Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Heath Holland On...Director's Cuts, Extended Editions, Retailer Exclusives, Oh My!

Every movie needs five different versions on DVD.

Last week saw the release of GI Joe: Retaliation on DVD and Blu-Ray. Having missed it in the theaters, I was super-excited about being able to bring it home and put it on the shelf next to the first movie so that it, too, could gather dust. I kid! I think both of the films are fine for what they are (stupid, kid-friendly cartoon action), though they do miss their potential. And anyway, the ten year old boy inside me (WAIT, That came out very wrong) bleeds GI Joe and is happy enough to see real life versions of ninjas and HISS tanks and ninjas and air boats and ninjas and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Roadblock (one of my favorite people and one of my favorite Joes). Quality and compelling filmmaking is almost besides the point when you have ninjas…almost.

But the reason I bring up GI Joe: Perspiration is because as soon as I started to look into who had the best price, it quickly became clear that I had a choice to make. Target, my usual haunt, was offering a "retailer exclusive" of the movie that contained not only an extra disc (featuring a 35 minute behind-the-scenes thingamabob) but also Roadblock’s dog tags! Best Buy’s version had 13 minutes of footage edited back into the movie. Wal-Mart was offering an exclusive Steelbook (which is a thing that some people are into). I opted for the Target version because I like behind-the-scenes thingamabobs and I LOVE dog tags of fictional characters. As soon as I’d finished checking out, I threw the dog tags around my neck and let loose with a hearty “YO JOE!” Three people named Joe grumpily turned to glare at me.
But honestly, I was bothered at Best Buy’s added footage. The way I understand it (I could be wrong), you only got one viewing option on their version, which they’ve dubbed the “Extended Action Cut.” You don’t get the theatrical version of the film. Are we so quick to chop up and amend or extend a director’s vision of his film? I know we’re only talking about GI Joe: Enunciation here, but it makes me wonder what all this says about a film being a piece of art frozen in time.

This same predicament arose when Django Unchained was released on DVD and Blu-Ray a few months back. Every retailer under the sun had their own version. It’s true that the standard, theatrical version of these movies are USUALLY available right next to the exclusive editions in these stores, but I have a hard time saying no to extra content or pack-in goodies when there’s no extra cost. Just in case you’re wondering, I chose Best Buy’s version of Django Unchained because it had a full press conference with Tarantino and the entire cast. I could probably see the whole thing on YouTube, but it’s comforting to know I have it on my shelf. I sleep better knowing it’s there. I’m not kidding.

These multiple versions aren’t just being released for major box office successes, either. It seems like every movie with even marginal success and marketability is part of a retailer exclusive scheme. I suppose the thinking behind the strategy is to get people into particular stores. Target wants Best Buy’s business and Best Buy wants Wal-Mart’s business and Wal-Mart wants everyone else out of business altogether. I’m sure it’s good for the industry, because it’s pretty clear that home video sales are on the decline these days and that the majority of consumers are content to watch their movies on iTunes and streaming media. This tactic probably appeals to mega-collectors, too. There are people out there who are buying all the variations of their favorite movies. These are the same people who buy every single variant cover for comic books even though the interiors of those books are all the same. Such tactics keep some comic book companies afloat, so it must work for movies as well.
So in the case of GI Joe: Orientation, we see an example of both a "retailer exclusive" and an "extended edition" of the film. Until recently it seemed that extended editions only came out long after the original movie has been available for the home market, and it’s typically been a strategy to get us all to buy the same movie again. This tactic worked on me with Evil Dead AND Terminator 2 more times that I’d like to admit. I now give away copies of those movies at every wedding, bar mitzvah and baby shower (babies love Bruce Campbell) that I attend. When I can’t attend, I send a copy of the movie in the mail, along with an AOL sign-up CD-Rom.

