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Transcript

DVD Discussion

Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com DVD Columnist
Tuesday, September 28, 2004; 12:00 PM

Are you loving the Star Wars Trilogy DVD, or still bitter that George Lucas didn't include the original films in the box set? Jen Chaney, washingtonpost.com's movies editor and DVD columnist, wants to know.

Chaney writes the weekly column "Bonus Points," which reviews the extra features on new DVDs


Chewie, C-3PO, Princess Leia and Han Solo are headed to your home in the "Star Wars" Trilogy DVD box set. (Reuters/HO/Lucasfilm Ltd)

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A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Jen Chaney: Hi, everyone. A lot of you want to talk "Star Wars" today, which is totally cool. But feel free to ask questions or make comments about DVDs in general. All questions -- Skywalker-related or not -- are welcome. Let's get started.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I think George Lucas went too far by changing some of the scenes around. I liked the new extra scenes, but I hated when he changed the old ones. For example, in the final scene of "Return of the Jedi," he changed the actor who played the ghost of Anakin Skywalker. Preparing for "Star Wars III"? That is just wrong!!!

Jen Chaney: You're not the only one who feels this way, Silver Spring. There are plenty of similar questions/comments where this one came from, so hold on to your lightsabers, everyone.

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Fairfield, Conn.: I know I speak for at least 20 of my friends when I say that we grew up with the "Star Wars" trilogy our whole lives, and loved the movies. What Lucas has done to his works in this new release, like the tape release a few years ago, is despicable. There could be a missile ground. With DVD, technology users should be able to choose which version of the film they want to watch. The original, or the butchered versions Lucas has brought to us this time.

Maybe he should just rewrite the movies altogether and claim that it better reflects his true vision, depriving fans of the original.

In Fairfield, Lucas is about as hated as O.J. Simpson.

Jen Chaney: Wow. You're comparing Lucas to O.J. Simpson? That seems a little harsh. I mean, George Lucas wasn't even in "The Naked Gun."
I agree with you, though, albeit to a less extreme degree. It's completely George Lucas's right to release whatever version of the film he wants. But I wish he understood why the fans want to see the originals. It seems to me he's being very stubborn about not releasing both versions and, frankly, I don't see what the harm is in giving fans both options. Some purists may even decide that the revised versions are better once they compare then directly with the originals. The way things are now, there's no way to do that.

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Rockville, Md: How would you feel if someone took your nose and put it where your mouth was supposed to be and then swapped your ears with your eyes?

That's what it's like watching this bastardized version of a once great classic.

Jen Chaney: If someone took my nose and put it where my mouth was supposed to be, then swapped my ears with my eyes, I think I'd fit in beautifully in the "Star Wars" Cantina scene.

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Damascus, Md.: In addition to all of the tinkering that I have read about, I thought that the DVD version was FASTER -- The timing on the lines seemed to be off. Did Lucas do that also to this version or am I just remembering an idealized version of it?

Jen Chaney: I personally didn't notice this, Damascus. I know that some people have complained about audio problems -- elements of the score are supposedly switched if you're listening to it in surround sound speakers. I don't have a home theater system or decent speakers, so to me it sounds fine. I guess that's perhaps the only benefit to having a basic TV set-up.

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Denver, Colo., The Mile High City: Hi Jen:
Unrelated to your topic, but something I was curious about. When my son was young I bought him the re-release of the original "Dumbo." On it, the DVD had a three-minute special feature on the making of "Dumbo II." It interviewed the producer, director, artists, voice actors, etc. But it was never released.

Finally, I found an obscure posting that Disney was not happy about the presentation/format of the characters and the whole project was shelved.

How often does this happen? I know I've seen movies advertised and then they never get released. Or, if they do, it's months after the original preview. Do you know of other instances where a direct-to-video project was scrapped?

Thanks.

Jen Chaney: I'm not sure how often this happens, but I would imagine "Dumbo" is not the only example. I know that some movies slated for theatrical release have ended up going straight to DVD. Can anyone think of another instance like the one our friend in Denver describes?

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Laurel, Md.: Did Richard Kelly mention when he would release the director's cut of "Donnie Darko?"

Thanks....

