Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Maybe I am a geek...

Today, I just got something that a lot of us have been waiting for, for a long time. Something that was rumored to never come out. Its maker had all but disowned it, claiming that this child's mutant clone on steroids would forever be the only version available on modern formats. Thank God this child's maker reconsidered.

Star Wars in its original '77 presentation came out today on DVD.

And I got it.

And you know what? I haven't been this antsy or giddy about a DVD release since the other two excellent trilogies Back To The Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark were finally released on DVD. Does that make me a geek?

See, I know that George Lucas has already released the trilogy on DVD, in two versions: with and without bonus DVD. He claimed that we'd never get to see the original theatrical versions ever again in new release, that the current, bastardized versions were THE versions, which suited his original vision for the movies. What this meant is that the most advanced format that those original versions would ever be available in would be CAV laser disc. And no, I have never owned a laser disc player.

The argument with one of my buddies goes something like this:
Him: So you're saying that you have a problem with George Lucas going and altering his own movie?
Me: No, I have no problem with that at all. In fact, the new versions are interesting in places.
Him: So why don't you own the trilogy on DVD yet?
Me: Because the new versions are the only versions he's willing to release on DVD.
Him: And isn't that his right?
Me: Sure. Just as it's my right to vote with my wallet and decide to not buy these DVDs, until both versions are made available.

Am I stubborn? Yeah, about certain things. A different best buddy of mine is a flat-out, not-a-whiff-of-shame Star Wars geek. This, friends and family, is a good thing... for me. Sure, his wife has to put up with a whole lot of action figures, both new and classic, some still sealed and most of them sitting in storage. But what it means is that whenever I have a question, he's my go-to guy. Since he owns the DVD box set of the current versions WITH the bonus DVD, I'm guessing he wouldn't have a problem with me borrowing it, as long as I'm good as gold with it. Just as I'd loan him my Japanese CD of Jellyfish's Bellybutton, the one with the six bonus live tracks not on the domestic configuration of the album.

But being able to own these original Star Wars versions on DVD? Like they say in the cheesy credit card commercials... priceless. Here's a quick coupla previews:

The Original Opening Crawl

I got my first hint that I might be a geek when I felt myself get giddy seeing that initial mise-en-scene establishing crawl without Episode IV A NEW HOPE at the top. Back in the day, when George Lucas put this bad boy out, it was originally as a stand-alone flick. It wasn't until it was hugely successful that the rest of his master plans for the trilogy, nay, three separate trilogies, came to light. And it's not like even a half-hearted purist like myself minds seeing Episode IV A NEW HOPE across the top of the crawl; that isn't so significant of a change to truly wreak havoc on the story (I think you know what I'm talking about). But at the same time, it's cool as shit to see that crawl without the Episode IV junk at the top. The way it appeared in the theater in 1977, when I was 4, seeing it with my Aunt Kathleen.

Special EFX as they would've been in 1977

This one is much more subtle, but also incredibly rewarding. When you see the light sabers in the original version, there are occasional dropouts, color inconsistencies, and in one notable scene aboard the Millenium Falcon, a very noticeable jerk within the same scene when Luke turns off his light saber. Revisionist cineastes would probably snobbishly call that a "bad edit". I call that pretty fucking cool technology considering what year it came out.

I sometimes think George Lucas is ashamed of the movie that he created in 1977. I mean, Episode IV has since been revamped to his wildest CGI dreams. If he had his way, he'd probably tweak it until the cows came home. But seeing it with its "ancient" special effects, I'm still moved at how magical it was for its time, and even how special of a movie it still is. No, it'll never win Academy Awards for depth of story. Its story isn't as sophisticated at even the same level as Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. So what? That original 1977 version of Star Wars is still a thrilling experience.

And as I alluded to earlier in this post, the change that all of us are thrilled to have back...

Han Shoots First.

