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

by The Playlist Staff
April 2, 2014 2:55 PM
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"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) vs. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition" (1980) vs. "Collector's Edition" version (1998)
Synopsis: A blue collar dad (Richard Dreyfuss) has a close encounter with a UFO and becomes obsessed with the phenomenon, eventually abandoning his family to make further contact with the extraterrestrial visitors.

Background: Even though director Steven Spielberg had final cut on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," he felt rushed through production due to having to make a release date that would better benefit Columbia, which at the time was going through something of a financial crisis. They wanted the movie for the summer of 1977 (which would have put Spielberg in direct competition with his BFF George Lucas and some lil' movie called "Star Wars"), but when various setbacks made that impossible, they settled for November 1977. Spielberg still wanted another six months to tinker with the movie but was denied. After the film was released and became a critical and commercial smash (it also racked up eight Oscar nominations—including one for Spielberg's direction), Columbia gave Spielberg almost $2 million and let him reedit the film as he saw fit. Still, there were strings attached. The studio desperately wanted Spielberg to show the inside of the famous mother ship from the end of the film and this became the cornerstone of the marketing for the new version of the movie, which was released theatrically in 1980 and made more than $15 million. (While a handful of sequences were added, just as many were deleted, and the "Special Edition," as it was called, runs three minutes shorter than the original theatrical version.) In 1998, Spielberg returned to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" for the "Collector's Edition" of the film. This version wisely deleted the "interior of the mother ship" sequence and reinserted some other elements. It's the longest version of the movie to date (two minutes longer than the original 1977 theatrical cut) and the one that Spielberg is most happy with. All three versions appear on the Blu-ray release of the film.

Differences: The biggest difference between the 1977 and 1980 cuts is, of course, that ending, which is something of a wet noodle after all of the soul-rattling grandeur that has come before it. The interior of the spaceship looks kind of blah and the movie is robbed of that climactic sense of mystery. (Since François Truffaut, who plays Lacombe, was off shooting another movie when Spielberg was reconstructing this sequence, his assistant, played by Bob Balaban, appears in these scenes alone). There are little additions and gags, like the spaceships flying by a sign for McDonald's, and more lip service given to the fact that Dreyfuss is abandoning his family in order to commune with an extraterrestrial presence, which isn't exactly something included in parenting guidebooks. Teri Garr's wife character is given a harsher, more brittle edge in the Special Edition, but in no way does it justify Dreyfuss' behavior. Yes, meeting aliens would be really cool. But wouldn't being there for your children be, you know, cooler? The Special Edition also has a good sequence where the team discovers a boat in the Gobi Desert (a boat? In the desert?) A noticeable deletion in the Special Edition is the jettisoning of the army press conference that is designed specifically to debunk the rash of sightings. It's a great little scene, and in the Special Edition, it is no more.

Which is Better and Why: If you're choosing between the 1977 theatrical cut and the 1980 Special Edition, stick with the theatrical cut. Mostly because you're not subjected to the awful lameness that is the inside of the UFO, although, if you're given the choice (and, these days, you are), go with the 1998 collector's edition. Aside from this being the definitive "director's cut" (in Spielberg's own words), it's just a more complete version of the movie, and features the "good bits" from the special edition, combined with most of the moments you loved from the original theatrical edition. (There are, of course, some nagging caveats.) Each version is fascinating and completely riveting, but if you've got to choose just one, go with the 1998 cut. Even if that great moment where Dreyfuss looks at his pillow and it reminds him of the shape of the Devil's Tower is gone.

"Cinema Paradiso" (International Theatrical Cut, 1989) vs. "Cinema Paradiso: The New Version” (2002)
Synopsis: Told largely in flashback, this is the fond, nostalgia-soaked story of Salvatore “Totò” Di Vita, now a successful film director, as he remembers the formative relationships of his life—with film—with the villagers of the small Sicilian hometown he’s long since left behind, with his first love, and most of all with Alfredo, the projectionist in the titular local cinema.

