Ask a Dork: Director’s Cuts
“What are some of your favorite examples of a Director’s Cut? What are some bad examples?”
For the sake of brevity I’m going to limit my favorite and least favorite examples of director’s cuts to three apiece. This is mostly due to the fact that there are only handful of good DXs in the wild and a plethora of mostly bad ones. I think the challenge of making a DX edition of any movie will stem mostly from a director’s (potentially frustrated) ego. There will always be content left on the cutting room floor and the question will always be whether that content can potentially enhance or add layers to the film OR if it will take away from the already appealing elements and make the runtime bloated. Films like Kingdom of Heaven and I Am Legend have benefited from the alternate endings and added sequences because they add context to the greater strife, whereas already tedious films like Daredevil only become more tedious due to an added half-hour of BS filler. It’s all about balance.
My favorite director’s cut is the 2007 edition of Blade Runner. The movie itself is impressively timeless. I mean, it looks like it could have been made today. However, the studio pushed a lot of needless changes on the theatrical cut – including Harrison Ford’s unnecessary voiceover and a totally out of place happy ending. Not only does Ridley Scott’s updated cut clean up these missteps, but it also adds depth to our main character. Case in point: the addition of an origami unicorn invites speculation that the movie’s hero is actually a Replicant himself. It made people think without providing any firm answers. Which I think is respectable.
I’m also a fan of the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. Donner was removed well into production of the Superman sequel (he had already shot about 80% of the script) due to arguments with producers over the tone of the film. He wanted a dark and moody Superman and the studio wanted it to be corny and campy. The movie was reshot under Richard Lester’s direction and I honestly think it stands up as one of the worst super hero movies of all time. That includes the terrible sequels that followed. Donner, however, was able to strike a balance that made Clark Kent relatable and real. We had to wait until 2006 for his footage to finally see the light of day, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks the original is better.
Finally, there is the MASSIVE Lord of the Rings box set. Sure, the theatrical cuts were dandy, but some of the supporting characters lacked depth. Not only did the deleted scenes in the director’s cuts NOT weigh the runtimes of the films down, but they also enhanced the narrative and provided closure to a number of plotlines that were otherwise hanging. It also helps that he touched up some of the special FX.
Now let’s go on to the worst, starting with Donnie Darko. I LOVE the theatrical cut of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. It’s a dark but quirky suburban adventure that explores the concepts of fate, time travel, and surrealism. And it makes no sense on the surface. I love that. When Richard Kelly released a new cut of the film, however, he basically spelled out the film. Nothing was hard to understand or follow. All of the burning questions that viewers had to internalize had been answered. And that was a bloody shame. His follow-up, Southland Tales, only served to demonstrate that when editing is left in Kelly’s hands he has no restraint.
And then there are the new age apologetics employed by the 20th anniversary director’s cut of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Guns were removed from hands of government agents facing a potential alien threat and replaced with walkie-talkies. Which didn’t make sense. CGI overlays were placed over images of the E.T. puppet. Which were unnecessary. Scenes were added of Elliott and E.T. hanging out. Which only bloated the runtime. E.T.’s ship was digitally altered to seem more dark and menacing. Which stood in contrast to the tone of the film itself. All of this was detrimental to the charm of this classic. Some would say that the Star Wars re-releases were worse, but in my mind this director’s cut was a bigger disgrace.
Finally, there is the Watchmen Ultimate Cut – which is basically Zach Snyder auto-felicitating for 3 hours and 35 minutes. Honestly, there is no other way to put it. This film is long and extremely self-indulgent. I mean, the theatrical cut suffered from weird editing choices and poor pacing (mostly due to Snyder’s lack of self-restraint), but this edition is bloated and completely unwieldy. The incorporated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences somehow don’t work well as an allusion to the events in the main plot… even though they did in the original comic series. Moreover, the animation seemed needlessly grotesque and I don’t think it is what Alan Moore would have wanted. Regardless, all I can say about this “ultimate cut” is that it is a disservice to a film that almost perfectly captured the acclaimed graphic novel.
That’s all I’m going to say on the subject.