Things only last in their pure form for a short while after they have been named. So it is with the director’s cut. The director’s cut of a film took on significance when it was substantially different from the version released by Hollywood. It did not take Hollywood long to co-opt and market the term into insignificance.
Most director’s cuts are simply a matter of a scene or two inserted into a film that does very little to change a film. The only more useless term is ‘unrated’. Unrated is used constantly on horror movies that were watered down for an all ages PG-13 release then they add back the few seconds of violence that was trimmed when it is released on home video and no longer needs a PG-13 rating.
Still there are some director’s cuts worth noting. The director’s cut of Alien does not appreciably change the film, simply changing a few takes and adding a fan favorite scene that slows down the narrative at a crucial moment. The original cut is actually better and clearly Ridley Scott should not be allowed to tinker too much as there are now, I think, five versions of Blade Runner available.
Speaking of someone who should not be allowed to touch his completed films, George Lucas actually took his original Star Wars trilogy (you know, the good one) and made it worse by cramming special effects shot after special effects shot into an already classic series of films. Since he owned the rights at the time, they weren’t even called director’s cuts. Obviously there is some hope now that since Disney owns the rights, Han will shoot first in the future.
Getting back to Aliens, James Cameron’s directors cut of Aliens is almost half an hour longer than the U.S. cut. There are some great scenes reintroduced but the overall theme of motherhood is no longer subtle but seems rather sledgehammered home. I enjoy the director’s cut more but the U.S. cut is definitely tighter.
Aliens 3, one of David Fincher’s first films, is an incomprehensible mess. The longer cut, which restores much of his work, is not an actual director’s cut as Fincher has disavowed it. It does make the film much better than it has a right to be. The basic premise of Alien 3 was a huge middle finger to those that loved Aliens. It was also made at the dawn of CGI and the CGI is just awful in many scenes.
In addition to Blade Runner and Alien, there is also a director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Ridley Scott filmed a fabulous epic of the Crusades that suffered from three faults. First, it starred Orlando Bloom who, while not bad, cannot carry the film. Second, it presents Muslim characters in a reasonable light and shows many Christian ones as fanatics. While that is historically accurate, this was too soon after 9/11 for audiences to embrace. The third fault was that the studio decided to cut it from well over three hours (epic length) to just under two and a half (summer blockbuster length). Gone were many subplots and much comprehensibility. The director’s cut restores the subplots making the film the near-classic it should have been.
Which brings us to tomorrow’s topic: the highly anticipated director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed