Playing with heresy

Back in the days of laserdisc, I once did an experiment where I grabbed and integrated all of the deleted scenes from a bonus disc to reconstruct a film’s first cut – just to see how the damn thing played, compared to the final theatrical edit.

The results were interesting, but the ‘restoration’ confirmed the footage was wisely chopped out / repositioned because too many things were ‘off.’ It was more than a pacing issue; conflicts didn’t have clean and logical ascensions, there were redundancies, and the running time felt a lot longer. The director was right the first time, and he wisely never went back to attempt a second version that suited his mindset, 10 years later.

Movie fans often get samplings on DVD of how a scene or a finale were originally written, shot, edited, but radically changed because the end result just didn’t work.

Joy Ride (2001), for example, contains a lengthy series of alternate scenes for the first edit that really didn’t work, and mandated substantial reshoots. The Butterfly Effect (2004) has an alternate ending that is spectacularly terrible (although the more satisfying ending used in the final edit still didn’t help an already awful film).

The new Blu-ray edition of Alien 3 (1992) contains two versions of the film, but the new restoration isn’t a definitive version, but an impression of the film’s agreed-upon design prior to firings and rewrites and reshoots. (Amazingly, the production changes didn’t create a mess in the end, but they left a lot of fans puzzled by peculiar footage seen only on pre-release trailers.)

The Exorcist (1973) is a different animal because it was never wrong nor imperfect. The version released in theatres was a smash hit, so logically one has to ask why anyone would be compelled to mess with it?

The so called ‘director’s cut’ created in 2000 by William Friedkin is a compromise made to settle the ongoing whining by writer William Peter Blatty, who not only wrote the novel & script, but produced the film, giving him clout and influence to keep pushing for a reinstatement of deleted scenes he felt were vital to the story and characters.

Warner Home Video’s new 2-disc Blu-ray release basically gathers everything from the 1998 and 2000 special edition DVDs, but with fat uncompressed sound, and a gorgeous transfer that retains the grain inherent to the film’s docu-drama styled cinematography.

The BR review [M] addresses the aesthetics of the two versions, and I’ve also uploaded a review of the film’s two soundtrack albums [M] – the original 1973 platter, and the expanded gold CD that sported an additional 14 mins. from Lalo Schifrin’s score prior to the recording session being halted by a furious director.

The BR, much like Fox’ Alien Anthology set that beholds Alien, gives viewers the choice of watching either the original theatrical cut, or the ‘director’s cut,’ so choice (on disc) is still there, but in the years since the respective new versions debuted, prints of the theatrical cuts have quietly disappeared.

They may have disintegrated, or there may never have been many surviving prints out there, but it is disturbing that whenever either film does the rounds in rep cinemas and cinematheques, the original versions – the ones that made the most money and impressed audiences and critics alike – aren’t shown, and that’s… not… right… because it smacks of revisionism that’s just a hair away from George Lucas’ obsession in fixing flaws… that just… aren’t there.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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