These days, no time at all passes between the initial theatrical release to the home video release. When the home video release arrives, there are often these multiple versions, meaning in the course of about three months, a movie goes from film screen to multiple cuts and versions on store shelves. This tactic appears to sell more DVDs and Blu-rays and gets more people to purchase the physical media, but is it a good thing for movies as an art form? I doubt it.

The first time I saw Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans, the film ended with a speech from Hawkeye’s Native American father about how the time of his people was ending. In the space of about 30 seconds, a beautiful little monologue was given that culminated in the sad but proud resignation of a man realizing his time is over and everything has changed. It gave me chills and stuck with me as much as any of the battle scenes or the wonderful score. But since I saw that version in the early '90s, the film has been recut into a variety of different version that have names like International Cut, Director’s Cut, and, lately on the Blu-ray, Director’s Definitive Cut. Interestingly, that speech that ends the movie that made such an impact on me is not on the Director’s Definitive Cut, so when I watched the movie at home on Blu-ray, it felt unfinished. The version that I first saw and that burned into my brain was not the version I was seeing. Definitive? How so? Those variations have taken away my ability to revisit that original viewing experience.
But sometimes these extended editions or director’s cuts make mediocre movies way better. I’ll take James Cameron’s longer cut of Aliens over the theatrical cut any day. There’s the Richard Donner cut of Superman II and Zack Snyder’s longer and far-superior cut of Watchmen, which featured 97% more blue weenie. And as far as I’m concerned, the original theatrical cuts of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy don’t even exist anymore. I’ve watched the extended editions of those films for around a decade and haven’t looked back at those shorter theatrical versions at all. That’s a case of me wanting the most of that movie experience as possible because I’m SO onboard with the world that is being presented to me. I have to have more of it.

It often just as easily goes the other way, though, as in the case of someone like George Lucas. His constant tinkering and compulsive urge to add fart noises and tacky CGI shenanigans to the Star Wars saga wouldn’t be quite so offensive if he didn’t make it impossible for us to see the original versions we all grew up with. I’ve almost come to terms that “Lapti Nek,” the cool disco song from Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi will probably forever be relegated to bootlegs, meaning I’ll always be stuck with the abysmal blues-rock number “Jedi Rocks.” As Darth Vader now says, “Noooooooooooo!”

And Ridley Scott does not have the best track record with me either, even though he seems content to release multiple versions of every single movie he’s ever made. I’m not willing to do the homework, but it appears most of his movies have alternate versions available. I can’t even keep the variations in each of the multiple cuts of Blade Runner straight anymore. I suspect they’re now issuing the same cut each year under a different title.

I can’t decide if there is a right or wrong with any of this. If we only got the original versions of all of these movies, we’d be missing out on so much. I like that we have options for more footage of films we love. But taste is subjective, and I can’t ask for more Fellowship of the Ring and deny someone their 13 extra minutes of GI Joe: Constipation. It doesn’t really matter that I think that all that extra footage in The Lord of the Rings is justified and perhaps even necessary, but isn’t for the latter film. That’s not for me to decide. Right now, someone is watching those 13 extra minutes of Cobra VS Joe action and loving it.
Still, it’s an interesting place we find ourselves at here in the year 2013. The theatrical experience seems to be an endangered species. Last year, Time Magazine reported that 6 out of 10 people surveyed said that they rarely or never went to the movies. Of the 4 out of 10 people that DID go to the movies, 55% of them said that they were going less.

It’s safe to say that MOST people are seeing movies for the first time in their home. If we factor in the different versions of movies that are on the market right now then we find ourselves at a place we’ve never really been before as moviegoers. We can’t simply ask someone if they’ve seen a movie, but also WHICH version of that movie they saw. It’s probably only going to get more and more common as DVD and Blu-ray sales continue to decline in relation to digital downloads and streaming services.

Variety is the spice of life, but this feels just a little too spicy for my taste.

