Edited for content

I can watch favorite scenes from a movie many times without getting tired of it, much like many people listen to their favorite songs again and again.  This usually happens in the evening when I’m winding down from the day. Or, in the case of recent events, winding down from the week. (I think we all know what I’m talking about.) So when something in one of these movies is different, I tend to notice.

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I was flipping through the movie channels late last week to see what was on that was worth spending a few minutes with and came across the 1996 movie Executive Decision starring Kurt Russell and Halle Berry. If you know the movie, you’ll remember that the movie is about a group of radical Islamic terrorists bad guys who hijack a plane from Europe and plan to wipe out Washington, DC with some stolen nerve gas they have fitted with a bomb on the plane.

“Wait,” you may be thinking, “why did you strikethrough the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorists’ and replace it with ‘bad guys’? The movie was about terrorists of the Muslim faith. Wasn’t it?”

Well, yes. And, apparently, no.

The version I saw way back when and, as far as I can remember, ever since was about terrorists striking out against “the infidel” in the name of Allah and Islam. It just so happened that the scene I stopped on, where a member of the team that hijacked the airliner is confronting the team leader, is one where they spoke of Allah, and Islam, and the infidel. Except in this version the reference was not to “Allah” but to “Jaffa”, the organization’s leader, and the reference was to the “enemy” and not the “infidel”.

What the…?

It would be easy to think, especially with the discourse of recent history, that someone somewhere had recently decided to edit the movie to remove the religious references. (An interesting side note: Marla Maples Trump appeared in the film.) But a little digging took me to movie-censorship.com (man, I love the Web) and some insight into what is probably happening here:

„Executive Decision“ was at first released in Germany and the UK in an adapted, pre-censored version. Probably this also concerns other European countries and maybe Australia too (Caution: was not checked, but it’s rather likely. If you have Infos please leave a comment). Many references to the Islamic-fundamentalistic background of the terrorists were deleted in this pre-censored version. The UK version moreover contains some further cuts due to violence. The old US version was uncut.

By this time, the movie has been released on Blu-ray in many countries, in the USA too. But it seems that Warner used the old pre-censored master for the BD. This master is the source for all Blu-rays worldwide. So the cut version was released in the USA for the first time.

Though I’m not really sure what they mean by “pre-censored”, it appears that this version I saw is, in fact, the version released back in 1996 in Europe. Which leads to a whole bunch of other questions, such as, “Why did Warner use these old pre-censored masters for the BluRay instead of the masters from the US release?” I’m sure there is a good answer somewhere.

My point in all of this is…. I’m not sure what my point is, really. It all started because I noticed something different from what I was expecting. In fact, when I first noticed it I wasn’t sure. And if I hadn’t had the DVR, closed captioning*, and, ultimately, the Web, I might have just let it go, chalked it up to a faulty memory. And I think that maybe that is the point.

If you notice something that doesn’t seem right, for whatever reason, take the time to understand why you think it seems wrong. Take the time to understand what is going on. Pay attention to what is happening around you and be willing to question those things that don’t make sense, or contradict your expectations.

* Though I knew that what the actors were saying was not what I remembered, I really had no way to confirm it. Except for the fact that the closed captions** in the broadcast had not been changed, and reflected exactly what I remembered. Which raises a whole ‘nother train of thought about dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s when you are making changes in a complex environment. 

** We’ve had closed captioning enabled on all of our TVs since the mid-90’s. Did you know that the HDMI protocol doesn’t support the CC signal? 

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Are you just acting, or do you really know what you are doing?

The Ultimate Matrix CollectionI love the Matrix movies. All three of them. (Four if you count Animatrix.) As someone interested in learning and knowledge management, I find the whole idea of being able to simply download knowledge and really, truly learn how to do something very cool. Need to know how to fly a helicopter off a roof and across the city? There’s an app for that.

Compare this to the process that the actors went through to be able to provide convincing performances of these skills.  The actors trained for several months in order to obtain a sufficient level of physical readiness, then learned some basic martial arts skills. Hong Kong director and fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping created the fight sequences, which the actors then learned.

