Monday, September 27, 2004

The Disappointing Side Of The Force

That title alone is going to earn nasty comments from some people, I'd imagine...
Well, I had no intention of buying the new Star Wars dvd set, but I did decide to rent my favourite of the films, (The?) Return Of The Jedi.
(Pause for more ridicule, as everyone knows that The Empire Strikes Back is the best one...)
Anyway, it was fun to see the film again. I don't think I've seen it since about 1999. But...

Much has been made of the changes and additions that Lucas and his cronies have made to these films for the dvd release. I have no real problem with changes generally, although I do think that Lucas should perhaps divert this creative energy to making the new Star Wars films watchable, rather than faffing about with films we already like.
My problem here was that the cleaning up seemed very half-hearted. I only rented the third (sixth?) film, so it may have been that the cgi boys at Lucasfilm got bored by the time they got to this one and just gave up. Who knows? The much-publicised enhancement of the lightsaber effects stumble because they're too enhanced, looking like the lightsabers are floating above the film, rather than being part of it. This is a common problem with Lucas' cgi effects, turning up in the new trilogy quite often too. A similarly big fuss was made over how Jabba's cgi model in Star Wars was tweaked and improved, and we didn't rent the first (fourth?) film, so I don't know how well it worked. The rest of the Special Edition additions seem to have been left as is, however, so there's a lot of 1997-era cgi in there, which hasn't aged well at all. The Sarlacc pit sequence looks especially bad when presented through dvd picture quality.
I was also informed that all the Stormtroopers in the original trilogy were going to have their voices dubbed over by the chap who played Jango Fett in Episode II: The Really Important (Honestly) Story Of Boba Fett, but if that's the case, they again didn't get as far as ROTJ. You could make an (unconvincing) argument that the oh-so-cool bike-riding troopers aren't clones like their rank-and-file cousins, but when the actual troopers turn up later, they sound exactly like they always did. Odd.
What's frustrating about this isn't that they were done, or not done, but that it seems entirely random as to which bits got touched up. Jabba gets improved. The Rancor pit sequence is tidied up considerably, and for the first time in twenty years the beast actually looks like it's in the same scene as Mark Hamill. The space battles look to have been improved a bit, too. But then there are other bits that look or sound really ropey, and you begin to wonder how they decided on what to improve, and whether anyone actually checked the product before it got released.
On that note, the sound quality is really badly screwed in places. Of course Lucasfilm deny a problem, because the recall would cost a bomb, but it's definitely there. Sound drops out or amplifies at apparently random moments. The opening titles are the worst offender in ROTJ, with the sound jumping about all over the place. What this means is that the dvds are a waste. Yes, the picture quality is much improved over the vhs versions, but the sound quality isn't even up to vhs standards. A terrible shame.
As I noted at the top, I had no intention of picking up the set anyway, but after seeing some of it, I'm even more convinced. Perhaps the (apparently) final set in 2007 wil fix these problems, and be a better purchase, but I'm not enough of a fan to pick this current set up.
Worth a rental, though, especially since there's a preview of the next (and hopefully final) film on there. It will most likely be a big pile of Bantha shit, but Vader's back for the first time ever (or is that introduced for the second time?), and that's got to be worth the ticket price...

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