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Brief Notices XIV

Some items of interest over the last few weeks that I haven't had a chance to comment on further.

First, I want to note the extraordinary fracas that ensued upon George Lucas changing parts of the original Star Wars trilogy.  The freaks were outraged.

"Foes had mobilized long before the trilogy hit the market, circulating an online petition demanding that Mr. Lucas reverse what he considers improvements. During the Hollywood DVD premiere, one reporter indignantly told a Lucasfilm executive that Star Wars does not belong to the man who created it. When the DVD went on sale, a newspaper columnist's headline commanded: "Stop messing around with our Star Wars" ... "Each and every one of us thirtysomethings that spent our allowance on multiple showings of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi are now the true owners of this work of art."

What incredible bullshit.  I agree entirely with the BoxOfficeMojo editorial that these views approach fascism in their intent, that

"tyranny typically begins with censorship. And censorship begins with the extermination of the individual's right to create, speak and write.  The evidence is unmistakable and it is everywhere, from government intervention in speech on talk radio, politics and the Super Bowl to efforts to eradicate sex, guns and cigarette smoking from music, television and movies. The assault on George Lucas' right to Star Wars is the latest example; it demonstrates that, when the state restricts speech, the mob will not only oblige -- it will offer suggestions."

The opposite of fascism, of course, is tolerance.  And a fine example of tolerance was exhibited recently by the Royal Navy when it allowed a sailor to practice satanism with all the rights due other religions.

"That allows him to perform satanic rituals aboard and permits him to have a non-Christian Church of Satan funeral should he be killed in action.  A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defence told CNN Sunday that it had a duty to allow members of the forces to practice their religion.  He added that the MoD was an "equal opportunities employer" which did not stop anyone having their own religious values."

Hard to imagine this happening in the navy of the land of the free and home of the brave.

Equally hard to imagine is the complexity of the brain's physical reaction to music.  Luckily we have scientists to explain it to us. 

"Why is music--universally beloved and uniquely powerful in its ability to wring emotions--so pervasive and important to us? Could its emergence have enhanced human survival somehow, such as by aiding courtship, as Geoffrey F. Miller of the University of New Mexico has proposed? Or did it originally help us by promoting social cohesion in groups that had grown too large for grooming, as suggested by Robin M. Dunbar of the University of Liverpool? On the other hand, to use the words of Harvard University's Steven Pinker, is music just "auditory cheesecake"--a happy accident of evolution that happens to tickle the brain's fancy?"

The results of the studies are way too complicated for me to attempt a paraphrase here, beyond suggesting that music has a biological basis, but the essay is well worth reading.

November 7, 2004 in Brief Notices | Permalink


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Lucas is perfectly within his rights to change his movies (though, of course, of the original trilogy he only directed the first one, so are the other two "his" in the same way?).

While some fans may go overboard in defense of "their" films, I think their angst is not so much at the concept of change, but at the changes that cheapen the original--with Greedo the bounty hunter's lame "first shot" against Han Solo in the Star Wars cantina being the worst example. Few complained about nicer X-Wing special effects and more shots of the Jawa sandcrawler. And most liked the reintroduction of Jabba the Hutt.

Most people think Lucas's filmmaking skills have diluted since 1977, with the last two Star Wars movies being prime evidence. Fans don't like seeing those diluted skills applied to his earlier, better work. He can still do it, but I also think there would be significant demand for unaltered "original version" DVDs, or, even better, options on the new DVDs to bypass the updates.

Lucas is under no obligation to provide them, but by the same token he was under no obligation to make movies that people liked in the first place. I do expect, however, that was what he was originally trying to do, and maybe he's forgotten it.

Posted by: Derek | Nov 8, 2004 9:27:18 AM