Monday, October 08, 2012
Ask JKM #38: Deleted Scenes and Alternate Versions?
A reader named Dan writes:
“I decided to watch Apollo 18 after reading your review. One of the things I was surprised by was the amount of deleted and alternate footage. I was wondering if you ever factor deleted or alternate versions of a movie into your reviews and how that factors into your enjoyment, or lack thereof. Thanks.”
Dan, that’s a fantastic question, and important one in this age of special editions, director’s editions, extended cuts and the like.
All these different cuts and editions indeed make it more difficult for film critics and reviewers to be definitive about a film’s quality, because the question immediately comes up: which version did you see?
In horror films, the difference between cuts can prove especially vital. A movie might get hacked down to a PG-13 for theatrical release, but come on strong as an R on DVD. Those lost and restored moments aren’t just about gore, they’re often about intensity, and the level of a horror film’s intensity can indeed make a difference in considering its artistry and success.
Your question asks about deleted scenes and alternate versions, so I’ll tackle each of those separately.
I can’t claim that my approach is right, or the only approach on this subject, but I am something of a hard-liner regarding deleted scenes. I don’t factor them for in my final assessment. Those scenes may be interesting, or valuable, but they were still deleted, and a movie is, in the final analysis, a text. We don’t review books on the basis of deleted chapters or passages, and nor should we do that with film. That doesn’t make them uninteresting from a behind-the-scenes perspective, however.
Extended cuts are a different story and require…flexibility. I’m a judicious fellow by nature, and I believe that in terms of alternate versions of movies, you have to consider each on a case-by case basis. I can look at the special edition of The Abyss (1989) for instance, and see how much the new cut adds significantly to the film. Yet I can also look at the special edition of Alien vs. Predator (2004) and detect it is not worth the time and energy to re-review after seeing the theatrical cut.
Perhaps it is my forty-something year old mind-set, but I feel somewhat conflicted about the whole matter of alternate editions. I possess the (perhaps antiquated) belief that once a movie is released and it comes before a paying audience, that’s the time to begin discussing it as art…in that theatrical form. I don’t like re-jiggering after theatrical release, by and large. The endeavor should always be to release the best movie you can the first time around.
Yet by the same token, I do understand that some filmmakers aren’t allowed to get the cut they want into theaters, and so their voice is important as well.
But again, a comparison to literature is fruitful. Writers don’t always get the last say about what goes in in that context, either. They run the gauntlet of editor, proofreader, etc., and end up with an approximation of their vision, but one with other voices in the mix. You could say that film, a collaborative art form by nature, goes through the same procedure.
There’s just no easy answer here, alas. Perhaps to my detriment, I prefer to watch a film and evaluate it very carefully, and not return to special editions unless I have some strong reason to suspect that the special edition will change significantly how the film can be read or interpreted.
I feel the Ridley Scott cut of Blade Runner (1982) adds meaningfully to our understanding of that film, for instance. But I tend to think that example is also the exception.
Many, many “special” editions are simply money grabs, a marketing tool pure and simple.
Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com