A New Year at The Movie Maestro

It’s 2018, a brand new year for a brand new Movie Maestro!

At about this time last year, I never would have expected to be where I am. Sure, money and time problems did not allow me to accomplish all of the goals that I had set for myself in 2017, but I did start a whole new endeavor–this blog! Since March, I have shared with all of you my love of cinema and its power over our hearts and minds, and hope to continue to share it for many years to come. To all of you who have visited and read the blog, whether in passing or as faithful fans, thank you so much!

Changes In Store

When I first started this blog, I had visions of a full multimedia site–a foolhardy ambition, this I now know. So, over the fall and winter, I have slowed down on posting, moving my film reviews onto my social media accounts for quicker and easier-to-write content.

With this in mind, I will be continuing with this format into 2018 and beyond, with my own personal stamp: the Tag of the Month. Every month, I will announce a monthly tag which many of my reviews will revolve around. Some will be seasonal or holiday oriented, like the recent Twisted Xmas posts, others will be at my own whimsy.

In addition, I will be making changes to how I post in the regular columns. The Double Bill Drive-In will continue, although I will be thoroughly viewing every double feature idea before I write the post, ensuring I have a actual opinion on the suggestion. Maestro’s Marathons is also continuing, although with my shift to the Tag of the Month posts, there will be less holiday marathons, and more original ideas. Casting Calls, Editorials, and Head Canon will all be going on, but Weirdo Cinema is closing doors.

Fan Edit Reviews will be continuing as well, but I will be moving info on my own edits to my new studio blog, Temporal Productions. This new side project will house all info on my personal work, including my films, edits, artwork, any and all original work by moi.

Here’s to another year and more of cinematic goodness!

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FAN EDIT REVIEW: The Star Wars Trilogy – Harmy’s Despecialized Editons

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Original Films Directed by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, and Richard Marquand, Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Harmy
Category: Reconstruction

While most fan edits can usually be distilled down to the editor’s subjective goal for a film, there is a rapidly-growing facet of the community that involves the creation of reconstructions. These are edits which do not seek to create a wholly new version of the film, but rather to restore a previously unavailable version, using a number of different home video sources. One can say this method of fan editing truly came into being with Czech editor Harmy, and his excellent Star Wars Despecialized Editions.

First, a brief history lesson, courtesy of the first half of this very informative short documentary:

In case you can’t watch the video, in effect, everything that the original Star Wars film won Oscars for–the visual effects, the set and costume design, sound design–was significantly altered by George Lucas twenty years later to produce the Special Edition, a series of cuts that he felt lived up to his original vision for the trilogy. While the merits of these versions have been and continue to be endlessly debated by fans, the original versions are, at the time of this writing, MIA, in either original print form or on high definition (or acceptable standard definition, for that matter) video.

Enter Harmy, a Czech English teacher and video enthusiast, who sought to restore the original versions of the trilogy in the vein of an early effort by Revisited editor Adywan, by combining different video sources to bring the film back to its original state. Thus, the Despecialized Editions were born.

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The first versions of the edits, available in MKV form, concentrated on two major fronts: correcting the massive alterations to the color timings of the films, and of course, reversing the editorial and visual effects changes that Lucas has made over three successive variations of the Special Editions. Even in these lower-bitrate versions, made with upscales of the Laserdisc-derived 2006 DVD releases of the original trilogy, were quite a step above the official Blu-ray release of 2011 in fidelity to the first-released cuts.

In the years since, Harmy has kept up with changes in both video editing technology and newly-available preservations of the original films, updating each edit accordingly. For this review, I used v2.7 of Star Wars, v2.0 of Empire, and v2.5 of Jedi, in two forms: the full MKV files and a custom blu-ray set made by editor NJVC. While both versions contain the same multitude of audio and subtitle tracks, the blu-rays lower the bitrate slightly in order to fit every feature onto a disc. This doesn’t bother me much, considering I don’t sit close enough to my 40-inch TV to notice a difference, but pick accordingly to your tastes.

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Star Wars v2.7 is undoubtedly the centerpiece of Harmy’s set, considering how extensively the original film has been altered in 4 decades. In addition to the highest number of new visual effects, Star Wars suffered a heavily-skewed color palette, to the point that flesh tones begin to take on incredibly rosy complexions. The Despecialized Edition mercifully corrects this, using a well-preserved 35mm print as reference for correct theatrical color timing. The film is no longer forced to conform to the look of the prequels, appearing as it once did in 1977.

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Top: 2011 Bu-ray, Bottom: Despecialized v2.7

And of course, every successive VFX change is reversed–from things as huge as the original ILM Death Star battle to tweaks as small as restoring the orange blob of Vaseline under Luke’s desert speeder, nothing goes unnoticed by Harmy. Each original shot is returned through numerous different sources, depending on which is the highest quality version available; while most of the video is a color-corrected blu-ray rip, changes made to that master are reversed by taking from HD broadcasts of the 2004 DVDs or the 1997 Special Edition, and so on.

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When it becomes necessary to restore a shot that was only in the original version, fan-produced upscales of the 2006 DVDs are utilized, with elements taken from two noteworthy film preservations, Team Negative 1’s Silver Screen Edition and the 16mm Puggo Grande Edition. The video above explains the process in much better detail than I can in these paragraphs, but to over-summarize, the amount of work that went into creating these cuts prove that sometimes, the fans care more about something special than the creator.

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Empire and Jedi, while containing their fair share of VFX alterations, were less butchered by Lucasfilm, with the changes limited more to the inclusion of previously deleted footage and alternate audio takes. The latter example further displays the collaborative nature of the Despecialized Editions, with Harmy enlisting the approved usage of another fan project: a recreation of the original theatrical mixes. Produced by Hairy_hen mainly using the 1993 Laserdisc mixes, the main audio options replicate the standard 35mm stereo and the 70mm six-track mixes that were originally heard in theaters, with the first film also including the mono mix. All are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and while most certainly aren’t reference-material, hold up to the official releases quite well.

Each MKV file is quite massive, weighing in at an average of over 30 GBs, with bitrates approaching an average of 20 MBPS. The latest versions are still in 720p, but look stunningly beautiful in their original forms compared to the official releases, which are varyingly faded or glossed over with digital enhancements. The blu-ray set by NJVC doesn’t really handle the grain field as well, but as I mentioned before, unless you’re sitting right in front of the TV, this isn’t really something you will notice. Later versions of the MKVs are stated by Harmy to be in full 1080p resolution, owing to new elements pulled from Team Negative 1’s now finished Silver Screen Edition and a new set of prints being restored by an OriginalTrilogy Forum member known as Poita.

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But that’s not all! Both options include a selection of interesting and excellent features, many of which aren’t easily available anywhere else. On the MKV files, no less than twenty different audio options are available: in addition to the theatrical mixes, the original Laserdisc tracks are included in Dolby Digital form, along with a wide array of foreign dubs (my favorites are the German and Japanese tracks. So awesome and funny at the same time). There are also audio commentaries available from the Laserdiscs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, with Star Wars also presenting a rare official website podcast commentary by Pablo Hidalgo. Finally, each one provides an English Descriptive Audio track (so caring and thoughtful of the fans. If only Lucas could be the same).

In addition to the audio tracks, an equally-impressive selection of subtitles is collected from the Project Threepio effort, ranging from English to such overlooked languages as Thai and Navajo.

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The NJVC blu-ray set, available in several options, ups the ante in the extras field with several more commentaries such as Internet podcasts by Rebel Force Radio and Collider, and even Rifftrax by the MST3K crew themselves, along with a few more subtitle options. The bonus features discs include a collection of goodies from around the inter-webs, such as featurettes detailing the changes made to the films over the years, parody productions, documentaries, deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, and even the excellent filmumentaries by Jamie Benning. All of the discs are finished with full motion menus which further push the official feel of this set.