When Greedo corners our man Solo in the cantina, Greedo's got one thing on his mind: the huge bounty that Jabba's gonna pay him once he produces the head of Han Solo and serves it to his portly master on a silver platter. For some reason, Greedo engages Han in small talk. Big mistake. Han, knowing he's gotta act or be turned into hamburger meat, reaches for his blaster while the spiky green dude is busy chatting. In a flash of smoke, all of a sudden Greedo is lying face first into his beverage. Bad Greedo, no bounty. Any fool can divine from this that Han has been in this situation before, and has lived another day to throw the ol' Falcon into hyperdrive yet another time. Han's not necessarily a cold-blooded killer; he just didn't feel like meeting his maker that day. But he is a criminal, and he's not afraid to act in self-defense if needed.

For some reason, Lucas had to add in the 1997 version that Greedo shot first. Kinda subtly but significantly changed how someone who's watching the movie for the first time might view Han Solo. My wife wasn't aware of both the initial text crawl change or the Han-shoots-first controversy until tonight. When she asked why Lucas changed it, I didn't have the exact answer, but I'm guessing it's a matter of painting Han a little more heroically. Guess what? In 1977, Han Solo was just the right intergalactic scumbag for the job; we didn't need an establishing Greedo-shoots-first shot to try to prettify that fact. Even my wife agreed with that.

When I pointed these two facts out before she passed out for a good night's sleep, she called me a Star Wars geek, but quickly added that it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Now I never thought of myself as a Star Wars geek, probably because my buddy who IS a geek makes my own interest pale in comparison. I don't own a single action figure; I can't tell you the name of the weird dude in the cantina who has an ass for a mouth. It's only by mere chance that I know that the short, red droid that the jawas try to sell Luke and Uncle Owen is R5D4, and that Princess Leia's home planet is Alderaan. By comparison, I don't think of myself as a Star Wars geek. But maybe the fact that I cared enough about the original, unaltered trilogy to hold back on buying them on DVD does make me a bit of an odd Star Wars geek.

I can live with that.

Next up: gotta get Empire and Jedi before December, when these limited edition DVDs are toast.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My guilty 9/11 memory...

I know some of you out there are gonna disagree with me, but I have a hidden shame of sorts about the day the terrorists attacked America.

I took my mind off the mayhem of the news I was hearing by concentrating on winning an eBay auction. In fact, I kinda figured that other people would be so distracted by the horrible events transpiring that day that it would give me a better chance to win this auction. Guess what?

I was right.

The item that I won was a CD copy of My Bloody Valentine's "You Made Me Realise" EP, on Creation Records. In hindsight, that song's incredible, uncompro- mising chaos makes an appropriate (albeit unofficial) theme song of sorts for that horrible day five years ago. When I heard the news, I was working on a long-term contract doing computer consulting for an investment banker in Chicago. I was in my department's morning status meeting when the full news hit me. At the beginning of the meeting, we had already known that the first tower had been hit. I thought that was a tragedy, but at that point, the thought that it was a terrorist attack hadn't crossed my mind. The meeting was in progress when one of the other managers popped in to let us know that the other tower had been hit. It was at that point that for all of us, the light bulb lit up above our heads that it was indeed a terrorist attack, the likes of which we'd never seen before. I walked around numb for most of that day, once I found out that my sister and brother in NYC and my sister-in-law (and her family) in NJ were safe. God, that was a horrible day, the likes of which I pray we never see again in our lifetime.

But for me, MBV's "You Made Me Realise" will always be entwined with that day. And the fact that I used the prevailing upheaval of that day to win a CD auction. For that last fact, I feel sorta guilty. My friend (and my wife, for that matter) tell me I don't need to feel guilty, that eBay is a worldwide thing.

Except the world was in chaos that day.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Riviera's got a new one coming out...

...Which I haven't listened to yet. It's gonna be called Capital, and it comes out on November 1st. But don't worry; if it's anything up to par as their two previous releases, you'll be able to buy it sight unseen and know you're getting a great CD. Their website can be found here... and personally, I think they ought to make the CD label look like this:

On October 21st, they're having a CD release party at Martyr's in Chicago, co-starring the excellent Quasar Wut Wut. I'm gonna be there, my honey wil also be there, and I hope I'm gonna see you there too.

UPDATE: I'm still at work, trying to uninstall (and cleanly reinstall) Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium on a recalcitrant PC; the process takes more time than it should. I took the time to listen to the preview tracks Riviera has up on their site. Sure enough; it's gonna be a cool one. Get it or get left behind, my friends...