The 10 Greatest Director's Cut / Extended Edition Versions of Famous Films

by Bill Gibron

5 March 2013

Ten terrific examples of how letting an artist have their way leads to amazing cinematic statements.

In the waning days of the VCR’s grip on home video, the studios were stumped. Sell through titles were stalled, the eager movie fan frustrated with the format’s lack of definition and extras. While laserdisc provided an avenue for these desired bonus elements, the digital revolution finally stepped in and made such special editions possible—and along with all the added bells and whistles came the director’s cut. With the added space on the DVD disc, studios gave filmmakers a chance to flesh out their films on the new media, giving contractually obligated commercial versions a viable supplement—and in a few cases, supplanting. Indeed, as the new technology thrived, almost every release saw a “uncut” or “extended” take, with material sometimes added without the artist’s consent or control.
When the filmmaker has been involved, however, something movie magical has happened. In fact, there have been several cases were an otherwise dismissed effort has been resurrected and reconsidered thanks to a new, longer cut. Of course, we also have those instances where studio insanity has led to a complete creative bastardizing of an otherwise stunning work of brilliance (we’re looking at you Universal, and your horrid “Love Conquers All” take on Brazil) but for the most part, the active participation from those involved (or who knew those involved) has led to some amazing finds. In that regard, and in light of the recent home video release of a longer version of the final Twilight film, Breaking Dawn, Part 2, we present our look at 10 updates that have fulfilled the promise of the original motion picture presented. In each instance, the inclusion of new material and the reediting of the existing have turned something troubled into something terrific. That’s the nature of the new high tech beast. 

We begin with an incomplete vision, but a compelling one nonetheless:

#10 - Dune

While David Lynch has condemned this extended TV edit of his flawed sci-fi epic (going so far as to demand the “Alan Smithee” credit for his ‘direction’) there is no denying that the included material clears up a lot of the film’s narrative misgivings. We get more backstory and intrigue, more characterization, and perhaps more importantly, more mythology. The end result gives viewers a real taste of what attracted readers to Frank Herbert’s novel in the first place. Hopefully one day someone wills step up and do the book (and its many sequels) justice. Until then, we have Lynch’s luxurious oddity, now with even more meaning… and madness.

#9 - Watchmen

All space alien octopi aside, Zack Snyder did a terrific job taking on Alan Moore’s mammoth deconstruction of the superhero genre. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers balked at allowing him to include all the material filmed as part of his take on the graphic novel - specifically, the entire Tales of the Black Freighter comic book subplot. So this important part of the subtext was removed. Eventually, after a couple of complicated home video releases, Snyder got to reinsert almost everything that was taken out for the theatrical run. The result is a masterpiece of post-modern revisionism, complete with its complimentary cartoon commentary.

#8 - Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott is apparently jinxed. He’s had several instances where his “final” cut failed to live up to his complete artistic vision. Nowhere was this more true than in his attempted epic surrounding the infamous Crusades. Trimmed by more than 40 minutes before being released, many found the film incomplete, and in some cases, incomprehensible. Luckily, because of his commercial cache, Scott got a chance to revisit his version on home video - and the resulting response proved that, sometimes, studio interference can actually rob a movie of its meaning. His update of Kingdom is actually a very, very good film indeed.

#7 - The Big Red One

Sam Fuller was a firebrand pain in Hollywood’s backside. He made schlock and simple thrillers than later proved to be more profound and prescient than at first thought. As early as 1955, the studio suits were interested in his experiences during World War II. The resulting film, entitled The Big Red One and released in the ‘70s, became an albatross around Fuller’s neck. While praised by many, it failed to represent his true vision of the combat-based Pilgrim’s Progress. Sadly, Fuller never got to see the final cut of his film. Restored for a premiere at Cannes, this new take on the material is now considered one of the greatest war movies of all time.

#6 - Aliens

Like Ridley Scott, James Cameron has found a few of his films “trimmed” for time and focus group critique. Unlike Scott, his theatrical releases of same are often massive mainstream hits - and his preferred versions. As with the tidal wave material in The Abyss, Cameron had to lose the maternal motivation for Ellen Ripley in his crackerjack sequel to Scott’s original horror film in space. With the new edit, made available on home video, he added in the character’s daughter, as well as some background on Newt and the fate of her family. Toss in a bit more action and suspense and you’ve got a great film made even better.

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