Sometimes a director's toiling turns the original into a different, less respectable picture.
Here are few films we feel have not been positively served by the director's cut.
Movies Ruined by Their Director’s Cuts
When we think of director’s cuts, we imagine our favorite storytellers trying to impart their tales to us with one arm tied behind their backs. A number of factors can go into a director not having final say on the finished product, due to either relinquishing final cut for more money on the playing field or a suit standing over the director monitoring the Moviola in the editing room. Censorial filtration of films before they’re allowed into the multiplexes, either due to ratings or negative test audience reactions, is another commercial factor involved in the making of every film we see. In the business of filmmaking, directors have come to expect compromises to their visions, some greater than others. A director’s cut, however, is usually borne out of instances when the film which went out into theaters the first time around wasn’t quite how its creators envisioned it. Nine times out of ten, the filmmaker knows far more about how his story should be told than the bigwigs financing and releasing them. But sometimes, there’s the rare occasion when the powers that be were right the first time, and allowing an artist to run wild in the editing room isn’t always to a film’s benefit. With this list, here are a number of films that we feel were actually damaged by unnecessary tinkering or extensions by what could be characterized as counterproductive self-indulgence.
We’ve heard of someone having a “hot streak” or being “on a roll.” Steven Spielberg had such a streak that began with Jaws in 1975 and ended with Always in 1989. Dario Argento had a similar streak, but with fewer films; beginning in 1975 with Deep Red, a giallo mystery phenomenon that began to popularize the Italian style in the States, and stretching through a slew of visual masterpieces like Suspiria, Tenebre, and Inferno. What makes this case unique, is that Argento managed to keep his streak alive even in the film that broke it… if you saw the film as he intended it.
Opera is the story of a young singer (Cristina Marsillach) who is apparently so damn hot that she’ll drive people to rampaging homicide. In fact, she’s so hot that William McNamara had his voice dubbed to be much deeper and more seductive just to keep her attention while he’s putting on his snazzy leather belt. The killer’s ways of grabbing her gaze are much more… subtle? He tapes needles under her eyelids so she can’t blink while he guts her friends and associates like wild animals in a Deodato movie. These murders are shot and cut with such fervent viscera that they could almost exist as independent snuff pieces, if not for the emotional center provided by Marsillach’s performance. We, like her, are the captive audience. Even when Argento cuts to stomach-churning POV shots like a pair of fabric sheers cutting into a windpipe, we can’t look away. There is one set piece involving a peep hole and a telephone that proves he still had the stuff—it’s downright worthy of applause.
The version of Opera that American audiences received in 1987 is one of the few documented cases of studio interference that actually resulted in a superior product. Although cut down from 107 to 88 minutes for its US release, most of the cuts made were for gore and violence, and didn’t effect the story—except for the decision to excise Argento’s chosen ending. In the US version, her stalker succumbs to a fiery blaze that engulfs the opera house where all of the horrors in the film took place. As the support beams and curtains become an indistinguishable inferno, the credits began to roll. Apparently, a neatly-tied off thriller ending is not what Argento had in mind. He was more interested in ripping off one of his favorite popular novels at the time, Red Dragon, which also featured a false death sequence where the killer stages his own demise in a fire, only to turn up later for one last dance with the devil by the pale moonlight.
This would be all well and good if Argento had not tried to create some sort of “psychologically edifying” ending that not only has no basis in psychology, but does not make one single lick of sense. It’s as if someone handed the script over to some Adderall-ridden pubescent kid to finish, without letting him read the first 90 pages. It doesn’t fit, it doesn’t make sense, and it turns our heroine into a laughing stock. Instead of a concrete coda with an almost Cronenbergian crescendo, Argento leaves us on the image of this preening bitch we spent the whole movie empathizing with crawling through wildflowers like a My Little Pony fan on PCP. All of this just moments after she allows someone to be murdered in front of her for NO REASON WHATSOEVER. Wow, this movie is so damn good… if you press stop before it gets this far.
Dumb and Dumber (1994 – written and directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly)
When The Ren and Stimpy Show first attained popularity on Nickelodeon, what people saw wasn’t quite what chief creator John Kricfalusi initially brought to the table. Many of the far more grotesque gross-out gags and loosely homoerotic elements in the original production were toned down to make the show more palatable to Nickelodeon’s child audience. While a debate can be made about whether or not Ren and Stimpy was healthy for child consumption, everyone can agree the newly created Lost Episodes, with all the cold sores in full bloom, wasn’t nearly as funny as what passed through the censors the first time around. The show was funnier without animated close-ups of testicles bouncing or an overabundance of scatological humor farting in our faces. Simply put, the show was ruined with all that stuff back in, and went from a lowbrow psycho comedy to just plain lowbrow. And this illustrates perfectly why I refuse to own the unrated extended cut of Dumb and Dumber.
The story of two idiots, Harry and Lloyd, trying to return a lost briefcase to its rightful owner is familiar to countless fans of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. While trashed upon initial release by the critics, the PG-13 rated comedy was a box office smash and was a key factor in catapulting Carrey to superstardom. Years after the fact, studio New Line Pictures attempted to cash in on a sequel without the original actors in the form of Dumber and Dumberer, a move which much like that other non-Carrey sequel Son of the Mask, backfired and tanked hard in theaters. A recent forthcoming sequel in the works will hopefully dispel the stink left by the prior “sequel”, but that didn’t stop the Farrellys from capitalizing on the recent ‘unrated version’ trend spiraling out of control on home video. Numerous comedies that were previously balanced and taught now became bloated and turgid with additional footage wisely left on the cutting room floor the first time. In the case of Dumb and Dumber, the unrated version provided the Farrellys with an opportunity to show off all the things they had to wipe clean from their comedy classic to avoid an R rating. Needless to say, the PG-13 gross out classic was now just plain gross and oddly creepy.
For example, the redneck Sea Bass (Cam Neely) has some particularly disgusting and uncomfortable moments restored to the unrated cut, such as showing the loogie he hocks on Harry’s hamburger as opposed to simply implying it the first time around. In the scene where Lloyd is accosted in the gas station bathroom by Sea Bass, Lloyd pleads for a ‘happy place’ to which Sea Bass promptly drops his drawers and squeezes his hairy crotch while notifying Lloyd where his ‘happy place’ actually resides. If that isn’t enough, little things like Lloyd’s pet bird being decapitated or Lloyd listening in to the sounds of couples sexing through the walls of his hotel room in another scene just amplify the creepiness to such a degree that Dumb and Dumber actually stops being funny. Of the additions, only one gross out gag kind of works even though it’s pure overkill: a shot of Harry dumping a toilet bowl of feces out the bathroom window since it won’t flush. Not exactly a useless thing to add to the cornucopia of toilet humor, but he scene already had a perfect mixture of vulgar hilarity and didn’t necessarily need more than it already had. The rest of the extra stuff thrown back in just kills the film and ruins many of the jokes that worked so well the first time around.
To illustrate just how much more needlessly obscene and vile this new longer cut of Dumb and Dumber really is, take a gander at some of the comments customers have left on Amazon.com, who upgraded to the Blu-Ray edition only to return it in disgust and opt for the original DVD edition of the PG-13 version instead. It just goes to show that more often than not, less is more. Gross out comedy is a tricky feat to pull off because of how easily that finely tuned balance between the two extremes can tip over into a negative experience. In the case of the unrated Dumb and Dumber, a once classic and timeless late 90s comedy at the height of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels’ respective careers, the laughs instead have been soiled by one too many dirty diapers, leaving a stink that eclipses any of the virtues that made the Farrelly Brothers such a hot comedic commodity in the first place.
Donnie Darko (2001 – written and directed by Richard Kelly)
In 2001, a new and unique voice in surrealism emerged from the independent circuit in the form of Donnie Darko, the story of a troubled teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) in high school haunted by hallucinations of a 6 foot tall demonic rabbit who invokes Donnie’s destructive tendencies. An amalgam of genres from the early 1980s, the film blends the coming-of-age high school comedy with a bizarre character study that proceeds to shift gears in the second half with notions of bending space and time itself. Soon Donnie begins seeing portals, strange cloud formations and premonitions of a great flood. Full of intrigue, open to interpretation and frequently hilarious, Richard Kelly’s offbeat directorial debut died a quiet death in theaters but exploded upon home video release to such a degree, it became a mainstream hit with the public. Soon stores like Hot Topic jumped on the trendy bandwagon and all forms of memorabilia, including the fictional book highlighted in the film, The Philosophy of Time Travel.
