Inventor, painter and all-round polymath, Leonardo da Vinci may have created early prototypes of the tank and helicopter, but I doubt he would have declared “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” if he had foreseen the DVD.
Earlier this year Sony released Spiderman 2.1
with eight whole minutes of additional fisticuffs on the eve of the third film’s release. 20th Century Fox then brought out a “Special Edition” of 28 Days Later
with new material that concentrated on the Juan Carlos Fresnadillo-directed 28 Weeks Later
, which, by happy coincide was just about to be released onto cinema screens.
Now Universal have got in on the act with “Extended Editions” of both The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy
on DVD in the run up to The Bourne Ultimatum
. What makes them “Extended” versions, I’m not quite sure. A cursory glance at the packaging shows that both films seem to have their original running times and anyway, when it comes to tautly paced thrillers the last thing you need is unnecessary, additional footage slowing things down.
I didn’t catch up with The Bourne Identity
until the “Special Edition” was out in the shops some years back. The disc’s play menu offered the chance to watch “the explosive extended edition”. Choosing that option, the film branched off to a new opening and closing sequence with the most appalling artifacting that did nothing to improve the story. In fact it was quite the opposite and, even more annoyingly, the disc had away with the Doug Liman commentary to make room for this nonsense. If I want to listen to that I’ll have to pick up a copy of the original DVD release.
When a popular author brings out a new novel the publishers are usually apt to reprint their back catalogue, redesigning the covers to fit in with the current book. They don’t ask the author to add to new more chapters to their last few books to entice readers to buy them a second time, which is why this method of shuffling around the DVD extras on re-releases as an incentive to get people to fork over more money that much more irritating.
In those instances, the repackaging of films into various Special Editions, Ultimate Editions and Definitive Editions seems to be at the behest of the studios. Where the filmmakers become involved is when we get Director’s Cuts.
I’m all for them as long as they make a significant difference to the film. In his introduction to the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven
, Ridley Scott calls the 45-minutes of footage shorn from the theatrical release, “organic characterisation” rather than simply “adding a couple of shots at the beginning and a couple of shots end, and doing an elongated version of a lot of entries and exits of scenes.”
The most significant additions involve Eva Green’s Princess Sibylla and her son, which 20th Century Fox wanted removed because they argued it took the story off at a tangent. Though having not seen the film in the cinema, reviews indicate that the omission of these scenes in particular left her character slight and her actions leading up to the fall of Jerusalem confusing at best.
“Is it true that in Jerusalem I can erase my sins?” asks Orlando Bloom’s Balian. Over the years DVD seems to have become the perfect ground for meddlesome studios to acquit themselves of past misdeeds. The push and pull between art and commerce has always left executives interfering with the end product, whether it was simply wanting shorter running times to allow for more screenings per day, or having larger issues with the story content.
Looking at the recent spate of proper “director’s cuts” that have come to DVD rather than films with a few inconsequential nips and tucks, one thing common to nearly all of them is that they either completely stiffed at the box-office or didn’t meet expectations. This could be a cynical way for the studios to try and squeeze the last few drops of milk from a shrivelled tit, or their way of letting the filmmakers they previously overruled release theirs how they wanted to.
Warner Brothers seem to be more eager than any other to take this approach. In recent times we’ve had the Richard Donner cut of Superman II
, Brian Helgeland putting Payback
back together in the way he had originally envisioned and, at the beginning of October, Wolfgang Petersen's director’s cut of film Troy
will be released with 30 minutes of new footage.
Any studio transgressions aside, the true antithesis of da Vinci’s quote is when directors keep doodling around with past projects, unable to let them lie. Recently arrived in the shops comes Warner Home Video’s release of Oliver Stone’s Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut
This is now the third
version of Alexander
on DVD, after the theatrical cut and Director’s Cut, each one progressively longer than the last. If you want it longer there’s only the five-hour Fanny and Alexander
left, although it lacks battles with elephants.
If Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut
was how Oliver Stone meant it to be seen, what does that say about Alexander: Director’s Cut
released just over two years ago? Stone may be passionate about the subject matter even if the audience doesn’t give a fig, but there are times when you just have to “abandon” it and move on. Which brings us to the release, later in the year, of Blade Runner: The Final Cut
I saw Blade Runner
when it was first released in 1982, then caught the Director’s Cut ten years later when it was screened at the London Film Festival. Certainly a fan of Ridley Scott’s work, of his films that I like, I probably like Blade Runner
the least. Sure it’s visually arresting, but there are times when the look threats to take over the film and swamp the slender plot.
Why a Final Cut? Well, it turns out that The Director’s Cut was really the director’s cut. It may have ditched the voice-over and upbeat ending but Scott had been too busy preparing to shoot 1492: Conquest of Paradise
to give the film his full attention. Shooting his Columbus epic even precluded him from introducing the new version of Blade Runner
at the LFF.
Obviously now he’s found the time to do it justice and deliver, well, the final cut, free from the original studio interference in time for the film’s 25th anniversary. Details of the Region 1 DVDs have become available. Hopefully the Region 2 discs will follow suit.
The remastered 2-disc edition of The Final Cut comes with three separate commentaries: one from Ridley Scott, another from screenwriters Hampton Fancher David Peoples, and the third involving visual futurist Syd Mead; production designer Lawrence G. Paull, art director David L. Snyder and special photographic effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer.Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner
, Charles de Lauzirika’s extensive three-and-a-half-hour documentary takes up the second disc, looking into every aspect of the film from it’s literary roots to its controversial legacy. If Lauzirika’s work on the 2-disc Special Edition of Alien
, and the 4-disc Definitive Edition of Kingdom of Heaven
is anything to go by, this should be the last word on the subject.
The 4-disc Collector’s Edition includes all of the above together with three previous versions of the Blade Runner
on the third disc: both the original US theatrical cut and international release from 1982, which differed from the American version insofar that it contained some extended action scenes, along with the 1992 Director’s Cut.
The last DVD in the set contains an archive of additional features that includes features on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
’s author Philip K. Dick, original promotional featurettes, screen tests, trailers and poster galleries, along with a further 45 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes.
There’s also a limited 5-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition containing everything plus the remastered Blade Runner
Workprint whose discovery kicked the whole restoration off. Really, if you need five versions of the same film and you’re not a specky film scholar it’s time to take a good look in the mirror and re-evaluate your life.
While Blade Runner: The Final Cut
affords Scott the luxury of delivering his definitive version of the film, Warner Brothers get to rub their hands together with glee at the thought of all the money that will come flooding into their coffers from fans ready to recite every word of Roy Batty’s final speech.
For once everybody wins. Now that we can finally celebrate Blade Runner
in style, can we also please leave it and move on.