Why the "Special" Edition 25th Anniversary DVD wasn't...


I discovered this German article about the DVD release, written by reporter Joerg Isert:


Unfortunately, it's in German! However, after I contacted him, Mr. Isert kindly agreed to send me a translated version. He also gave me some additional details, with a few things which weren't included in his original article. Both are below. 


"Shadows of
the past - The "Poltergeist" Controversy: An old dispute leads to a poorly
equipped DVD edition":

by Joerg Isert

Three weeks ago ago it arrived in the USA: 25 years after its premiere the film "Poltergeist" ran again in the cinemas. The re-release served the promotion of a new DVD of the film, which has also been released in Germany. But the "25th anniversary" Special edition isn't very "special". The reason is a controversy, which persists since 1982 and involves the most well-known film director in the world: Steven Spielberg. Since this summer the controversy is on again. On the web, fans were talking, especially at sites such as www.spielbergfilms.com. That is the Website, which the man himself lent a positive word to, saying that "the reporting is accurate and thorough." "Poltergeist" is one of the films which is discussed on the site as on Spielberg's movies. The problem is only the fact that Spielberg did not lead direction here but only served as a producer. The credited director was Tobe Hooper. The focus of "Poltergeist" is the Freeling family, who built their beautiful house on an old cemetery. Immediately disturbed, the spirits kidnap the youngest Freeling daughter into the other world. A parapsychology team arrives to investigate.
That the "Poltergeist" controversy continues 25 years after it's original release can be traced back to the studio which now owns it, Warner Brothers. At the beginning of the year, it was announced that to celebrate the film's anniversary, there would be a two disc set which would likely include: full Making Ofs, feature, memories of actors, interview with crew members, etc. Over the summer many were excited and wanted to find out what exactly it would contain. Finally the announcement was made. Besides the remastered film, there was only to be a two-part documentary about real life ghost hunters. Otherwise nothing else is on the "Special edition". This special edition is not very special.
Fact is: The "Poltergeist 25th Anniversary edition" stinks. Flashback: At the beginning of the 1980s, Steven Spielberg had finished "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and, extremely successfully, had confronted Harrison Ford with a horde of ghosts. But now, Spielberg had a problem: Besides the film "E.T." he had another project in the pipeline, eventually to be called "Poltergeist." According to US trade union rules (DGA), it was however not permitted to direct two films at once. At this point in his career, however, Spielberg was in a hurry. Just before,  he had even finished shooting the first "Indiana Jones" film faster than originally scheduled. In the consequence, Spielberg directed "E.T" himself. With "Poltergeist" he entrusted Tobe Hooper, the young director of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Different sources describe the "Poltergeist" trick as follows: Hooper prepared the scenes; then Spielberg arrived on the set and gave the scenes his final touch. After that, shooting the respective scene started. Authentic is also this history: Hooper cast a certain actor in one of the roles, Spielberg replaced him with another. Spielberg took over the production completely. The producer as a director - and the director as an assistant. Since the double DVD was put on ice, rumors abound. Many "Poltergeist" fans believe: The reason for the poor extras is the old "Who directed Poltergeist" controversy. On www.spielbergfilms.com, an alleged crew member posted for weeks and shined with amazing detailed knowledge.
The basic summary of the postings: "Poltergeist" is a Steven Spielberg film. But there are also other voices: Afterwards Tobe Hooper has claimed to be more firmly in charge than had been assumed. One of those associated with the film and Spielberg who have expressed themselves openly is actress Zelda Rubinstein. In demand, as it was, with Tobe Hooper to work, she says in a current US interview: "During my six filming days I dealt almost exclusively with Spielberg." Rubinstein suggests that Hooper was under the influence of certain "chemical means". If there is a partner in things Steven Spielberg, it is Marvin Levy of Dreamworks. He is the personal spokeman for the director. That the question still contains some explosiveness today is demonstrated by the fact that Levy reacted to a request. "I think the idea of speculation one way or another may have come from a poltergeist that has lodged behind too many film sets trying to bring back or
sustain the true and the untrue." What Levy probably means: Some statements are closer to the truth than others.
Fact is: "Poltergeist" has already cost Steven Spielberg many nerves. After he spoke in 1982 in interviews of his "assumption" of the film, in order to mark another time patronizingly, he said he had helped "Hooper with the direction". Finally, Hooper had enough of it and got legal help. He finally had $15,000 awarded to him as part of a settlement after consulting the DGA. Not only because of the career damaging statements. Another conflict was that Hooper's name appeared clearly smaller in the film's trailer than that of the producer. The height of humiliation for Spielberg: He had to publish an open letter in Hollywood's industry magazine "Variety". From the letter: "Dear Tobe, regrettably parts of the press have misunderstood the rather unique collaboration you had I shared on "Poltergeist." I have appreciated the openness you allowed me as producer and writer to contribute to the film, and the same, you had the liberty to direct "Poltergeist" so wonderfully. With your acceptance of the film script for this really intensive film you accepted a certain vision from the outset. As a director you converted this vision adequately."  And so on.
There are a lot of things that speak for the fact that "Poltergeist" may have been coined/shaped considerably by Spielberg. The film is a successful mix of calm-sensitive and climactic-spectacular moments: The Spielberg Touch. In one scene the main characters watch a classic film called "A Guy named Joe" on TV. That movie Spielberg remade 1990 as "Always". Hooper, however, continued to direct horror films like "Lifeforce" or "Invaders from Mars", but never was able  to reach the quality of "Poltergeist" again. It remains Hoopers biggest success until today.
One could say that the clever Spielberg out-cheated the new generation talent, probably for good. But fact is also: In the paper, Tobe Hooper is the director of Poltergeist. The controversy could have lent itself to exciting material for a double DVD. Warner Home Video consulted both Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper to see if they would like to contribute interviews to the "25th Anniversary" release. Both film producers rejected the offer. At the end the extras originally announced with bass drums and trumpets was given up secretly and quietly. And so, the director-question remains open somehow. But one thing is for sure: The "Poltergeist" DVD is the strangest "Special edition" of the year.
And here's what the author, Mr. Isert, sent me:

