Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Alternate Versions

The DVD format has meant that a flurry of different versions of movies are now available to the customer. I have compiled a list of my own preferences for some notable alternatives. I have not bothered to mentions cases where the cuts were externally required (such as the elimination of the "oysters and snails" scene from Spartacus owing as to the Legion of Decency) or the newer practice of creating "theatrical" and "unrated" editions of horror and teen comedies that promise more gore and nudity as a selling point for the DVD. Nor have I counted films such as The Sea Hawk that were significantly shortened after their initial releases in order to fit onto double bills.

Updated 6/24/09

The Abyss
I liked the extended version of this film when I first saw it, but over time I've found that it perhaps belabors its points a bit too much. In fact, I would say that over time I've found myself less and less intrigued by this film in general.

My preference is for the original 1979 theatrical cut. Director Ridley Scott has on occasion mentioned that he prefers the original cut as well, although he did enjoy the opportunity to revisit the film. The alternate version of the film is interesting, but it isn't quite as effective as the original; it also omits one of the best sequences (Dallas' [Tom Skerritt] last conversation with Mother). While it is a harbinger for Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the cocoon sequence does not fit in with the continuity of the sequels.

I know many people who prefer the theatrical version of this film, and I respect that opinion, but this was one of the first laserdiscs I ever bought so many years ago, and so to me, the special edition is Aliens. The theatrical version always seems abbreviated to me, so despite its tighter structure, I prefer the extended edition. I also happen to feel that the additional scenes about Ripley's daughter and between Ripley and Newt (Carrie Henn) emphasize the film's central "motherhood" theme, which, of course, comes to a rousing climax in the film as a battle between two matriarchs ("Get away from her, you bitch!!!").

Almost Famous
This is a case where the theatrical version is only a summary of the extended edition. This is a character piece, and the additional footage allows a deeper understanding not only of the characters, but a better evocation of a specific time and place. While this film is bathed with nostalgia, it also has some hard lessons Cameron Crowe learned at this point in his life, and they ring much more true with in the original cut.

I prefer the original theatrical version of this film, which I think is a superb piece of 'what if' storytelling. I must admit that I do enjoy the extended cut as well, but it is mostly because it offers a very different take on much of the same material. It is, however, mostly gratuitous.

Apocalypse Now
My preference is unreservedly for the original version. While I understand Coppola's intent in making the Redux edition, I find the expansions not only to unnecessarily slow down a film that already has a languid pace, but to often undercut the existing scenes. This is particularly true in the case of the sequence with Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who is a chilling presence in the 1979 version but is a buffoon in the Redux version. And that plantation scene is just interminable. See here for more detailed comments on the differences of the two versions.

Army of Darkness
Were it not for the condition of the materials, the "director's cut" of this film would be much superior. The darker ending is much more in keeping with Evil Dead 2, which this movie is supposed to be a sequel to.

Bad Santa
There are three versions of this film: the original R rated theatrical cut, the unrated "Badder Santa" cut and the director's cut. While I understand where Zwigoff was going with his director's cut, it tends to emphasize the pathetic nature of your protagonists than the comedy, making the film more depressing than funny. My preference is for the theatrical cut, but the "Badder Santa" version is very close.

Basic Instinct
To be honest, I don't like either version of this film very much. However, in for a penny, in for a pound, so the more explicit director's cut is the one to watch if you're going to bother at all. I've always found it too cold to be very erotic, though.

Blade Runner
While I appreciate different aspects of the different versions of this film, I have to say that I agree with Ridley Scott's assessment that the "Final Cut" is the definitive version of this film. I don't have a problem with any of the alterations made - digital or otherwise - because the previous versions are being preserved, but I think that all of the choices made in the creation of the "Final Cut" were very good ones.

There are three versions of this movie not counting the "Love Conquers All" mess that appears on the Criterion laserdisc and DVDs... the American and European theatrical versions and the cut that Terry Gilliam put together for the Criterion laser. Now, my preference is easy enough; the Criterion cut is the slightly longer European version with a few additional scenes that didn't appear in the American cut (including a very disturbing scene in which Mr. Helpmann [Peter Vaughan] appears in a Santa suit) plus the clouds from the title sequence and two other tiny bits exclusive to the American version. It is the best of both worlds.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
As somebody who grew up reading these books, I found myself rather pleased with Andrew Adamson's interpretation. I prefer the longer version. While the extended cut is essentially the same film, the added footage makes it slightly better paced than the theatrical version, and the extensions on the battle scenes at the conclusion are extremely effective.

Cinema Paradiso
The original release cut of this film is one-third shorter, eliminating most of the third section of the film which happens to give a much darker spin to the movie as a whole. This bothers a lot of people, for whom the innocent nostalgia of the first two parts of the film is the raison d'etre for the film. I have found, however, that I prefer the fuller version as the more adult section towards the end puts the finale into a much more emotional perspective. I feel there are advantages to both - the original is much lighter but still a guaranteed tear-jerker - but the longer version has more symmetry.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
I like the original theatrical cut of this film, although I think that Steven Spielberg's most recent edit of the film isn't so bad. I don't like the special edition version of this, with that silly and illogical ending that breaks the poetic finale. To the best of my knowledge, the only way to see the theatrical cut on home video is the Criterion laserdisc (which I have).

