I started out intending to write a diatribe about movie “Special Editions” and “Director’s Cuts”, preparing to denounce them all as blatant exploitative rip-offs that are produced with no respect to the original but aimed only at squeezing more money out of us poor fans by conning us into believing that this version is the one the director really wanted us to see.
I’ve changed my mind. A bit.
My default position is anti- when it comes to “special” versions of movies. This is partly a simple resistance to change (human nature, we all have this. Yes, you do) and also partly a symptom of my increasing grumpiness, which seems to be maturing and hardening and growing fatter along with me. On seeing the words “Director’s Cut”, “Extended Edition”, or “previously unseen footage” I immediately adopt a cynical yeah-right-who-are-they-trying-to-kid attitude and quietly wish there was a cheaper, basic no frills DVD with just the original movie on it.
I was seduced by The Dark Side over Christmas. Santa brought me my first Blu-ray player (If I’m honest that’s what I asked for in my letter, so it’s my own fault really) and a few discs, including Gladiator and the Alien Anthology. Both are favourites of mine (talking only of the original Alien here) and both directed by the great Ridley Scott. I’d never played with Blu-rays before so I was quite impressed with the menus and navigation systems, the one exception being the stupid sound effects added to the Gladiator menus. Each time you select an option you get a futuristic zap gun sound or a camera shutter; totally incongruous to the type of movie. How does this kind of stupid mistake slip through the net?
Anyway I digress…
This sent shivers down my spine when I first saw the cinema release at The Odeon Leicester Square in London. I was eighteen.
I perhaps shouldn’t have been but was surprised when both discs offered me a choice of version. In the case of Alien it was between either the 1979 Theatrical Release or the 2003 Director’s Cut, and with Gladiator either the 2000 original or the 2005 Special Edition. Being (literally) a kid with a new toy I went for the bestest most special-ist of course. Both later editions opened with Ridley Scott doing an intro to camera, beginning with “Hello, I’m Ridley Scott. What you’re about to see when you press Play is…”. My inner Mr. Grumpy railed at the prospect of having to listen to him boast about how brilliant he is and how this “special” edition was put together by his own two hands just for my viewing pleasure, so I skipped over both intros.
I enjoyed Alien about the same as the original, and only noticed a couple of changes (but then, I wasn’t really looking for them). Gladiator on the other hand was worse than the original. At about 17 minutes longer it included several scenes not in the original, and I felt none of which added anything.
"What we do in life, echoes in eternity."
Anyway I’d been thinking about doing a blog rant about this and this morning decided to watch Scott’s two introductions and check some further facts, by way of research. Although the two intros look similar on fast-forward they actually couldn’t be any more different. With Alien he talks about how he was pretty proud of the original but has reviewed it several times over the last 25 years (recorded in 2003 when the D.C. came out), and he ends by saying this is the version he prefers. He added about four minutes of scenes, but also trimmed about five minutes elsewhere, leaving the Director’s Cut a few seconds shorter than the original. (Note to self: need to watch it again now armed with this new information). In the intro to Gladiator Special Edition Scott had this, and only this, to say:
“I consider the Director’s Cut of the movie to be the version released in cinemas. Here is the special edition, which contains some scenes that were deleted during the editing process, that might be worth seeing.”
Quite clearly he was contractually obliged to produce this by 20th Century Fox. It’s interesting how a director can have such a different feeling about two of his movies, yet have to ‘play the game’ all the same.
So, what’s my position on ‘specials’ now? I’m still ‘agin ‘em by default but I will at least hear out the details on a case by case basis before passing judgment in future.
What Director’s Cuts, or Special Editions to you love/hate? Please let’s keep Lord Of The Rings out of this? Still drunk on a cocktail of HD entertainment I just received my order of LOTR: Extended Edition box set. Fifteen discs. Fifteen.