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Letterboxed Widescreen vs. Anamorphic Widescreen Discussion

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Anyone who saw the sample from my DVD on a.b.starwars will know that I've finally decided to go with an anamorphic transfer (as I had originally planned to do, only for a long while I was considering doing a letterboxed transfer - all the JPEG screenshots were letterboxed).

The main reasons are purely personal:
- Our TV is in 16:9 mode most of the time, so it saves me from having to press a button on the remote control to change to zoom mode.
- We have a portable player with a 16:9 LCD screen, which has no zoom mode.

But I'd like to discuss some common (IMO) misconceptions that have cropped up in other threads recently; rather than add my thoughts to other threads I thought it'd be better to have all 4:3 vs 16:9 discussion in one place.

"You're not gaining anything by making an anamorphic DVD, because the laserdiscs are letterboxed the information isn't there in the first place."
&
"If you have a widescreen 16:9 TV, you can view letterboxed DVDs by setting the TV to zoom mode, the quality is just the same as resizing during post-processing."

Assuming most people have CRT TVs; when you watch a letterboxed film, setting the TV to zoom mode, the TV stretches the picture vertically by increasing the distance between the scanlines. Some 25% (?) of the total No. of lines (480 NTSC/576 PAL) end up in the "overscan" areas off the top and bottom of the screen - but of course these lines only contain black bars anyway.

Now when you process the video to create an anamorphic picture, you use a process called upsampling (or interpolation) to generate additional lines of video. The upsampling algorithms used - bicubic, lanczos, etc. - are much more sophisticated than simply doubling up certain lines or using linear interpolation. The aim is to increase the size without blurring the edges too much or producing jaggies, and these algorithms do this sucessfully (lanczos is said to be sharper, but I don't really notice a difference between bicubic, lanczos, Mitchell, sinc or any of the advanced upsampling filters).

So when you watch a DVD containing a straight letterboxed transfer, you see a stretched out picture. When you watch an DVD with video from the laserdisc converted to anamorphic, you see an upsampled picture. I don't need to tell you which looks better.

For those people with a home cinema setup incorporating a plasma or LCD screen, or when you watch a DVD on your PC, the image will always be upsampled, either by scaling circuitry in the display device or the video card in your PC. In such cases, there should be little or no difference between a letterboxed or anamorphic version.

"If you have a regular 4:3 TV, then you lose 1 out of every 4 lines of resolution when playing an anamorphic DVD."

This is partly true. If you set your DVD player to 4:3 mode, then it will downsample (decimate) the active image and add black bars to the top and bottom. I've no idea if this an actual scaling process, or simply removal of every 4th line.

However, many modern 4:3 TVs now have a 16:9 mode. In this mode, the distance between the scan lines is reduced, compressing the picture vertically. The black bars top and bottom are not part of the video - they are black because there are is no electron beam scanning that area (like your TV is black when you turn it off!). With the DVD player set to 16:9 mode, you still see every line of the anamorphic video, and you don't lose anything.

"You need a higher bitrate for anamorphic video."

Of course you do - there are more lines of video and fewer lines of solid black. Solid black compresses well, actual video information needs more work. (Try this: use notepad to create two text files, exactly the same length, one full of spaces, the other containing random text. Now zip each one. Which is smaller? How much smaller?)

However - and this has been discussed at length by Cowclops - laserdiscs cannot reproduce the same level of detail as a DVD. The picture will always be softer, and a softer picture compresses better than one with lots of sharp details. Unfortunately laserdisc captures contain analogue noise; this noise, because it is random, does not compress well. That is why we must use noise reduction during post-processing before encoding to DVD.

So a de-noised laserdisc capture will compress reasonably well, and this is the reason why Cowclops and myself both consider that single-layer DVD is more than adequate for an anamorphic transfer, with no noticeable increase in quality by using dual-layer. But that's another discussion...

:: Edited for typos

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Nice to see all of that information finally in the one thread! It was so annoying to have to pick out bits and pieces from all over the place. I think you explained everything fairly well. I'd sort of assumed some of that stuff, but confirmation is always good. Cheers!

