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Director’s Cut: 10 Theatrical Versions Vs. The Filmmaker's Final Vision

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 2, 2014 at 2:55PM

Blessed/cursed with one of the most confusing and prolonged release strategies in recent memory, (blessed in that it has kept the movie in the conversation longer; cursed because that’s longer for everyone to get bored and irritated with it too) the second part of Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” opens in the U.S. this weekend (our ‘Vol II’ review is here). Our stock of sex puns may have been well and truly plundered (note how we couldn’t even bring ourselves to say “this coming weekend”) but that’s still not the end of it, as ‘Vol II’ also has a director’s cut on the way (the director’s preferred version of ‘Vol I’ played Berlin some weeks after the theatrical cut had already opened).
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Brazil

"Brazil" (1984 "Love Conquers All" Edit) vs. 1985 U.S. Theatrical Cut vs. 1985 European Cut
Synopsis: In a dystopian retro-future, Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a low-level bureaucrat who dreams of a mysterious woman (Kim Greist), then meets her while trying to rectify an error after a terrorist was mistakenly identified.

Background: Three years on from the success of his fantasy "Time Bandits," Terry Gilliam returned with an ambitious and visually extravagant fantasy with an impressive cast (most notably Robert De Niro as air-conditioning repairman/terrorist Harry Tuttle). Co-written with regular contributor Charles McKeown and playwright Tom Stoppard, the film was produced by Arnon Milchan's Embassy International Pictures, but Universal snapped up the rights for the U.S. (20th Century Fox distributed in much of the rest of the world). But as happened all too often with Gilliam, the director quarreled with executives: with test screenings scoring poorly, and worries about the two-and-a-half hour running time (longer than the studio had approved), Universal head Sid Sheinberg commissioned his own edit of the film, trimming 48 minutes and giving it a happy ending (hence the withering "Love Conquers All" nickname for this version). The film was delayed as Gilliam and Sheinberg fought over the cut (the director wrote to the executive at one point, saying "As long as my name is on the film, what is done to it is done to me… I feel every cut, especially the ones that sever the balls… if you really wish to make your version of 'Brazil,' then put your name on it"). Eventually, the filmmaker took matters into his own hands: he took out an ad in Variety reading "Dear Sid Sheinberg, When are you going to release my film 'Brazil'?, Terry Gilliam," and surreptitiously screened the film to critics, resulting in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association giving it their Best Picture award. Their hand forced, Universal agreed to release the film, albeit in a compromised version with a few changes. Internationally, audiences got to see Gilliam's original cut (which he later refined further for the Criterion release). The Sheinberg take occasionally aired on TV in the U.S., and also was issued as part of the film's deluxe Criterion edition.

Brazil

Differences: At nearly 94 minutes, around 50 minutes shorter from the definitive take, Sheinberg's cut is obviously wildly different. Much of the violence and swearing is gone, along with many of the fantasy sequences. The plot is spelled out as if to a particularly dim child (including on-screen text read aloud by a voice over), while the romantic elements are played up, not least in the conclusion, which sees Sam and Jill escaping to the countryside together happily. Meanwhile, the longer European cut restores a few extra sequences—a post-coital scene between Sam and Jill, a metal-detector sequence, an interrogation sequence and another with Peter Vaughan's character Helpmann dressed as Santa. The American version also opens and closes with shots of clouds (some of which were borrowed from "The NeverEnding Story").

Which Is Better And Why: Well, the "Love Conquers All" cut certainly isn't the best: it's essentially nonsensical, with the plot making very little sense, much of the film's thematic weight gone, and a generally cobbled-together, slapdash feel to the whole thing. It's a disaster, and you can see why Gilliam fought it so hard (and why he was so delighted when it eventually saw the light of day and everyone could judge it for themselves). But of the better versions, we'd argue that there's not a whole lot to differentiate the European and American cuts—the former is more complete, but does drag a little more. But in deference to Mr. Gilliam, we'd go with it, as it's his preferred version.

Apocalypse Now

"Apocalypse Now" (1979) vs. "Apocalypse Now Redux" (2001)
Synopsis: A loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" that follows Army Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), who's enlisted on a secret mission to head to Cambodia to find Special Forces Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who reportedly lost his mind and is now commanding his own private army.

Background: Pretty much a decade in the making (writer John Milius was first hired to pen a version of the script during the making of "The Rain People" in 1969), "Apocalypse Now" was originally intended to be directed by George Lucas, but after the success of "The Godfather" films, Francis Ford Coppola became interested in the script and began shooting in 1976. After a tumultuous production that dealt with hurricanes, the firing of one leading man (Harvey Keitel), the heart attack of another (Sheen), and the budget and schedule going wildly overboard—it finally wrapped in May 1977, having cost over $30 million—"Apocalypse Now" then spent another two years in the cutting room, with the director eventually telling his wife Eleanor that he thought "there is only about a 20% chance I can pull the film off." After much recutting and indecision, the film finally premiered at Cannes in May 1979 as a "work-in-progress," and shared the Palme d'Or with Volker Schlöndorff's "The Tin Drum." The released version was ostensibly the director's cut, but Coppola had shot much more than was included, and over a decade later he started toying with the idea of a new version of the film. He tried to persuade editor Walter Murch to return, who initially refused after spending two years on the project originally, but after working on "Touch Of Evil," Murch relented. He and Coppola set about recutting the film, often from the ground up. Actors were brought in, where possible, to re-record ADR. New music was recorded for the project, and DoP Vittorio Storaro supervised the color processing. The new version, entitled "Apocalypse Now Redux" premiered at Cannes in May 2001, a little less than 22 years after the original had done the same.

