I Can Do Better Than That
by Paul Waldowski
It’s 1997 and you’re sitting in a theater anxiously waiting for the “Special Edition” of Star Wars to roll. You haven’t seen this movie in a theater (or drive-in) since its initial run in 1977-78. You’ve heard there’ve been some updates to the special effects and the film print has been cleaned.
The lights go down. The film rolls.
Greedo shoots first.
Holy jump-ropin’ Jesus, what the fuck was that?
The 1997 Star Wars Special Edition was the first instance where I started to choose what I would accept as “authentic” and what I’d ignore from a movie franchise. I used to take what was offered and accept it as it was, but when George Lucas decided to change fundamental aspects of character development in an established, iconic film, I decided that I was not pleased with the product. I judged it against the Original Trilogy and found it wanting, so I chose to ignore it.
I did the same thing with the Matrix Trilogy. The first movie was fun, cool, and a little thought provoking. Obviously, the writers couldn’t have possibly delivered a sequel to match the imaginations of their fans, but the next two movies fell so short of the promise provided by the first movie that they might as well have never bothered to make them at all. As far as I’m concerned, they never happened.
This democratization of film-making is an interesting development and goes far beyond choosing whether to ignore differing versions of the same movie or craptastic sequels to a kick-ass film. Spurred by poor creativity and specious changes to established films, the audience is using software and their own talents to modify movies as they wish; the director no longer has final cut now that the audience can edit a movie to fit what they want to see. The audience is no longer just listening, they’re talking back.
The Phantom Edit was perhaps the first and most famous example of this new movement to take movies and make them “better” than what was released, though it wasn’t the last nor only creative expression by fans. The Grey Album by Dangermouse highlighted the ability of talented musicians to take two existing albums and mash them together to create art that was just as good as (some say better than) its constituent parts.
What does this movement mean for the future? How can an “authoritative” version of a movie or album exist when large groups of people disagree with changes made by a director to a film? More importantly, are there any examples you have of great fan-made mash-ups or movie edits? Do you have a favorite film franchise where you conveniently ignore certain elements or entire chapters?
Paul lives in Northern California where he was last seen waiting on line for the autograph of that guy who played the third ewok from the left in Jedi.