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All in all, this is a great time to be a Star Wars fan. The dark years of the late 1980s have passed, as have the Lucas years, where Star Wars was kept under the stranglehold of a veritable Darth Vader, a man who has become everything about the Hollywood system he used to hate. Look at it now, with new, acclaimed films in theaters, TV series killing it on the small screen, and fan productions restoring to us our most treasured memories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, things are finally looking up. So this Christmas, or Star Wars Day, or anytime you want, fire up the Despecialized Editions and enjoy yourself. You finally can again.

HOW TO GET IT:
Despite the crackdown on p2p file sharing going on these days, the Despecialized Editions are still easily and readily available in just about every corner of the web today, thanks in no small part to their popularity. If you are going through the official channels, visit this Harmy-approved guide, which will walk you through the different methods of obtaining the digital files, whether in the full MKV versions or lower-quality AVCHD files.

NJVC’s blu-ray set was briefly unavailable due to the creator pulling it from circulation–it appears that several unscrupulous individuals were selling the sets on Ebay. However, another fan has graciously and with NJVC’s support made them available again. All you need is a blu-ray burner and the discs, and you are good to go!

Fan Edit Review: Paradise

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Original Films Directed by Ridley Scott, Prometheus Written by Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof, Alien: Covenant Written by John Logan and Dante Larper
Fan Edit by JobWillins
Category: FanMix

JobWillins’ Derelict was quite the experience, combining two Ridley Scott films separated by over three decades into a coherent and suspenseful single storyline. After Alien: Covenant was released, I suddenly had a spark of inspiration; why couldn’t Prometheus and Covenant be combined in a similar way? After all, both films feature a central character in David, the murderous, disturbingly creative android, so why not give it a go myself? Well, little did I know that JobWillins was already on it, and let’s face it, he was always going to do a better job than I would.

As it turns out, JobWillins had conceived of the Paradise idea long ago. From his Tumblr:

“When I edited Derelict a couple of years ago, combining Prometheus & Alien in black & white, it was mainly because I found Prometheus unsatisfying as a standalone film.  Its ending promised (and begged for) a sequel, but that sequel kept falling behind other Ridley Scott productions.  With a sequel in doubt, I tried to use material from both films to make a single experience that felt more like a satisfying whole.
“We eventually did get a sequel 5 years later in Alien: Covenant.  Half of it felt like a Prometheus sequel and the other half an Alien prequel.  In my opinion it didn’t fully succeed in either role.  I enjoyed parts of Covenant very much as I did Prometheus, but also much like Prometheus, it ended on an intriguing promise of a sequel.  That sequel may never come thanks to its relatively poor box office performance.”

And so, here we are with another expansive, 2.5 hour sci-fi epic!

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Opening in the all-too-familiar black-and-white style of Derelict with the ominous Peter Weyland TED Talk, Paradise shifts into full color with the excellent prologue of Covenant, David’s first day of life in the company of his father. However, the prologue stops short, giving us the new title as the Prometheus flies through space. Throughout the film, this prologue will return periodically, as if to punctuate the themes of creation and godhood with increased clarity as the narrative bounces between time frames.

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While the transitions aren’t quite as good or numerous as those witnessed in Derelict, JobWillins covers this with a restrained hand, ensuring to keep both films at least thematically-synced. Probably the best example of this would be Covenant‘s backburster scene, intercut with Holloway’s agonizing death in Prometheus. As Ted Kurzel’s brilliant score pulsates away, the horror of both Shaw and Oram seeing their spouses’ deaths is compounded nicely. A lot has been cut from both films, including some of my favorite bits, like Milburn and Fifield’s run-in with the Millipede and various snippets of the Covenant crew’s first trek across Planet 4, but again, this is all in the name of ensuring the finished project isn’t so long that viewers check out for other offerings.

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As before in Derelict, several deleted scenes from both films are used, as well as some of the online viral content from Alien: Covenant. Major props to JobWillins for his beautiful rendition of the ‘Crossing’ prologue. As for changes wholly his own, some may or may not like his musical choices for the beginning and end of the Covenant storyline, but I for one enjoyed them.