~klokwerk

To contact me outside the forum, for trades and such my email address is my OT.com username @gmail.com

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Moth3r:

Cheers for that. Glad to hear that you're going the anamophic route.

Rich
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"This is partly true. If you set your DVD player to 4:3 mode, then it will downsample (decimate) the active image and add black bars to the top and bottom. I've no idea if this an actual scaling process, or simply removal of every 4th line."

In the past, I know that Toshiba and Sony players did it differently. Toshiba removed 1 of 4 lines, and Sony did something else that I can no longer recall.

"Now when you process the video to create an anamorphic picture, you use a process called upsampling (or interpolation) to generate additional lines of video. The upsampling algorithms used - bicubic, lanczos, etc. - are much more sophisticated than simply doubling up certain lines or using linear interpolation. The aim is to increase the size without blurring the edges too much or producing jaggies, and these algorithms do this sucessfully (lanczos is said to be sharper, but I don't really notice a difference between bicubic, lanczos, Mitchell, sinc or any of the advanced upsampling filters).

So when you watch a letterboxed DVD, you see a stretched out picture. When you watch an anamorphic DVD, you see an upsampled picture. I don't need to tell you which looks better."


Hopefully, people won't confuse this with an anamorphic picture made from film, which doesn't require this upsampling. Anamorphic video made from a letterbox transfer looks nowhere near as good as anamorphic video made from a film source. Does anyone know what "algorithm" Dr. Gonzo used when he made his transfer?

In any case, the few anamorphic transfers I've made from the SW LDs always show the inherent flaws much clearer than a straight letterboxed transfer I (and I've recently seen that there are many more than I originally knew of, and they actually get worse as the quality of your player improves. )
MeBeJedi: Sadly, I believe the prequels are beyond repair.
JediRandy: They're certainly beyond any repair you're capable of making.


MeBeJedi: You aren't one of us.
Go-Mer-Tonic: I can't say I find that very disappointing.


JediRandy: I won't suck as much as a fan edit.
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Originally posted by: MeBeJedi
Hopefully, people won't confuse this with an anamorphic picture made from film, which doesn't require this upsampling. Anamorphic video made from a letterbox transfer looks nowhere near as good as anamorphic video made from a film source. Does anyone know what "algorithm" Dr. Gonzo used when he made his transfer?
I've edited the text now so hopefully there's less chance of it confusing people.

I don't know what algorithm Dr Gonzo used, but I would hazard a guess that the resizing was done in TMPGEnc along with the IVTC and encoding.

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Well, Moth3r is better off with an Anamorphic NTSC transfar, as his source are the PAL LD's, which will look sharper and will look better as Anamorphic.

Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabris, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.

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And what about the vast majority of viewers, the folks who have 4:3 televisions? If they watch a fake anamorphic DVD, they're going to get a softer image that won't look as good as if it were encoded as letterboxed. As a DVD creator, an inviolable rule I have to obey is "bother the fewest." And it's always easiest to do that when you start out with the best quality encode, and that means not stretching the image and telling the encoder, "here, chew on this!" It's kind of like people who encode mono audio as 2.0. It's a waste of ever-precious bits.

Having said that, if you want to make a DVD that works best for your situation, Moth3r, then I don't think anyone would begrudge you that. Each person must make his or her own decision. But what works for you won't work for everybody else. Unless you make anamorphic and letterboxed versions for people to choose from, in which case you'll be king of the world.

This thread is going to frustrate those who are trying to learn more about this topic. Because you've got some who say "anamorphic looks better on 16:9 TVs than letterboxed," and some who say "no, letterboxed looks better." And they're both correct, because there are so many widescreen TVs out there, and they're all different, just like people's tastes are all different.

Again, the hard decision is not "should I do anamorphic?" The hard decision is "whom do I wish to please more?"
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In any case, the few anamorphic transfers I've made from the SW LDs always show the inherent flaws much clearer than a straight letterboxed transfer I (and I've recently seen that there are many more than I originally knew of, and they actually get worse as the quality of your player improves. )


Aint THAT the truth!

