Film revisions deserve appreciation, do not replace original works

Craig Watkins, Opinion Editor

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Though not as memorable as its predecessor, Gremlins 2 has no shortage of good, subtle jokes. One of my favorites is an advertisement urging, “Don’t miss Casablanca, now in full color with a happier ending.”

The joke is directed at the then-prevalent practice of colorizing movies shot in black and white to draw in viewers with color TVs. The “happier ending” part of the line suggests that updating perfectly fine movies with newer technology is a way of defacing them.

Though the colorization trend may have died down by now, similar ways of altering older films have persisted, like adding CGI characters and backgrounds to the original Star Wars trilogy and Blade Runner and more recently converting films like Titanic and Top Gun into 3D.

To see what the past hoopla around colorization was about (and get into the Halloween spirit), I recently rewatched Night of the Living Dead, but for the first time in color. My impression was pretty neutral.

I didn’t think the addition of color drew attention away from anything important, but I also didn’t think it added anything that the black and white version needed.

The bright red that blood was now colored made the violence eye-catching, but the use of close-ups for all the gory scenes made it eye-catching to begin with.

The biggest reason I felt unfazed by seeing the movie in color was knowing that I could look up the original to watch in all its gray glory whenever I want. This could be the detail that makes watching the colorized version in 2018 less infuriating than watching it in 1986.

Many movie lovers like to see films, at least for the first time, the way the director intended for them to be seen. I could have watched Night of the Living Dead in color the first time I saw it, but I opted for the original look.

If the internet didn’t exist and I had to watch whatever version was on TV, and that version was the colorized one, I probably would have been bothered by that too.

Luckily the internet does exist, and people have instant access to almost every version of every movie ever made. Modern home media also allows studios to release multiple versions of the same film in one package.

So with all this choice, it makes more sense today to look at the good that can come out of revising old movies.

To continue with Night of the Living Dead, the colorization did at least get me to think about the movie a little differently. The zombies are green in this version, and while that may be the color most people picture zombies as, I didn’t always feel like that’s what they looked like while watching it for the first time.

Though the zombies are walking corpses, the ones in the movie have only been dead for a short amount of time. Bodies that have barely had time to decompose would not suddenly turn green, so the color gives them a different quality than just undead cannibals.

It could even be a hint towards the never-confirmed theory in the plot that the zombie apocalypse was brought on by extreme radiation.

Then again, if I decide I don’t want the zombies to be green, I can just stick to the black and white version of the movie and let them be any other color.

Film revisions can also bring more acute attention to a director’s skill that was always present. Despite it being my favorite film, and being a fan of 3D movies, I hadn’t seen the 3D conversion of Jurassic Park until a few weeks ago. Though I didn’t expect much to change since the movie wasn’t filmed with the intention of being in 3D, the updated version really is beautiful.

The depth emphasizes how Steven Spielberg arranged the scenes like dioramas rather than paintings, with objects and scenery in front of the characters as well as behind them to make the jungle setting really seem dense.

Of course, that density was there in the original version of the movie, but the use of newer technology to make it obvious will keep it in my mind no matter which version I watch from now on.

Other changes made to classic films go beyond visuals and spawn new works of art altogether. One such practice is rescoring movies, which is especially common with silent films.

Movies like Nosferatu and Metropolis only had music soundtracks and these have been rearranged numerous times to include genres from classical to rock to techno music, with each changing the way the movie feels.

Philip Glass, who scored the 1992 horror movie Candyman, wrote an entire score for the 1931 horror movie Dracula.

To a more extreme extent, old movies have been reworked into entirely different entities. For her “Femme Fatale” concert, jazz singer Laura Ellis was edited into various scenes from 50’s film noirs strung together in-between songs to form the show’s narrative.

While this is more of a transformation than an update, it shows that film can be as open to mutations as any other art medium.

No art critic would argue that Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe is a defacement of the original photograph of her. And to jab back at the Gremlins 2 joke, the earliest operas based on Greek myths did change the stories to have happier endings, yet the artistic value in those is not questioned.

While it may have been an annoyance for past generations with fewer resources for movie-watching, the practice of revising films with new technology should not be looked down upon today.

At best, a new version of a movie can bring about a new interpretation or highlight the craftsmanship of the original work. At worst, you can ignore the new version and take comfort knowing that nothing will ever take the original away.