When Spielberg pulled a Lucas

It’s a topic of much debate and rage that all geeks know too well: George Lucas tampering with the Star Wars films. Still, in all fairness to Lucas, it’s hard for any filmmaker to look back on their work, because all they see are mistakes in need of correction.

I mean, even Orson Welles did this. So when a filmmaker has a chance to go back and fix something, or try to make it even better, of course they’re going to try it, but in most situations, they learn to leave well enough alone.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Steven Spielberg acknowledged he regretted making changes to E.T.

You may recall that Spielberg also made cuts to Close Encounters, and added more to the ending where you saw the inside of the space ship, although the original version of the film was just fine.

And again, in all fairness, one of the best adding footage stories happened with Jaws, where Spielberg knew he could get one more scream out of the audience, and added the moment where the head popped out of the boat.

So Spielberg tried this again with Close Encounters, re-releasing it as The Special Edition, with the director spending $2 million shooting new footage, and editing down the film. 

”Now, for the first time, filmgoers will be able to share the experience of being inside,” but as Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride wrote, the scenes where we see inside the spaceship “proved to be a terrible letdown from the phantasmagoria preceding it. Little happens except for Neary gaping around inside an essentially empty, plastic-looking environment bearing a distinct resemblance to the lobby of a Hyatt hotel. By preventing the viewer from simply imagining what happens to Neary, the  ending squandered much of the film’s sense of wonder and magic.”

The new Close Encounters was released back to theaters on July 31, 1980, and funny enough, one theatergoer sued Columbia thinking it would be an a new movie. Before sequels really took hold, studios would often put ALL NEW on the posters, so audiences would know they were seeing the next film in the series, like with Jaws 2 and More American Graffiti, instead of the same movie with new footage, a la Close Encounters.

Talk about those who forget the past are forever condemned to repeat it. Many years before Lucas did his Star Wars redo, legendary critic Pauline Kael decried in the New Yorker about the nu Close Encounters, “You feel as if your memories had been mugged,” and Close Encounters producer Michael Phillips said at the time, “I just hope it doesn’t lead to a trend in which filmmakers redo their movies. That would simply be dreadful. Some filmmakers might start withholding a few minutes from the first release so they could add this material in the reissue and get people to spend their five dollars again.”

After this, and after tinkering with E.T., Spielberg learned his lesson, and his current attitudes towards remaking his work echo what David Fincher recently told Collider.

“They’re doing a Blu-ray of The Game and there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to fix, but a movie’s an expression of a time and a place,” he said. 

”It’s where you are in your career, it’s where all the actors are in their careers, I just don’t believe in changing that. For the Blu-Ray of Fight Club, there were a couple of shots that once you went to a higher definition, they just seemed dirtier; they stuck out like sore thumbs. We did a little bit of noise reduction, a little bit of matte painting clean up on a couple of things, but we didn’t change the shots.”