A friend recently bought a brand new 32" Sony WEGA flat CRT and I set it up for her (she basically said "My husband knows about plumbing and stuff, Rich, you know about this TVs, can you set this up for me?"). It replaced an old Philips 28" widescreen that she'd had for 5 years. I set it all up with RGB and the picture from her DVD player was amazing. When she plugged in her Sky+ (TiVo) and started watching that. Suddenly you could see all the compression and jaggies from the recorder that you just couldn't see on the Philips. I had to turn the sharpness down on the set so that it blurred the jaggies and they "disappeared".

By making the picture worse (less accurate), it appears better (more pleasing on the eye). Kinda like a woman after 8 pints of Stella.

With an anamorphic encode though, I have the choice of how much I want to "unsharpen" the picture, just like I can decide how much I want to drink when I go out on the pull
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changing ld ripped video to anamorphic will degrade picture detail and sharpness.
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Originally posted by: eros
changing ld ripped video to anamorphic will degrade picture detail and sharpness.


No, it won't.

There you go: two almost-useless sentences, completely opposite, with equal amounts of proof (i.e. none) to support them.

I really, REALLY, get tired of people espousing some dogma or another without any sort of proof or analysis on their part. Moth3r provides tons of good information, backed up with references (of a kind) and personal experience, and still someone posts a one-liner something like "changing ld ripped video to anamorphic will degrade picture detail and sharpness".

I happen to be in the camp that says anamorphic made from LD will NOT degrade picture detail and sharpness. At least, it doesn't have to. Why do I think that? Because I've actually played with this sort of thing at length, and read at even greater length about others doing similar things. Any competent filter chain can improve the picture quite a bit as the size goes up -- hell, a lot of the procedures in AviSynth super-sample the picture to several times its original size in order to get better results! Anyone who says otherwise hasn't put in the time reading in the right places and experimenting with the right filters.
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I'm not terribly experienced with this, but I'd imagine that the success of anamorphic over letterbox (when using LD as a source) would depend heavily on filters, programs, techincal knowledge of what you're doing, etc. Because honestly, the difference isn't that big. I agree completely when it is said that anamorphic usually looks better on a widescreen TV because the computer has done the hard work (rather than the decoder). You can get some nasty stuff when you merely press the zoom button on a letterboxed DVD (with a widescreen monitor).

I'd probably go anamorphic, but I'd need to do a lot of reading to get up on all of this. All of you have done the hard work already!

Episode II: Shroud of the Dark Side

Emperor Jar-Jar
“Back when we made Star Wars, we just couldn’t make Palpatine as evil as we intended. Now, thanks to the miracles of technology, it is finally possible. Finally, I’ve created the movies that I originally imagined.” -George Lucas on the 2007 Extra Extra Special HD-DVD Edition

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Originally posted by: Karyudo
There you go: two almost-useless sentences, completely opposite, with equal amounts of proof (i.e. none) to support them. I really, REALLY, get tired of people espousing some dogma or another without any sort of proof or analysis on their part. Moth3r provides tons of good information, backed up with references (of a kind) and personal experience, and still someone posts a one-liner something like "changing ld ripped video to anamorphic will degrade picture detail and sharpness".

See what I mean?
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First off, great thread Moth3r!

Originally posted by: RichKS

A friend recently bought a brand new 32" Sony WEGA flat CRT and I set it up for her (she basically said "My husband knows about plumbing and stuff, Rich, you know about this TVs, can you set this up for me?"). It replaced an old Philips 28" widescreen that she'd had for 5 years. I set it all up with RGB and the picture from her DVD player was amazing. When she plugged in her Sky+ (TiVo) and started watching that. Suddenly you could see all the compression and jaggies from the recorder that you just couldn't see on the Philips. I had to turn the sharpness down on the set so that it blurred the jaggies and they "disappeared".

