Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The King of the Retro-Fit, or:
Why I Hate George Lucas

I don't actively hate George Lucas. I don't even dislike him. But he gives me that "God, I hate that guy!" feeling enough times that I think subtitling a piece, "Why I Hate George Lucas" is perfectly acceptable. And right now I have that "God, I hate that guy!" feeling all over again. See, George is going to convert all six Star Wars films to 3-D for theatrical re-release starting in 2012. Maybe the world does end then, after all. And I'm not pissed because he's taking an overly expensive, screen-darkening trendy fad and giving it unneeded and unwarranted extra life, although that's bad enough. I'm pissed because movies, particularly popular effects movies, are being lost as artifacts of their time. Let me explain.

I love science fiction movies, primarily older science fiction movies from the fifties. I love Forbidden Planet and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. I love The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invaders from Mars. I love The Incredible Shrinking Man, Them!, War of the Worlds and every other great or not so great sci-fi flick of the fifties and sixties and I even love At the Earth's Core and Logan's Run from the seventies too. And a part of why I love them is their lack of seamless perfection. I don't ever, EVER, want to see Doug McClure and Peter Cushing in a CGI-enhanced Earth Core drilling machine thingy. I want to always see them in that glorious throwback of a machine created for the original 1976 movie. I don't ever want the ants in Them! to look like honest-to-goodness real live ants, I want them to look like those big furry props that grab a hold of James Whitmore and don't let go. And, dammit, I want (and really would have fucking loved, George!) to have the original Star Wars Trilogy look the same from when I first saw them.

"But wait," you say, "Didn't they release (for a limited time) the original, unaltered films on DVD as part of a boxed set?"

Yes, they did and no, I didn't buy it because I cannot invest that kind of money in a box set. And it's not really what I mean anyway. What I mean is, despite being technically available, the original unaltered trilogy will never, ever be shown on cable or television again. All anyone is ever going to grow up seeing are the altered versions and that's a shame and a real loss. I understand the arguments for updating it to keep it going from generation to generation and keep the profits rolling in. I understand, I just don't care. I think it's important for people, film fans whether casual or hardcore, to enjoy a film for its place in history as well as for its technical specifications. When Gus Van Sant remade Psycho shot for shot in 1998, he proved, whether unwittingly or not, that a film does not just rise or fall dependent upon it's exacting technical content but upon when that content was originally done as well.

A film is a time-capsule and an archaeological object as well as a work of art. It is a piece of frozen time whose importance is, in the end, a lot more tied to historical significance than its bottom line. Watching an older movie takes me to another time in history and watching a movie I love takes me to the time in my life when I fell in love with it. Increasingly, all I see when I watch Star Wars (which, for these purposes is rhetorical because I don't watch it much these days) is a product that keeps getting a "New and Improved" sticker slapped on it. I'd love to say I've seen the trilogy and that's that but I know I haven't. I know that it will continue to be changed, most likely long after George Lucas' death, as he has probably already laid out in his will that the trilogy should be technologically updated in perpetuity with the requisite re-release for each new retro-fit. I wouldn't even be surprised if, eventually, it doesn't star Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher or Harrison Ford but rather whoever the big new stars are of the day, digitally inserted to keep the next generation interested.

My advice to everyone who wants to pass on the magic of Star Wars to their kids: Show them something else. Show them the great sci-fi of the fifties, sixties and seventies and the cheesy ones too. Show them Forbidden Planet and Planet of the Apes and Fantastic Voyage and Soylent Green and even Lucas' THX1138 and make sure you give them a healthy dose of Amicus while you're at it. Because it's those films that represent the true feel and time of the original trilogy, not that fleeting, ephemeral thing that's out there now that changes so much it's become impossible to ever actually see the final product. It's like Star Wars doesn't even exist anymore. It's a spirit, a phantom, but not necessarily a menace. More just a waste of time.