Long before studio executives produced an eventual sequel entitled S. Darko without Richard Kelly’s participation, the success of Donnie Darko prompted the release of a newly created director’s cut in 2004. Previously unable to afford the rights to popular pieces of music intended for certain scenes as well as newly rendered special effects transitions and readings from the book The Philosophy of Time Travel, Richard Kelly’s cult phenomenon, now 20 minutes longer than previously, was re-released in theaters followed by an extensive DVD package loaded with extras. The question is, did the changes improve the film?
Well, not exactly. While we do get more scenes of the family together at home, more with Donnie’s high school teacher changing the course curriculum to the book Watership Down, chapter overlays which became commonplace in Kelly’s follow-up Southland Tales, and the swapping of dialogue and sound effects from previously, the new director’s cut might be closer to Kelly’s original vision but not necessarily for the better. With all the additional footage and chapter overlays asking viewers to work harder than before to connect the dots, the film doesn’t make anymore sense than it did in its initial cut. During the grand finale consisting of a montage of scenes playing in reverse, in the director’s cut, Kelly superimposes a CGI rendered grid over the footage with fireworks inexplicably exploding over the grid in the forefront. The release of the director’s cut also prompted fans of the film to enact a cult of over-analysis in conjunction with the newly inserted passages from the book The Philosophy of Time Travel. While the idea is a novel stab at enhancing the interactivity between film and the literary medium, it became toxic to Southland Tales, which was released alongside a series of graphic novels precluding the film with a note that reading them will explain things more clearly for viewers.
Whenever the decision to watch Donnie Darko comes up, almost inevitably yours truly will turn to the original theatrical cut. We pretty much get the same movie only much longer with different music and a just plain crazy new shot that only adds frustration instead of clarity. In recent years, after the failure of Southland Tales, Kelly spoke about completely re-arranging the film in a new director’s cut should anyone grant him the opportunity. Given the nature of the extended Donnie Darko and how overblown Kelly’s initial Cannes Film Festival cut of Southland Tales fared, it’s fair to say what’s out there wouldn’t necessarily benefit from additional scenery. Would anything more bring closure to the door Kelly has opened wide, or would it just be an even longer sentence saying the same thing? In the case of Donnie Darko, the director’s cut tends toward the latter.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982 – directed by Steven Spielberg)
E.T. is one of those films that needs no introduction. It’s one of the most beloved films of all time. The story has entered the realm of being a timeless classic that will be shown to generation after generation of new filmgoers who will fall in love with it, just as we did, and carry that love on in their hearts until they get to share it with someone new to this world Steven Spielberg created for us. The reason that love is so timeless is because it shares its point of view with children. Watch how this film is shot, and suddenly you will realize exactly why it reawakens the kid in you… and unavoidably makes that kid cry like a little bitch. Twice.
Spielberg begins the film with E.T. being left behind on Earth and coming across a family that lives in a suburb on the outskirts of the forest. Elliott (Henry Thomas, with the best child performance in the history of cinema) is the middle child in a newly broken family. This is never directly referenced, but it doesn’t have to be. We understand the hushed voices on the phone when the mom (Dee Wallace) leaves the room, the hurt tone of voice when the absent father is brought up, the discomforted glances, and the stifled tears. It’s the genius of the script by Melissa Mathison and the masterful storytelling by Spielberg that we never have to ask these questions, but know the answers in our hearts. Just like we know that E.T. and Elliott are a match made in best friend heaven. Both lost souls, both trying to go home, whether it’s a tangible place, or just residual feelings about a life we used to have, rendered all the sweeter by the high gloss of retrospect.
While not technically a “director’s cut,” the version of E.T. that was re-released in theaters in 2002 for its 20th anniversary certainly suffered from George Lucas Syndrome: Add a bunch of crap CGI and make a boatload of cash. All of the changes, while approved by Spielberg, you can tell that his heart wasn’t in them, made all the more evident by the fact that he insisted this version be released in tandem with the original untouched film on DVD. The new blu-ray edition does not feature the 20th Anniversary Edition at all. Perhaps it’s because he knew E.T. didn’t need a funny run, and we didn’t need an extra scene showing a pre-school age Drew Barrymore trying really hard to be funny. We also didn’t need a scene where E.T. stretches his neck and blows bubbles in a bathtub. And we really didn’t need the sense of tension and urgency in the final climatic chase to be dispelled by using CGI to replace shotguns with walkie-talkies.
