TALKING PICTURES: LOOSE CHANGES Image

By now, everyone knows that the newly-released 20th Anniversary version of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial contains a whole slew of changes to the original movie, including several digital alterations intended to make the film more sensitive to modern neuroses. For example: the guns are now gone (Are you breathing easier?) and a youthful Trick-or-Treater is no longer chastised for his desire to dress up as terrorist on Halloween — though a 10-year-old Elliot does still call another kid “Penis Breath.”
So much for sensitivity.
Spielberg, of course, is not alone in second-guessing his own most-popular masterpieces.
Before coming out with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, George Lucas wetted the appetite of his audience by releasing the Star Wars trilogy, but couldn’t help throwing a few high-tech switches himself, pumping up the FX quotient while rethinking the appropriateness of one or two scenes, including the classic Mos Eisley Cantina sequence in which Han Solo laser-blasts the nasty Greedo. In the original 1977 version, Solo shoots Greedo unexpectedly, popping him in the gut with a blaster he’s concealed beneath the table. But with the new version, Lucas inserted a new shot showing Greedo reaching for his gun first, thus transforming Han Solo from the cold-blooded killer he was into a poor, hard-working Space Hero who’s only trying to defend himself. Even Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t resist jiggering around with Apocalypse Now, switching the order of scenes while adding lengthy sequences originally left out of the original. Though Spielberg and Lucas and Coppola are happy enough to foist such revisionism on their audiences, not everyone has been happy with the result.
There are plenty of purists out there who feel that Greedo shooting first is an outrage, that Elliot’s mom saying “hippie” instead of “terrorist” is an insult, that alcoholic French plantation owners and drugged-out, half-naked Playboy Bunnies had no business frolicking morosely through Vietnam’s killing fields and teenage wastelands.
But perhaps these critics being too hasty.
Since movie directors themselves no longer seem to see their films as historical documents from the time in which they were made, then why not take a high-tech paintbrush to every film that either offends us or has become too dated and out-of-touch to still pull money from the pockets of evolved moviegoers. After all, we have the technology, so why waste it?
With this in mind, I’ve asked a select sampling of movie-fans to fantasize about what substitutions, additions, or deletions they’d like to see made in classic films. Here are some of the results.
“To begin with, changes could be made in the film version of Woodstock,” says historian David Allyn, author of Make Love, Not War-The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History (Routledge, $18.95). “All those twenty-year-olds should be given digital nipple and belly button piercings, to make them look more ‘today.’ And Casablanca could be re-cut to get rid of all those scenes of people smoking–we wouldn’t want kids getting the wrong message, would we?”
That’s not an unlikely suggestion, actually. Once you start erasing the smoking guns, it’s a only short step to snuffing out the smoking cigarettes.
“Why not wash the black-face from the faces of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in ‘Babes in Arms,'” suggests San Jose cineaste Leslie Thorne, in reference to the 1939 film in which the stars get funky with an old-fashioned minstrel show. “While you’re at it, someone should digitally alter ‘Terminator 2’ so that Arnold puts a legally-required safety helmet on the underage Edward Furlong during the dangerous motorcycle sequence. And since were being politically correct, let’s insert a scene in John Ford’s ‘The Quiet Man,’ showing John Wayne being arrested for domestic violence?”
Ross West, a movie-loving science-writer at the University of Oregon, has a more whimsical suggestion, concluding that every old movie showing a disco-dancing scene be re-examined. “Someone should review them for dorky dancing that never looked real to begin with,” he says. “It always looks like some director with a bullhorn was standing off camera shouting, ‘Yes! Yes! Look like you are dancing! Look like you are grooving! Look like you are having fun an are sexy!’-when in fact they like none of these things. Someone should digitally replace them with people who actually know how to dance.”
The most daring suggestion of all comes from Josh Kornbluth, the actor-writer-director of the indie cult-comedy Haiku Tunnel. Says Kornbluth, “Could someone please take all of Adam Sandler’s movies and digitally replace him with Ben Stiller?”
Of course someone could. And probably will.
It’s only a matter of time.
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