Director’s Sales Manager’s Cut

MoviesThe other night I watched the “Special Extended DVD Edition” of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and I must say that it’s one of the more memorable “alternate versions” I’ve seen in a long time. Director Peter Jackson has been very deliberate in stating that this is not a “Director’s Cut” of the film, but just a different version. I personally believe that it is superior to the theatrical release, but it is, perhaps, less “mainstream-compatible,” clocking in at three and a half hours.

We’re seeing the words Director’s Cut thrown around an awful lot of late. Theoretically, it means that the studio forced cuts on the director for the theatrical version, the implication being that those cuts impaired the artistic vision of the director — resulting in an inferior film — and only now are you being given the chance to see the real movie. I have two problems with this.

First, in a lot of cases, “studio-mandated” cuts significantly improve a film. As a content creator myself, I know full well the overwhelming attachment to every little piece of footage shot. I recently produced a video presentation for a firmwide meeting, and we had a hard-and-fast limit of 10 minutes (which I interpreted to mean we could get away with 12, but no more). Sure enough, my absolute-minimum cut came in at 18 minutes; there was no way I could cut anything more. But I did. And the final piece ended up being infinitely better for it. Not only was the fat cut, but anything even approaching fat was out of there as well. Studio heads may be suits, but they’re suits who (at least theoretically) know audiences.

Second, what’s billed as a Director’s Cut is often nothing of the sort — it’s just a way of repackaging the film with cut footage spliced back into the picture. In most cases, it’s not the director initiating this, it’s the very studio that’s vilified for making the cuts in the first place. The Lethal Weapon films were rereleased (on video) as Director’s Cuts, but the extent of director Richard Donner’s involvement is questionable. Most notably (and see my upcoming critique in the next Inkblots), Blade Runner was released theatrically as a Director’s Cut, but while it included some of the features of director Ridley Scott’s version, it was actually derived from a studio restoration project — the actual already-in-progress Director’s Cut was pulled from Scott in favor of this version (rumors persist about Scott’s cut seeing the light of day in a future DVD release).

Yes, some films’ final cuts are pulled from directors by studio executives. And frequently, those studio cuts are detrimental to the artistic content of the film. Eyes Wide Shut was substantially edited after Stanley Kubrick’s death to achieve an R rating in the United States (the full version of the film was released in Europe). Francis Ford Coppola didn’t have time to finish The Godfather Part III before its theatrical release; he did continue afterward to reedit it for the video release. But such forcible reediting is not universally the case — witness how George Lucas can’t stop tinkering with his films (including American Graffiti, which had a minor digital makeover), with debatable degrees of “improvement.”

Still, it’s kind of nice when a director presents a different version of a film as just that — different. Not necessarily better or worse, but different. Jackson did it with Fellowship, James Cameron did it with Aliens, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It doesn’t have to be called a Director’s Cut to be worth seeing, as evidenced by the success of all of those films on DVD. I’d rather the studios tell the truth about what it is and get actual director involvement than call it what it’s not and lose that participation.


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