“People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or an exercise of power are barbarians.”
George Lucas speaking against the colourisation of films back in 1988.
One year later, the Library of Congress requested an original negative of Star Wars (1977) for preservation but he would refuse to provide it, instead trying to fob them off with his Special Edition from 1997. Suffices to say that The Library of Congress are STILL waiting for that print and everybody else is STILL waiting for a HD version of the original trilogy. I cannot think of many films of this scale which are unavailable in their original formats besides those which had been lost of irrevocably damaged.
Even silent masterpieces such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) are still being reconstructed, Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1945) is still incomplete but films such as Ben~Hur (1959) spring to mind as a prime example of an epic which has being preserved with each digital release.
The colour and sounds are always subject to upgrades with most films but this is usually in an effort to keep the film at its peak as technology improves and our standards are higher. A 1959 print, even a pristine one might not meet our expectations in 2015 but the art direction, sound design and tone and feel should remain unaffected, preserved for all time.
Lucas has desecrated his own work, beginning as far back as 1978 when he added the Episode IV: A New Hope suffix as his sequel was under way. But this wasn’t a grievous change, nothing so much as from 1997 onwards with his not so “Special Editions” and the subsequent changes right up until the 2011 Blu-ray release.
With line changes, endless CGI tinkering and the change of scenes with subtle but character redefining consequences, such as the notorious “Greedo shoots first” scene from Star Wars, in which the scene changes from Han Solo being a ruthless smuggler to that of defending himself against a bounty hunger who can’t shoot!
But I have no problem with these special editions as long a the Original Cuts are available too, but beside the 2006 DVD release of the 1993 Laserdisc versions, which are are watchable but poor by today’s standards, they are lost. Lucas has stolen them from us. This is the only example of this kind of artistic barbarism, to quote George himself, that I am aware of.
Let us just hope that Disney, never ones to miss a trick when it comes to milking their films, will see the value of releasing the original versions and hopefully ALL the significant versions on Blu-ray, sooner rather than later. A film does not need to be perfect to be great and lest we forget that Star Wars, which Lucas tries to claim failed to live up to his vision due to technical limitations of the time, won and was nominated for several Academy awards, in categories which he would alter later! Clearly he did something right back in 1977, but has been getting it wrong ever since!