July 16, 2006

You Will Watch This Nudity, And You Will Like It

Last week, a court judge ruled that companies that resell or rent custom DVDs that have been scrubbed of potentially offensive content (i.e. profanity, nudity, etc.) are violating U.S. copyright laws, and are therefore illegal. That means that companies such as Clean Flicks are out of a job. As I understand Hollywood's argument, they have their panties all in a bunch because they dislike "other people" (e.g. non-Hollywood types) mucking around with their "art". The studios and directors say they made a film a certain way, and by golly, nobody is going to sell a different version to the public. Nevermind the fact that movies viewed on regular television usually begin with those magic words "This film has been edited for content." Or that films shown on airline flights are typically edited to be "kid friendly". Or that six months after the DVD release of a particular blockbuster film, a special "Director's Cut" version of the DVD is also released. It's not like companies like Clean Flicks were ripping the studios off by buying just one retail DVD, making their edits, and then turning around and selling hundreds of their own custom copies like some Asian bootlegger. No, if a customer wanted a scrubbed DVD, said customer must first buy the DVD through proper channels like a good consumer, mail said DVD to the scrubbing company, and five days later they get a scrubbed version of the movie in their mailbox. Hollywood got their money for the DVD purchase, and the scrubbing company got a small profit for their service. And little Junior gets to watch "Titanic" without seeing Kate Winslet naked. So what's the harm in that, right? Apparently, a lot, or so ruled Judge Matsch.

Eventually, I believe Hollywood will catch on. They are already championing the Clear Play technology, which allows a special DVD player to filter original store-bought DVDs "on the fly", based on parameters you set. It was not targeted in the recent court ruling, because their technology does not involve creating an altered copy of a movie. I have not seen it work in action, but apparently it has a fine level of granularity regarding the level of filtering. I guess that means you can set your "vulgarity" filter to mute out the big profanities like the F-bomb, but keep the "lesser" ones such as "hell" or "damn". Or throw them all out. Or keep 'em in. You have the power. Although I have a feeling if you turned all the filters on while watching something like "South Park: The Movie", the screen would be blank and the audio muted for practically the entire film :) Heck, the DVD player would probably explode from a nervous breakdown.

Here's an interesting scenario I discussed with some movie friends a few years ago. When I watch "Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope" on DVD at my house, I always fast forward through that horrible new Jabba/Han Solo scene. Every. Single. Time. I have effectively "edited" the film. If I had the technology and time, perhaps I would burn my own version with that scene excised. While I was at it, I would also make sure that Han shoots first, like he's supposed to. Perhaps I would tinker even more. Maybe I feel that the camera lingers just a little too long on that severed alien arm that Obi-Wan cuts off in the cantina. So I shorten the scene, or perhaps remove it altogether. Maybe I object to Obi-Wan's use of an explicative when he tells Luke that his uncle "was afraid he might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade", so I edit the audio track to remove this "offensive" profanity. I remake the movie into a form that suits my tastes and needs, burn a new disc, throw away the Lucas version, and play my "vastly superior" version in my home from now on. Do I have the right to do this? Sure, I made the edit primarily for my own viewing pleasure, but what if I show this version to my friends when they come over to watch "A New Hope" on my jumbo widescreen television? What if some of them like my "improvements", and they ask me to burn a disc for them as well? They've already bought the Lucas version legally from a store, so it's not like they're getting it for free off the internet, or buying some three dollar bootleg copy available on a New York street corner. Let's take it even further. Suppose one of my rich friends with waaaay too much time on his hands decides that he wants to be in the movie. He has taught himself CGI modeling, and purchased all the cool software that the pros use for his dual 8.6Ghz Mac. He creates a few of his own TIE-Fighter and X-Wing battle scenes, that actually look as good as the stuff Lucas' ILM created. He also films himself as an X-Wing pilot, combines it with his custom CGI footage, and creates this fantastic new five-minute sequence, which he inserts seamlessly into the Lucas version. To someone not familiar with the original 1977 version, they wouldn't have a clue that the film had been modified. Is this legal? Should this be legal? Could he show his modified Star Wars to other friends and relatives? What if they liked it so much, they also wanted a copy (to replace their existing ones, of course, so nobody can cry about pirating). Can he do that? Imagine hundreds of people creating their own edited versions of Star Wars. They are duplicated, and over time, distributed to friends, families, and fans. Ten years later, when you are your buddies are hanging at a friend's house watching Episode IV, will you all be scratching your heads, wondering "Where the heck is the scene with the X-Wing pilot Jimbo?", or "I could have swore Obi-Wan said a different line there!". All because their are hundreds, if not thousands, of different edited version of Star Wars out there.

July 01, 2006

See You Later, Space Cowboy...

I'm not what you would call a huge anime fan, but I do like to dabble in a good anime series everynow and then. Of late, I've been enjoying the six-disc DVD set of the anime series Cowboy Bebop. Yeah, I know. Don't let the somewhat silly title turn you off. Anyway, I was watching "session" 22, when suddenly the series took a quite unexpected twist with the departure of two key characters. Then, over a lengthy montage of poignant images, this incredible song, totally perfect for the moment, started playing. I wondered why it had never received any major radio airplay, because it rocks. The song is "Call Me, Call Me" performed by Steve Conte of the Seatbelts. Give a listen to this short snippet, and see if you don't agree.