First off, before I start blabbering on...I'm in "NTSC land" (although I do have region-free PAL-compatible DVD players for my viewing pleasure) and this is the info on my set: Sony KP-43HT20 43" Rear Projection HDTV Monitor

I see these digital 'artifacts' especially bad when I'm watching "analog" TV through my digital cable box (comcast - US cable provider). I can't watch sports on my HDTV unless its an HD broadcast because the compression is so distracting. On the 32" 4:3 TV (a bit more than a year old) I don't see any of these 'artifacts' at all...the same broadcasts look clear and relatively crisp.

Many retail DVDs also have these 'artifacts' also. They aren't anywhere near as distracting but I am able to see some "blockiness", especially in darker scenes. Most of the newer retail DVDs I've picked up, for example Hellboy, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (snore), and Saw (a total piece of s**t movie, but a good transfer) don't have these 'digital artifacts'...is this due to better compression algorithms or the fact that they are quite possibly purely digital movies?

OFF TOPIC N00b-style: One final question are there any higher-quality, attainable sources for the OT than laserdisc?


With an anamorphic encode though, I have the choice of how much I want to "unsharpen" the picture, just like I can decide how much I want to drink when I go out on the pull


Heh...well put.


D.O.
¤ The Dark One In Costume ¤

...at last we shall have revenge...
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Hurrah for Moth3r!

An anamorphic Pal transfer would be right up my street
We Got Death Star!
We Got Death Star!
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" I guess that I'm not quite "smarter than the average bear" when it comes to video formats."

Don't worry. DVD terminology can be difficult to understand. In fact, technically speaking, "anamorphic" DVDs are actually the opposite of what "anamorphic" really means, but it's not a terrible important distinction.

"So this has led me to another question...shouldn't all new transfers of the OT be in anamorphic seeing how the "powers-that-be" are pushing the 16:9 sets?"

The official discs are, but if you are referring to bootlegs - again, it depends, as was explained in the anamorphic thread.

The problem is, regardless of what method you use, you still lose resolution when you "zoom in" on the letterbox transfer in order to make it anamorphic. It simply isn't the same picture, though it can come very close if one is very careful. It really depends on what looks good on your television.

This is why I say people with 4x3 tvs shouldn't get the anamorphic DVD. You lose resolution by blowing up the image to anamorphic, and then you lose resolution again when your DVD player removes 1 of every 4 lines to get the once-anamorphic picture to fit on your smaller TV screen. If you want an anamorphic transfer of the SW LDs, you'd better have a widescreen tv or else you screw up the picture (ironically, though, if you don't have a high-quality tv, you probably won't notice the difference anyways, so those people shouldn't bitch. )

"Also, with the emergence of inexpensive DL DVD burners and media that is rapidly falling in price, wouldn't the preferred primary format for the new DL projects (fingers crossed) be 16:9 anamorphic? I'll put it this way, on my 32" 4:3 I can't see much difference between pretty much all of the better transfers, but on the 54" 16:9 the differences are very apparent."

Well, since the anamorphic version takes up more space, a DL version would seem the no-brainer, but if it isn't done well, it can actually look worse. How the video and disc is prepared makes a much bigger difference than you think. Making DVDs ain't like dusting cr.......er, isn't like making music CDs.

"League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (snore)"

Hey! I liked that movie!
MeBeJedi: Sadly, I believe the prequels are beyond repair.
JediRandy: They're certainly beyond any repair you're capable of making.


MeBeJedi: You aren't one of us.
Go-Mer-Tonic: I can't say I find that very disappointing.


JediRandy: I won't suck as much as a fan edit.
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Originally posted by: The Dark One

OFF TOPIC N00b-style: One final question are there any higher-quality, attainable sources for the OT than laserdisc?


Film!

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Uh, attainable?

Moll.

"Right now the coffees are doing their final work." (Airi, Masked Rider Den-o episode 1)

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Hypothetically speaking, if someone ever lays hands on an anamorphic print, and can transfer it to tape, making it 16:9 friendly presents no problem?
originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Where were you in '77?

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they COULD, but it would still be stretched vetically.

Anamorphic film prints are 2.35:1

Anamorphic NTSC is 1.78:1

there would still be bars, but they would be the same size as the bars you see on movies that are 1.85:1

Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabris, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.