The reason I know that he knows this stuff is because Spielberg said so. He’s publicly stated that he regrets making those changes for a simple reason: E.T. is no longer his film, but our film, and when you alter a time capsule of our collective childhood consciousness, you are tampering with those memories in a way that just isn’t necessary or welcome. If only his BFF George Lucas could realize that, maybe then we could actually see the unaltered Star Wars Trilogy on blu-ray. But that also is the stuff of childhood fantasy.
There are precious few films out there that rank as high on the fun meter as Army of Darkness. This is a perfect storm of slapstick humor, dark comedy, sight gags, one-liners, and Bruce f**king Campbell. I’m still not exactly sure how Ash went from being the unsure dweeb who couldn’t crawl out from under a plank of wood in The Evil Dead, to the Duke Nukem-inspiring, scenery-chewing, chainsaw-toting badass we follow through this nerdgasm that was originally to be titled The Medieval Dead. I may not be sure of that, but I am sure of this: No matter how many times I watch this film, it never gets old, never stops being laugh-out-loud funny, and never loses its charm.
When we last left Ash at the end of Evil Dead II, he was sucked into a time portal that deposited his mullet back in medieval times, where the landscapes are drenched in dry heat and the people are terrorized by demonic forces. Only the Necronomicon, an ancient Sumerian text bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, possessing various incantations and spells, can end the demonic reign and send Ash back home. Granted, the kingdom run by Arthur (of course) could send an army after the book, which is hiding in plain sight at a cemetery, but why send an army when you have Bruce Campbell? While we’re on the subject, why put out a director’s cut with the original negatives as a film source when you have a VHS tape someone ran through a drier? Couldn’t they at least find it on Beta? The company that released the “Bootleg Director’s Cut” claimed that no sources were available, but I think they brain-farted upon delivering that statement, because we live in the age of the internet, and people can import DVDs from China… where the Army of Darkness: Director’s Cut is flawlessly transferred from the original film source.
With that being said, do the scenes add to the film? Yes and no. There are additional scenes that add real atmosphere to a film that’s brimming over with intentional camp and comedy, so those will be strictly a matter of taste. If you like a momentary throwback to the creepy ambience of the original Evil Dead, they’re a welcome little addition, even if they are tone deaf when you follow them up with an extended sequence of Ash being attacked by miniature clones of himself—something right out of Gulliver’s Travels. Where the director’s cut really shines is during the battle sequence at the end, which is cut together with a wholly different timeline of events, with Henry the Red arriving when it’s almost too late.
But that’s not what you want to talk about, is it? No, you want to talk about the much ballyhooed ending that has fans divided almost directly down the middle. We all grew up watching Ash spout off more of his classic lines while shooting up an S-Mart. That ending is indispensable because it explodes with more awesome badassery than all of the Kurt Russell and Roddy Piper one-liners combined. It is the perfect ending for the Army of Darkness Ash… but is it the perfect ending for the moron we followed all the way from The Evil Dead? That’s where the director’s cut comes in. Love the original ending or hate it, with its apocalyptic landscapes and darkly comic about-face, no one can argue that it’s a logical end to a character so awesome, we’re a little too forgiving of how stupid he is.
P.S. The best existing cut of Army of Darkness is actually a version assembled by someone who must have been the one and only genius working at the Sci-Fi Channel (no, I will not call it the SyFy Channel). All the best cut scenes—even those that didn’t make it into the director’s cut—are fully restored, along with all of our favorites left in their rightful place, complete with the S-Mart ending. If they ever air this version again, please DVR it and see it for yourself.
There’s that age-old saying that perfection shouldn’t be tampered with. It should endure and better with time. With William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece of modern horror The Exorcist, here is a timeless work that has only grown in legendary stature since it was first released. Which is why, when the year 2000 rolled around, something completely unforgivable managed to tarnish the once impeccable terror show into what became commonly known as The Version You’ve Never Seen. While Friedkin maintained his original 1973 cut was the film he intended audiences to see, the film’s screenwriter and author of the novel, William Peter Blatty, felt somewhat differently about the matter. Insisting Friedkin’s film was cold, heartless and suggested viewers ‘misinterpreted’ the film as a triumph of evil over good, Blatty persuaded Friedkin to restore 10 minutes of previously deleted footage and new CGI rendered visual effects shots into the proceedings. The result is something far more infuriating than the controversy which ensued over Greedo firing first.
