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A closer look at director’s cuts

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Almodóvar has Salcedo.

Scorsese has Schoonmaker.

Kurosawa had… Kurosawa.

It’s always hard to let go of one’s creation (particularly for Akira Kurosawa it seems). The risk of your art being interpreted in a way you didn’t intend can be crushing for a creative soul. But is that losing sight of the reason anyone creative does anything – for other people to have, to consume, to enjoy, even if not what was intended?

This isn’t a scene-by-scene breakdown of director cuts comparing the theatrical to the directorial versions. I don’t know who that’d be fun for, certainly not me.

No, this is purely experiential, how I’ve enjoyed the director’s cut more than the original release. Intrigued by this thought, I sought out some well-known examples to digest.

Apocalypse Now Redux

Francis Ford Coppola’s Redux of 1979’s Apocalypse Now adds 49 minutes of extra material to his masterful mash-up of Heart of Darkness and the Vietnam War.

Although unpopular with some – possibly due to its three-hour 37-minute run time – I really like Redux. Prefer it, even. It doesn’t add to the action (adding action isn’t really something director’s cuts do), but instead builds the story up nicely.

For obvious reasons, the studios like to leave explosions in.

Lord of the Rings: extended editions

While I’m a huge fan and have watched the LOTR films many times, I wouldn’t call myself a LOTR geek – I had to go out and buy the extended editions.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that these extended editions felt like someone had simply made a two-hour film a four-hour one. There wasn’t anything noticeably different about it except the length – which isn’t a bad thing per se, but it felt a bit like I was watching on a hefty dose of ketamine, I imagine.

Ok, they’re the extended editions, not specifically the Director’s Cut, but to me Lord of the Rings: The Really, Really, Long Version were restricted more by something else: source material. You can’t film a beloved series like LOTR and then bollix up the novelist’s story. More than anything, these were always more likely to be merely a more authentic and accurate representation of the text.

I’ve read the books and that’s my excuse for not noticing anything new, ok?


Another film tied by its famous source material.

Alan Moore’s philosophical graphic novel Watchmen inspires partisan support almost as fervent as Lord of the Rings. The extra twenty minutes pushes Zack Snyder‘s creation over the three-hour mark, but like Redux, it didn’t bother me. In for a penny, in for a pound – of flesh. Maybe this cut is better or perhaps I had forgotten how good Watchmen is, but I really enjoyed Snyder’s version.

As for noticeable differences, I certainly didn’t remember Patrick Wilson and Malin Ackerman‘s (Nite Owl and Silk Spectre) sex scene being so long, but I don’t know who isn’t getting something from that – they’re both gorgeous. Personally, I’d say the two versions are roughly the same, but I like them both. Possibly Snyder’s slightly more.

Unrelated points:

  • I absolutely love Rorschach. Jackie Earl Haley’s performance is utterly brilliant as the uncompromising, borderline sociopath


  • I can’t think of anyone more suitable than HBO to make the Watchmen TV show – excited doesn’t cover it

Leon: The Professional

Again, except for an extra twenty odd minutes, there’s not a huge difference between Luc Besson’s edit and the original. It’s still a great film and a Gary Oldman is master-class. Leon also features on-form French legend, Jean Reno and Natalie Portman‘s ever-so-uncomfortable, yet brilliant debut.

By this point, I’m discovering that great films don’t need or can’t improve noticeably with a director’s cut. But I’ll continue…

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko was blown to within an inch of its life after its release in 2001. Critics formed a wild and disorderly line to get down on their knees and pay lip service to director, Richard Kelly – enfant poli of Hollywood.

I loved the film at the time, but to be fair, I smoked weed every day back then because Snoop told me to. I picked Donnie Darko for this list because I hadn’t seen the director’s cut and I recall it being rounded on by the same critics mentioned earlier.

One review suggested Kelly’s butchering of his creation (he also wrote Donnie Darko) was proof that a director should never be allowed to slice their own vision from the offal left on the floor. I wanted to see whether this was true. If it was, then how dare that 25-year-old who wrote and directed one of the best films of the year be allowed a post-cinematic release attempt at editing his film! Rabble rabble rabble!

Are the text interludes new? I don’t know I was high.

Was Donnie Darko this funny? Probably more so for the same reason.

There’s definitely more story which, and it sounds obvious, wasn’t really needed. Kelly adds an operatic, more dramatic and serious element to a film which yes, didn’t really need it. But it does clash with the admittedly dark sense of humour of the rest of the film.

It’s not a terrible version of Donnie Darko, but it’ll be harder to swallow for fans yet be more palatable for newcomers with no prefixed opinion. Taking into account Richard Kelly’s youth and how good the mainstream version is, whether it’s worse depends on your taste.

The saddest part of this story? Kelly doesn’t have an IMDb credit post-2010.

Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott‘s Kingdom of Heaven was a film I was overwhelmingly impatient to see on its release in 2005. Working for one of the VFX companies involved in its post-production, I’d seen storyboards and stills and it all looked and sounded amazing. Even some of the embittered animators, at this point in their careers utter cynics, were reasonably upbeat about the film.

But, despite my aching desire to enjoy it, it just didn’t do anything for me.

I didn’t hate it, I just wasn’t swept away by it like I’d hoped I would be. Years later, a friend assured me the director’s cut was actually a superb film, completely filling in the missing pieces of the jigsaw which ran in cinemas. I was sceptical. But, with an extra 46 minutes, I thought I’d see if he was right.

He was. Emphatically so.

Kingdom of Heaven, with Ridley Scott slicing and dicing, is wonderful. Yes, it’s over three hours long, but it’s worth every minute. It’s easy to see why the studio knocked all that useless dialogue, exposition and, in Edward Norton‘s case, almost an entire role off the film to avoid putting audiences off going to see an incredibly expensive production. But when you make decisions about art based on money, it’s a slippery slope.

So what’s better? The director’s cut? Or the original studio release?

Quite simply (and frankly), the beauty of film is its subjectivity.

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