You Can't Do That On Television: Eleven Films Re-Edited for TV

As any seasoned filmgoer will tell you, a film that goes into theaters before being released on home video or streaming video-on-demand often ends up being very different when finally aired on network television.  Whether it’s due to editing out content that would have earned the film an R rating including but not limited to profanity, violence, nudity or sexual content, a televised motion picture either ends up being shorter or significantly longer than the version that ultimately went into theaters. 

Sometimes it softens the edges or changes the context of a film completely, forever altering the face or heart of the film for better or worse.  Most can point to their favorite revised versions of lines that went from being shocking to just plain hilarious now while decrying the deletion of crucial scenes for censorship reasons, thus fogging up the context for viewers and creating more confusion than clarification.  Not to mention all those pesky commercial breaks that disrupt the continuous flow and rhythm of the picture getting in the way of one’s enjoyment of the picture as it’s makers intended. 

In rare cases however, there comes a televised version of a film that is not only very different from what ultimately ended up in theaters but also manages to stand on its own merits as a wholly unique version of a film not to be found anywhere else.  Rarer still are films that were originally meant to be televised productions before ultimately being revised by shortening or lengthening the proceedings for theatrical exhibition. 

In an effort to make sense of this unusual cinematic conundrum where our favorite big screen movies end up being a mere shadow of their former selves when hitting the small screen, the Movie Sleuth presents a unique focus on eleven films that became entirely different animals when they were recut for television presentation.

The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980

When we first saw The Godfather in 1972, it marked the emergence of a major cinematic talent’s first splash into the mainstream, Francis Ford Coppola and instantly attained the classical status of being one of the greatest gangster films in world cinema.  Winning three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Coppola returned to the series in 1974 with The Godfather Part II, garnering even more accolades with six Academy Award wins including Best Picture yet again.  Considered to be an impeccable and greatly revered film series, Coppola would not revisit the award winning series for almost twenty-five years before bowing the gangster epic saga out with The Godfather Part III in 1990 to decidedly mixed reviews.  Something curious happened in between all those years separating Part II from III however when The Godfather would finally make its debut on broadcast network television. 

Facing censorship to edit the R rated films down to a network friendly version while aiming to maintain the integrity of the series as well as dealing with budgetary problems during the making of his seemingly endless Apocalypse Now, Coppola elected to try something new with The Godfather’s journey to the small screen.  The result became The Godfather Saga, a drastically re-edited version of the first two films resulting in chronological scene rearrangements as well as the reinstatement of approximately seventy-five minutes of deleted scenes from the first two films, resulting in a seven-hour and fourteen-minute miniseries.  Aired initially in this seven-hour version in 1977, The Godfather Saga was then subsequently shortened for home video to around six-hours and twenty-six minutes before being renamed The Godfather 1902-1959: The Complete Epic, the transformation from the cinematic form to television form is a shaky one for fans and Coppola devotees. 

While fleshing out numerous character arcs with greater detail and more languid pacing, some fans complained the momentum driving the standalone films previously was eliminated in the extension process.  As if the bloated and overlong project wasn’t long enough, Coppola would extend the project once more in 1990 to include his third Godfather film, resulting in a now nine-hour and forty-three-minute miniseries entitled The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980.  Incidentally, this massive recut of The Godfather Trilogy only ever received a VHS and laserdisc release and is now a rare collectible.  Further still, HBO Go recently released yet another version of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901-1959 which runs roughly seven hours now while dropping the inclusion of Part III from the series in its entirety. 

Contrary to previous releases, this new cut for HBO Go is fully restored in high-definition with 5.1 surround sound and all of the uncensored violence, sex and language back in the picture.  The question of course remains, like his Apocalypse Now/Redux conundrum, which version is the definitive one?  More of a footnote to the theatrical films than a replacement as well as a unique experiment designed with the intention of clearly up some of the financial difficulties experience on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather Saga in whichever form you choose to see it will on the one hand expand the universe of the series but on the other hand disrupts the flow of the theatrical films which needn’t have been “improved upon” to begin with.