For this review, I watched his full-quality offering of the edit from Google Drive, which at a file size of 9.62 GBs, is plenty enough for home theater viewing. The video bitrate is a little lower than Derelict‘s at 8 mbps, but this allows for the inclusion of both stereo and surround audio tracks, and I honestly didn’t see any video quality loss, at least on my 1080p equipment.

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While Derelict seemed to emphasize the mystery and intrigue of the films it sought to combine, Paradise is an edit more preoccupied with the grander themes at work within Ridley Scott’s mind: themes of creating life from nothing, of going against the natural order, themes more reminiscent of Shelley than Lovecraft, which is something I picked up from Covenant that I’m sure most viewers either didn’t see or didn’t appreciate. JobWillins certainly did, and that’s just one of many reasons why I love Paradise. I’m still thinking of doing my own Prometheus/Covenant fanmix, but not because Paradise was inadequate. On the contrary, if I never got around to it, I wouldn’t feel that bad. I still have this gem to come back to.

Maestro Update, September 10, 2017

You may have noticed that there wasn’t a Maestro’s Picks this past Friday, my apologies. This week hasn’t allowed me much reading, as I had my wisdom teeth pulled and have been in recovery for half the week, and working on Godzilla: Resurrection for the other half.

It will definitely be made up for however this week. I plan on seeing It tomorrow night, so expect a review for that Tuesday as well as a few more, and a trailer for Godzilla: Resurrection. Stay tuned!

FAN EDIT REVIEW: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Revisited

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Original Film Directed by Irvin Kershner, Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Adywan
Category: FanFix

The home video history of Star Wars and of the art of fan editing itself are heavily intertwined. Beginning in 2000 with Mike J. Nichols’ The Phantom Edit, the resultant “remix culture” that has surrounded George Lucas’ more controversial 21st Century fingerprints on his magnum opus has now ballooned into a complete community as extensive as cosplay culture. Needless to say, there are now tons of Star Wars fan edits out there, and are as varied as the selection at a Baskin-Robbins; you have Harmy’s Despecialized Edition restorations of the original unaltered trilogy, grindhouse mixes like The Man Behind the Mask”s War of the Stars, Christopher Nolan-style time-benders like Star Wars: Renascent, and you have your basic fanfixes, like The Phantom Edit.

Emerging in the late 2000s with several restorations, editor Adrian Sayce–better known as Adywan–soon established his own indelible mark upon the Star Wars fan editing nation with Star Wars Revisited, a massive reimagining of the modern state of the original trilogy. While seeing the merit in the concept of a Special Edition, Adywan set out to heavily alter Lucas’ re-edited versions, in an attempt to produce “what the Special Editions should have been.”

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Adywan’s Revisited version of Episode IV – A New Hope was released in 2009, and quickly became a popular edit with its intricately-crafted new visual effects, massive color regrading, and subtle fixes to stupid mistakes that Lucasfilm should have repaired long ago (Obi-Wan’s lightsaber changing to a dimly-lit pole comes to mind). After 7 years of hard work, his long-awaited followup, The Empire Strikes Back Revisited, is finally here, and it was so worth the wait.

As of this writing, it is only available as a 720p x264 file at a size of around seven gigabites, but even on this relatively shrimpy format the edit is simply stunning. Even a cursory scroll-through of the screenshots from the x264 version reveals a picture far superior to even the official Blu-rays. While liberties are taken with many elements in order to bring the film in line with Adywan’s vision of a functional director’s cut, ESB-R is second only to Harmy’s Despecialized Edition in fidelity to the original theatrical image.

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Even the majority of his changes seem to minimize the shock inherent to seeing an altered version of a movie so many remember so well. For example, Obi-Wan’s Force ghost on Hoth is no longer lacking the characteristic edge sparkle it and all the others possess, but Adywan keeps the brightness on it down low enough to not break the mirage-like effect that particular ghost was always meant to have. Many other changes, while substantially more noticeable, always make sense: the Battle of Hoth now contains more AT-STs to offset the out-of-place original occurrence of the vehicle; the swamps of Dagobah are a little more crawling with exotic creatures; the asteroid field is even more intense with an expansion of the field on the z axis. Every change is not forced or full of nonsense.

