Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Heath Holland On...Director's Cuts, Extended Editions, Retailer Exclusives, Oh My!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.