It’s customary for films aired on television to include more footage than what was in theaters as a running time replacement for objectionable content intended to be excised for network censors, but rarely is the whole crux of a film so drastically altered in this way as to smooshing two disparate films together as one single entity.  It’s a unique idea on Coppola’s part but ultimately is strictly for die-hards only who want to soak in anything and everything related to this still towering gangster epic.

Problem Child

Have you ever picked up a VHS or DVD box for a movie and can’t help but notice that the photographs on the back of the box promoting the film aren’t actually in the film itself?  Well, that’s exactly what happened with Dennis Duggan’s 1990 juvenile delinquent comedy Problem Child starring John Ritter as a father who adopts the child from Hell from a local orphanage.  Pitched as a summer family comedy, the directorial debut of Duggan reportedly did so poorly with test audiences, including 70% of the audience leaving the theater with audible complaints hurled at the screen, that two weeks of reshoots were ordered including changing the ending, swapping previously shot footage with new footage and so on. 

Somehow the tactic worked and Problem Child opened in third place at the box office, raking in over $50 million at the box office.  This was around the time Home Alone made a splash at the box office and renewed interest in the violent slapstick family comedy where the titular child outsmarts the adults with a myriad of schemes and setting violent booby traps.  And yet Home Alone continues to endure as a family holiday comedy classic while Problem Child can now be found in the bottom of bargain bins.  Understandably, studio meddling has had a lot to do with the reputation surrounding Problem Child.  Reportedly Duggan shot so much footage that he ruffled the feathers of studio heads who after retooling the movie reduced the running time to around 75 minutes. 

Back to the VHS box, upon renting the movie, there’s an image prominently featured on the back of the titular Problem Child seated beside a remote controlled model helicopter.  Nowhere is this scene to be found within the film, until syndicated television rolled around of course.  In an effort to pad out the running time, a number of additional scenes including the aforementioned model helicopter found their way back into the finished film.  The most notable change involves Michael Richards’ bowtie killer who undergoes a psych evaluation with Rorschach testing and now has a flashback to a time when he was led to the electric chair and in a scuffle manages to force the warden into the chair instead. 

These scenes remain out of the film on home video and aren’t included as extras on the DVD, but fans who taped the film off the television broadcast have since uploaded the additional footage to YouTube.  With or without these scenes back in the film, the finished product is still the result of there being too many cooks in the kitchen after entrusting a first time director who didn’t deliver and whose film was more or less taken away from him.  Some of it might make you smirk but it clearly hasn’t aged well with time.  Years later, Problem Child would achieve scathingly black humor in a brief moment in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear where Max Cady (Robert De Niro) enters a theater playing the film to harass his former attorney by smoking a thick cigar and laughing maniacally at every scene.  At least someone found it funny.


American surrealist filmmaker and artist David Lynch’s career in Hollywood began with The Elephant Man and ended with his much ballyhooed adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.  After forfeiting his rights to final cut, an experience Lynch referred to as a ‘nightmare’ before satirizing the ordeal years later in Mulholland Drive, Dune was pared down from his originally planned three-hour version to roughly 137 minutes.  To this day, Lynch doesn’t speak well of Dune and has refused to participate in any of the home video releases that have come since, instead focusing on moving forward and finding his wings with Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive

Lynch legendarily with every production likes to shoot a lot of footage, often leaving enough on the cutting room floor to edit together another movie which is sort of what happened with the missing pieces in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.  For Dune, roughly five hours of footage were shot, some of it consisting of outtakes, test shots and stock footage.  For the syndicated television version of Dune, editors prepared what became a commercial free 176-minute version of the film, one which Lynch fought against before disowning it and leaving editors with the unenviable task of crediting the new cut to Alan Smithee. 

In this version of the film, like the Sid Sheinberg edit of Brazil, still photos, test footage and stock footage are utilized to fill in the gaps with many unfinished visual effects sequences reinstated.  Basically, the extended version dumps all the dirty laundry on the table with the hopes of sifting through the material and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t.  Some aspects were changed such as the opening voiceover narration changed from female to male and viewers can’t help but notice the blue color in the eyes of the Fremen are missing from certain shots due to the fact that the stock footage was never intended to be used. 

