With the release of the extended cut of the totally non-divisive Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, what better opportunity to bring up other extended editions that enhanced or changed the reception of a film’s respective theatrical release? This article will focus on changes made within an individual movie and not the special bonus features. (But as a side note, the Alien Anthology set has the best special features I’ve ever seen).
1. Little Shop of Horrors
We start with one film that only requires minor adjustment. The ending of Little Shop (spoilers) ends up taking away immediate impact and dulling the consequences of Seymour’s actions. Instead of ending on a note to signify the obsessive effects of consumerism, the theatrical ending focuses on a subtly bleak satirical ending on “the American dream” to solid effect. The theatrical ending doesn’t break the movie by any means, but compared to the bombast and unrelenting nature of the director’s cut – which is also one of the finest instances of combining spectacle and thematic intent – it’s a bit of a disappointment.
The change dramatically shifts the film from being a magnificent movie to being a thorough masterpiece.
2. Alien 3: Assembly Cut
The theatrical version of Alien 3 is missing half an hour of footage. David Fincher’s theatrical debut was butchered by studio mandates, several scripts were put into use or tossed aside haphazardly, and Fincher disowned the entire project. It’s a miracle he would continue to work with 20th Century Fox. A producer/studio “Assembly Cut” made out of Fincher’s original production notes in an attempt to recapture what he intended.
Under Fincher’s initial intent, we may have had a perfect trilogy. Yes, all the issues behind the scenes still persisted but the new final product is one with fully realized thematic evolution and finality. Yes, the optimistic ending of Aliens is still brutally butchered in front of our eyes to explore the never-ending nightmare the Xenomorph inflicts on Ripley as a Lovecraftian nightmare in space. But here, it all works. It better explores Ripley’s state of mind in a world defined by machinery and existential grunge. And come on, Sigourney Weaver gives her best performance here.
Far too often seen as a rebuke of the themes in Aliens, Alien 3: The Assembly Cut might actually be the biggest statement to continue fighting for what made those themes so powerful. The updated film ties up Ripley’s arc with absolute certainty, fitting into the thesis of the series and giving the character a sendoff she deserves, if a grimly optimistic one.
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Editions
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy always achieved universal acclaim. However with such a dense mythology and countless cast members traversing a story which would come to define “epic storytelling” for the modern era, there was still a wide breadth of work to mine from Tolkien’s original work. Each entry in the trilogy still works in the theatrical release as milestones in cinematic history, but with the extended editions, we’re presented with a more expansive and even more engaging story.
The only downside I have to acknowledge, is some additions to the Merry and Pippin story in The Two Towers. There is a total of 5-10 minutes spent with them drinking water in Fangorn Forest, making them grow taller and nearly being crushed to death by another tree. It’s the only minor addition that may actually detract from the film in terms of pacing but when the movie around it moves so fluidly (for three hours, mind you) it’s odd to place a scene that impacts absolutely nothing.
The rest of the additions range from further backstory to furthering the thematic arcs and mythological worldbuilding. We see a discussion between Aragorn and Eowyn where Aragorn divulges his age (He is 85 years old), Galadriel’s gifts to the fellowship, and the death of Saruman. Some might say it’s only for purists, I’d say it’s for anyone who wants the definitive Middle-Earth experience.
4. Blade Runner: Director’s Cut & Final Cut
One of Ridley Scott’s masterworks, Blade Runner was maligned on release. It’s hard to say if the reasons for the negative reaction were good, but it was clear the feature was deemed to “out there.” Scott is one of the more visual directors in the industry and Blade Runner is one of the better examples why. He’s able to capture worlds and environments, opting for focus on imagery to convey moods and emotions. This is all building up to me saying the voice over was a big mistake. It doesn’t help that Ford sounded bored out of his mind in the recording booth.
Every new iteration of Blade Runner shows the audience a different path to appreciate the story Scott intended. The question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant is an interesting one presented better in these two than anywhere else, just not for the answer you’d expect. As a man who hunts terminally ill androids, Deckard ends up with a question of his own mortality. All that matters is Deckard’s self-realization. I find the presentation is never better than in these extended editions.
5. Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut
Ridley Scott gets two entries for two reasons. Blade Runner is one of his best movies multiple times over. Kingdom of Heaven is one of his best movies only by virtue of being a director’s cut. The theatrical version is decent but far too much is cut from the feature (approximately 45 minutes) and we’re left with an incomplete puzzle. Once the pieces were in order, Scott’s mosaic was finally in place.
“What is Jerusalem worth?”
For men seeking power it means everything for the right to control it, and nothing for belief. For the men of faith, it is a kingdom of conscience and worth practicing throughout life; thus, the physical kingdom is nothing. The theatrical version tackles these ideas but lacks the necessary components to fully deliver them.
Kingdom of Heaven becomes a study of faith, the effects of corruption in religious institutions (the Crusades weren’t great tbh), a contemporary look at historical conflict in the Middle-East. Moments re-cut into the film further examine the self-justification of racism and thusly explore the fundamental issues with the Crusades and religious conflicts. The improvement in quality is so drastic it skyrockets the film onto the upper shelf of Ridley Scott’s filmography.
Maybe it’s just me, but even the score by Harry Gregson-Williams sounds more haunting. That’s what happens when you deliver arguably the best Director’s Cut of our time.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox