Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Don't watch the director's cut!

My last mention of Donnie Darko recalled to me one of my cultural pet peeves - the obviously undeserved cachet of the "Director's Cut." I've seen a lot of these, and it's hard for me to recall a single one that was clearly superior to the studio cut - indeed, most have been quite a bit weaker. Still, the prestige of these projects, situated as they are at the intersection of the "auteur" theory, youth culture, and good old-fashioned marketing, lingers on. But here's what you can expect from a few of them:

Apocalypse Now: Redux - Ack! Far, far less enjoyable than the original, hacked-up studio version. The suits were right - the newly interpolated colonial interlude is pompous, airless, and just plain dumb. I prefer the choppy anarchy of the original (which yes, ends up pompous, airless and just plain dumb anyway).

Donnie Darko - Another case where you should definitely avoid the director's cut, at least until you've seen the original. Director Kelly here spells out the "time travel" hypothesis for Donnie's tribulations in all-too-apparent detail, which perhaps mollified those frustrated by the trimmed-down, impacted theatrical release, but essentially tosses our doubts about Donnie's stability out the window, and hence dilutes the movie's weird, ambiguous vibe.

Alien - The "Director's Cut" includes a scene of Ripley discovering the rest of the (presumed dead) crew cocooned as future alien hosts. Alas, the scene adds nothing to the forward momentum of the picture (which at this point is careening headlong), and the sequence is filmed without Scott's usual visual inspiration. Still, it doesn't actually hurt the movie so much as undercut the impact of James Cameron's sequel.

Speaking of which:

Aliens - The "D.C." includes an opening sequence on the planet surface, in which the colonists happen upon the alien ship, and their first "face-hugger." Again, the scenes are indifferently directed, diminish the later discovery of the abandoned colony, and turn a long movie into an overlong one.

And then there's:

Blade Runner - The one case where there are defensible artistic reasons for the "Director's Cut" - which hints in its last moments that Deckard himself may be a replicant (a recent "Final Cut" apparently makes this point clearer). Other messy bits and overdubs have been cleaned up, it seems - but whether the entire movie is improved by this new information is an open question. (And I actually never minded the original voice-over!)

Of course there are plenty more examples and counter-examples to throw into the debate: Das Boot (the D.C. may be better), Amadeus (the D.C. is not any better), Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and Bertolucci's 1900(both D.C.'s are clearer, but longer, and arguably more depressing). But now that we've seen the "Director's Cut" of The Butterfly Effect, Daredevil, and Stargate, I'd say the argument has become largely moot: the "D.C." has become an excuse to revisit a film you liked, for whatever reason, whether or not you expect the new version to be any better. So go ahead - watch it. You know you want to!


  1. If I rember right, One critic said of the Donnie Darko Director's Cut the following:

    "It now proves, beyond a doubt, that Kelley has no clue about what made Donnie Darko so interesting in the first place."

    Remember when the Coen Brothers released Their Director's Cut of Blood Simple? They made news because it was one of the first times a DC had been released with footage CUT and EDITED and nothing added.

    I will disagree with Apocalypse Redux. I loved it, but will admit that I hadn't seen the original cut for about 10 years before I saw REDUX.

    I see the case of ApocNow as more like some of the longer great novels. (It would be easy to say that Melville could have cut the Cetology chapter, etc.) I can understand why the cut of that scene was originally made, but I like the film better with it in.

    On the other hand, having the Playboy Bunnies appear again was completely unneccessary. It ruins the weird, fantastic sequence that came earlier.

    While you are on the subject of DVD's. A reviewer for Slate once wrote a review of the Dukes of Hazzard DVD. In a comic review, he talked about watching all of the extras and interviews and features, (all of which, of course, really treat the film like a piece of art.)

    "My viewing done, the question remained: Is The Dukes of Hazzard a modern day masterpiece? Have we returned to the great, auteurist-driven cinema of the 1970s? Judging by the all the extras, the answer has to be yes. But I haven't actually seen the movie and I never will. I don't want to ruin the special features."

  2. Sorry, can't agree about Redux. The basic problem is that the movie simply isn't intellectually interesting - just as America's Vietnam experience really doesn't have much in common with Kurtz and Heart of Darkness. In the original, it's easier to ignore these pretensions until the bathos of the finale.