Despite being able to commandeer a chair with their name on it, directors are often given less control than truly deserved. So after a studio forces them to release a shorter, less awesome version of their film, it's quite likely that a director's cut is unearthed.
We spoke to film buff and former artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Shane Danielsen, and he revealed his favourite overhauls.
(Image: All Star, Rex Features)
Blade Runner (1982/1992/2007)
The recovery of Ridley Scott’s original cut made the remarkable seem miraculous. It removes the voiceover, which was added at the insistence of the studio (and which Harrison Ford delivered in a dull monotone, so bitterly did he resent having to record it) and cuts the inexplicable final ‘happy ending’ shot of a lush rural landscape (pasted in from an entirely different film – Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining). Plus, with the addition of one small detail – an origami unicorn – it invited us to speculate on whether our hero was himself one of the very Replicants he was meant to kill.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002/2003)
Somewhat belittled in its theatrical version, in the full DVD ‘special extended edition’ (expanded from 179 to 223 minutes) this becomes literally another film. Almost every scene has been subtly altered. Many of the changes are minor – Gollum refuses to eat some Elvish bread – but the overall effect is extraordinary: suddenly, the film’s longueurs are erased, its tone darkens and it stands revealed as perhaps the most savage part of the trilogy: a grim, compelling war movie, freighted with death and foreboding.
Until The End of the World (1991/2000)
Wim Wenders’ “ultimate road movie” pretty much destroyed his career, but in its five-hour version (which legally is available only in Germany, Italy and France), both its flaws and flashes of genius are magnified, giving us a glimpse of film-making unconcerned by commercial consideration. Flitting from Tokyo to Venice to San Francisco to the Australian outback, Wenders’ vision of an alienated future must be seen – in full – to be believed.
Betty Blue (1986/1994)
More sex. More characterisation. More narrative. More sex. At 178 minutes instead of the original 120, the film accumulates a novelistic wealth of detail, propelling it from a simple tale of amour fou into a full-blown existential lament.
In reinstating 17 minutes, writer/director James Cameron adds complexity without sacrificing any of the pace, the spectacle or the relentless building of tension that made it so astonishing the first time around. We glimpse the fate of Newt’s family and see that Ripley’s daughter died at the age of 67 while she was still in deep space.
Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973/1988)
At once nihilistic and elegiac, Sam Peckinpah’s classic western was considered a disappointment on its initial release – the victim of protracted battles between the director and MGM over issues of budget, release scheduling and its maker’s wayward, digressive way with narrative. For years, Peckinpah would screen his own 122-minute cut for friends; Martin Scorsese was one of many who praised it as a masterpiece. Not until 15 years later would it see the light of day.
Almost Famous (2000/2002)
A more expansive (162 minutes), far richer version of Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical fairy tale of rock ’n’ roll initiation. There’s more songs and more laughs in a film that’s cherished, admittedly, only by middle-aged men who used to be rock critics, but there’s a certain charm nevertheless.
Touch of Evil (1958/1998)
Like most of his work, Orson Welles’ noir classic was butchered by the studio: re-edited and even partly re-shot. But 13 years after Welles’ death, producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch came closer to realising Welles’ original intentions.
The Big Red One (1980/2004)
Like Touch Of Evil, Sam Fuller’s grand war epic was released in a severely truncated form by the studio, reducing its maker’s grand vision of the futility and horror of conflict to a puzzling, disjointed series of non-sequiturs. Some 24 years later, US film critic Richard Schickel completed a full restoration, working from Fuller’s production notes. Coming in at approximately 160 minutes (up from 116), it brings Fuller’s original vision to the screen at last.
Das Boot (1981/1997)
A longer version is often needless padding, but this one actually benefits through the shift from 141 to 209 minutes, betraying its origins as a six-part German TV mini-series (the complete 293-minute version is also available). Not because it gives the drama room to breathe – this is among the most claustrophobic films ever made – but because it amplifies the tension, making the sea battles seem even more horrific, and deepening our identification with the characters. Who are, let’s not forget, Nazis.