Should you download ”Attack of the Clones”?
I downloaded ”Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” over the weekend. The movie doesn’t come out until Thursday, but two pirated versions of George Lucas’ latest film appeared online late last week. And anyone with access to a peer-to-peer file-sharing network (KaZaa, Hotline, Morpheus) can do the same thing I did on Hotline.
Movie pirates aren’t exactly a subtle lot. When I logged on to look for ”Attack of the Clones” on Saturday, I instantly found a half-dozen file swappers proudly advertising copies of the film. Some people were offering the movie for free. Others required membership in their club, which could be bought with a credit card or bartered by illicitly uploading a piece of software into their collection.
The differences between those two options seems minor: Piracy is illegal no matter which way you download it. But it turns out there’s a huge ideological schism between the freeloaders and the pirates who steal for pay. Some pirates believe all media should be free of charge, that it’s just the natural evolution of the digital age (they also believe in paying artists for their work, just not in the way it’s done today).
Those pirates rail against anyone who asks for payment in exchange for illegally copied movies. These media rebels remind me of Captain Blood, that swashbuckling Errol Flynn character who leads an uprising in an English colony, takes to plundering the high seas, and then returns to the island to be installed as the new governor.
Today’s digital swashbucklers haven’t had their triumphant finale yet. But they are amassing an impressive army of supporters. Countless people lined up online for their free copy of ”Attack of the Clones.” The wait was so long on one server I visited that only people with super-speedy Internet connections would have any chance of downloading the entire movie in a reasonable amount of time.
To avoid the delay, I paid $5 for access to a faster server with fewer people on it, which should have shaved a few hours off the time it took to download the film. Even so, it took more than 24 hours to grab just the first half of the movie using a high-speed cable modem. And partway through transferring it, the guy who ran the server announced over the chat transom that he was now offering a different version of the pirated film which was of much higher quality. One copy of ”Clones” appears to have been taken from someone’s seat using a handheld, while the other looks like it was captured on a tripod-mounted camera positioned in a projection booth. I decided to grab one half of each version.
But it hardly made a difference in the larger scheme of things. Anyone who watches a downloaded copy of ”Attack of the Clones” on their computer without first seeing it in a theater is robbing themselves of a good time. I was fortunate enough to see a media screening of ”Episode II” early last week. The storyline, which has been available in bookstores as a novelization for weeks, doesn’t contain any great secrets about the true nature of the Force and how you can harness its potential. It’s the special effects that make this movie — and ”Clones” offers one dazzling scene after another.
If the pirated copies were direct digital transfers, it would be a different story. When a movie is ripped from a DVD, for example, it can be burned right back onto a disc, slotted into a DVD player, and emerge looking exactly like the original.
But these crappy copies of ”Episode II” come from someone’s videocam. The justification for watching the low-quality version of the film, which I read on message boards while waiting for ”Episode II” to download, is that not everyone can get to theaters for one reason or another. But I seriously doubt that all those hundreds of downloaders are stuck in hospital beds, or living in remote parts of the country hours from the nearest movie screen.
My guess is that most everyone copying ”Attack of the Clones” is also planning to see it in theaters. They just want the bragging rights, the ability to say, ”I got to see ‘Star Wars’ before anyone else and without camping out in front of the theater like ALL THOSE GEEKS.” And if you consider that ”Attack of the Clones” is a two-hour-and-15-minute toy, that logic makes sense…in a 12-year-old kind of way.