Sunday, February 23, 2014
What Is The "Official" Version Of A Movie?
The other day I was watching my DVD of MAJOR DUNDEE, Sam Peckinpah's flawed Western epic. The DVD version I have of this picture contains scenes not included in the theatrical release. Which made me wonder--what is the "official" version of the film...if there is such a thing?
Just about every movie that gets released to home video now has extra scenes, or an "alternate cut", or an "extended edition", or a "directors version" of the film. The real reason for this is to get people to buy or rent the film--"You haven't really seen it until you've seen the unedited version!!!" Most of these extra editions don't really add anything new or change the film in a significant way....but some of them do present major changes to the story or the tone of the production.
And there's the problem. If you are writing a blog about a film, or writing a review, or just telling a friend about a certain movie, you have to figure out what version of the picture you are going to be discussing in the first place. And there can be several. There's about five versions of BLADE RUNNER, about three versions of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, three versions of STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE, and so on and so on. Most people who write about movies seem to pick the general theatrical release as the "real" version--but what if more viewers have seen a home video version which is vastly different? Take STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE. It first came out in 1979, which means that there is an entire generation of Star Trek fans who have never seen that film in a theater. Until recently the available home video versions were far different than the theatrical release--which means that more people have seen the alternate versions of ST-TMP instead of the original one. Does that mean the original doesn't count?
STAR WARS is of course the most famous example. Millions and millions of fans have never seen the original versions in a theater. I'm sure some will say, "What's the difference?" Well, ask anyone who has actually made a film how much difference one editing decision can make.
There's a whole bunch of other problems when you get to silent films. Most silents are in the public domain, which means that anyone who can get their hands on a copy of a certain movie can slap it on a disc and sell it. This means that for a movie like NOSFERATU, there are literally dozens and dozens of DVD versions, all with various running times, and music scores. Some silent films on DVD and Blu-ray have been tinted, some have multiple music scores. Technically each one of these is a different version of the film. For those who say the music score for a silent movie isn't all that important--it's incredibly important, and can dramatically alter how you perceive the film.
I have Comcast cable, which means I have acess to Xfinity On Demand. It's now gotten to the point where each time a new movie pops up on Xfinity for rent, it has two versions...the "original" and the "extended" version.
And...let's not forget that when a broadcast channel shows a feature film, it is usually edited and time compressed, which means it is speeded up to fit into a certain time slot. (You are not supposed to notice time compression, but every so often I'll be watching an old Western on AMC, and some of the actors' voices sound a bit high-pitched.) Technically....that's a different version of the movie, too.
So what is the official version of a certain film? Is it the so-called "Director's Cut"? Well...what about the screenwriter, who may have come up with the actual story? What about his or her version? What about the producer, who may have come up with the idea to make the film in the first place? There are hundreds and hundreds of people who work on a major feature film, and I bet each one of them has their own version of what the film should have turned out to be.
The problem with "Director's Cuts" is that directors have a tendency to change their minds, just like anyone else who has any sense of creativity. You can write something, or paint something, or create something, and think you did a great job....and then a couple years later look at it and think it was terrible. Can a movie ever really be finished? Some directors will say never (see George Lucas). I've seen plenty of "Director's Cuts" that didn't improve the film whatsoever. But who has the right to say that a director (or a producer) should stop working on a film and leave it alone?
One more thing about "Director's Cuts". Recently there have been several films--like MAJOR DUNDEE--where the director has long since passed away, but others have supposedly tried to rework the film to what the late director apparently wanted. If the director isn't around, how can you be 100% sure that this is the director's vision?
Whenever I write a blog about a certain film, I try to acknowledge what version of said film I am talking about, and what format I've seen it on (and if I don't, please let me know). Films have so many versions, and so many formats (I haven't even gotten to 3-D, and IMAX) that it's almost impossible to say what is the "real" version. I guess in the end the "real" version is the one that means the most to the individual viewer.