First of all, let’s begin by talking about the CGI rendered insertions peppered throughout the film. When Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) returns home to find the lights flickering on and off with her daughter Regan’s (Linda Blair) bedroom window open wide, there’s a series of flash edits of the white faced demon and the statue of Pazuzu popping about like a Christmas tree. That these annoying internet GIFs which look curiously fan-rendered in execution should preclude the film’s most ridiculous addition, the “spider-walk” scene of Regan crawling like a crab down a flight of stairs, is I suppose fitting. Watch for when Regan has her first meeting with her psychiatrist and the jarring CGI morphing of her face into the white-faced demon which follows. Equally confounding are the additional music cues of standard horror film dread added throughout the film, which are completely antithetical to the atonal detachment Friedkin fought so hard to maintain in the 1973 cut. Considering he furiously threw composer Lalo Schifrin’s tape recording across the parking lot in disgust over how informative the score was, it’s hard to fathom just what possessed him to add newly created cues which proceed to do just that.
But what is probably the most objectionable and ill-advised is the alternate ending, which continues after Father Dyer (William O’Malley) gazes in dismay at the stairwell where his friend Father Karras (Jason Miller) died. Where the 1973 film struck the perfect ending note and left the audience alone to deal with what they just saw, in comes this new denouement where Dyer strikes a friendship with Lt. William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) over movies, implying Karras lives on in spirit through Dyer. While true to the novel and Blatty’s intentions to dispel notions of demonic triumph while injecting human warmth into the picture, it literally goes off the rails and into some truly perplexing territory when placed back into the film. What made The Exorcist one of the timeless greats is how cold and heartless it all was in 1973. You were left alone in your interpretation on how to digest the events unfolding, and ultimately how to dispense with them altogether. By trying to light a fire underneath the tightly sealed igloo, the construct will inevitably melt and deteriorate. Simply put, Blatty’s intentions to warm things up and drape his cuddling arm around viewers left catatonic by what came out the first time around actually manages to diffuse the power Friedkin fought so hard to bring into The Exorcist. I don’t think I’m alone in saying Friedkin was right the first time around.
It’s no secret Francis Ford Coppola’s transposition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from Central Africa to Vietnam for his timeless war fantasia Apocalypse Now was a difficult make. Spanning nearly 5 years in what felt like an endless, out of control production full of chaos and tumult, Coppola’s ability to reel in what could have been a dreadful mess into what is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time remains nothing short of astonishing. Heavily publicized in the press over Typhoons destroying expensive set pieces, problems with the use of military helicopters during a war in the Philippines, Martin Sheen’s on-set heart attack and Marlon Brando’s overweight uncooperativeness, the world seemed stacked against Apocalypse Now from the onset. Despite aging Coppola by more than a few years due to fear and stress, a triumph of art and commerce emerged from the madness. People still quote Robert Duvall’s Colonel Kilgore, still reminisce about how an underage Laurence Fishburne snuck onto the production, and still recall that infamous closing line from Marlon Brando, ‘the horror…’. While hours of footage were lensed with bootlegs of work prints circulating over the years, some of which were included in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coppola ultimately whittled it down to a taut running time of 153 minutes without losing his deliberate snail crawl pacing or overall tonality.
Then in 2001, a newly assembled extended cut prepared by Coppola himself, which became known as Apocalypse Now: Redux, was released in theaters at a bloated running time of 202 minutes. Although Coppola would sanction both cuts, which are simultaneously in circulation, it’s telling that most viewers still prefer the original theatrical release version of 1979 for a multitude of reasons. First of all is the much discussed French plantation sequence, where Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) mission to hunt and destroy Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is derailed by a dinner table encounter with the De Marais family discussing their rubber plantation after the colonization of French Indochina. While legendarily curious among film buffs, the sequence is completely incongruent to the rest of the film, almost like a scene out of one of Coppola’s other pictures. Coppola himself balked at the scene, claiming it wasn’t lit correctly and felt like a pointless addition. Then there’s that moment near the end where Kurtz, who was previously lit in shadow to both hide Brando’s weight, reads Time Magazine to Willard in broad daylight, destroying the mystique surrounding the character.