NOTE: The column you’ve just read is the standard edition. For a limited time only, it is also available in two limited edition exclusives. The first is the “Filthy and Foul Edition” with three F-words and about 4 seconds of nudity. The other version is 26 pages longer and features a cameo by Legolas.

33 comments:

  1. Nice job Heath! I absolutely agree with you how disappointing it is when a definitive cut replaces a theatrical version on the DVD/Blu-Ray. I remember really liking the last scene in Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 and then the director's cut changed it around and gave it an ending so different that some characters alive in the theatrical cut were now dead and now when I think back on the movie I don't even remember what the hell happened by its resolution. I hope that doesn't happen with Lords of Salem because I really dug the ending to that movie too. I also wish I could get the theatrical cut of Any Given Sunday again too but I don't think that's around either.

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    1. Those are both great examples. I suspect I would watch Any Given Sunday way more often than I already do (which is already too much) if I had the theatrical cut and wouldn't have to fast forward through that stupid eyeball scene. UGH.

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    2. I think we should take to the streets.

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  2. Great read HHH.

    Ive never really bothered with re-buying movies when a different version comes out, I just tend to stick with the one that I have.
    But I do gravitate towards Extra features when choosing what Im going to buy. I mean, a good featurette can be like a whole other feature documentary. Bang for your buck, and stuff.
    The issue im having now is when they all come out at once Im needing to do my research before buying. Its becoming too much like work and its annoying. I wouldnt mind different versions with different features if there was one that comes out with all of them. Thats what Ill buy, whatever the price (within reason), just make it clear which one it is. Its very frustrating when you buy what you think is the best one, then when you get home you realise that there is a better one at a different shop. I dont rebuy, I just stew in the juices of my frustration and think of different justifications for torrenting.

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    1. As a fan of Blade Runner I have been especially hit by this numerous times. A few years back my wife got me the Blade Runner set that came in the "Voigt-Kampff" briefcase. (so-called Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition) It includes no less than five different cuts of the film. And now the Blu-rays have been released.
      Sumbitch.

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  3. I agree. This can be really frustrating sometimes. My most recent example is Die Hard 5, but they did it right. The "Extended Director's Cut" adds/modifies a couple scenes interestingly, but cuts out the bookends with Lucy McClane. However they included the theatrical cut in the blu-ray as well. Seriously check out Die Hard 5. Vastly underrated. If nothing else for an outstanding car chase containing so much wanton gratuitous (practical) destruction.

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    1. I was not a fan of Die Hard 5, but the notion that the Blu-ray release improves it is intriguing.

      What you're describing is almost the flip side of what Adam is talking about, and it can be just as irritating. James Mangold telling us that the Blu-ray release of The Wolverine is going to be "edgier" and more violent just turns the theatrical release into a commercial for home video. Live Free or Die Hard did the same thing. Am I supposed to go see these movies in theaters? Or just wait for the "correct" version to come out on DVD?

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    2. Yep, that's clear. The other example I always think back to is Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. I saw it in theaters and thought it was garbage, but apparently the Director's cut fixes every problem and makes it a totally different and amazing movie. I wish I would have known about that before I spent 2 hours watching garbage! I have still never seen the director's cut out of spite.

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    3. This is the first I'm hearing that Mangold is promising an edgier cut of The Wolverine on blu-ray. It almost seems like they WANT us to wait for the home market. I'm not sure what that says about the theatrical experience, especially when it's the director and not the studio that's promising the new material. I suppose what I'd ask James Mangold is which version is his film? Is it the one coming out on blu-ray or is it the theatrical version? If the answer is that it's the one coming out on blu-ray then that opens a whole can of worms about what the true version of the movie is: the theatrical experience or the director's vision. And can a director really have a vision if he's recutting his movie three months after it's released?

      I need to hit something.

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  4. The differing retailer copies ticks me off as well. I understand having promotions involving different packaging and tchotchkies, (that's fine) but not alternate prints/cuts of the film.

