Thursday, August 09, 2007

Third Time Lucky

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.


At 8:37 am, Blogger Ian said...

The world has officially gone mad. Even the high def shiny disc versions (whose sales are just a pebble drop in the ocean) are having two different versions of the remastered sets released: The Collector's Edition and The Ultimte Collector's Edition, with the latter apparently requiring a briefcase to hold the contents. The marketing morons really have taken over the asylum when they think people want five versions of the same film.

At 9:17 am, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Will it include the long-lost musical version performed on ice, set in sunny Bavaria too?

Jeez, can’t wait ’til we get a remastered version of Battle Beyond the Stars or Caddyshack in 3D.

As Bill Hicks once said “If you work in marketing, kill yourself. Now. I’m not joking, do it.”

Oh, have a look at that first paragraph again, would ya? ;-)

At 9:22 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Ah yes, the briefcase.

In the case - which will be individually numbered (Ooooohh!) - you get:

A lenticular motion film clip from the original feature... Ooooohh!

A miniature origami unicorn figurine... Ooooohh!

A miniature replica spinner car... Ooooohh!

A set of "collector's" photographs... Ooooohh!

And a signed personal letter from Sir Ridley Scott... He probably says, thanks for the continued interest but pretty please, can we move on?!

At 9:24 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Fella, whoa, was seeing double for a moment. Thanks for the heads up!

At 5:50 pm, Blogger wcdixon said...

I've vowed off any of these Special Editions or Directors/Final Cut. The films themselves are inevitably better without the added footage, or the changes are so insignificant it doesn't matter.

Occasionally, like 'Once Upon A Time In America', you can discover a truly different and better movie (recent release 'Zodiac' apparently has a 4 hour version that is smoking...but who knows if that will ever see light of day, or if it is in fact any good), but mostly it's all marketing. Yet people lap them up. Shocking.

At 7:01 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


When it comes to a couple of minutes here and there to “create” a special edition/director’s cut – what Ridley Scott calls “a lot of entries and exits of scenes” – then it simply looks like a way for the studios to get more cash out of people’s pockets. And that sucks.

Like I said, I hope this is it for Blade Runner. Please, let’s move on. But at least there is an audience who wants to see it. With Alexander.... Stone should just move on.

Luckily, over here, I don't think we ever had the truncated, put-in-chronological-order version of Once Upon a Time in America. Same with Heaven's Gate, which is a film I really love and want on DVD.

I hate to bang on about Kingdom of Heaven but this longer cut really is a fantastic film. Like I said earlier, I never saw the theatrical release but at no point does the new version feel too long or drag at any point, so in the cinema the film must have seemed positively anaemic in places. I suspect that apart from the child being removed from the story, the politics of Jerusalem went out the window as well rather than cut down on the spectacular battle scenes.

Actually, another film I keep forgetting to mention is Untitled, Cameron Crowe's "bootleg" cut of Almost Famous with an extra 35 minutes. A great movie, and again, I didn't see the theatrical cut either in the cinema. It comes on a second disc in the set and I can’t see any point in watching it.

And I was pleased to see the workprint of Alien 3 in the recent 2-disc edition. In this instance, I love the theatrical version, but Fincher’s version certainly makes for a better film.

....a four hour version of Zodiac? Mmmmmmm.


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