The rest of what’s gone back into the Redux version consists of snippets and an unfinished scene where Willard’s troop mingles with Playboy Playmates trapped in the region. Why include footage from scenes that were never completed? Is Coppola so proud of his achievement he was ready to throw in anything he could find? Although no great film can be too long, scenes that weren’t good enough to include in the first place can’t be too short either. While Apocalypse Now is in essence a series of encounters Willard and his team have with other miscreants fighting their own respective losing battles, Redux simply piles on too many detours and disrupts the flow of Willard’s journey to Kurtz’ compound. If I were to show Apocalypse Now to someone unfamiliar with it, my friendly recommendation would be to stick with the 1979 version, as it is a perfect and wonderful masterpiece of filmmaking that doesn’t wear its obviously loose ends with pride in the way Coppola’s miscalculated Redux does.
Around the time virtual reality technology was a hot topic among consumers and visual effects artists alike, Hollywood seized the opportunity to turn the pioneering into a science fiction thriller evoking ageless notions of mad science gone awry. Falsely advertised as being based on a short story by Stephen King (who sued and won to have his name removed from the credits and promotional materials), The Lawnmower Man tells the story of Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan), a scientist whose local simpleton gardener Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) becomes the subject of a top secret experiment in accelerating growth of Jobe’s mind until he becomes a genius. As with films like Altered States and Brainstorm, the experiment spirals out of control and soon the former town idiot possesses destructive, godlike powers of telepathy of pyrokinesis. It doesn’t take long for Jobe transformation into a complete monstrosity to wreak havoc on his town and the doctor who gifted him with his newfound knowledge and power.
Something of a low budget mixed bag, The Lawnmower Man quickly gained notoriety for introducing virtual sex into pop cultural consciousness, with Jobe and his newfound lover Marnie (Near Dark’s vampiress Jenny Wright) getting their freak on in a virtual reality environment. Boasting ‘the best computer generated imagery since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (a lie if there ever was one), The Lawnmower Man hasn’t aged particularly well in recent years, with its silly script and dated visuals. Pierce Brosnan fares well enough as the well-intentioned scientist who quickly realizes just how dangerous his experiment has become, and Jeff Fahey makes a startling transformation from dim goofball to vibrant lady’s man before finally achieving his cyberpunk id. The strongest facet of the film, really, belongs to Alex McDowell’s production design, which envisions a cool computer lab bathed in deep blues donning two virtual reality hamster balls and environment suits which light up like neon-fluorescent black lights.
The film ran at the modest running time of about 103 minutes. However, it would appear writer-director Brett Leonard wasn’t finished with The Lawnmower Man and decided to hastily splice back in over 40 minutes of footage that now provides a 141 minute science fiction thriller that more than overstays its welcome. An alternative opening prologue to Jobe encountering one of Dr. Angelo’s chimpanzees in a bloody shootout provides an interesting but unnecessary dynamic. Some restored scenes showcase more special effects visuals than previously, which are neat, but that doesn’t atone for the other endless scenes of exposition that completely screech the film to a halt. Part of being a filmmaker is being an editor, knowing what’s necessary and what isn’t. You can’t help but think Brett Leonard just couldn’t live without giving us absolutely everything he shot, whether it benefitted the piece or not. In the first hour, we’re stuck with scene after scene of the hapless Jobe being berated by townsfolk, notably a gas station jobber. We got the idea the first time around, but the director’s cut beats viewers over the head with it.
In the pre-digital era of re-editing film, splices between the preexisting film and newly inserted material was often noticeable with either flashes of light at the top or bottom of the screen or a subtle shift in quality. Owners of the special edition laserdisc of James Cameron’s The Abyss got an eyeful of flashes and jumps in the reediting process (which were eventually eliminated by the time the extended cut obtained a DVD release), but that’s nothing compared to the jarring shifts in quality you’ll get here. Scenes go from sharp to blurry, with noticeable shifts in brightness and contrast several times over in a single shot. The eventual THX laserdisc of The Lawnmower Man did a decent job of smoothing out the glaring trims, but they’re still there. Equally aggravating is the sound, which is not unlike hearing a person speak with a hand over their mouth at times. While far from a masterpiece, the theatrical film worked fine and was reasonably paced, where this director’s cut just drags its feet and manages to bore potential viewers right out of watching the rest of the movie.
