Cinema to the Max: Lucasfilm strikes back

George Lucas is tough to understand — he brought us “Star Wars,” and Jar Jar Binks; he introduced the world to Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and then shoved a knife in his back in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull;” he gave a voice to an entire generation with “American Graffiti,” but then killed it a decade later with “Howard the Duck.” But Lucasfilm’s latest release of “Star Wars: The Complete Saga” in Blu-ray is the definitive gesture: a lightsaber-sized middle finger to his millions upon millions of fans.

Added dialogue, reworked scenes and “touched-up” visual effects come together in this profit-inspired film collection. (Just for the record, Han Solo shoots Greedo first, and Vader doesn’t need another “Nooooooooooo!” line. One was enough.) And all of this is done under the guise of “digital remastering,” with the fancy Blu-ray tag slapped along the front of it.

After all, Blu-ray has become the current fashion, and re-releasing films has always been a popular financial move. But this doesn’t mean producers should engage with either. Because as you dip into the allure of chasing the ever-crisper (to the point of unnatural) image, you start to undermine the only truly valuable thing at work in the entire industry: the film itself.

Have you ever watched a slow Blu-ray film? Sure, the images are absurdly well-defined, but the subtle movements themselves almost seem to lose a bit of fluidity. If anything, the sharpness of the images makes you notice just how off everything else is. Try making it through the remastered version of “The Godfather, Part II” in one piece — Robert De Niro practically slithers, Cuba looks like Imaginationland, and Al Pacino is waxier than a Madame Tussauds statue.

Basically put, Blu-ray is evil for any film with fewer than ten explosions. Or not directed by Michael Bay.

“The Dark Knight,” “Watchmen,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.” These were the films made for digitalization. (They’re half-CGI anyway.) Of course “Star Wars” should be in the exact same category. But Lucas took his brainchild and did the film-equivalent of beating it to death with a wet pool noodle.

Lucas’s reliability has been under fire ever since he convinced himself that Ewoks were a good idea. Luckily, he stayed hidden behind the “producer” name badge for so long in the late ’80s and ’90s that we forgot.

Then came “Episode I.”

What Lucasfilm is now spreading is an overpriced boxed set of five-and-a-half films. (Hayden Christensen’s performance in “Attack of the Clones” was so bad I refuse to completely accept the movie in the canon.) It not only has the same problems as the original DVD boxed set (Darth Vader’s lightsaber is not pink), but the new scene changes make about as much sense as trusting a blind man with a TIE fighter.

Digital remastering will obviously continue to be popular, but it is an art — you have to know when to do it, and to what extent. For instance, grainy film and nostalgia go hand in hand with most classical Hollywood films, so there’s something sacrilegious about smoothing those images out or even touching them to begin with. (When “Casablanca” was remastered in color, Martin Scorsese nearly choked on his own eyebrows.) At the same time, Optimus Prime doing backflips from skyscraper to skyscraper is worth every additional point of clarity.

George Lucas definitely knows these things — it’s just a pity he refused to carefully consider them. His remastered “Star Wars” saga adds nothing but new headaches, and in truth, he was probably better off just re-releasing the originals untouched. (We all know that “Star Wars” fans would probably still buy them.)

We should just hope that the next time Lucas decides to bury himself, he takes a couple of those Ewoks down with him.

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