From a knowledge management perspective, this is an excellent comparison of tacit vs. explicit knowledge.

The fight choreographers developed the fight scenes, then made the “knowledge” of the fight (in this case the choreography) explicit so the actors could “learn” the fight. But, and here is the important part, the actors did not learn “how to fight” but rather “how to perform the fight” for the film. They were acting on explicit knowledge, but it never really became “tacit.”

On the other hand, the stunt men portraying the bad guys obviously had the tacit knowledge of how to fight – you can see it in how they carry themselves and the weapons. For them, it was a matter of taking the new choreography and incorporating it into what they already knew.

From a learning perspective this shows the difference between what Carol Dweck refers to as performance goals and learning goals. Quoted in Dan Pink‘s new book Drive Dweck says, “Both goals are entirely normal and nearly universal, and both can fuel achievement.”

Inside the Matrix, the goals are learning goals. The characters need to actually learn the skills they need. For the actors, the goals were performance goals. Not what you’d call easy, but much easier than actually learning the martial arts and engaging in fights with other masters.

In your job, are you  an  “actor”, trying to provide a performance that follows the script and meets the approval of “the audience.” Or are you a master, continually learning and improving and getting done what needs to get done?

Is any project ever really finished?

Earlier this year, I came across Michael Rubin‘s book Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolutionat my local St. Louis County Library branch. What an unbelievable find of a book. In some great stories, and lots of detail, Rubin tells the early history of what has become the LucasFilm empire, not to mention the birth of Pixar and the evolution of digital film-making that can be found on any new Apple Macintosh computer.

More to the point of this post, though, is that the book explains Lucas’ approach to making – and in the case of Star Wars, tinkering with – movies, exemplified by the following quote:

A movie is never finished, only abandoned.

Back in the spring of ’05, during spring break, my then 12 year old son made it a point to watch all of the Star Wars DVDs that were then available, including Episodes I (The Phantom Menace), II (Attack of the Clones), and the original trilogy. To make sure he was up to speed for the upcoming release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, he also bought and watched (several times!) the animated Clone Wars Vol. 1. Needless to say, when he was watching when I was home I sat down and watched with him.

As we watched some of the original trilogy, Ian asked what it was like to see the originals in the theater. In time, the conversation wound its way to the special editions of the movies in theaters, then the re-release on VHS. As we watched the DVDs, I would tell Ian where something was different, where things were added from the original to the Special Editions. Even I was caught by surprise at the end of Return of the Jedi; I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, suffice it to say that the special edition was tweaked just a bit for the DVD version, so there are now 3 different versions of Return of the Jedi. (And yes, I have all three versions.)

Though it is written as, and meant to be, a history, Droidmaker is an excellent – if long – case study on how to bring your vision to life. The conventional wisdom about LucasFilm seems to be one of an easy road, things that just fell into place to create this great success. Would you be surprised to learn that The Empire Strikes Back almost didn’t happen? I sure was.

I think we have all at some point “abandoned” projects, not because we thought we were finished but because someone – maybe us, maybe someone else – said it was time to stop. Some deadlines are hard, and you don’t have any choice but to deliver what you have. For example:

Though Episode II was shot entirely digitally, it still had to be transferred to film for display in theaters. This meant that the “final” edit had to be complete about 2 weeks before release date for printing and distribution. It was printed and distributed, but Lucas wasn’t really finished with the film and continued to edit a final final cut right up until release, when the digital version was distributed to the few theaters in the country that have digital projection. The vast majority of people that saw the movie in theaters did not see the “final” version of the film (which, by the way, is the version that is on the DVD.)

I’m not sure what my point is, if there is one, in this rambling post. On the one hand, there is the desire to have your art (and if the result of our work is not art, what is the point) truly reflect your vision for it, to make it as complete as possible. On the other hand is the practical reality that dictates to us that at some point we have to stop, whether we want to or not. And right in the middle is that nagging question, “Is any project ever really finished?”

Just something to think about as this Monday comes to a close.