Some people look through their old photo albums and feel the pleasant pang of nostalgia. George Lucas looks at his old movies and thinks, yuck — these shots could have been so much better.

That revisionist ethos drove the writer-director to spiff up the Star Wars ”special editions” released last year. And according to spokesperson Lynne Hale, when Lucas heard that Universal Studios Home Video would issue a 25th-anniversary edition of his low-budget paean to early-’60s car culture, American Graffiti, he got the urge to airbrush the past again. ”That opening shot always really bugged him,” says Hale.

Glance at earlier video editions of Graffiti and you’ll see why. The credits unfold over a grainy photo of Mel’s Drive-In, a compromise required after a camera malfunction scotched a better shot. The sky is washed-out, making it hard to tell that the time of day is sunset — a detail crucial to establishing the movie’s dusk-to-dawn time frame.

For the new tape, laserdisc, and DVD editions, Lucas had his special-effects experts at Industrial Light & Magic execute a ”sky replacement.” Out went the drab pale blue, along with a building in the background; in went a gorgeously glowing vista — a still photo enhanced via computer.

Purists might quibble, but Lucas himself says, ”My feeling is, an artist is allowed to work on his projects until such time as he dies.” And to use the film’s own version of the sock-hop era argot, man, that new shot looks bitchin’. On the DVD — a disc that leaves the wide-screen and pan-and-scan VHS editions in the dust by including a terrific 78-minute making-of documentary (cut to 10 minutes on tape) with reminiscences by Lucas, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Ron Howard, and the rest of the cast — the revised shot has a truly poetic effect. The hell with purity; this is a welcome grace note to an exhilarating piece of filmmaking.

American Graffiti
  • Movie
  • 110 minutes