Monday, September 5, 2011

Han Shot First: The Rise And Fall Of The Director's Cut

The Director's Cut. Once an exciting alternative to favorite movies, seemingly given more artistic credence, has over the years devolved into directors seemingly bent on tarnishing their own classics.

Contrary to popular belief, seldom does a film director receive the rights to a final edit. With the studios footing the bill, they give the final edit for a variety of reasons, mostly economical. Some edit scenes in order to gain a more favorable rating. Others edit film to trim down time, thus making multiple daily screenings per theater feasible. The idea of a "director's cut" is that the film is restored closer to the director's vision and artistic merit, but this is not always the case.

Not long after the invention of the VCR, and theatrical releases on home video, did the home movie phenomenon take off. People could buy and rent movies and watch them in the comfort of their own home. After a while, certain films would be re-released as a "Director's Cut." The first films to be re-released in this fashion were Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Michael Cimeno's Heaven's Gate. While intended for cult fans of certain films, studios took notice of the rise in home movie sales, and quickly began pumping out re-releases of popular titles, offering fans alternatives to their favorite films.

Some of these films had edits that were barely perceptible. Unless one had seen the originally formatted film on numerous occasions, the differences don't stand out. A bit of dialogue here, a previously cut scene there, and voila. Others boasted robust changes and additions. Take the directors cut of James Cameron's Aliens. With 17 minutes of additional footage, the scope of the film is much richer. Now we see the colony that got wiped out, how they discovered the eggs, and how the company directed them there. We learn that Lt. Ripley had a daughter, and that she died while she was frozen in space for 57 years. This lends more emotional weight to her motivation concerning her care for Newt. However, not all these films are done for artistic merit, they are marketing techniques.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is a prime example. He considers the theatrical releases to be his "final cut". The extended version of the Rings were added for LotR fans to witness the fully scripted and fleshed out world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Notice how each extended cut was released to coincide with the theatrical release of the next installment at the theaters. Not to mention, boosting DVD sales only six months after the release of the theatrical versions on DVD. Fans gleefully forked over money for both versions.

Ironically, it seems that the Directors of the Director's Cuts, are the ones becoming short-sighted. While studios are out to make money, directors are showing poor judgement in going back to the well and altering what clearly needs no altering. Take for example, George Lucas's Special Edition of the classic trilogy. His method and madness come together at just the right moment. With digital film in its infancy, and Lucas being at the forefront of movie technology, he gave himself the opportunity to "fix" portions of the film he didn't like, citing  poor budgets, schedule issues, and lack of convincing technology that hindered his much grander vision of Star Wars. Indeed there were noticeable improvements. The dewbacks could now walk around. The exterior shot of Mos Eisley is far grander. There were new and interesting aliens in the Cantina scenes. Yet, George also committed an unforgivable crime, he made Greedo shoot first. To the uninitiated public, or non Star Wars fans, they view this as nitpicking and nothing more. But fans of film, and not necessarily Star Wars fans, see this as a dangerous tool that when misused, can drastically alter the tone and scope of a film, its characters, and its morale.

For those that don't know, the original scene shows Han, after negotiating a transportation price with Luke and Obi-Wan, runs into Greedo, a Rodian in the employ of the feared gangster Jabba the Hutt. Greedo has him at gunpoint and informs Han that Jabba is putting a price on his head. Greedo intends to collect, despite Han trying to convince Greedo that he has Jabba's money, just not on him at the moment. As Greedo continues with his threats Han slowly reaches for his blaster and shoots Greedo dead from under the table. He coldly stands up and tosses the bartender some credits for "the mess." George Lucas feels this paints Han as a murderer, not a hero, and decides to alter the scene to look like Greedo shoots first, and Han acted in self defense. George seems to have forgotten what fans knew from day one, that Han is a scoundrel. Tatooine easily comes off as a frontier town, reminiscent of those seen in westerns. Frontier life was harsh, and disputes were often settled with guns. Fans never despised Han's actions, indeed it made his role in the trilogy all the more poignant. Here is a selfish loner only concerned with money who learns to fall in love, care for others, and accept a cause bigger than himself. Since then, the Original Trilogy has undergone several revisions, yet Lucas stands firm on Han never shooting first. Now, a previously deleted scene involving Hans encounter with Jabba the Hutt by the Millennium Falcon is put back into the film. Jabba was played by a robust actor and George intended to have the real Jabba matted over the actor in post production. Again, special effects and budget kept him from doing this in the original theatrical release. Now a CGI Jabba is put in to replace he presence of the stand-in actor. This Jabba doesn't look much like the one seen in Return of the Jedi, being more green and yellow than flesh tone. Han also clowns on him as he purposely steps n Jabba's tail causing him pain. Yet through it all Jabba is more cordial than angry, essentially telling Han to return soon with his money or he'll place a huge bounty on his head. This entire scene should have been left on the cutting room floor for numerous reasons. In regards to dialogue, it does nothing to propel the story as all this was previously exchanged between Han and Greedo. Jabba is way out of character, being made to look foolish by Han in front of his cronies. The real Jabba would have had his men kill Han for such a slight. Not to mention, it completely makes no sense. If this is Lucas' vision, let us search for the logic in this. Greedo gets the drop in Han with a blaster pistol. He informs Han that he aims to collect, yet decides to kill Han? Wouldn't that hurt his reward money? I do not get the impression that the bounty is "dead or alive", especially years later in Empire Strikes Back, Bobba Fett worries about Han dying, telling Vader that Han is no good to him dead.So, unprovoked, Greedo wants to kill Han and ruin his meal ticket. And according to the Jabba/Han scene, Jabba is not nearly as upset with Han as he is in later films. There simply is no logic to this sequence, yet clearly this is George Lucas' vision.

But he isn't the only one. Francis Ford Coppola decided to extend Apocalypse Now into Apocalypse Now Redux. It added much more footage, but only served to polarize fans, many of whom feel the original was the definitive version. He also recently released a "complete novel" edition of The Outsiders, adding as much as 20 minutes to the film, giving more depth to the story. Yet he foolishly removes the original soundtrack with a generic rock-a-billy musical score. While citing that this music reflects the period of the film, it only serves to drown any drama with comical music one would find in a Gidget film. It is played inappropriately during scenes like the rumble, Dallas getting shot, and the church fire. It betrays the emotion of the footage with a sense that Austin Powers and six go-go dancers are about to show up. Plus it completely overpowers the dialogue. One gets the impression that he is either insane, or purposely sabotaging his own work.

Even the great Steven Spielberg isn't immune to the temptation, and "enhances" his classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Wanting to appear politically correct, he digitally removes police officers' handguns and replaces them with walkie-talkies. In one scene, the Mother tells her oldest son, referring to the approaching Halloween Holiday, that she does not want him going out looking like a terrorist. He replaces the word "terrorist" with "hippie." Clearly a useless tactic that show we have not recovered from the events of 9/11.

So fans beware. If you value a film, hold on to a copy of the theatrical release. Nowadays the Directer's Cut is replacing the original films. Again, as an example, the Star Wars Trilogy. With every new edition that is released, previous incarnations of the film are pulled. Only the latest is allowed to be sold, rented, or aired on television. This is where the real tragedy lies. I can understand a director wanting to put a new spin on an old film, but to deny the audience their right to choose for themselves which version to own is unforgivable.

No comments:

Post a Comment