Well, it had to happen sometime. Someone had to make the comic movie equivalent of the Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition. Most everyone with a pulse around 1999 heard about this debacle: When John A. Russo, producer of NOTLD, decided he was going to film all new scenes to add into the original beloved classic, destroying one of the best horror films ever made. All anyone could say after seeing this monstrosity was “What where they thinking?” I’m wondering the same thing after seeing the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. What was one of the single best sequels of all time has been knocked down and presented as a shallow retread of the original film, with twice as much whiny Clark Kent, and additional CGI effects that stick out like a superhero hard-on.
As we all know, Superman II picks up where the original Superman left off, with the intention of completing the story that began back on Krypton before someone forgot they left the gas on. The three uber-criminals that Superman’s father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) banished to the Phantom Zone break free of their eternal imprisonment, and venture to Earth. Once they arrive, they discover they have “powers beyond reason,” and begin a reign of super terror. Led by General Zod (Terence Stamp in another iconic performance), the three soon gain control of the world while Superman is off blowing his super load. Because who can be bothered to keep up on current events when you can show a certifiably crazy woman your North Pole?
All of this was very briskly paced in the version we got in theaters, which was re-shot and recut by Richard Lester after Donner was booted off the project. By the time this happened, Donner had shot roughly 75% of the movie. What little was not shot is supplemented using actual screen test footage of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, which surprisingly integrates very well, as it was shot on 35mm. But that’s about as pleasant a surprise as it gets. This version of the film hits the skids pretty early with a lot of pacing issues, and features Christopher Reeve in the infamous costume a grand total of two times—only once before the climatic finale, which plays almost identical to what was screened back in 1980.
Here’s the kicker, though. And this is something that will take you out of the movie faster than you can say “up, up, and away”… Let me just put it like this: If there’s one moment in all of the Superman films we can say is hands down the dumbest—the single most intellectually bankrupt piece of writing you can imagine—despite our love for the original classic, it would have to be when Superman flies the Earth backwards to turn back the clock. Not only would this have potentially destroyed the planet, but it most certainly would have put a momentary stop to our gravity—probably just long enough for all of us to begin floating into space, only to plunge to our certain deaths when Supes decided to get it going again. But at least in the original film, there was an emotional crux to the sequence that made us want him to pull it off. Now do me a favor, and imagine him doing that twice. You thought you couldn’t think of anything dumber than the magical memory-erasing kiss from the Lester cut? Now you can. What a way to completely take and any all sense of jeopardy out of your franchise. Use the same deus ex machina. Twice. Of all the sins committed in this director’s cut, which includes painfully obvious new footage of matted green screen doubles, this one takes the cake and proceeds to smash it in your face.
Perhaps one of the most grievous mistakes in the history of cinema is the tainted and toiled with versions of Episode IV through VI. However, we're just going to focus on the distinct and needless changes that the grand Ewok himself made to his original masterpiece, A New Hope. You know, the one that changed science fiction forever and made Lucas billions of dollars before he sold it to the Disney empire. No pun intended.
Setting all apparent fanboy love aside, Lucas took nearly everything that made A New Hope one of the best science fiction films ever and turned it into a joke that's been running since 1997. Star Wars being one of the most loved franchises ever did not deserve a creative unraveling that turned practical effects into some bad looking CGI moments and changed Han Solo from a bad ass smuggler with a chip on his shoulder to a little bitch that was just defending himself against Greedo.
While most of the story didn't change, Lucas took too many liberties with the property and added way too much computer generated imagery that steals from the great looking original print while turning it into a self gratifying "look what I can do with my computers" type of movie. Additional X-Wings at the Death Star Battle, a terrible looking and awfully rendered Jabba The Hutt, additional animated creatures at Mos Eisley, new bar crawling aliens in the cantina, and the addition of Boba Fett do nothing to make the movie any better and have ultimately tarnished the legacy of the series. And a few seconds of Biggs Darklighter does nothing to create that emotive connection with Luke's past that Lucas was going for. Instead, it's just another questionable mark that begs for an answer Lucas will never give. Why?
For years, Star Wars fans have been begging for a re-release of the original versions of these films. Now that Disney owns the property, we hold out hope that we just might get them. May the Force Be With You.
-Blake O. Kleiner
Like this article. Please share.