Of course, there has been a lot of kicking and screaming about the morality of allegedly “stealing” what belongs to George Lucas and changing his art into something else. The argument is pure nonsense. As any Napster defender will tell you, changing and redistributing a new version of Lucas’ movie in no way makes Lucas’ original version unavailable to him. How can it be stealing if Lucas still owns everything he had before? The new editors have simply made copies of a tape they paid for, mixed their labors with the film by editing some scenes, and then sold the new version to curious consumers. As far as the morality of changing Lucas’ movie goes, the situation is really no different from Mozart improving upon a Salieri melody. The history of art is full of one artist improving upon the work of another, and if the final product is superior, then we should be thankful to the creator of the superior product and give him his due.
In the case of The Phantom Re-Edit 1.1, the movie is not being misrepresented in any way. The “Phantom Editor” is quite clear that his (or her) version of the movie is not the original version, and that George Lucas is still the primary creator of the film. How is this any different from Andres Segovia performing variations on a theme by Mozart? The variations are not the original theme, but they can be quite pleasant to listen to, and I can’t find any way that such a performance would diminish the reputation of Mozart himself.
As time passes and it become easier to transfer, download, and edit films, re-edited films will likely become more and more common. We will be bombarded with all the nonsense that we have recently had to wade through with Napster about “stealing” from the artist and destroying art. If destroying art means making more of it available in more pleasing versions, then I say let the destruction begin. Films are already being “destroyed” by firms who are cutting sex and violence out of films for people who can do without such non-essentials, but the editors are limited by current law in the amount that they can distribute. This is really nothing new, but has yet to be sanctioned for film. In the case of music, I can go out and buy (or download) a “clean version” of 2 Pac’s California Love anytime I feel like it. Why not a version of Basic Instinct without the beaver shots?
Predictably, George Lucas’ people over at Lucasfilm have threatened legal action if the growing traffic in re-edited versions of The Phantom Menace does not stop growing, but they will probably find that all the court orders in the world will prove useless in the long run. This is a good thing. Let the original version stand side by side with the new version. All the nine-year old boys can buy the original version and laugh hysterically at Jar Jar Binks’ hi-jinx, while the rest of us can buy version 1.1 and enjoy a more serious and intriguing version of the film. Whatever your pleasure, remember that in film, you should be pro-choice and celebrate diversity.
June 20, 2001