Saturday, April 14, 2007

Disc Cuts

A couple of days back Sony Pictures sent me an email trumpeting the DVD release of Spiderman 2.1 on Monday. Not only was I completely uninterested, I wasn’t at all surprised either.

A few years back, just before the release of the sequel, they pulled this stunt with the first Spiderman film, repackaging it as a 3-disc Deluxe Edition DVD by adding a few additional bits of old toot scraped from the bottom of the barrel, along with an all-important peek at Spiderman 2 – which was obviously the main selling point.

With the third film now only weeks away – Oh, frabjous joy! – Sony is at it again. Except this time, rather than simply gussying the previously released Spiderman 2 DVD with “a sneak peek of the highly anticipated Spiderman 3”, the film now has “8 minutes of never-before-seen footage!” incorporated into it, including “extended fight sequences!” Well, hurray for that!

This is obviously a wonderful thing to behold if you’re an utter uber-geek itching to see Spidey and Doc Ock trading even more blows. For the rest of us, eyeing the news with utter distain, the arrival of Spiderman 2.1 is just the latest example of film studios abusing the shiny disc market in their efforts to get every last penny out of our pockets.

Of course Sony isn’t alone. 20th Century Fox are bringing out a new disc of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later to happily coincide with the cinema release of the Juan Carlos Fresnadillo-directed 28 Weeks Later.

I came relatively late to DVD. It was really only because I was getting TV boxsets to review that I had to take the plunge, which meant I was pushed before I could jump. Having witnessed the VHS vs Betamax debacle, I wanted to make sure DVD wasn’t simply a stepping-stone fad before the next format – which we know will be either HD or Blu-Ray.

For the record, the first DVDs I bought were the 2-disc editions of Big Trouble in Little China and Black Hawk Down in HMV’s virtually permanent two-for-the-price-of-one offer. Since then I’ve steadfastly refused to buy a DVD at full price on principle; waiting instead until they have a sale price sticker slapped on the cover, or simply waiting.

Some folk just want the film. I like the extras and commentaries as long as some effort has been put into them. With special editions already making an appearance, if a big film was released as pretty much a bare-bones disc, I’d put off buying it and wait for the full bells and whistles version to eventually arrive.

And then there are the directors’ cuts. “8 minutes of never-before-seen footage! Including “extended fight sequences!” smacks of cynical corporate manipulation rather than a different version of a film presented by a director who has fully embraced the format.

DVD allowed Peter Jackson to turn The Lord of the Rings trilogy into a spectacular achievement with the extended editions. Although he played no part in the transfer, the 2-disc edition of Alien 3 afforded viewers an idea of David Fincher’s vision before he was beaten down by studio interference.

For my money, Ridley Scott is the one person to use DVD to its fullest extent. His position on the A-list of directors allows his commentaries to be honest, without having to tow the party line. He’s open about his own failings, whether bowing to studio pressure to make the film more commercially viable or, in the case of Legend which was restored on the Region 1 2-disc edition, losing his nerve after test screenings and unnecessarily re-editing the film. While, with its reinstated 45 minutes of footage, the epic Kingdom of Heaven – originally emasculated to provide 20th Century Fox with a more commercial running time - will be rightly be looked back on as his masterpiece.

For budding filmmakers on a budget that doesn’t stretch to film school, Scott’s commentaries are also a one-stop-shop master class on movie making; whether it’s location scouting for Thelma and Louise, making the most of props in The Duellists, or reusing sets in Gladiator. This year sees the definitive Blade Runner, which comes as the 25th Anniversary Final Cut.

While we wait for that, Warner Brothers seems to be in the mood to make up for past transgressions. Payback – The Director’s Cut allows Brian Helgeland, to finish the film he was originally kicked off of during post-production the way he intended.

There is a danger of these revised versions becoming little more than curios. Perhaps none more so than Superman II – The Richard Donner Cut, which I watched this afternoon while the horses and their tiny riders were jumping over fences.

The director of Superman – The Movie, Donner was fired by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind before he could finish filming the sequel and replaced by Richard Lester, who previously directed The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers in the same back-to-back fashion for the Salkind’s and so obviously enjoyed a less fractious relationship with them. So this is the first time Donner’s name appears on the finished film.

With not all of his footage shot, one key scene early on in the film exists only as a screen test that was luckily filmed with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. In other sequences Marlon Brando is reinstated, after originally being replaced by a smaller-salaried Susannah York, as is Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, after the actor sided with his original director and took a walk following Donner’s dismissal.

With Lester’s slapstick elements ditched, this Superman II obviously plays as a better companion piece to the first film. Rather than watch the originally released version which comes as part of the package, I played it again with the Donner/Tom Mankiewicz commentary which was quite illuminating, although the light of recall had been dimmed somewhat by the years.

Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s a reasonable enough film. For film students and writers alike it gives a pretty decent indication of seeing how two different directors approached and then shaped more or less the same material.


At 10:59 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

I can barely wait for 28 Months Later, closely followed by 28 Years Later, no doubt.

Oh, hang on. Yes I can. I can wait forever, if I have to. ;-)

At 8:40 am, Blogger Brian Sibley said...

You have rightly attacked the DVD market for it's crass money-making scams that leave many purchasers who love film (but who are totally lacking in any resonable vestige of self-control) feeling let-down and cheated --- well, ROBBED, actually!

I began hating DVD companies when they released ratio prints of wide-screen films (Disney's THE LION KING was one of the first to work this trick) and then, three months later with much trumpeting, released the WIDE-SCREEN VERSION: the format in which the film should have been viewed to start with.

Once everyone realises that a great many film companies don't care about the films they issue on DVD other than as unit of sale, it is possible to decide that they are not units you truly need to buy!

However, thanks for the 'heads-up' on LEGEND which I obviously need to view un-cut and, maybe, even KINGDOM OF HEAVEN which I really didn't like - partly because they stupidly borrowed Sauron's seige-engines to attack Jerusalem and partly because Mr Bloom really can't act... But then maybe all his acting was in the missing 45 mins... ;-)

At 6:23 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


I think coming late to DVD was a good thing for me, because I had seen the "multiple release pattern".

Thing is, I'm happy to wait for my instant gratification. Heck, I'm still waiting on the third book in James Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy.

When it comes to films by directors I know put out a good DVD package, I'll wait. It may be a case of them being in production of their next film and don't have the time.

But with a lot of films, how happy are consumers to find, after the single disc edition... a 2-disc special edition, an Ultimate edition, a Definitive edition, a Top Sparky edition...?

The Region 1 Legend package is spectacular. It comes with the original US cut, Ridley Scott's final cut - which is longer and more coherent that the UK release - a great documentary and additional material, and a superb RS commentary. Oh, and with the exchange rate, it's about the same price as the rubbish UK DVD.

The extended cut of Kingdom of Heaven is so utterly ace that it even makes Mr Bloom look good.


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