Despite numerous attempts to reassemble a new director’s cut done Lynch’s way, Lynch has refused every time, considering the project a dead duck that should stay dead.  The footage shot hints at what Lynch could do with a heft production budget, but his voice has obviously been bound and gagged in the editing department given the constraints the studio placed on the film’s running time.  The last time Lynch was asked about the DVD release version of Dune and whether or not he was involved in the production of the disc, Lynch wryly replied ‘I’ve heard rumors’.  Some things are better left alone.  If nothing else, the experience paved the way for Blue Velvet, his first true project from the heart since Eraserhead.  While he may have had all the resources in the world for Dune, Lynch quickly learned that money can’t buy you final cut. 

The Thing

By now you’ve probably heard of former MCA Universal Studios CEO Sidney Sheinberg and the infamous battle with Terry Gilliam over final cut to his 1985 dystopian masterpiece Brazil (also mentioned in this article).  But few, myself included, are aware that John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing met a similar fate in 1986 when Sheinberg and CBS drastically reedited the film for syndicated television.  Much like the 70mm workprint version of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, this alternate version of The Thing designed to fit into the television time slot and tone down the adult language, violence and gore is so different it feels like a rough draft.  With exception to a couple scenes near the end of the film, the rhythm, use of sound and music in every scene has been tinkered with.  Needless to say, Sidney Sheinberg had a field day in the editing room that manages to rival the egregious tinkering administered on his cut of Brazil.

Instead of simply shortening sequences (which it does), many scenes have been swapped out with alternative outtakes using different angles, dialogue, camera placement and editing.  Voiceover narration has been added throughout to introduce each of the characters, certain scenes are now out of chronological order, unused music cues and additional dialogue has been restored and the ending is all but completely different now.  The voiceover narration, much like the theatrical version of Blade Runner, not only states the obvious but it actually reads aloud the opening intertitle just in case some audiences members can’t.  Many sequences throughout which were previously silent in the theatrical version now have added musical cues as well as cues which were previously only available on the soundtrack. 

Another curiosity involves the deleted introduction to what was originally intended to be Bennings’ death where he gazes into the dog cannel as the camera zooms in on his face as a horrified look crosses it.  Ultimately Bennings’ death was reshot and placed later in the film, but for some reason this early intro to an abandoned concept was restored to the TV cut.  Why?  It literally makes zero sense to include this scene as early alternate versions of scenes are shot and reshot all the time with no intention of including them.  It is as though Sheinberg culled through the archives of deleted footage and stuck on anything he could find whether it worked in context or not. 

Another baffling move is how little of the titular Thing is actually shown in this version of the movie.  In every scene aside from the grand finale, Sheinberg cuts away from the creature, instead focusing on unused reaction shots including one of a terrified looking MacReady trying to reignite his flamethrower, almost out of character.  Only a few second snippets show up and some scenes are recut in such a way that you can clearly tell the footage is from another scene hastily spliced together to give the illusion you’re watching the same characters together in the same scene.  Nearly all of Rob Bottin’s visual effects magic that made Carpenter’s film so timelessly iconic is gone from this version.  If there’s ever a textbook example of how to take a perfect science fiction horror film intended for adults and drain it dry of whatever life was put into it, Sid Sheinberg’s revision of John Carpenter’s The Thing is it. 


Of all the TV versions of films, this one may be among the most notorious – not just for what it contains, but for how it was first released on home video. The TV cut of Halloween came into being in 1981, once the film was already a well-established modern horror classic, and the pending release of Halloween II had the film in greater demand than ever. Stations wanted to air the film, but once it had been cut down for violence and nudity the remainder was left too short, and with too awkward a running time, to fit a usual movie time slot. Using this predicament as an opportunity to revisit the film, the studio commissioned John Carpenter to produce about twelve minutes of new and alternate scenes, which he shot during the sequel's production, using the sequel's crew. While this was an intriguing concept, the results were mixed, and leaning heavily towards the pointless.