Donnie Darko
When I saw the original cut of the film and listened to the commentary track, I couldn't help but feel that it was one of those cases where a director may not have understood the appeal of his own film. However, I have to admit that I found myself rather enjoying the director's cut. I both versions of the movie have their advantages; the original cut is more ambiguous, which works in the film's favor, while the director's cut has a greater narrative clarity. So I don't really have a definitive preference; which version I choose will depend on my mood at the time. I still think that Donnie is disturbed in either version of the film, though.

This is an easy one. I loathe the extended version, although it has a lot of really cool stuff in it. The theatrical version, for all of its (admittedly copious) problems, is an amazing creation with an iconic cast, a dazzling example of surrealist science fiction. The extended cut, which was not made or authorized by David Lynch, is sloppily edited and the lack of attention to narrative clarity meant that oftimes only half of a restored scene appears, thus creating almost as much confusion as the theatrical version (which is best enjoyed stoned anyway).

The Exorcist
The original 1972 version of the film is William Friedkin's, while "The Version You Never Saw" is basically William Peter Blatty's. While there are some nice moments in Blatty's version (the scene on the stairs) on the whole I have to say that I really think that Friedkin's much 'colder' version is the superior take on this material.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
While I loathe the retooling done to the soundtrack of the extended version of this film, it is clear that the cuts made by the American distributor were done for time only, not dramatic import. The additional scenes are actually very important to the plot of the film, connecting dots and clarifying quite a lot of narrative leaps in the shorter edition.

The longer version explains a bit more of Connor McLeod's (Christopher Lambert) backstory, and has a few humorous and violent bits that didn't need to be cut. Not a very big difference, but the longer cut is slightly more fun.

Kingdom of Heaven
There is no contest here whatsoever. I didn't like the theatrical version of this film very much, finding it disjointed and derivative. The Director's Cut was therefore a revelation, restoring all of the character motivations, giving context to their actions and allowing the film to breathe on its own.

Lethal Weapon 1 & 2
While the additional scenes in both films are mostly inconsequential, neither do they detract from the films as a whole. I prefer the so-called director's cut editions mostly because of the improved picture and sound quality of those discs (with full bandwidth 1509 kb/s DTS tracks).

The Lord of the Rings
I have several reasons for preferring the extended versions of these movies. The first is that the additional material is mostly character oriented, or otherwise fills out the cinematic treatment of Tolkien's world. I also think that the films play better when spread out over time, like a mini-series, which the two platter DVD presentation does quite well. While the expansions of The Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King are merely more embellished version of the theatrical cuts, The Two Towers is dramatically and structurally very different.

The differences between the two cuts of this film are very minor, and I don't think that either one of them is better than the other. The theatrical cut emphasizes the police procedural aspects of the story while the director's cut version concentrates more on the psychological aspects of the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan) and the emotional journey that Will Graham (William Peterson) has to undertake to capture him. I feel that they could both be combined to make a single, superior version of the film, which I saw Royal S. Brown do once for a Postmodernism in Cinema class.

The Criterion Collection laserdisc (and subsequent DVD) restored a few shots of graphic violence that were cut to avoid an "X" rating. The ED-209 sequence was much more explicit, which actually had the effect of making the sequence less disturbing by playing up the cartoonish nature of the sequence. On the other hand, the scene of Murphy's (Peter Weller) death is more effective because of the additional gore.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
I don't like any of the existing versions of this film. I think that the "Director's Edition" is an improvement in pace over both the theatrical and special edition versions of the film, but I feel that there are some alternative takes in the special edition that are dramatically superior to those used in the final film (Bones [DeForest Kelley] chewing out Kirk [William Shatner] in his quarters) and certain scenes that the film could have used (Sulu [George Takei] and Ilia [Persis Khambatta]). I also think that the streamlined version of the soundtrack that is on the director's edition leaves out a lot of nice nautical touches (such as Sulu's constant updates on the position of the Enterprise).

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The director's edition of this film is, in fact, the version put together initially for the film's network syndicated run, and contains a few parts of scenes that add to the characters and their investment in the story. Of particular interest is the scene in sickbay, which is given a greater gravitas because of the establishment of Peter Preston (Ike Eisenmann) earlier in the film and additional dialogue in which Kirk admits his own failings in the situation.

The Star Wars Trilogy
I don't even have to get into these, do I?

The 2000 cut of this film is the one that I like best. It has all of the advantages of the original 1978 version of the movie but adds a few extra scenes that my not be entirely necessary, but don't detract at all from the film as a whole and are quite enjoyable in context.

Superman II
This is harder. While I do like the Brando scenes and the more serious treatment of the ending, the Lois/Superman storyline is much more emotionally engaging in Lester's version. And the ending, which was going to have to have been changed regardless of whether Donner or Lester finished the project doesn't work in context of the two existing cuts of Superman. Overall, I have to say that I prefer Lester's theatrical version, which is at least a completed work. I compared the two versions here.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day
I much prefer the extended version, which explains a lot more about the behavior of the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). It also adds more much needed character moments for John Connor (Edward Furlong) who just comes across as whiny in the theatrical cut. And more of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is never a bad thing.

Touch of Evil
This is a tough one. In general I prefer Walter Murch's 1998 cut of the film, which was guided by Welles' original memos. However, while placing the credits at the end of the film was very much in keeping with Welles' style, the title sequence of the theatrical cut with its bouncy Henry Mancini score is one of the most memorable in film history, and I feel the film suffers somewhat with it absent.

lehah mentioned a few I don't feel qualified to judge:
Dawn of the Dead - Zombie movies scare the shit out of me, so I'm hard-pressed to watch just one much less two versions of one.
The Wild Bunch - I've never seen the shorter version.
Tags: cinema, lists
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