As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m a pretty big movie buff. And when I really dig a movie, I’ll try to find out as much about it as I can. I’ll follow up on the cast and crew, read blogs about the film, etc, etc. The one thing I always love doing is watching “alternate” cuts of a film. For the most part, these tend to be called the “Director’s Cut” even when the director never really had anything to do with them. In honesty, some of these extended versions are nothing more than a money grab. A way to shoe horn a few extra minutes into the film that were cut for time or didn’t work and promote it so you’ll go see it or buy it a second time.
But sometimes the cuts are really different than their theatrical release counterparts. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad. Just different. There have been a few occasions where you realize, “That’s interesting and kind of neat but I completely understand why it was deleted from the film”. But every once and a while, there’s a cut that just has to be seen and that’s what I want to give you today.
And yes, for long time readers, Ridley Scott does come up twice… but so does James Cameron. Also, a quick note if you haven’t seen any of these films in the first place, there will be spoilers (kind of hard not have them when you’re making comparisons).
Payback: Straight Up The Director’s Cut
Payback was a film I enjoyed when it was in theaters. This was a pre-scandal Mel Gibson in a great action/thriller/comedy that had the comedic beats in the right places as well as bits of action and story. It was solid. It wasn’t really the same tone as Richard Stark’s The Hunter, the novel which the film was based off of, but it was good. Then in 2006, the director’s cut was released. The best way to describe this new version of Payback is that it is the same actors in the same plot but a completely different film. The smirking narration has been taken out, the colour scale of the picture has been changed, the story’s more streamlined (unlike other director’s cuts, this one is actually shorter then the original), and the film has a harder edge more in line with Stark’s novels. It is one of my favorite modern crime films and should be viewed.
Aliens: Special Edition
While not as night and day as Payback, the director’s cut for James Cameron’s Aliens is a great example how a whole lot of little moments can make a great film even better. Not a lot has been changed in terms of action scenes but what has been added is a few more character beats that I love. We see that the Alien ship was explored by Newt’s parents and that Ripley’s daughter died while she was floating around for all those years after the first film. It seems like they are small details but these short moments add so much to the characters, especially the relationship between Newt and Ripley. Oddly enough, this also adds to the third film and the Ripley character’s emotional detachment.
The Abyss: Director’s Cut / Extended Edition
Out of all of Cameron’s films, the one I love the most is The Abyss: Director’s Cut. When I first saw the film, I liked it but thought it was missing something. Apparently it was: approximately 28 minutes of footage. Despite having final cut on the original theatrical film, Cameron was pressured to get the running time down (which he did only to have Dances with Wolves come out around the same time with a longer running time and win more awards and box office dollars). But with these cuts restored, the movie is not only better but also makes more sense. We finally see what the NTIs are capable of and despite the fact that they could wipe us off the map, why they don’t. In a weird way, this extended edition shows how love is one of the greatest powers in the universe.
Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut
Sitting at 46 minutes longer than the original theatrical edition, KoH’s director’s cut puts a lot more meat on your plate. There are added subplots including one regarding Sybilla’s son which makes the film make a lot more sense in the long run. It’s a film that didn’t get a lot of great reviews in it’s theatrical presence but this director’s cut makes the film whole and well worth the the three hour running time.
Highlander 2: Renegade Edition / Director’s Cut / Special Edition
I know you’re probably saying, “Isn’t Highlander 2 terrible? How could a director’s cut make this piece of shit make any more sense?” And to you I answer “Yes” and “It doesn’t”. But I’ve included it here because it’s an interesting exercise and will show you that sometimes, no matter what lengths you go to in changing a film, a turd is still a turd. Even if it’s lemon scented. In the original version of Highlander 2, we discovered that all of the immortals were actually aliens who were banished to Earth for some sort of rebellion. At this point, most fans of the original film threw up their hands, said “Fuck this shit”, and went home. But a few years later, a director’s cut was released exorcising the alien plot from the film… which somehow made it longer. Even though they changed the recipe, the film still comes out like garbage. But from a film fan’s perspective, it’s an interesting watch, especially with a few drinks and friends. That’s how I did it, and I even documented it.
Watchmen: Ultimate Cut
I was quite happy with the theatrical cut of the film. The director’s cut that was released on DVD shortly afterwards didn’t really add much but the Ultimate Cut is a beast unto itself. If you will recall, at the time of the film’s release there was a bunch of other Watchmen related stuff that came out around the same time, including an animated version of “Tales of the Black Freighter“, the pirate comic that is prominently featured in the original Watchmen comic book as a mirror to the events occurring in the main story. What the Ultimate cut has done is taken the director’s cut of the film and reintegrated the Black Freighter scenes more or less where they should be. While this cut may not be the best (I’m one of the few people who actually really enjoyed Watchmen in theatres), it’s still really good and it’s something different.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Many of you youngsters might not know that when Blade Runner first came out, it had a snarky narration from Harrison Ford. Due the heavy presence of Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut on DVD, what you might not know is that it isn’t exactly a director’s cut. The previous version was based off of a work print version that had been circulating and viewed as well as from Ridley Scott’s notes but he didn’t have a lot of say over it. Released in 2007, The Final Cut is Scott’s final say on the film. It’s really a masterwork. There are a ton of changes throughout so if you really want to spend the time and effort, track down the five disc release on DVD they did in 2007 which contains the work print, the theatrical version, the international version, the director’s cut and the final cut and you can go through the many versions and watch how the film mutates.
There are a few more beyond these worth checking out like Superman 2: The Donner Cut and Cameron’s Terminator 2 Director’s Cut but I figured I’d start you off with a few of my favourites.
Cause if you’re going to geek out about movies, you might as well GEEK HARD!