    Oh and Heath regarding the choice between 13 extra minutes and official Roadblock dogtags, you have chosen wisely.

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    1. I would have paid extra for 13 fewer minutes. Bam! Ya burnt, Jon Chu!

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    2. But they are Roadblock's dog tags, his dog tags man. Imagine those puppies swinging around your neck!

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    3. I'm wearing them around my penis. Does that count?

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  5. I concur with so much of what has been written here, and yet...

    Brian DePalma has reportedly said that he would be open to reediting Snake Eyes and putting back the tidal wave sequence that ILM did for the finale, and I am SALIVATING at the prospect! Put it in a special edition box that has a ruby ring sticking out of a faux concrete pillar, and I am SO there...

    Oh, and a replica of the bloody $100 bill! Don't you dare forget that!

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    1. Goddamn, that's a lot of deep-cut Snake Eyes jokes in one post. I'm working on a De Palma piece RIGHT NOW and loved every word of what you wrote.

      I, too, would pre-order that director's cut.

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    2. I really like Snake Eyes. I saw it in an empty theater (empty except for me) so it was one of those special, private screenings that we sometimes get. I remember being SO IMPRESSED with the one-shot scene at the beginning of the film. The movie is not great but I'm on board with it. Every time I watch it I feel satisfied.

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    3. Snake Eyes?

      Work on getting Phantom of the Paradise released on blu-ray in the US first!

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  6. I don't need no fake military dog tags... I got my own real ones. Take that, The Rock!

    Patrick, I totally agree about The Wolverine. World War Z is also allegedly getting a bloodier home release. Since distribution is going all-digital anyway, will we soon see theaters showing PG-13 and R-rated versions of movies alongside each other?

    Also, despite the fact that I will nevermore watch the vandalized ROTJ versions now that Harmy's Despecialized cut is available, if Lucas wanted to make this R-rated change to A New Hope, I might be okay with it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRd_vZT6zPY

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    1. That Star Wars clip is awesome. I'd prefer that movie.

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    2. In the wake of the recent news that Anchorman 2 is being re-released to theaters this Friday in an alternate, longer, R-rated cut, I'd just like to note that I totally foresaw this sort of thing last August with my comment above. Feel free to discuss this in a column if you're so inspired, F-team. Will we soon have a choice to see, say, the next 007 flick in both PG-13 and R-rated versions in neighboring screens on the same day?

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    3. Well done, Nostradamus!

      I'm divided on this issue - on the one hand, I think it undermines the integrity of the artform to give people the choice between what might or might not offend their sensibilities, but on the other, I certainly prefer it to them ONLY putting out neutered PG-13 cuts to capture the largest possible audience. And if they are going to put out both, I would rather they do it at the same time, but I can imagine the logistics of that could be a nightmare for the cineplexes and not great for the consumer.

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    4. I actually think the MPAA won't allow you to have a movie out with two different ratings at the same time, so it's an either/or. The PG-13 prints of Anchorman 2 are probably being pulled as of Thursday.

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    5. ^ No offense, hombre, but I'm amused you used the term "prints", as I'm pretty certain that the studio wouldn't be doing this rerelease if the costs of sending the theaters the new cut on hard drives or online weren't a tiny fraction of that of shipping old-school film. ;)

      ... That's an interesting thought re: the MPAA. Of course, they have no real authority over the studios or theater chains, so at most they could refuse to rate either version of a simultaneous release, no? And Sol, there are already simultaneous releases in 2D and 3D, so would different rating cuts really be any more trouble? :)

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  7. In 2006 the theatrical versions of ST:OT were packaged with the Special Editions. Star Wars is so "original" the title crawl doesn't include the words "A New Hope".

    Of course, Lucas being Lucas, they aren't anamorphic. But I guard those discs with my life. I'd still rather watch the films unmolested in letterbox than a second of the mess he's turned them into.