Jen Chaney: Richard Kelly was great. I really enjoyed our online discussion with him; if you missed it, here's the link. He mentions that the "Donnie Darko" director's cut DVD, which will include lots of new, behind-the-scenes stuff, should be out early next year. A good thing, since it's no longer viewable in Washington now that Visions has closed.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: What's the buzz? Will the original, unaltered trilogy ever be released on DVD?

Jen Chaney: We did a discussion last week with Van Ling, the producer of the "Star Wars" DVD. He doesn't make decisions about which version of the trilogy is released, but he hinted that the originals could come out for the 30th anniversary release in 2007. I'm guessing they'd put out all six "Star Wars" movies together at that point. That's not definite, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if this occurs. There's money to be made, after all.

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Laurel, Md.: Now that Michael Eisner is schedule to leave Disney, are chances for a DVD release of "Song of the South" improved? I remember that Roy Disney said that re-releasing it would be one of his first acts if he gained control.

Jen Chaney: I could swear I read something recently about "Song of the South" coming to DVD. I can't remember a specific release date being mentioned, but I'd say it's certainly a possibility.

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Metro Center, Washington, D.C.: Is this chat session going to become a regular engagement or is it a one-time thing?

Jen Chaney: My DVD column is a regular engagement -- it comes out every week. Not sure whether the discussion will be. We've done a couple in the past. It's possible we may do more if there's enough interest. I'm sure I'll do one around holiday time, if not sooner.

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Rosslyn, Va.: A DVD reviewer without a home theater system?! Get the Post to spring $150 for a home-theater-in-a-box from an electronics store (as long as it's not Bose!).

Jen Chaney: Yeah, I'll go ahead and buy that and see what happens when I try to expense it. Maybe they won't notice...

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Princeton, N.J.: In the new DVD, did they fix the stormtrooper conking his head on the blast door when troops enter the control room in the Death Star with R2-D2 and C-3PO after Luke and Han leave to search for Princess Leia?

Jen Chaney: I was watching for that, actually. I love that part. I don't remember seeing it, to be honest, but I could have missed that moment. I have largely watched the films so far to listen to the commentary.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Loved the DVD!; ESPECIALLY the surprise of Hayden Christiansen!;

Jen Chaney: Aha! Someone with another opinion. Is this George Lucas writing in disguise?
Seriously, thanks for the feedback, Woodbridge. Glad you enjoyed it.

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Arlington, Va.: Are any sales figures available at this point? There have been countless complaints about the release of the Special Edition, yet I'm curious whether the decision to release the revised versions will actually prevent a dedicated fan from forking over $40+.

Jen Chaney: I was poking around trying to find sales figures this morning and didn't see any. I know it broke first-day sales records in the U.K., but I'm not sure about here. The fact that we haven't heard leads me to believe that it didn't, but I could be wrong. "Star Wars" is still the top seller on Amazon.

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Washington, D.C.: What extras are in the "Eternal Sunshine" DVD? I was disapointed at the lack of extras on the "Adaptation" DVD (another great Kaufman flick) and hope they do a better job with this one.

Jen Chaney: There definitely are more extras on "Eternal Sunshine," including deleted scenes, a conversation with Jim Carrey and director Michel Gondry, and a commentary track with Gondry and Charlie Kaufman. To my knowledge, this is the first time Kaufman's done commentary on one of his films, though he actually lets Gondry do more of the talking.
My review of "Eternal Sunshine" will be added to this week's column, so check here later today to read more.

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Philadelpahi, Pa.: Bonus points (bad pun intended) for the "Naked Gun" reference! How is that DVD box set? Have you reviewed it?

Jen Chaney: Thanks, Philly. I have not reviewed the "Naked Gun" box set -- that came out a few years ago, no? That seems like a lot of Leslie Nielsen, perhaps more than I need in one box set.

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Annapolis, Md.: On some newer DVDs, I am prevented from accessing the title menu without first being inundated with several previews, promotions, etc. What's the deal?

Jen Chaney: The deal is that the studio wants you to watch its trailers so you'll buy more of its DVDs and movie tickets. Best way around this if you can't go straight to the menu is to scan forward at x30 speed.

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Easter Eggs on DVDs: What are the Easter eggs on the "Star Wars" DVDs? Can you provide them to us?

