars movies] justice.”
Strangely, Dearth’s review makes no mention of Lucasfilm’s highly contentious digital revisions. Either Geoff is one of those “ain’t gonna dignify that kinda stupidity with a remark” type of guys or this whole “Special Edition” nightmare is the hallucinogenic result of too much plastic in our drinking water. All I’m trying to say is I never noticed Greedo shooting first until around the first time I put my lips to an Evian bottle.
So, if we’re gonna keep talking about this hot Star Wars Blu-Ray mess, we need to come up with a catchier name. I vote for Vadergate. Let me know how you feel about that, Wampa jockeys. Also acceptable: Lucasgate, Jedigate, the Krayt Dragon Rock n’ Roll Swindle.
Phil Tippett (pictured) is a special effects master who’s worked on such incredible pieces of cinema as Jurassic Park, RoboCop, and—ahem—the original Star Wars trilogy. On Wednesday morning, Movies.com spoke with Tippett, a guy who spent countless hours whipping up creatures and spaceships for George Lucas at the dawn of the ’80s, and asked his opinion of the Star Wars creator’s continued CGI brush-stroking over the years.
“They’re shit,” Phil responded, damning all of Lucasfilm’s digital scribbling since 1997 as unnecessary. A not unexpected reaction from the co-genius behind Empire Strikes Back’s still-impressive Imperial Walkers. Tippett, who won an Oscar for his work on Return of the Jedi, also shared a behind-the-scenes story from that film which will surely not garner Georgie Boy any more cool points:
“[Industrial Light & Magic] had a little room where you could get chips and drinks and I was getting something. George and Richard Marquand, [Return of the Jedi’s] director, came in and Richard was saying, ‘George, I don’t totally get where we need to go with this picture.’ And George said, ‘Well, did you see Benji?’ ‘No George, I didn’t see Benji. ‘Well, what we’re doing now is kind of like a cross between Benji and what we did on Empire Strikes Back.'”
Ewok haters: You have a new enemy.
Star Wars Celebration V was held this past weekend in my old home base of Orlando, FL. Part of me wanted to fly down there and check it out because some of my friends were going, but then I remembered I’d have to pay something like $60 or $70 just to stand in endless lines with hundreds of Lucas Kool-Aid drinkers so I could hear someone like Anthony Daniels talk about what the “Droids” cartoon meant to him personally. Not too keen on that notion, I decided to stay in NYC and celebrate by watching the original Star Wars movies when they came on Spike TV Saturday, flinching every time some of that post-1997 CGI bull honkey flashed onscreen (“Jedi Rocks” still feels like a shower in Louie Anderson’s ball sweat).
The big news to come out of Celebration V is that the Star Wars saga is arriving on Blu-ray next year. Of course Lucasfilm is only putting the 2004 “Extra” Special Editions of the o.g. trilogy on these discs, because it would cost too much to find copies of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi without all that shit they started adding in the late ’90s and restore them all digital-like just to appease a few hundred / thousand / gazillion die-hard fans. Seriously, that’s what they said. I guess we didn’t buy enough merchandise, guys. If we had all bought that one extra Stormtrooper figure back in the day, maybe George could afford to release the versions of the movies we fell in love with.
Orthodox SW fans might be enticed to purchase these Blu-rays anyway, as they’ll allegedly feature oodles of never-before-seen bonus materials. Yeah, we’ve heard that before plenty of times, but Lucas stepped to the plate at Celebration with the following deleted scene from Return of the Jedi in which Luke is seen constructing his lightsaber:
Pretty bad-ass, right? Well, some people don’t think so. In fact, some bitter Chewbacca jockeys instantly decried this footage as fake, nothing more than a quick scene cobbled together with computers and stand-in actors to give the fan boys a boner and move more Blu-ray units.
Is it possible? Is George Lucas that much of a dickhead? Certainly! Thirteen years ago he took three of the greatest movies of all-time and started making significant digital alterations. We now live in a Star Wars world where Jabba the Hutt left his dais to visit Docking Bay 94, the Ewoks never sang their immortal “Yub Yub” song, and Darth Vader’s ghost is a teenager. Lucas has proven he’s not above fucking shit up just for the sake of fucking shit up.
However, previous instances of bullshittery do not alone prove this newly released footage is fake. I’m hard-pressed to spot one instance in those fifty-six seconds that makes me say, “Ah HA! Trickery is afoot!” The film stock looks a little too clean and clear to be some throwaway shit from 1983, but they may have spruced it up a bit for the Blu-ray release. That’s definitely Mark Hamill and his cleft-ass chin. Doesn’t seem to be any CGI junk there (Mark personally confirmed this reel was legit, apparently, before it was unveiled at Celebration; what motivation would Hamill have to lie?). Besides, aren’t we looking at a YouTube clip of a video of a video? I imagine it might look a little better first generation.
I love a good conspiracy as much as the next nerf herder, and I’m all about adding more fuel to the Lucas-hating funeral pyre, but I don’t think this clip is worth going to war over. Still, I’ll do the world a favor and hit up my intel on the inside of Lucasfilm and see what they get back to me with RE: fake-ass Jedi shit. Grumpy Rappoccio may not be the greatest janitor in the world, but he was right about Howard the Duck coming to DVD!