    Meanwhile, I think manufacturers sometimes design these things never expecting people to open them. That they'll all be put aside as "collectables".

    I give as my example this Dexter: The Complete Series set. Imagine trying to get a disc out of this monstrosity unscratched... http://www.amazon.com/Dexter-Complete-Collection-Exclusive-Blu-ray/dp/B00DXOIU16/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1375905341&sr=8-3&keywords=Dexter+The+Complete+Series

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    1. You're right, they did re-release those original, un-altered movies as "bonus material" on the 2006 DVDs. I don't have them because I had bought the trilogy the FIRST time they were released on DVD and was (and still am) really sour about being expected to rebuy an entire trilogy of movies that had already been released once. And I feel like the lack of Anamorphic video for a 2006 release was an aggressive attempt by George Lucas to flip off fans of the original trilogy. He might as well have put a middle finger on the box art. It feels petty and manipulative to me.

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    2. Did they ever fix the thing with the pink light sabers in Return of the Jedi?

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    3. Oh, of course the non-anamorphic thing was a middle finger to the fans. Big time. But they're the original films and - unless Disney catches a clue - that's what we've got.

      Pink lightsabers? Not ringing a bell.

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    4. ^ In the SE ROTJ dvd release, Vader's saber was pink.

      I don't mean to be a broken record, guys, but I doubt any but PhD-level Star Wars obsessives would be able to tell much of a difference between Harmy's Despecialized editions and whatever restoration professionals could cook up. They're HD, they're intricate recreations of the original theatrical films, and they're spectacular. So long as one owns a legitimate digital copy of the Original Trilogy, all Star Wars fans should aim to get their hands on these cuts. But don't take my word for it:

      http://www.screened.com/news/behind-the-scenes-of-harmys-star-wars-despecialized-edition/2917/

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    5. That's a really interesting article. I've not been aware of that before now.

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  8. Great article, Heath - this is definitely a sore spot for me (and my wallet) because I have become so goddamn tempted by the stupid cases blu-rays come in - never thought that would happen, but then Jaws came out on blu-ray last summer and I ended up buying the regular North American packaging, the UK steelbook (which just has the cover image with no other writing - I love it! I'm crazy!) and then when I saw a "good" price, I got the digibook thing (which I usually hate) too! Madness - all for the same movie inside - I need help. The other day I was tempted to buy just the lenticular slipcover for Avatar 3D because my Amazon copy didn't come with one - thankfully sanity prevailed. Those are probably the worst examples of real superficial insanity I've ever gotten into but yeah, I can easily be sucked in by substantial new bonus features or an extended cut or an updated transfer, which is sometimes "worth" it (the last The Terminator release was actually really good) - I've probably "double-dipped" about a dozen times and almost all have been accompanied by a slight pang of shame.

    All the Star Wars stuff seems like pure fansploitation, but I wonder if a lot of this nonsense isn't just Hollywood Inc.'s last ditch effort to wring every penny they can get out of physical media over the next few years before it dies for good...

    I do think it's an interesting (and probably horrible?) idea that we'll see more and more "safe" (i.e. PG-13) theatrical releases followed by more adult-oriented home video releases. This just sounds awful on the face of it but, Christ, if that's the only way we can get more movies that aren't fucking pablum, I guess it would be okay? Ugh, as we stand on the threshold of some major changes in the way we consume movies, I suspect we'll see Hollywood Inc. try all sorts of wacky shit while they figure out how to evolve with the times...

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  9. Talking Star Wars release editions... Does anyone have any scuttlebutt on this forthcoming release? What cuts of the films it might include?
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E9PMMX0/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i5?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0JDPHTEFCKC9M2D1E19C&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1389517282&pf_rd_i=507846

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    1. Oh, wow. They're being released AGAIN? I'm with you on wanting to know if there's any reason for anyone to buy this. I guess if nothing else, the box art looks really good. I wish the last box set I bought looked like that.

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