I was, and still am, a DVD and blu-ray special edition junkie. I love the commentary, the gag reels, the fancy alternate covers, the weird Easter Eggs you find by selecting hidden buttons. However, one trend in this market that sometimes frustrates me is the tendency to release alternate cuts of films I fell in love with in the theatre. Why not leave well enough alone? Wasn’t it good enough then? Well, in the cases of the following films, the director was absolutely right to mess with it for home media, as the final product was greatly improved.
I won’t go so far as to say the 2003 Ben Affleck-starring take on Matt Murdock is better than the current Netflix iteration. Nor would I say that it’s even a good film. But I will say, without hesitation, that the director’s cut is a huge improvement, even though (maybe even because?!) it reinstates a subplot involving the rapper Coolio. This new cut, a superhero R before Deadpool and Zack Snyder made it cool, was praised by critics for feeling appropriately darker and Frank Miller-esque, for eliminating some unnecessarily contrived romance, and for improving on the character foundations of Murdock.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
The theatrical cut of Walk Hard is a pleasantly silly 96-minute trifle. The two-hour director’s cut, self-effacingly referred to as the “Unbearably Long Director’s Cut”, is a genuine musical comedy epic, and in my opinion, a stone-cold classic. It reinstates full musical sequences that are earnestly pleasing to the ear and delightfully heightened in their comedic ideas. It presents flat-out bonkers set pieces and moments that throw concepts of basic continuity out the window. And most importantly, it makes the film feel more like the self-righteous music biopics it’s parodying.
Blade Runner is considered an unparalleled sci-fi classic, one that is finally earning a sequel from dark-and-gritty director Dennis Villeneuve. However, it arguably took until 2007, 25 years after its original release, for the film to achieve this status. The reason? That’s when director Ridley Scott was finally able to put together “The Final Cut”, a version of Blade Runner that he felt 100 percent satisfied with. In the original theatrical cut, Harrison Ford delivered a voiceover to help explain confusing elements of the film in a performance many believed he purposefully gave poorly. It also concluded with a frustratingly happy ending. For the “Final Cut”, Scott truncated these elements and added in a sequence known as the “unicorn dream”.
The tagline for this Mel Gibson-starring actioner read, “Get ready to root for the bad guy.” I don’t know about you, but when I read that, I think to myself, “Oh, this’ll be a dark story about a morally complicated antihero.” That’s what director Brian Helgeland thought, but when he delivered his appropriately intense film, the studio balked, hired the production designer to direct reshoots, and added a voiceover, all to make Gibson’s character more cookie-cutter accessible. Helgeland’s director’s cut, labeled “Straight Up”, eliminates the voiceover and reshot material, streamlines much of the narrative, and even deletes the onscreen presence of the villain.
Between Blade Runner and Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s tragicomic masterpiece, I have to wonder — what is it with studios trying to ruin 1980s sci-fi masterpieces? The history of finding a proper cut of Brazil is long and storied, with Universal Pictures head Sid Sheinberg demanding the movie be dramatically chopped up and saddled with a happy ending. While the film faced delays as a result of this infighting, Gilliam covertly screened his cut in front of film schools and critics, with this bootleg cut actually winning the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Picture. Finally, Universal agreed to release a 132-minute version supervised by Gilliam, but it wasn’t until 1996 when Gilliam got his actual, 142-minute preferred cut out to the public, thanks to the efforts of the Criterion Collection.
Remember earlier when I referred to the added time length of Walk Hard as being a comedic improvement? In the case of dark Christmas comedy Bad Santa, less is more. That’s right, director Terry Zwigoff’s preferred cut runs 88 minutes, which is actually 3 minutes shorter than the theatrical version. Zwigoff, known for his bleak and uncompromising portrayals of alienated individuals, said in an interview with Indiewire regarding his version, “The studio wanted to mess with it and make it more mainstream and pour some fake sentiment on it.” One of the biggest things removed to achieve this effect include an ongoing voiceover from Willie (are you noticing a pattern re: added voiceovers?).
For a film regarded as kicking off the “torture porn” horror craze, the original Saw is not nearly as gory as people make it out to be. In fact, it’s mostly a suspense-driven chamber piece that earns its terror and tension through character relationships and revelations. Thus, while James Wan’s director’s cut adds a bit of gore, it mostly adds more subtle atmosphere by tweaking the color palette and removing some of the obnoxious metal songs in favor of an original score.
If you like The Matrix, you owe Dark City a big thank you. This is the OG “dark sci-fi in which a character reveals the world is controlled by outside forces,” and while I adore The Matrix, Dark City is arguably more atmospheric and evocative. However, if you’re going to check out the film, please find Alex Proyas’ director’s cut, which eliminates a needlessly blunt opening voiceover added to the theatrical version that winds up spoiling the entire movie. The director’s cut runs about 15 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and according to Proyas, reinstates the “thoughtful” pace he originally intended, arguing that audiences will “feel” a difference more than consciously recognize one.
What are some other director’s cuts you feel improve the film? What are some you find completely unnecessary? You can give me a follow on Twitter now, but I don’t blame you if you want to wait. In a year, I’m definitely releasing the “unrated versions” of my jokes that run 141 characters.