Jen Chaney: I know of one Easter egg, which I reveal in my column from last week. The instructions about how to find it are explained there. I suspect there are more eggs, but I have not found them yet and Van Ling wasn't giving away any secrets last week. Blast that man!

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Ted, Washington, D.C.: What would you say is the best part of dishing out the 40 some bucks to get the trilogy on DVD?

Jen Chaney: The best part for me is that bonus fourth disc. I think it's so well done. I have to sit through a lot of crummy DVD features, my friends, and these are organized and executed really well. One thing I will note, however: The "Empire of Dreams" documentary, which is amazing, has aired on cable TV. I caught it on A&E over the weekend. Granted, it was a truncated version and the one on the DVD is longer and more thorough. But still, I was irritated. That doc should only be viewable on the DVD, otherwise what's the point?

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Washington, D.C.: George Lucas needs to be saved from his own movies. Episode IV was great, less the new scenes. Greedo shoots first, come on! Episode I was just awful and Episode IV with the Ewoks foretold that Lucas was getting really soft. Is there any chance Episode III will be decent?

Jen Chaney: I've heard that Episode III will be darker, and that some scenes are worthy of an R-rating. Of course, that's just conjecture at this point. I hope it's better than Episodes I and II, which were pretty pathetic.
As for Greedo shooting first, Lucas denies that and thinks it sends a wrong message that people applaud Han for shooting first. But don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger.

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Washington, D.C.: Great trivia question I always use on "Star Wars" geeks is when in the movie do you see English words as part of the actual movie (not subtitles, or opening credits, or background, etc) but actual English words on screen? Well ... from what I hear, Lucas has removed those English words from the movie. Are you stumped?

Jen Chaney: I like "Star Wars" but I'm hardly a "Star Wars" geek. So tell us, what words were removed?

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Crystal City, Va.: What are your top 10 "Desert Island DVDs"? In other words, if you could only pick 10 DVDs to be stranded with on an island, which would they be? Why those 10?

Jen Chaney: Wow, what a great, and difficult, question. I'm not sure if I can name 10 off the top of my head, but some that immediately come to mind: "Moulin Rouge," because I love that movie and there are tons of extras on it; a couple of seasons worth of "The Simpsons," because those episodes never get old and the commentaries are great; "Freaks and Geeks," for the same reason; and, once the special edition comes out in November, "Dazed and Confused." That's another movie that can be watched over and over again without growing tiresome, at least for me. What about you all? Any desert island DVDs you couldn't do without?

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Dulles, Va.: I have heard a lot of people complain about George Lucas altering the original trilogy and I do agree that the original versions should be made available at some point but aren't people taking this a little to the extreme?

Based on some rants you would think that Lucas replaced the characters with smurfs. In the end what Lucas did was digitally remaster and restore films that for all their innovation were aging as bad as Bridgette Nielson in "The Surreal Life." Although I have to agree that Sir Alec should not have been deleted from "Jedi." The films look and sound great and I can't say that I miss the blue screen mattes behind the Tie Fighters or that blur under the speeder.

Do you think that Lucas did a good thing with the special versions or do you lean more toward the purists?

Jen Chaney: You know, I would actually watch a Smurfs version of "Star Wars." Gargamel as Darth Vader? Smurfette as Princess Leia? That's gold, people!
Here's what I think: I totally understand how the purists feel. I think the best way to handle the situation is to release both versions on the same DVD set, much the way Spielberg did with "E.T." That way those who prefer the originals can watch those, and everyone else can watch the new versions. There's enough storage space on DVDs to make that feasible. However, it's true these are Lucas's films and he has every right to do with them as he pleases. And ultimately, I think it's better that he has the rights as opposed to some studio executive. Some other person might not only put out the Smurfs version of "Star Wars," but the Care Bears version as well. Of course, I guess the Ewoks were kind of like Care Bears...

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Cheshire, Conn.: Do you know whether "Let It Be" will be released soon? I have read that it is in preparation.

Jen Chaney: I have not heard anything about this yet. Sorry.

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Cary, N.C.: Do you know when season two of "Have Gun, Will Travel" will be released on DVD?

Jen Chaney: The first season came out earlier this year, so I'm guessing the second won't come out until at least next year. The studios try to space things out a bit.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Why don't you have the DVD "Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor" listed as a new DVD release? With all of the trash movies that are out there that contain nudity, profanity and violence, it is refreshing to see a DVD about a great man who had such a positive impact on the lives of so many children and parents.