Like with A New Hope Revisited, the film has been through a complete color re-grading, although this time it seems less noticeable, no doubt due to how screwed up the previous film’s color palette was by Lucasfilm. In addition, various technical gaffes and limitations have been fixed, including all new starfields and smoothed out jump cuts. Lightsaber and blaster effects have all been completely rotoscoped by Adywan.

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Not every change is perfection, however; in what I believe will be his most controversial, Adywan has used CG to further animate the Yoda puppet’s mouth. In some scenes it works, in others it’s just distracting. Hey, at least it’s not a full CG Yoda, right?

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With ESB-R, Adywan has reclaimed his place at the top of the fan edit mountain. With picture and sound even better than the official blu-rays, and additions and fixes that, for the most part, greatly improve upon Lucas’ own hair-brained ideas, The Empire Strikes Back Revisited should be in everyone’s fan edit collection.

HOW TO GET IT:
Visit Adywan’s how-to-download page for details on getting the 8gb .mkv. DVD-5, DVD-9 and Blu-ray versions will be available sometime in the future.

 

Maestro’s Picks – August 25, 2017

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for Maestro’s Picks!

Because this is the glorious(?) return of my first on-going series, I’ve decided to go with two picks this time around. Also, because I just couldn’t pick one of them. This time, both are from the illustrious and bottomless world of Tumblr!

First, as you may or may not know, I am working on my first full-length fan edit, and a major factor in this finally happening is the excellent editor Red Menace, of RedMenaceOfficial on Tumblr. Specializing in HD reconstructions, Red Menace has delivered the kaiju goods on multiple occasions, bringing back to life such lost American versions of Godzilla films as Godzilla 1985, Destroy All Monsters, and Monster Zero, in addition to a fan edit series of Neon Genesis Evangelion. He is currently working on several projects including a hotly-anticipated Godzilla vs. The Thing reconstruction, and of course, makes tons of shitposts. Check him out!

Second is the interesting newcomer Alien Covenant: A Gothic Fiction in Space. My recent rewatch of Covenant has convinced me of its merits as a great science fiction and horror story, and this Tumblr came along at the right time to help form words to my exploding thoughts regarding Ridley Scott’s newest piece. Prerusing the table of contents post reveals an expansive attention to the details of Covenant, analyzing everything from character motivations to specific, indelible images that link Scott’s film with the greatest gothic fiction of the past, including, yes, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Give this one a serious read, even if you weren’t a fan of Covenant. You just might change your mind.

And now, here comes the second half of Maestro’s Picks: where I share one video and one image which I found myself drawn to this week: Presenting:

The new poster for Blade Runner 2049, opening October 17 of this year and starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto:

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Medley Weaver‘s mashup trailer for Godzilla (1954), featuring the music and editing of the 2014 film’s famous trailer:

Well, that’s all for today! Stay true, believers!

New Fan Edit – Godzilla: Resurrection

The time has come, folks! Time for me to embark on my own fan edit!

For my first project, I’ll be tackling a fanmix of The Return of Godzilla and its Americanized recut, Godzilla 1985. While the original Japanese version of the film is still the definitive one, I’ve always held a soft spot in my heart for Raymond Burr’s scenes in 1985, and had always wondered what the final film would have been like had he been present in the Japanese cut.

This re-edit seeks to accomplish just that, while also streamlining the slower pacing of the original cut with suggestions from 1985 to combine the best of both worlds. The film will still be highly critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union, and will work to marginalize the more humorous aspects of the added Pentagon scenes. Finally, this cut will feature a brand new opening to the film, one that seeks to definitely tie the new Godzilla to the original beast in an eerie and unforgettable way.

To read more about the project, please visit my official page on it here, and keep your eyes peeled for a trailer on YouTube and Vimeo, coming soon. Until then, enjoy my custom poster!

Godzilla Resurrection - Coming Soon Poster

Godzilla: Resurrection will be available for viewing and download this fall.