David, thanks for asking. I even used some information I read on your - very
accurate - site for my piece. My original idea was to write a commemorative
piece, since "Poltergeist" turns 25 this year. I was always fascinated by that
movie, especially how much it stands out compared to other horror films. While
writing the piece, I learned however that a newly planned DVD edition would not
include any features about the movie itself. So my focus shifted, especially
when I learned that the reason behind the missing specials seems - still - to be
the old who-directed-Poltergeist-controversy.

The original text was much longer. It featured a statement from Warner Germany
regarding the new German DVD, which seems to be the same one as in the US. A
speaker stated that no significant special features were included because of
legal issues. She did not get more specific, so I am not sure if she referred to
the directorial issue. Maybe, maybe not. She also emphasized that the DVD was no
"Special Edition", when I used that term. A questionable objection, when one
thinks of what was was originally announced.

Apart from that, the text included a statement from Richard Edlund, whom I spoke
to. His answer was sadly cut from the article. As far as I understood,
however, he was interviewed for the DVD. When I told him that it seemed like the
material shot was not included, he mused that it might have to do with the
directorial issue. He was, however, gentleman enough to not officially comment
on his view regarding the director-matter. So we should leave it at that.

Spielberg's personal speaker Marvin Levy was also so kind to answer a request by
me. He would not get into any specific detail, which I think is understandable
from his point of view - since that issue still seems to be legally difficult.
The original official statements he gave me were these:

I think the idea of speculation one way or another may have come from a
poltergeist that has lodged behind too many film sets trying to bring back or
sustain the true and the untrue.
On the matter of participation in this new DVD release, I am not aware that
there was ever a request for Steven to do anything new. Even if there was, he
has rarely, if ever, done a new interview for any of his films except for some
of those classic films he has directed such as the upcoming " Close Encounters
of the Third Kind. " or a few years ago " E.T. ". On those that he has not
directed, he always defers to the director.

I don't have an answer on the question of whether there might be some future
features about the movie because that would be up to Warner Bros. at some point
down the road. Regarding where "Poltergeist " is in his heart, I only know that
he is pleased that it is coming out now in high definition DVD. Films that are
"close to his heart " are those such as "E.T.", " Close Encounters, " "
Schindler' List, " and " Saving Private Ryan" - all of which have a strong
emotional tug. There are many, and I have to think "Poltergeist" is among them,
that he is proud of for the overall creativity, film-making, and success.

So the directorial question remains open at least for now. If you are interested
in my personal point of view: I think that some elements of the movie were
Hooper's. But overall, "Poltergeist" seems more to be Spielberg's than Hooper's
film. The movies Spielberg made at the end of 70s and beginning of the 80s -
"Raiders", "E.T." and "Indiana 2", were his best in my opinion. Might have to do
with the fact that I was a kid at that time, but they all feel very special. And
exactly the same kind of "spielbergian" feeling I get when watching

The movies Hooper made afterwards are fun, but dumb. And they do, at least for
me, not produce any kind of a special feeling. But it might be that the work he
did on the movie is recognized too little. For sure is: As a producer, Spielberg
has more than one time brought out the best from some young directors - think of
Zemeckis' "Back to the Future" and Joe Dante's "Gremlins". In the end: Although
the documentarian work you do on your - great! - website makes it very clear
that "Poltergeist" was a problematic collaboration, that collaboration has
nevertheless lead to an all-time-horror movie classic.


David's Postscript: Some time ago I received this interesting email message from an anonymous tipster:
Lets just say I'm in the same boat as you in terms of disappointment of the featurettes that were planned but cut - what was to be a grand assortment of bonus features turned into 2 15 minute featurettes loosely affiliated with Poltergeist. The short answer of what happened: Spielberg, Hooper, and Craig T Nelson had no interest in it and the studio quickly lost interest as a result.
I also received this claim from someone else:
In the past, Mr. Spielberg had been hesitant to allow a Special Edition because of the continued sensitivity regarding his "shadow directing" the film.
"BenThere" over at SpielbergFilms.com speculates that there were probably various teams of lawyers who had to sign off on what actually ended up on the final DVD release. It's interesting to note that in the end credits for the two part documentary on the DVD, both Spielberg and Hooper were listed in the "Thanks To" section, along with Richard Edlund, even though none of them actually appeared in the doc (although as Joerg points out above, apparently Richard Edlund was interviewed).
Below: Notice the two different box covers for the "Special Edition" DVD. The first version released online called it the "25th Anniversary Edition." Later, this was changed to reading simply "Restored and Remastered." Also, notice how the back cover says it would include the theatrical trailer. This too, ended up not being included on the final release.