Of the three major sequences added, two feel decidedly shoehorned into the film, and are pretty redundant; not to mention overlong, since they were added specifically to pad the length to fit a time slot. One of these – an addition to the prologue which gives Dr. Loomis a new introduction – is at least interesting in its own right, but ultimately just repeats information already given in the theatrical version. The third added sequence, however, does do something pretty interesting, in that it retroactively adds in some foreshadowing for Halloween II's big plot twist. It's a cool scene, and since this TV version aired prior to the sequel's release it would have done a fascinating job of teasing the audience with new information, and hinting that there is more to Michael Meyers' story than originally thought. However, since nothing else in the original foreshadows that twist, this additional scene feels conspicuously like the retroactive addition that it is, and adds more to the experience of Halloween II than Halloween itself. The other issue with these added scenes is that, since the film is quite a slow-burn to begin with, slowing the pace down even more badly harms the momentum of the story. Ultimately, this TV version is a fun oddity for die-hard fans to check out, but doesn't work particularly well on its own terms.

That is why the way that the TV version was first released on home video is so unfortunate. In the late-80s, when the original Halloween's distributor, Media Home Entertainment, released their third and final VHS pressing of the film, they used the TV version rather than the original cut by mistake. This mistake wasn't caught until the tape was already on the market, and viewers complained that the wrong version of the film had been used; after all, extra scenes or no, customers were understandably upset when they shelled out the money to rent or buy the film on tape, and found that it was the edited-for-television version they could watch for free. The tape was pulled, but the copies that had already been sold remained in circulation, and have since become a highly sought-after collectors' item. Anchor Bay eventually released the TV version officially – properly advertized as the oddity for die-hard fans that it is – but that third Media tape with the wrong version on it still fetches high prices on eBay, as one of the more notorious publication mistakes of the VHS era.

Halloween II**

When put Halloween II under the microscope even for a passing glance, the plot holes show up faster than you can say “hell, shit or damn.” But that’s what happens when a studio wants to cash in on the craze of movies, all copying Halloween, by making a slasher film that copies the copycats. With a plodding narrative completely reliant on John Carpenter’s music and Dean Cundey’s cinematography, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance do all they can to keep the ship afloat while being dragged into the undertow of logical fallacy. The twist in this film couldn’t make less sense if it were the end to The Happening. Surely it couldn’t be any worse on television.

Well, actually it can. To watch Halloween II on TV is to miss out on much of what makes the film even slightly memorable. The scenes of gore added by John Carpenter in post-production are the complete antithesis of what made the original a timeless classic, but it turns out that when you have a weaker film they’re wholly necessary to its enjoyment. It’s also missing that epic topless shot of Pamela Susan Shoop that’s an essential bookend to P.J. Soles’ immortal “see anything you like?” flash. Maybe “essential” isn’t the right word. That’s not to say the television version isn’t without merit. There are more scenes of dialogue inserted to develop characters who are essentially cardboard cutouts of cows lined up for the slaughter. A scene here and there does nothing to change their archetypes, but it at least gives us some idea of who they are before they’re killed off… or in the case of Lance Guest, brought back.

There are even some original touches put in place by the TV editors. Some slight of hand with juxtaposition in suspenseful scenes is occasionally very effective. There’s even some second unit B-roll of Michael walking around; it doesn’t lend much, but it’s still fun to see. With that being said, these creative liberties also backfire in ways that are borderline hilarious. Everyone remembers the scene where Michael staggers into an old lady’s kitchen and scoops up her sandwich knife, leaving a spot of blood behind. The editors tried to be clever here, using some additional shots of Michael like he’s ready to strike. It’s all well and good until they cut to what is obviously a still frame from much later in the film — the hot tub scene to be exact. It’s so cheap and hokey and out of place that I laughed out loud. But I suppose there really is no saving this mess of a film. Just remember that the next time someone says it was Rob Zombie who ruined the franchise.