Apocalypse Now

Differences: Aside from the technical rejig described above, the 'Redux' version adds 49 extra minutes to the 153-minute original (that adds up to 202 minutes, math fans). Aside from more minor additions of dialogue or shuffling of scenes around, there are a number of major changes. Among them, we see Willard stealing Kilgore's (Robert Duvall) surfboard after his famous napalm speech, and a subsequent scene where Kilgore pursues them, with a helicopter playing a message from them. The Playboy bunnies return, sleeping with some of the men (hauntingly, Lance fails to notice a dead body in the Medevac camp where it's taking place). Most notably of all, there's an extended sequence set in a French rubber plantation, featuring a funeral sequence for Laurence Fishburne's Clean, arguments with the French family over the war, and the seduction of Willard by the mother of the family. It also restores appearances by French actors Christian Marquand ("And God Created Woman") and Aurore Clément ("Paris, Texas"), as well as cameos by the director's children: future filmmaker Roman and older brother Gian-Carlo (who sadly wasn't around for the Redux version, having passed away in a speedboat accident in 1986).

Which Version is Better And Why? Some find the later 'Redux' version more definitive, but personally we'd stick with the original. The longer cut is certainly fun for completists, but once restored to the movie, the new additions either harm the pacing (the film stops dead for the French plantation sequence) or the tone (stealing the surfboard is a weird and incongruous moment of japery, while the return of the Playmates feels, frankly, a bit misogynistic in its execution). It's still a great movie, but who would you rather listen to: the '70s Coppola who made "The Godfather" and "The Conversation," or the late '90s/early '00s Coppola who made "Jack" and "The Rainmaker"? It's also worth noting that there's a five-hour workprint version that's still eagerly swapped by collectors and bootleggers, but it's literally a rough assembly, featuring basically everything that Coppola filmed, so is hardly a satisfying viewing experience.

Touch of Evil Welles

"Touch Of Evil" (theatrical version 1958), vs. "Preview Version" (1976) vs. "Restored Version" (1998 )
Synopsis: Film noir classic about a Mexican drug enforcement agent (Charlton Heston) investigating a bombing on American soil while on his honeymoon, aided and mostly abetted by the monstrous and corrupt policeman Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles),

Background: After a decade in semi-exile in Europe, Welles hoped to make his glorious Hollywood return with this film noir. Some suggest he was brought on to direct at the insistence of star Charlton Heston, having initially been only pegged for an acting appearance, while others maintain that the project came out of a dare between Welles and producer Albert Zugsmith, when the "Citizen Kane" filmmaker wagered that he could make a great film out of even the most terrible script that Zugsmith had. Either way, Welles shot the project in 1957, a shoot that seemingly went smoothly and came in on time. But Welles was never speedy when it came to post-production ("I could work forever on the editing of a film," he said to Cahiers du Cinéma in 1958. "I don't know why it takes me so much time, but that has the effect of arousing the ire of the producers, who then take the film out of my hands"), and after he finished a rough cut in July 1957, Universal indeed took over (even reshooting some scenes and adding others, helmed by journeyman B-movie veteran Harry Keller), and Welles went to Mexico to prepare for his version of "Don Quixote". He finally saw the studio's cut in December '57, and submitted a 58 page memo to the studio pleading for changes (read the full text here), most of which were eventually ignored. The released version, running 30 minutes shorter, made it to theaters two months later, as the lower half of a double bill with Keller's Hedy Lamarr vehicle "The Female Animal." It basically disappeared in the U.S. (though was taken to the hearts of the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd in Europe), and was mostly forgotten until 1975, when Universal discovered a longer 108-minute cut in their vaults, originally used for test screenings. It was re-released, heralded by the studio as "the complete uncut and restored version," but that wasn't accurate: Welles had no involvement in the cut, and though it came after his memo the director wasn't consulted about the re-release. Finally, after Welles' death, interest in something closer to a director's cut grew thanks to the work of critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, and the great editor Walter Murch was hired by the studio to restore the film as closely as possible to Welles' original intention. It hit theaters in 1998, though not without trouble: the filmmaker's daughter Beatrice caused a Cannes premiere to be cancelled after threatening to sue over a failure to consult her over the restoration.

Touch of Evil Heston

Differences: The 1970s cut runs 108 minutes, thirteen minutes longer than the released theatrical cut, without some of Keller's reshot moments, and with some of Welles' scenes restored, most notably a long scene between Welles' Quinlan and his partner Menzies (Joseph Calleia) that sets up the characters, and their differences, much better. Various other tweaks existed too: certain scenes ran longer, or lines of dialogue or shots remain different. The Murch and Rosenbaum 1998 cut is only three minutes longer, and doesn't contain much in the way of entirely new footage, but feels like a different movie: the rhythm of the film, particularly in the opening scenes, is very different, and much more consistent (particularly with the credits and music removed from the legendary opening shot, per Welles' intention). The print and soundtrack also got a modern polish.

Which Is Better And Why: Welles scholars still argue over this one, and all of the versions are pretty decent: the release version has storytelling issues, but can't do too much to mess up what Welles shot. And it's important to remember that the 1998 version isn't definitive, or a director's cut: Welles was making compromises with the studio in his memo, and his ideal version of the film likely would have been different if allowed to complete it. All that said, that's certainly our favorite: the intention of Murch's changes is well thought-out, and the film is much more satisfying as a whole, as subtle as many of the tweaks are. All three versions are available on the Criterion and Masters of Cinema release, so you can judge for yourself.

This article is related to: Features, Nymphomaniac, Feature, Heaven's Gate, The New World, Blade Runner


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