Among the many blessings of civilization is the BluRay. BluRays (and DVDs and home video before them) meant that if you loved film, you, too, could finally own a copy of some classic like Casablanca and sigh over its greatness time and again. But like many other gifts of Western capitalist culture, there is a downside.
One of them is the “Director’s Cut.”
Film history would be a lot more boring without the stories of enfant terribles (and later, adult pain-in-the-asses) like Orson Welles battling against the men with the souls of accountants over their art. Most of the time, it turned out the accountants had a wicked right hook and the artist would end up on the canvas while their vision was butchered.
Some director’s cuts are good. Dances with Wolves added additional backstory without seeming like Costner was giving himself a public handjob. Peter Jackson hit the height of his craft as a director with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he gave his fans more of what they wanted, more time in a Middle Earth that was both familiar and fantastic.
Then there are those… other efforts. Recompilations of beloved, fondly remembered work that are suddenly as welcome as a visit from your creepy uncle who just finished a 25-year stretch in San Quentin for his bad habits.
Ego? Ambition? Pharmaceuticals?
Whatever it is, there are some “Director’s Cuts” that took otherwise fine, fun films and turned them into something as thrilling as watching a carousel slide show of your eight year-old nephew’s geology field trip. Here is just a palate-wrinkling sample of some of the worst of the once-good.
(Note: we’re going to completely overlook that charming genre “UnRated and Now with More Torture Porn!”)
What a great, thrilling film this was. I saw it three times in the theatre when it was first released and owned the soundtrack on CD. Then came the day Michael Mann looked at either his bank account or the film and decided, “let’s take another run at that.”
Mann, a notoriously demanding director, for whatever reason hadn’t quite gotten the verisimilitude he was hoping for when he made a great movie out of a justly-mocked book from the 1800s. To give the Mann-iac his due, the additional character scenes and background were acceptable, but to really put us into the world of the time, he apparently randomly airbrushed india ink over huge sections of the film.
By God, he wanted you there, and if we were watching a scene set in the forest on a cloudy night, then it was going to be dark. Not just artfully shadowed, but blackcat inside a coal mine dark. I’m talking “Mommy, we wandered off the trail four days ago and I think the bears are coming down from the mountains to eat us, but they’ll only be able to find us by scent because I haven’t seen a shimmer of light in hours” dark.
For whatever reason, Mann took a compelling adventure/love story and turned it into a lengthy exercise in eye-strain.
Most comedy seems to work when it has heart, and this film had that, with Steve Carell channeling a kind of Jim Carrey vibe while managing to remain recognizably human (hint: guess which one will have a longer career).
But that heart and the sweet story of a guy finally finding love was hidden underneath MORE potty jokes and MORE ad-libbing that went on way too long (were they stoned only when they filmed those scenes or did the party continue back in the editing bay?) and MORE whacky boobies.
Take a movie that borders on eew (while it was funny, about 20 minutes in I was finding the gratuitous profanity kind of battering) and what do you add? MORE eeeewwww.
3. Blade Runner
This film (and Watchmen, below) are ones that many cognoscenti (and even myself, depending on the day) would argue against including on this list.
The original Blade Runner as I first experienced it in a strip mall in Alexandria, Virginia, is still my favorite (confession…I loved the bored voice-over… it was right out of 50’s noir). But as of last count, there have been 176 “authorized” versions of the film pressed onto plastic disks for purchase and I’m pretty sure there’s a Lego-version in the works.
Was it just a cash grab? A tax-write off?
No matter, because after one has waded through the work-print, the first Director’s Cut, the re-release version, and the final Authorized Gold-Stamp of Approval, what do you get?
(Spoiler warning! Editor’s note: a page break speed bump put in for anyone who still hasn’t seen Blade Runner)