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Does anyone have access to the prints in the Library of Congress?

All three of the complete, true original editions are preserved there (so it's said) in great quality. The Star Wars print is even the "Pre-ANH" version.

Episode II: Shroud of the Dark Side

Emperor Jar-Jar
“Back when we made Star Wars, we just couldn’t make Palpatine as evil as we intended. Now, thanks to the miracles of technology, it is finally possible. Finally, I’ve created the movies that I originally imagined.” -George Lucas on the 2007 Extra Extra Special HD-DVD Edition

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There are actually two 16mm prints on Ebay right now, but film collectors have deeper pockets than me.
originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Where were you in '77?

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Originally posted by: skyman8081
they COULD, but it would still be stretched vertically.

Anamorphic film prints are 2.35:1

Anamorphic NTSC is 1.78:1

there would still be bars, but they would be the same size as the bars you see on movies that are 1.85:1


I'm afraid you've got some stuff wrong here. Anamorphic film prints are NOT 2.35:1; they're 1.3:1 or thereabouts. When projected, anamorphic lenses stretch the image about two times horizontally, so the final image is about 2.4:1.

If you were to transfer the film without an anamorphic lens, you'd have something that doesn't match any standard DVD ratio. No problem: that's what AviSynth is for. In fact, it would be sorta dumb to transfer the film WITH the anamorphic lens, I'd imagine, since then you'd have to add black bars right at the beginning. Far better to keep as much image information until as late in the mastering process as possible. And to answer SilverWook's question, making a 16:9 friendly version is dead simple.


@Molly: As SilverWook says, film is attainable. It ain't cheap, but it's available. Actually, getting the film digitized (telecined or scanned) is the extremely tough part. No post house I know of will touch copyrighted stuff without a lot of paperwork. A lot of paperwork nobody but Lucasfilm has the authority to sign.
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I would kill for a scan of a 70mm pre-ANH print if such still exists...

Moll.

"Right now the coffees are doing their final work." (Airi, Masked Rider Den-o episode 1)

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I own a few vintage 70mm frames from the medal ceremony, (not the specially made ones they sold in those lucite frames) they have turned very pink. Someone had an auction while back for several spools of a 70mm print, they were in equally poor condition.
You can see them here.
originaltrilogy.com Moderator

Where were you in '77?

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It also doesn't mean that even if it is preserved that it will be publicly accessible in its original form. If you have any doubt about this -- think of STAR WARS (1977)-- and try a get a copy of that film for projection --
1997's STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE doesn't count, because it is a different film
in many respects.

Kenneth S. Weissman
Kenneth.Weissman@wpafb.af.mil
Head, Motion Picture Conservation Center
Library of Congress

That's a good point. For our Technicolor tribute 2 years ago at the
American Cinematheque, we were going to open with a British dye transfer
print of "Star Wars". The plan was nixed by Lucasfilm, who do not wish to
have the original version of the film shown publicly.

Jeff



Jeff Joseph
SabuCat Productions
E-mail: sabucat@sabucat.com
http://www.sabucat.com
- http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byform/mailing-lists/amia-l/2001/12/msg00073.html

-----------------------------------

Further Evidence: How Lucas & Lucasfilm Continues To Disrespect The Original STAR WARS & The Concept Of Cinema History!

Hey folks, Harry here... Seems I'm now getting hit with tons of emails as that screening of the original print of STAR WARS... well it ain't happening any more. Apparently THE CITY OF ANGELS FILM FESTIVAL was pursuing getting the print, but were not allowed to screen it as the only print that Lucasfilm will allow to be screened is the Special Edition.

Ok, first off, I want to be real clear about this... I wasn't going to be attending the film festival, so this isn't me being bittersweet about this whole situation. You see, this was a cool thing I was just excited to let you readers in the Los Angeles area know about. You see... THE CITY OF ANGELS FILM FESTIVAL is doing a "Century of Cinema" screening series this year where they pick a film or two from each decade in the century of cinema to screen, and show it. Here's what they were going to screen:

D.W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE (1916)

Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1927)

Robert Flaherty's NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1927)

Driga Vertov's THE MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (1929)

Walt Disney's SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

Vittorio de Sica's THE BICYCLE THIEF (1949)

Francois Truffaut's THE 400 BLOWS (1959)

D. A. Pennebaker's DON'T LOOK BACK (1966)

Mike Nichols' THE GRADUATE (1967)

George Lucas' STAR WARS (1977)

Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Quentin Tarantino's PULP FICTION (1994)

Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)

To be on that list is an honor more than anything. That's 13 films that helped to define the very century of cinema itself. That's huge. To be chosen to represent a decade of film, in particular for STAR WARS to be chosen to represent the 1970's... one of the most important decades in the history of cinema... That's gigantic. It's saying that this film is more significant than ANNIE HALL which it lost that Oscar to, more significant to the history of film than any of Lucas' contemporaries. It says that it had a profound effect on world cinema. And as a HISTORY fest, showing the original 1977 film... that's the film that changed things. STAR WARS SPECIAL EDITION wasn't made in 1977, that's a 90's flick, and if they replaced PULP FICTION with STAR WARS SPECIAL EDITION and were making the statement that Lucas' special edition was indicative of a time when artists began to revisit there films for financial gain, to re-edit, re-shoot and continue to evolve their films as a sculptor would revisit an unfinished (in his mind) work. Well, that's the significance of the SPECIAL EDITION... Although, it has nothing to do with the monumental change in cinema that the original 1977 film represented. Is Lucas so determined to bury the original work, that filmmakers, film fans and devotees of his film will not be allowed to even see the film as part of a RETROSPECT UPON THE VERY HISTORY OF CINEMA? This isn't a minor thing.

Several years ago when I was presenting my own CENTURY OF CINEMA program at the Smithsonian in 1998, I chose my own series of Short films, Trailer, Cartoons, Making ofs, News Reels, etc... One from each decade beginning in the late 1890's with El Spectro Rojo. I included the original 1977 teaser trailer for STAR WARS, the one with the heart beat soundtrack behind it all... the non-colored Light Sabers, and it was a bleached out shitty FUJI stock copy, but the Audience was jazzed to see it projected, because this was what Audiences first saw. This was the beginning of it all... That line, "A FILM LIGHT YEARS AHEAD OF ITS TIME!" If we heard that about a modern film in its own trailer we'd feel it was the most egotistical display of hyperbole ever...BUT... it was true. It is the only STAR WARS trailer to not be scored by JOHN WILLIAMS... no hint of "THE THEME" and it gets you jazzed, pumped and ready to dream about a boy, a girl and a galaxy. THIS type of event, is about HISTORY not revisionism. With the YOUNG INDIANA JONES, Lucas was always so strict to try and bring history to kids, what about preserving his own history and allowing it to be told?

Personally, I've always wanted to see that original test screening print of Star Wars that had old WW2 Dogfight footage inserted where the space ships were supposed to go. I've wanted to see... would I think like DePalma that Lucas had made a disaster, or like Spielberg that it was going to be genius? That's HISTORY! Giant HISTORY! The same way that if you go to the Prado in Madrid and you see the Hieronymus Bosch triptych of THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS... not only is the final version exhibited, but the pencils/charcoal roughs and the pre-painting that he did as well as the finished one. Lucas likes to draw the parallel to being a painter, well historically... the evolution of the art is seen, studied and considered. What's he got to be insecure about... this festival is saying... STAR WARS IS ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT FILMS IN HISTORY!

I love Star Wars, but I'm ashamed of George Lucas, he's really quite a little man when you come right down to it.
- http://aintitcoolnews.com/display.cgi?id=16282
MeBeJedi: Sadly, I believe the prequels are beyond repair.
JediRandy: They're certainly beyond any repair you're capable of making.


MeBeJedi: You aren't one of us.
Go-Mer-Tonic: I can't say I find that very disappointing.


JediRandy: I won't suck as much as a fan edit.