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Remember that time George Lucas spoke out about digitally altering movies?

09.01.2011

There's been a lot of anger the past couple of days as word broke that George Lucas was once again making changes to the original STAR WARS trilogy for the upcoming Blu-ray box set. Darth Vader screaming "NOOOO!!!" seemed vaguely appropriate. (Today also comes word that the Ewoks will now be blinking via CGI.)

But while you're busy vilifying Mr. Lucas and building your effigy that you plan on burning sometime later this month, remember that this very same once person spoke out against altering films.

Back in 1988, upset by Ted Turner's purchase and planned colorization of film classics like CITIZEN KANE, George Lucas joined Hollywood directors like Steven Spielberg, James Stewart, Woody Allen and John Huston in Congress testifying for a new legislation that would protect films and ensure the public had access to the director's original cut. Said Lucas at the time:

"People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as 'when life begins' or 'when it should be appropriately terminated,' but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires...In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be 'replaced' by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten."

Telling words, huh? "Alter dialogue"..."replace actors"...

In fairness, Lucas was speaking more to outside parties purchasing film rights and making changes without the creator's consent. And what Lucas is doing is entirely within his rights - it's his films after all. But it does seem oddly contradictory to speak so vehemently against film alteration when now he's one of the more vocal proponents of the technique.

And the point of many STAR WARS fans is that they wouldn't care what George Lucas is doing to the films, as long as he was releasing the untouched, original trilogy on Blu-ray at the same time. But that isn't happening. It's becoming increasingly difficult for younger generations to see the same STAR WARS movies we saw in theaters or on VHS. "Our cultural history must not allowed to be rewritten." Words to live by...

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