Don’t worship your ‘definitive’ disc, movies were meant to evolve

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Walt Disney Pictures
To Blade Runner fans, 1992’s Director’s Cut is the “definitive” version of the film – even if it isn’t the same as the one that hit theaters in 1982. But playing around with cherished films, is like playing with fire. For every beloved Blade Runner, there are three reviled Star Wars special editions, savaged and spat upon. Fans didn’t merely accuse George Lucas of messing with the original films, they acted like he was drilling right into their skulls and scrambling their original memories.

Technology has made it easier than ever to revisit seemingly “finished” pieces of pop culture, which has created an understandable backlash. After all, it’s only natural to get defensive when a story you hold dear is altered even a little.

Except that it’s not natural at all.

For most of human history, popular stories were never set in stone – even when they were, quite literally, set in stone. The Bible, for example, contains multiple accounts of the same stories, and each major translation further changes details. Fairy tales got rebooted every time they were retold. What we think of as “the complete works of Shakespeare” are really just a “best guess” as to what Shakespeare really wanted audiences to see. A trip to Florence reveals not one statue of David, but four. Later editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit diverge from the earlier editions in many notable ways. For thousands of years, stories were living, breathing entities that morphed and changed with each retelling.

And then came home video.

Hands off my memories!

Videotapes accomplished what the Gutenberg press could not. They fostered a sense of “completeness.” Movies were no longer something we hoped to catch in theaters or on TV. They were readily accessible, at our fingertips, any time of day. The home-video versions were the ones that got tattooed onto our retinas. They became, by default, the definitive versions, even more so than the theatrical cuts.

All it took was one technological innovation to upend thousands of years of narrative evolution.

Physical media took the ephemeral nature of film and gave it solid form. Physical media also gave Hollywood studios a new revenue stream for their product, essentially birthing the current “franchise”-based mindset of movie-making. (Because those are the kind of movies that are most profitable after they leave theaters.)

For most of human history, popular stories were never set in stone.

But physical media is also nearing extinction, and the age of the “definitive” version is coming to an end with it. It’s been a while since we’ve had a widespread “[Famous filmmaker from the ‘80s] is ruining our childhood!” moment on the Internet. (Except “ruining” was not the R-word many hyperbolic online commenters chose for Star Wars and Indiana Jones.)

Is it because, as a society, we’ve finally accepted our fate as powerless consumers consigned to whatever fate billionaires kick down to us? Nah. We’re just entering the streaming era. Theatrical movies are expected to get some sort of marketable alteration as soon as they leave theaters, as that’s the best way to coerce people into buying Blu-rays or paying to “own” digital downloads. Changes are now happening so quickly, it’s hard to keep up.

Remakes and reboots are also becoming more common. Contrary to popular belief, the Hollywood studio system has never been about originality. It’s always been in the business of “adaptation.” The only difference between now and 50 years ago is that movies, TV shows, and comic books, have replaced novels, plays, and radio shows as the most common sources of material.

Blade Runner
Blade Runner Warner Bros.

In a way, after a generation of rigidity in our most popular narratives (films), we’re finally on the verge of re-experiencing them the way our ancestors did. Stories are getting their fluidity back. Filmmakers are getting the freedom to release multiple versions of the same movie within just a few months of each. New filmmakers are getting more chances to put their spin on pre-existing work. Fans are now able to get into the game, too, putting their own marks on their favorite franchises.

Sure, as individuals, we’ll always have our preferred versions of movies, the same way we all have our favorite renditions of songs that have been re-recorded over and over again. But just like music, it’s going to get harder and harder to nail down one version that everyone will agree is the best. If, in 20 years, J.J. Abrams releases a special edition of The Force Awakens, will the reaction be as strong as when Lucas re-edited and re-released A New Hope? (A title which wasn’t even on the 1977 theatrical release, by the way, it was added in 1981.) Will 20 and 30-somethings of the near future be screaming: “J.J. Abrams Cosbyed my childhood!” at the thought of whatever alterations have been made?

Probably not. Tech took away the flexibility that human storytelling has had since time immemorial. And it’s in the process of giving it back.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Movies & TV

From premiere date to footage: Here's all we have on 'Game of Thrones' season 8

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable, if you don't mind spoilers.
Movies & TV

First footage from 'John Wick: Chapter 3' has Keanu Reeves running for his life

John Wick: Chapter 3 -- Parabellum, the third installment of the wildly successful action series that stars Keanu Reeves as a deadly assassin forced out of retirement, hits theaters in May 2019. Here's everything we know about it so far.
Movies & TV

Curious about 'Spider-Man: Far From Home'? Here's everything we know so far

Despite some mystery surrounding Spider-Man's future after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Far From Home swings into theaters in July 2019. Here's everything we know about the movie so far.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw,’ ‘IO,’ Fyre Festival, and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's trailers for a Fyre Festival documentary, as well as Velvet Buzzsaw and Iron Sky: The Coming Race.

Stream UFC Fight Night 143 for free with this ESPN+ trial offer

If you're looking for a way to watch UFC Fight Night 143 and other upcoming sporting events on mobile, then ESPN's premium mobile service has you covered, and you can even take advantage of a seven-day trial to stream it totally free.
Movies & TV

How much does Netflix cost? Here’s a pricing breakdown of its plans

Wondering how much a Netflix subscription costs? You're not the only one. That's why we put together a quick-hit guide covering all the Netflix plans, whether you want to opt for 4K streaming or a disc-based option.
Home Theater

Not chill: Netflix is hiking prices across all its tiers

Netflix has to get the billions of dollars it's spending on new content from somewhere. The streaming giant announced price hikes across the board, raising its monthly rates between $1 and $2 per tier in the next few months.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Movies & TV

NBCUniversal will launch its own streaming service in 2020

NBCU is prepping a streaming service filled with its original content for a debut sometime next year, meaning that Michael, Dwight, and the rest of the Scranton crew might be moving to a new home.
Home Theater

Sling TV offers free shows, a la carte subscription channels to Roku users

If you are among a select group of Roku users, Sling TV has added free TV shows and the option to subscribe to individual channels without having to subscribe to the company's base level of channels.

Break out the Wii: ‘Just Dance’ movie reportedly in the works

Sony's Screen Gems has reportedly acquired the film rights to the Just Dance video game series from Ubisoft, which previously helped bring the game Assassin's Creed to the big screen in 2016.
Movies & TV

Apple’s first original feature film reunites Bill Murray, Sofia Coppola

The Lost in Translation team of Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray will reunite with their A Very Murray Christmas collaborator Rashida Jones for On the Rocks, Apple and studio A24's first official feature together.
Movies & TV

You can get a screaming deal on LG OLED TVs just in time for the Super Bowl

LG is offering steep discounts on its critically acclaimed OLED TV models just in time for the Super Bowl, letting discerning viewers watch their favorite athletes with higher picture quality than ever.
Movies & TV

Jason Reitman’s ‘Ghostbusters’ sequel already has a creepy teaser trailer

Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, has secretly co-written a follow-up to the 1984 supernatural comedy. Filming begins this summer, but it's not clear if the original Ghostbusters will reprise their roles.