The Final Cut

Currently, the only version of The New World on bluray is The Extended Cut. I’ve come like this cut of the film more and more with each viewing. It teases out little elements of the themes a bit more, there are some scenes that are re-edited in a way that makes certain ideas in the film a bit more clear, and there are some scenes that I dearly miss when I go back to the theatrical cut. I’m still not sure which cut of the film I like more. The theatrical cut is more focused and better paced, but the added content of the extended cut brings a number of wonderful scenes into the film.

Multiple times, the right cut of a film has made all the difference when watching a film. Yes, the home video market has oversaturated the market with multiple versions of hundreds of film. There are extended cuts, director cuts, theatrical cuts, enhanced editions, and unrated editions. These editions often serve as a way to entice fans to “double dip:” buy a second copy of a film they love, or an edition of the film with even more cuts than the one they have.

However, for a number of classic and well-loved titles, picking the right cut of a film is essential. Of course, which cut is the “right” cut of a film is likely to differ between movie fans. The first time I watched Apocalypse Now, I started the redux version and quit about an hour into the film. The added scenes crossed the line into self-indulgent dribble. A year later, I went back and watched the theatrical cut and the difference was astounding. The pacing made the film easier to get into and I made the maddening trip down the river the focal point of the film which was lost with all the non sequiturs in the redux version of the film.

I had a similar experience with Alien. It wasn’t the same 180 degree shift from hating to loving the film—I already liked the director’s cut (my first viewing)—but when I watched the theatrical cut (my second viewing), I found the few changes in the last act of the director’s cut were gone, and the film I got was much more intense in the final act. With Aliens, I’ve only ever watched the special edition cut of the film because I find it hard to imagine watching that film without the turret sequence.

For films like Aliens, a new cut can mean a new life. What might try an audience’s patience (and, more importantly, bladder) in a theater can make for a better home experience when the pause button makes breaks possible. As a Tolkien fan, I’ve only ever watched the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings after home video release because I love seeing more details of the world and more character moments, but recognize that for a theatrical release it would have been unrealistic to include many of those scenes.

In the case of Blade Runner, later cuts have refined the film to the point that it’s gone from a poorly received theatrical release to a classic of its era, and, for many, the ultimate science fiction film. Cutting the narration, changing the ending and tweaking a few minor elements has transformed the film from an ambitious effort to a staple of film cannon.

A problem with multiple cuts of films is that sometimes a certain cut is not widely available. The elephant in the room is the theatrical versions of the Star Wars trilogy. There is a poorly realized DVD release that quietly made its way onto DVD shelves. Instead, newer and newer tweaks are made to the trilogy as better and better optimized versions of the film are put out on the latest version of home video. Likewise, the fact that only The Extended Edition of The New World exists on bluray means that fans seeking the best image for a home video viewing of Malick (which they clearly should), are limited to one edition.

While the plurality of cuts is an overall boon to movie fans, it can make viewing a film tricky. The wrong cut can turn one off to a wonderful film experience and studios holding back certain versions of a film can leave fans bitter than their favorite version of a film is elusive or not up to the standards of modern home video viewing. However, the right cut can escalate a film to greatness, so a few minutes should be spent considering not only which film one wants to watch, but which version of it.

© 2013 James Blake Ewing