Jen Chaney: I try to list as many DVD releases as I can on our running list of what's new on DVD. In my columns, I try to review the major releases. There's so much out there, though, that it's really hard to touch on everything, especially smaller releases like this one. But thanks for mentioning it. Henrietta Pussycat will be pleased.

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Arlington, Va.: May I suggest that, in the famous statement of William Shatner on "SNL" ... Can these people Get A LIFE? Its a movie, 99 percent of the movie is there and unchanged. The quality is great! There were some MINOR changes ... get over it!

Jen Chaney: Now look: There's a backlash against the backlash. No wonder they call this movie "Star WARS."

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Bethesda, Md.: This may be out of your realm of expertise but ... I have a Pioneer DVD player with no remote control unit. I cannot get any of the buttons on the component to flip up and down and thus can't select from the menu the special bonus play features that many DVDs now include. I tried to solve this by getting a universal remote but can't seem to program it to recognize the proper transmitter code(s) for this particular model. Any other suggestions? I suppose DVD players are so cheap now I should just buy a new one and relegate this unit to serve a guest bedroom TV....

Jen Chaney: Unless you can find someone to program the universal remote, you may have to suck it up and buy another player. The remote control buttons are crucial for finding Easter eggs, scanning through scenes, etc. Plus, who wants to keep standing up every time you need to rewind something? If someone else has a better suggestion for remote control-less in Bethesda, please share.

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Lord of the Rings and Kill Bill DVDs: There has been talk of makinng one complete set for "Lord of the Rings" with all the extended editions for sale.

There has also been talk of Tarantino making one complete movie without the break for "Kill Bill" and adding back in scenes that were cut out.

Is there any word on either of these?

Jen Chaney: The extended version of "Return of the King" (they added almost an hour of new footage to the movie, so you may have to carve out a day to watch the thing) comes out in December. I haven't heard if/when all three extended editions will be sold together, but I'd bet good money it will happen.
Same goes for "Kill Bill." There were few extras on either volume one or volume two, and Tarantino has always said he would love to show as a complete film. Keep your eyes open for that DVD; I doubt you've seen the last of The Bride.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any chance that a studio will release TV shows that died too soon on DVD? These shows have small but passionate followings, like "Witchblade" (an obvious choice) or "Vengeance Unlimited" (well, I loved it!). Thanks.

Jen Chaney: I haven't heard about either of these shows being released, but there's always a chance. TV shows on DVD are huge. A number of shows that died early deaths -- the aforementioned "Freaks and Geeks," and most famously, "Family Guy" -- were released on DVD due to fan demand. Visit tvshowsondvd.com and amazon.com and note that you'd like to see both programs released. You never know, it just might happen.

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Chincoteague Island, Va.: It was thought years ago that DVDs were going to be like laser discs, those huge bulky records that played movies. But instead, they have become the next form of movie media on the market and seem to be here to stay. I was wondering how long will it be that VHS goes completely away and if there is any media format that will come down the road that you are aware of that possibly might replace DVDs.

Jen Chaney: We're already overtime, but I'll quickly try to answer a couple of more questions.
I think the next development is uploading movies directly to your TV. Netflix and TiVo are exploring exactly that kind of partnership, which is really intriguing. But I do think DVDs are here to stay for some time. There's something to be said for having a tangible object in your hand. It's the same reason I still like CDs and albums. Remember albums?

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VHS v. DVD: Why should I buy "Star Wars" on DVD when I have it on VHS?

Also, will "Van Helsing" be on DVD soon? I imagine it will be packed with features?

The movie was still terrible though.

Jen Chaney: Because DVD is better quality than VHS; even if you're not thrilled about Lucas's revisions, it's still the better experience visually.
"Van Helsing" comes out Oct. 19 and there are supposed to be a lot of extras on it. And yes, I agree that the movie was awful. It will be interesting to see how well the DVD sells.
It's twenty past the hour, so I need to shove off and get back to my "real work." This has been great fun, and I'm sorry I couldn't get to everyone's questions. Hopefully we can do this again soon. Thanks, and may the Force -- the revised or original version, whichever you prefer -- be with you.

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