Saturday, 28 December 2013

DVD re-release alterations: Is it ever okay?


A few weeks ago I watched the original Star Wars Trilogy (1977-83) for the first time in my life. I'd caught glimpses of it when I was a child but I'd never watched it from start to finish before. I absolutely loved it! The characters, the locations, space, the music, and the story! Call it straightforward but it works. It is a great story and each episode was hugely entertaining. After watching the films I read that George Lucas had revisited the films and altered them in different ways for DVD re-releases. For someone like me, who never saw the original theatrical releases, I will forever be none-the-wiser about those changes - except for one glaringly obvious one.

At the end of Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), Luke, Han, Leia, and all the gang are celebrating their victory over the dark side. Whilst everyone is celebrating, Luke turns away and has a little private moment of reflection to himself. He then sees before him the ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and... low and behold... his father. But the ghost isn't Darth Vader in his black helmet and cape, rather it is his father as Anakin Skywalker before he fell to the dark side. This isn't what shocked me though. Even though I was surprised to Luke's father standing side by side with his old friends, redeemed, I was very surprised to see that it was the Anakin of the later Star Wars films, played by Hayden Christensen. I knew instantly that there had been an alteration, because Christensen was probably a baby when the original Star Wars films were made. After the first shock, my eyes teared-up - it was a moving moment to see Anakin redeemed of his past and finally becoming the jedi he was born to be. Also the fact that his son Luke was now able to look on his father in his human/good days, and look upon him with pride. To see Anakin, next to Obi-Wan and Yoda, all three of them smiling back at Luke - their work was done, all is well. It's a beautiful if-brief moment, and I found it quite moving. 

Altered Anakin ghost with Hayden Christensen.
Once the film ended I did some research online. I wanted to know if Anakin was shown at the end in the original Return of the Jedi, and if so, what did he look like? Instantly, a plethora of reviews, blogs, articles, etc, came up that compared before and afters. Turns out that Anakin was shown at the end, and he was played by Sebastian Shaw. 

Original Anakin ghost with Sebastian Shaw.

Now, for me, a new fan of Star Wars and someone who hasn't seen the original releases, I wasn't bothered by this change. Personally, I felt that it showed continuation, and even though it is just a film, not a real story, I was moved to tears by the fact that Luke could see his father, Anakin, as he was before he was Darth Vader. That continuation and sense of authenticity gave the scene emotional impact. I even preferred the new music - it sounded like a happy celebration and had tearjerking power. However, I could see instantly that this was a big move and possibly a major error to fans of the original films. 

So, I asked myself - in this day in age where there are constant re-releases of films and DVDs and the ability to alter things digitally, when is it okay to alter the original format of a film? 

As I have said, I can't say much about Star Wars because I'm new to those films. But say in 20 years time, Peter Jackson released a new, altered version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I would be absolutely furious. I would be so angry that he had changed something which I loved and knew second for second from the day it was first released. I hate the extended versions of LOTR, and am so relieved that we have the choice of original cuts on DVD. I love the flow of original LOTR, I think it all flows perfectly, so when I saw the extended versions I couldn't stand it. It didn't flow as well, and everything was wrong. It was ruined. 

Two other examples are the latest re-releases of Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Pocahontas (1995). Disney are making a habit of adding extra scenes into their classics. With Beauty and the Beast, you have the option of watching the version with the extra scene and without. I always choose without because I don't like the scene. Unfortunately, with Pocahontas you don't have that same choice. With Pocahontas you can watch only the new version and worst of all, not only are there added scenes, but the original scenes have been altered. The scene where Pocahontas meets John Smith in the tent now has a song in it - a lovely song - but it ruins the scene. What was once a romantic, tender, and heartwarming last goodbye turned into a cheesy singsong. The song isn't the issue - I love it, it's beautiful over the credits of the film, but here it doesn't work. The final scene where Pocahontas is saying farewell to John Smith is also completely altered, with that same song being sang. Both of these scenes had stunning, heartbreaking scores composed by Alan Menken playing over them. Both were mature and suited the mood of each scene. But Disney had to ruin that by inserting the theme song, changing the animation (which also stood out as different)... I mean why do that? You've ruined the original parts. At least enable us to skip new scenes. With altered scenes you ruin the film itself, and we, the fans, are stuck with it. 

With that in mind, I sympathise with Star Wars fans because they've loved the franchise for years,. When you know something so well and love it so much, it is horrible to have it changed. And it's not like you can ignore it. When you are a fan of anything you know it like the back of your hand, and even the slightest change is instantly recognisable. You can't ignore it. It is in your face.

So, even though I liked the inclusion of Christensen's Anakin in Return of the Jedi, I can completely understand why long-serving fans of the franchise are upset and annoyed. If you're going to do these things, give fans the choice of original theatrical release - always - and you're altered version alongside it. Never merge the two together. Take note all. 


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