Wednesday, Oct 12, 2011
by Louis Smeedly
Is Star Wars George Lucas's Fantasia?
(And no, we don’t want to see Jabba the Hut dancing in a pink tutu to Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours.)
In 1940, Walt Disney released a full-length animated feature, uniting music and art in a way audiences had never seen before. It was considered an instant classic, with critics agreeing the film made motion picture history. But then it immediately underwent a series of changes and alterations – over ten versions – and was reissued again and again. Sound like any space opera we know?
Though Disney said that Fantasia was always intended to be an on-going project – with new segments replacing older ones – that wasn’t how the project began. Originally the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was intended to be Mickey’s comeback, in a Silly Symphonies short. Only once the budget ballooned did Disney decide to make it into a feature film.
“Fantasia is timeless. It may run 10, 20, or 30 years. It may run after I’m gone. Fantasia is an idea itself.” – Walt Disney
And while the film’s sequel, Fantasia 2000, certainly allowed the project to run again, it’s the other part of Walt Disney’s quote that brings his work and Lucas’s together:
“I can never build another Fantasia. I can improve. I can elaborate. That’s all." – Walt Disney
That sure sounds like the George Lucas we know.
Star Wars was released in 1977 to critical acclaim, becoming one of the first real blockbusters. It won six Academy Awards – including one Special Achievement for Sound Effects Editing, given because the Oscars had no award for what Star Wars made possible. The film was a technological breakthrough.
Fantasia, too, broke records. Released in 1940, it was the first film in stereophonic sound, and in fact one fifth of the film’s total budget was spent on recording techniques. One segment was even planned to be in 3-D, which would have made it the first commercial 3-D film.
And it was the film’s over-reaching ambition that resulted in the series of changes and re-releases that ensured that no one saw that original again.
The stereophonic equipment needed to present the film was expensive, limiting the number of theatres that could stage it. And the war effort further hindered the construction of such equipment. So in 1942, the first “new version” was released, in monophonic sound, and shortened by a few segments. Over the next seventy years, the film would be remastered, restored, re-recorded, segments cut, segments re-instated, narration re-dubbed and re-released in Superscope, stereo widescreen, high definition, Dolby digital surround sound, and in Blu-ray (naturally). With every release, collectors get a little closer to the “complete” version. At least until the next re-release, that is.
George Lucas, of course, is a little further along than Disney. Since Star Wars was released in 1977, that first film has been changed or altered 73 times (with the first “new version” in the same year it premiered).
So perhaps Star Wars has become his Fantasia – an ongoing project that promises to be a new film every time you watch it. Now if only The Phantom Menace were as good as Fantasia 2000.
This giclée of the 1986 Roger Believe cover of First Flight (Primo Volo) is part...