One of the most intriguing and talented movie people I have ever met was Dan O’Bannon. Dan, of course, wrote the screenplay for ALIEN and directed RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD to name only a couple of his accomplishments. While those were still just a twinkle in his eye, he teamed up with John Carpenter to create DARK STAR, the little 16mm student film that wouldn’t stay a little 16mm student film and became a full-fledged 35mm film with a real (though modest) theatrical release…it has since become one of the most beloved cult-films of all time, ever to grace a VHS cassette or DVD.
I met Dan sometime around 1983. He called me one day out of the blue, and told me that our VHS version of DARK STAR sucked… I almost hung up on him. But then, he offered to help us produce a better representation of his film, which we could then re-release as a “Special Edition”. Then we had a particularly nice conversation, during which I asked “what is a Special Edition?” (As you remember this was during the time way before the DVD format, which has since spawned thousands of “special editions”.) He said, “just stick with me kid, and you’ll learn”. He started by offering us use of his own personal 35mm print, from which we could create a higher quality video master. He then offered to supervise the telecine transfer at a Hollywood lab to produce a scene-to-scene, color corrected, and wide screen master. I said, “widescreen master”. Up to that time video companies routinely, nay religiously, produced only full-frame (4×3) or pan and scanned masters for release to Blockbuster and thousands of other video rental stores across America. That’s just the way it was done, and I can tell you his insistence on doing “widescreen” was quite a revelation to me. Oh I knew about wide screen movies: Cinemascope, Vitatscope, Cinerama, VistaVision, etc. etc., but TVs were still 4×3 cubes and nobody was much in the mood to fit a 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 image into the boxy TV screen. There would be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Where did the rest of the picture go???
Dan was trying to introduce a new home video concept to me….that of presenting the filmmaker’s vision, or better yet, remaining true to the filmmaker’s vision on a VHS cassette. I felt like one of the apes who suddenly came upon the obelisk in “2001: A Space Odyssey”… Ta Da! Why didn’t I think of that?
… and CUT!
Return Next Week to this Theatre to see the next chapter of Confessions of a Minor Movie Mogul!