Ever since the birth of the concept in the early eighties, the prospect of a ‘Director’s Cut’ has become one of the most mouth watering morsels for film fanatics, a chance to glimpse an expanded version or in some cases a radically altered vision to their favorite movies. Whether it be the lengthening of an already acclaimed feature (Apocalypse Now Redux), or a total overhaul on the original (Superman II: The Donner Cut), the opportunity to claim even more entertainment, and insight, from a released film is too good to pass up.
However, for every second look that breathes new life or realizes unfulfilled potential for a film, there is the ill-judged revisit of pointless, self indulgent or apparently maliciously motivated proportions. Sometimes, a feature film pleads to be seen in its full light. Other times, it’s better left well alone.
Here is a look at six notable re-cuts, three that dramatically improve the material, a further three which bafflingly fail.
Kicking us off is cinema’s most famous such second run, or more accurately it’s most famous fix job. While Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is now celebrated as a classic of both sci-fi and neo-noir, its 1982 release was an underwhelming one, not helped by the studio enforced amendments which clouded its quality with needless audience pandering and dilution of its vision. The film’s reputation, and standing, improved dramatically when it was significantly re-cut in the early nineties.
Most notably, Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (it has been re-cut three times since its release, most recently with the tidying and fixing Final Cut) wiped out the ill-judged and poorly orchestrated narration track, added late into the original shoot’s production due to fears of viewer confusion, and restored the ambiguous ending to comprehensively wipe out the illogical and sappy theatrical ending, which infamously utilized outtakes from The Shining and swapped the permanent raining nighttime with sweeping bright countryside.
Such is the superior quality of Scott’s rework that, for the majority of film fans, The Director’s Cut is the only acknowledgeable version.
The Last of the Mohicans
Michael Mann’s acclaimed 1992 colonial era historical epic The Last of the Mohicans was always a film that felt a little light on the ground, as proved by the first rough edit weighing in at over three hours, so the idea of a Director’s Cut from a filmmaker unafraid of long running length probably seemed too good to be true for adoring fans. Sadly, it was.
This is because, in one of the editing room’s most incomprehensible moments of decision making, Mann took the chance to shuffle around the pacing of his film, remove some iconic shots and a much loved piece of the soundtrack, and add only some brief scene extensions and fundamentally unimportant scenes. The result is an underwhelming, even slightly damaging re-cut that only adds seven minutes and inducing much frowning amongst material familiar viewers. The ‘Definitive Director’s Cut’, released on Blu-Ray, saw him take a second, near identical stab at the material and somehow repeat the trick.
The consensus upon the rework’s release was almost entirely negative, with some fans openly wondering whether Mann’s undertaken was carried out during a drunken stupor.
Kingdom of Heaven
Once again Ridley Scott had to go back to the drawing board to save any real merit from one of his films after executive meddling wiped out his good work. 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven, a crusade set epic which played out in cinemas like a disposable action movie to a bland reception, was fully redeemed by the bulging, superlative Director’s Cut.
Like with Blade Runner, the full vision of Scott and writer William Monaghan offers a huge contrast in quality between theatrical release and re-cut. A subplot involving Queen Sibylla’s infant son and heir is fully restored, a tragic and emotional arc of high quality, while full scenes are returned to the film including a subtext infused desert set conversation between Balian and David Thewlis’s Hospitaller, and a brilliantly executed duel between hero and antagonist.
As well as adding a gorging full fifty minutes of content, the Director’s Cut also better rounds off the plot and character motivations and development, giving the piece a greater balance, pathos and heart and providing the likes of Eva Green, Edward Norton and Ghassan Massoud a better chance to shine, which they duly take with both hands.
In terms of actual cinematic quality, it is simply a different, totally superior film, one that torpedoes the comparitively dismal shorter version.
There’s a recurring pattern here, as once again we’re on Mr Scott’s patch, but this time it isn’t for a nostalgic visit. Much nasty things have already been said about his 2010 ‘re-imagining’ (read ‘repetition’) of the Robin Hood legend, but for all that it was an unoriginal and unmerited flop, it at the very least provide a vestal of entertainment and some decent action sequences, even if most attention is spent picking apart the accents.
Unfortunately, the quickly assembled extended version manages to take a forgettable film and turn it into a forgettable and boring overlong film, with the inclusion of a new, slow and uninteresting prologue and various new additions which ruin the pacing and ultimately confuse the narrative, leaving viewers with little understanding of what exactly is going on. Already suffering a deficit of positives, the DC means that you can’t even say “at least it’s short”.
It also serves to reinforce the point that some scenes really should end up on the cutting room floor.
Alien 3: Assembly Cut
That it took well over a decade for an extended, albeit crudely, version of David Fincher’s divisive third installment in the Alien series to see the light of a day is a great injustice and a symptom of just how chaotic, acidic and bitter the struggle which embroiled its production truly was. Though slated initially, both by bemused critics and crestfallen fans of James Cameron’s predecessor Aliens, Alien 3 has experienced a more mellowed retrospective re-examination in the years since, and the release of the Alien Quadrilogy gave it a merited second chance.
The result, though not technically a Director’s Cut due to Fincher’s refusal to be involved, improves on the theatrical release significantly, and goes a short way to redeeming the image of a film considered the black sheep of an acclaimed saga. As well as making amendments to the plot, the Assembly Cut as its known also returns to the fore a substantial subplot involving the insane prisoner Golic, played by Paul McGann, in which the haplessly delusional inmate develops an obsession with the titular beast which has dire consequences for the other characters. The film was supposed to be McGann’s big break as an actor, but on release the vast majority of his role was surgically removed. Its restoration gives the feature a brilliantly orchestrated arc and one of its best characters.
Also of note is that the Assembly Cut provides far more face time for the previous anonymous prisoners, a key criticism of the original. This depth shows just what was missed out on back in 1992.
Sadly, the version of a greatly misunderstood film that should be widely seen is consigned to the special features of a DVD or BluRay boxed set.
Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
There’s a popular thought among filmgoers that the original Star Wars trilogy saw George Lucas create a reputation as a visionary filmmaker, and that the following thirty years saw him destroy it. It’s certainly the case that Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are iconic slices of film history, while Episodes I through III are cinematic equivalents of lengthy video game cutscenes. Appropriately, the advent of advanced CGI signaled this career decline, and has since proved to be the bane of many a heartbroken Jedi diehard.
This came to the fore when Lucas revisited the original trilogy and cheerfully threw in as many new special effects as he could squeeze in, from distracting aliens to new musical dance numbers and efforts at digital restorations stinking of needless tweaking which seriously raises the question of just how much is too much post-release alteration, and also highlighting how Lucas’s obsession with his new toys had seen him forgo the desire for decent storytelling.
The worst sin, in the eyes of aficionados, is Hayden Christiansen, who so woodenly portrayed Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels, being added to Return of the Jedi as ghost Anakin in place of Sebastian Shaw.
Any hope that the jewel of movie sci-fi could avoid being associated with Revenge of the S**t was lost forever.
– Scott Patterson