Army of Darkness**

I was 16 years old when I was introduced to the Evil Dead Trilogy. Before you could say “gimme some sugar baby,” Army of Darkness was my immediate favorite. Never before had I seen a film so happy to be what it is and nothing more. It’s so ridiculously entertaining and balls to the wall that it’s impossible not to be swept up in the tidal wave of its B-movie charm. Somehow this is Bruce Campbell’s one and only studio vehicle. With charisma for days and a knack for physical comedy on par with Jerry Lewis, that is a travesty. This movie couldn’t be any more fun. Or could it?

Army of Darkness is a rare example of the television edit actually enhancing the experience. Unlike its predecessors, the foundation of the film isn’t built on riffing gore-hound tropes, but on comical sight gags and dialogue, so it doesn’t lose anything in the translation to the smaller screen. Several deleted scenes, previously glimpsed only in a piss-poor VHS-to-DVD transfer on Anchor Bay’s “Bootleg Director’s Cut Edition,” are integrated back in with pristine quality. There are short passages inserted to create mood, atmosphere, and — be still my heart — a little bit of character development. The rivalry with King Arthur and Henry the Red is given more screen time and dimension. An extended passage of atmospheric suspense in the windmill not only explains how Ash managed to get his horse back, but utilizes one of Joseph LoDuca’s most elaborate musical cues that was mysteriously absent from the Director’s Cut, which drastically undercut the humor of the scene. If you’re gonna create a live action cartoon, you should have cartoon music! Even the epic battle sequence at the end is edited better. And most importantly, the one-liners we’ve all come to know and love from the theatrical release — inexplicably replaced in the Director’s Cut — are alive and well. Hail to the King of TV recuts!

Salem’s Lot*

Tobe Hooper's 1979 adaptation of Stephen King's vampire saga is actually the exact opposite of every other entry on this list: rather than a theatrical film that was modified to air on TV, it is a TV miniseries that became so critically-acclaimed and popular that it was re-edited for release in theaters. At 3 hours in length (without commercials), Hooper's miniseries makes spot-on use of its running time to develop its large ensemble of characters and gradually increase its suspense and horror with a sure-handed slow-burn. While some of the many Stephen King miniseries produced in the '80s and '90s feel uneven and occasionally padded, Salem's Lot earns every minute of its runtime, giving us not only the definitive adaptation of the novel, but one of the very finest book-to-film King adaptations ever made. Unfortunately, when its popularity inspired Warner Bros to turn it into a theatrical feature, they had to heavily cut it down to fit the time constraints of the new medium.

Salem's Lot: The Movie, as it is typically known, runs just an hour and 45 minutes, exiling 75 minutes of Tobe Hooper's well-paced slow-burn to the cutting-room floor. That is far more time than the miniseries could afford to lose, and the shortened film version ended up feeling rushed, poorly-paced, and obviously lacking in character development. It turned one of the finest Stephen King adaptations into one that was average at best, and very messy at worst. This version also wound up being the one first released on home video, as the high price of VHS tapes in the early-'80s made a single-tape release of Salem's Lot seem like a much better idea to Warner than a two-tape set of the uncut miniseries. 

This lead to the heavily-cut version being the one that a whole generation of fans saw for the first time; a most unfortunate way to be introduced to it. Finally, a few years later, the uncut miniseries was released on two tapes, and the shortened film version has been rightfully banished to obscurity as the miniseries has been the only cut released on DVD and blu-ray. Still, it remains an important warning, especially to the VHS collectors out there: if you're going to watch Salem's Lot (and you really should!), make sure you're watching the full 3-hour television version.

