The following essay is a unique collaboration of Daily Film Dose and A Penny in the Well – two bloggers and Ridley Scott fans with strong opinions about the notion of the so-called ‘Director’s Cut’.
Last week Ridley Scott released yet another "Alternate Cut" of a film he’s directed—the extended version of "American Gangster". With the release of “Blade Runner: The Final Cut” last year, this becomes the 8th alternate version of a film directed by Mr. Scott, possibly making him the king of the director’s cut.
Can Ridley not make a movie that he’s satisfied with? Well, yes he can. But even the films with which he is completely satisfied get tinkered with over and over again. Is nothing sacred?
First let's get out of the way the meaning of a "Director's Cut". After a film is shot, it's edited by the editor under the guidance of the director. But remember, it's the executive producer or investor who ultimately has final say on a film (unless a director is given "final cut"). Under this 'traditional' method of post-production a director works with his editor producing a number of rough cuts with advice and notes from the executive producers, after which time he produces his ‘Director's Cut’. If this cut pleases everyone, the picture is 'locked' and it moves into the sound edit. If it doesn't, there's usually some head butting—sometimes peaceful, sometimes not—and hopefully some compromises are made to everyone. Sometimes the director is too stubborn and is forced to leave the project; sometimes he leaves in protest. But often times the Director's Cut differs from the Final Cut.
It wasn't until the 1980's/90's when a public demand emerged for these 'Director's Cuts'. The new home video market saw an opportunity to repackage popular old titles to market as new. I.e. Warner Bros could sell more tapes of "Blade Runner" if audiences thought they were going to see something different than they saw 10 years before.
Thus the Director's Cut became a marketing tool, not a form of protest for grumpy directors and rarely the realization of an artist’s true uncompromised vision. After all, video rights are usually held by the distributor or executive producers who had ‘Final Cut’ rights in the first place.
Ridley Scott has been victim of both a compromised vision and a marketing tool. Seven of his films have been re-cut after the fact—sometimes with his approval, sometimes without. But only three of these films represent the preferred version of Mr. Scott—the one he has on his DVD shelf.
Here's a breakdown of the Multiple Versions of Ridley Scott:
Original Cut (1979) 117 mins
Director’s Cut (2003) 116 mins
Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror classic about a space salvage crew that find themselves the victims of an insect-like alien that seems created for the sole purpose of consuming any being it can get its multiple jaws on is perhaps the best example of the director’s thinking on the so-called “Director’s Cut. ” In the DVD liner notes to the 2003 released “Director’s Cut” he admits that the ’79 version of the film is his director’s cut and the new release was cooked up by the studio to insert some scenes that found their way to the cutting room floor. Perhaps the most unique detail of the 2003 version of “Alien” is the fact that, unlike most ‘director’s cuts,’ it is actually shorter than the original film. The new cut was most likely inspired by fans clamoring to see the film’s most famous deleted scene in context. The scene explains the alien’s life cycle—which was originally revealed theatrically in James Cameron’s 1986 sequel “Aliens”—and depicted the fate of the ship’s captain, Dallas. The scene itself is fascinating, but in context becomes a stumbling block for the storytelling. It comes at the climax of the story and brings the film to a dead stop. Scott was justified in cutting it from the film originally.
Original Cut (1982) 116 mins
‘Director’s’ Cut (1992) 116mins
Final Cut (2007) 116mins
There have been 3 or 4 versions of this sci-fi noir that follows a bounty hunter searching for rouge cybernetic criminals known as replicants in release at various times. The four key differences between all versions are 1) the graphic violence including the famous close up of Roy Batty pushing his thumbs through Tyrell's eyes, 2) the Unicorn Dream sequence that suggests the bounty hunter Deckard is also a replicant, 3) the so-called "happy ending" which shows Deckard and Rachael driving off into the sunset (using b-roll from “The Shining”!), and 4) the noirish hardboiled voiceover from Harrison Ford that explains minor details of the film audiences understood anyway. Each of the versions are essentially different combinations of these 4 variations. It’s hard to choose a preference for any one of the versions over the others. No matter which you see, it's still the same film—a great existential sci-fi masterpiece.
Original Cut (1985) 89 mins
Director’s Cut (2002) 114 mins
More unicorns, but no masterpiece; though it's not as much the stinker it was labeled back in 1985. At times it's a beautiful and elegant film set in a fantasy world where the elements of purity and innocence struggle against the forces of corruption and evil. The extended cut adds 20 minutes of some new and extended footage, and perhaps most significantly the original Jerry Goldsmith orchestral score that was famously replaced in the North American version for a more “modern” sounding Tangerine Dream. Both scores are fantastic though. Another key change is the introduction of Tim Curry as the wonderfully made-up Devilish creature ‘Darkness’. He is introduced in the opening minutes of the original, but in the Director’s Cut he isn’t seen until the third act—a much stronger build-up to his menacing character. Though we don’t have Mr. Scott quoted anywhere saying so, this appears to be his preferred cut.
Click HERE to continue to Part II at Andrew D. Wells’ A Penny in the Well