Multiple-Version Movies

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Terrence Malick’s newest film, The New World, has been released twice. The original release – a New York/Los Angeles Academy consideration run – boasted a 135-minute epic. After two weeks, the film was snatched out of theaters so that Malick could snip 20 minutes off the film for a second, wider release. In other words, there are two versions of this film. What’s more, Malick has suggested that the DVD release will include a “director’s cut” version that will be even longer than 135 minutes.

The multiple-version movie is a phenomenon that summons deep discomfort from the depths of my anal-retentive soul. Which version is the definitive version? If one is to fully “see” The New World, if one is to “have” the film (as a notch on one’s cinephilic belt), must one see all versions? One thing is for sure: with directors and producers butting heads about film length, and the DVD boom ensuring an inevitable “director’s cut,” audiences are forced into making more consumer decisions. Now, it is not just, “Am I a Why We Fight or a Big Momma’s House 2 kinda guy?” It’s also, “Am I the kind of guy who sees the producer’s cut or the director’s cut? The longer version or the shorter version? The theatrical or DVD release?”

I am of the mind that people don’t want to have to make these decisions. So I am taking it upon myself to make it for you. Here is a short list of movies that have been presented to us in multiple versions, and a guide to which versions you should throw your time and money at.

BLADE RUNNER

After the original theatrical release tanked critically and commercially, director Ridley Scott originated the idea of a “director’s cut” by pushing to get his original vision restored.

verdict: Definitely the director’s cut. As far as I’m concerned, there is no other version.

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE / FANNY & ALEXANDER

Originally conceived as TV series, both of these Ingmar Bergman classics were then cut down so they could be released via the traditional theatrical art cinema circuit.

verdict: We’ve come so far since the days when intellectuals wouldn’t watch TV. There’s something about these tales of family and infidelity that feels more suited to the serialized format. Go for TV.

APOCALYPSE NOW

In 2001, Francis Coppola released his Redux, which promised new scenes never before seen.

verdict: Even if some of the new scenes are worthwhile, the sequence with the French settlers talking politics ruins the original film’s symbolic profundity. Coppola should have stuck to his instinct on this one.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

Oh the perils of Babylon! Several scenes from this epic western were cut from the original release. When the film was restored to Sergio Leone's original cut, there was only one problem: the neglected scenes had never been dubbed into English. Since Leone's spaghetti westerns are some of the only films for which dubbing is preferable to subtitles, the film's DVD manufacturers brought Clint and Eli Wallach back, at the ripe ages of 75 and 90, to do an ex-post-facto dubbing.

verdict: Clint's growl has seen better days. Just watch the original.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY

Combined running time for the theatrical releases: 9.5 hours.

Combined running time for the DVD releases: 11.5 hours.

verdict: Go for theatrical. If anyone’s wondering where Peter Jackson’s body mass went, look no further than his films’ running times.

DONNIE DARKO

Supposedly, the director’s cut was only released in order to bank off the cult status that the film had garnered since the original release. Richard Kelly was perfectly happy with the original cut of the film, thereby rendering the “director’s cut” a manipulative marketing ploy.

verdict: Kelly may have been happy with the original cut, but I wasn’t. I say watch neither.