The Keep*

Most great directors have that one black sheep somewhere in their filmography, usually towards the beginning: that one movie that doesn't quite fit with the others, has big problems the others don't, and generally makes fans scratch their heads and ask, “what the hell happened here?” In this category Stephen Spielberg has 1941, David Lynch has Dune, and Michael Mann has The Keep. A dreamy and surreal period horror film about Nazis encountering a demonic evil in an ancient fortress, the 1983 film immediately stands out as odd in a body of work that consists primarily of meticulous and extremely modern crime thrillers (he made The Keep between Thief and Manhunter). Still, the film's wonderfully rich and spooky widescreen visuals are pure Michael Mann, and they make it clear that despite the subject matter being totally off-type for him, he was very close to turning this into something quite unique in its genre.

That is, until the film's notoriously troubled production ended with Mann being forced out of the editing process, and Paramount subjecting the film to a borderline-incoherent hack-job that left over a third of the movie on the cutting-room floor, and the structure of the plot in shambles. Even in the deeply flawed final cut, the film has enough eerie power that it has become a minor cult classic in its own right, if only on the strength of its great visuals, atmospheric Tangerine Dream score, and performances by Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne, and Jurgen Prochnow. But it is basically a tantalizingly incomplete puzzle; a ghost of what it should have been. Mann has disowned the film, and largely refuses to even talk about it, so fans have been left wondering what an extended cut (which we will almost certainly never get) might be like. Fortunately, the film's TV version offers at least a glimpse of this.

The story is the same as with many TV versions: cuts made for violence, nudity, and pacing left the film too short to fill a two-hour time slot, so some of the cut footage was used to flesh it out. For most of the film this just shows up as an extra line or moment here and there; interesting, but not much of any substance. Then the ending comes. The ending of the film was where the production truly started to fall apart, when the special effects director died midway through developing the elaborate, magic-fueled climax: an intended 2001-esque light-show for which he had left no notes, and which no one could figure out how to complete without him. Paramount's solution was to hastily slap something together, which wound up feeling rushed and anticlimactic at best, and it was one of the biggest complaints audiences had about the film.

So when it came time to assemble the TV cut, Paramount went back to the footage that existed and assembled a different ending, which is a good five minutes longer. While the core problem remains true – the special effects required for the clash between hero and monster simply don't exist – this ending is more fleshed-out and complete-feeling, thanks to a good amount of new footage. Part of this includes some of the shots filmed for the aborted climax, which are very cool to see even in a different context, but mostly it presents new character footage which changes the ending in both tone and implication. That any of this material was cut in the first place is very odd; it only adds a short 5 minutes to the running time, and is unquestionably a more fitting and less abrupt conclusion. The only logical explanation for its omission is that Paramount really didn't care, and only wanted to hammer out an ending as quick as possible to get the over-budget project done with.

While they didn't change anything for the TV version to address the film's myriad other flaws, that they did something to improve this one obvious shortcoming is pretty cool. No matter what, The Keep is a movie with some big problems, but for those who enjoy the elusive what-might-have-been that is still visible in the film as released, this TV version (or at least its ending, which is currently on YouTube) is certainly worth a look. It's probably the only extended footage that will ever see the light of day, so we might as well add it to the incomplete jigsaw puzzle.

Needful Things*

While most of the entries on this list are largely just curiosities, here is at least one case where the TV version of a film is not only superior to the theatrically-released one, but arguably the definitive version. Adapting Stephen King's sprawling supernatural thriller Needful Things to the screen was always going to be a challenge: it is a nearly-1000-page novel that is about an entire town full of people, their regrets, resentments, and fears, and the dark force exploiting them. It is a Ray Bradbury-inspired horror tale of Faustian bargains, concerning a mysterious antique shop owner who sells goods that can grant their purchasers' deepest wishes... if they'll just do something for him in return. But to make a story like this resonate, the reader or viewer must get to know the townspeople enough to give real emotional stakes to the nightmare they go through in order to realize their desires... and that requires a whole lot of attention to character development.

As such, writer W.D. Richter (1978's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers) and director Fraser C. Heston gave their big-screen adaptation of King's novel a just-over-three-hour running time, which they used to build up the large ensemble of major characters, and slowly ratchet up the suspense from small-town drama to creepy supernatural chiller. However, Castle Rock Entertainment perhaps unsurprisingly felt this was way too long for a film being marketed as a horror movie, and they aggressively cut it down by an hour and fifteen minutes, restructuring the film to accelerate the pacing in the process. The result was widely regarded as decent, but choppy and rushed, and lacking in the character development that it needed. One might have thought that since the studio was named after the fictional town in which the film is set, they might have shown a bit more respect.

Fortunately, TNT came to the rescue, and gave Heston the resources to rework his director's cut as a two-part TV event, in the tradition of well-loved Stephen King miniseries like Salem's Lot and It. The result is a much better, much more well-developed and evenly-paced version of Needful Things; the version that Castle Rock should have just released in theaters to begin with. Yes, its pace is quite a bit more leisurely in the first hour, feeling much more like a wannabe-Twin-Peaks off-kilter small-town drama than the horror film it will soon turn into, but that is exactly the idea. It never feels padded, it very effectively conjures up that distinctive feeling of Stephen King's Maine – beautiful, but with a brewing darkness below the surface – and the way that it builds tension is very effective. It still may not be one of the best Stephen King movies, but it is quite good, and a good deal better than the truncated theatrical cut. Even King himself has spoken in interviews about how this is an adaptation he has bittersweet feelings about, with the seldom-seen director's cut being very good while the theatrical version is comparatively a bit of a mess.

Unfortunately, the truncated cut is all that is available on home video. Due to the complicated rights involved with the deal between Castle Rock and TNT, the director's cut of Needful Things is effectively buried, from a legal standpoint. When Kino released the film on blu-ray in 2015 they tried to secure the rights to this cut, and deemed it all but impossible. Still, if you know where to look online, off-the-air VHS recordings of the director's cut can be found (as well as a fan-made composite which reinstates the DVD-quality footage wherever possible) – and if you want to really be able to enjoy this film as it was meant to be seen, sacrificing picture quality for an extra 75 minutes of movie is a totally fair trade-off.


By now you’re probably aware of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian take on George Orwell with his bureaucracy as Hell nightmarishly bleak gem, Brazil, and the very public feud that ensued between Gilliam and Universal Studios’ CEO Sid Sheinberg over final cut.  While Gilliam’s film came out in Europe unexpurgated through 20th Century Fox at a running time of approximately 142 minutes, Sheinberg and a team of editors swooped in without Gilliam’s consent to drastically re-edit the film into a more audience friendly ‘Love Conquers All’ version running roughly around 94 minutes.  Gilliam rebelled and took out an ad in Variety which read ‘Dear Sid Sheinberg, When are you going to release my film, ‘Brazil’?’, signed Terry Gilliam.  Further still, Gilliam went on Good Morning America and publicly shamed Sheinberg by sharing his photograph on national television. 

After successfully holding illegal screenings throughout the nation of his original director’s cut, Universal acquiesced and finally allowed a slightly shorter version approved by Gilliam a theatrical release.  Eventually the Criterion Collection released Gilliam’s intended director’s cut in a collector’s edition, also including the legendarily infamous Sid Sheinberg edit which made brief appearances on syndicated television. While ostensibly different and significantly shorter, to call Sheinberg’s meddling a bastardization of Gilliam’s film is putting it too kindly. 

Not only is the film incredibly disjointed, inexplicably leaping from scene to scene with zero continuity or flow, many shots appear to be still photos that are zoomed in with the intention of completely changing what was shot.  With much of the context excised, many of the more surreal sequences peppering the film are absent of their dreamlike quality and thus become incomprehensible upon being retooled.  Most notably, the infamously bleak finale closing Brazil has now been souped up thanks to still photos and some unused footage suggesting everyone lives happily ever after, completely out of touch with the dystopian tone and ultimately contradictory towards the meaning of the film.  It is worth noting shortly thereafter, Sheinberg in his infinite wisdom spearheaded the production of ‘a quality people picture’ known as Jaws the Revenge and that many years later, fellow executives would tease Sheinberg about whether or not he liked Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys.

-Andrew Kotwicki
-*Christopher S. Jordan
-**Blake O. Kleiner