Background: You’d be hard pressed to find anyone round here who doesn’t get at least a little misty-eyed thinking about “Cinema Paradiso” (the 123-minute, 1989 Best Foreign Language Oscar- and Cannes Grand Prix-winning version, that is); it’s one of the tenderest and sweetest paeans to cinema that’s ever been made. But the almost universally worshipped award-winner was itself, in fact, a reduced version. Originally in 1988, director Giuseppe Tornatore had released a 155-minute cut that flopped hard on release in Italy, both critically and commercially, before 22 minutes were shorn from it to make it into a stone-cold classic on the international circuit—an early example of Harvey Weinstein’s snip-happy impulses working to the (gasp!) benefit of a film. Its success paved the way for a resurgence in Italian cinema in general and in period-set Italian-language filmmaking specifically that continued through the ‘90s (“Mediterraneo,” “Il Postino,” Tornatore’s own “The Star Maker”and “Life is Beautiful” would dot the Foreign Language Oscar category in the following years). But for no discernible reason (it’s that truncated cut’s massive popularity and success that remains the most impressive entry on Tornatore’s CV to date), in 2001 it was decided that what the world needed was a version of “Cinema Paradiso” that didn’t just restore the excised 22 minutes, but one that actually ballooned out way beyond it, to a 173-minute running time. This director’s cut, also known as “The New Version" got a limited U.S. release in 2002.

Differences: As is to be expected in a version that adds a whopping 50 minutes of footage to the more familiarly seen film, the pacing of "The New Version" is completely different, especially as the film enters its third act, and the emphasis is shifted pretty fundamentally, which leads to a total reevaluation of some of the central relationships. Already in the “teenage Totò” section (in which he falls in love with Elena) Tornatore’s broader, bawdier impulses are on display as the Paradiso become as a place of more graphic, unbridled carnality than before, and crucially Totò himself is caught up in it this time out, clearly shown losing his virginity to the town prostitute. This detracts from the innocence of Totò’s character and adds a layer of disingenuousness to his protestations that Elena is “his first” and that he is so gauche and inexperienced. Furthermore, by adding a whole extra part at the end in which the older, returning Salvatore is reunited with the older Elena (who is herself married and has a daughter) for an adulterous car-seat tryst, the ethereality that had surrounded his memory of her is dashed, and their grand love becomes something far more banal, and rather soap operatic. But perhaps most detrimentally (because it’s the relationship we care about most in the film) "The New Version" also unnecessarily sullies the Alfredo/Totò friendship, when it is revealed that Alfredo deliberately kept Totò and Elena apart at a crucial juncture, the better to make Totò leave the village that he believes he has outgrown.

Which is Better and Why: Unreservedly, and by about a million miles, the 123-minute theatrical version should be considered the definitive cut of the film. This is a film about magic, and about elusiveness and aging and time and memory, and none of those things come across nearly so well in the longer, less subtle, more explanatory “New Version.” In fact, much as we love these characters, there are some back stories we just never need to know and some characters whose power is totally diminished by revisiting them—especially Elena, whose function should be to flicker and flutter in the mind’s eye like something perfect, intangible and unattainable, like an image projected on a screen. The director’s version drags a warm-hearted, joyously sentimental classic down to earth so much that even the famous last scene of the kissing montage feels compromised, where in the original it is simply one of the most wonderful endings ever. Do yourself a favor and never see the "New Version." Forget it ever happened.

As we mentioned, this is a topic we’ll be returning to, so if there are any Director’s Cuts you’d particularly like us to cover in future editions, you can let us know below. —Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor, Oli Lyttelton and Rodrigo Perez

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  • Max Fraley | May 14, 2014 1:26 PMReply

    I recently was "blown away" with William Freidkin's 70's existentialist film, THE SORCERER.
    Freidkin presented it at the TCM Festival in the Hollywood Grauman's IMAX theater. The near capacity audience was quickly caught up in this refined edition and their serious appreciation for this "rediscovered" gem was quickly circulated throughout the festival's many activities. It deserves a recognition long overdue. I know a Blu-Ray edition has recently been released with many enhancements over the original DVD.

  • ROBIN | May 11, 2014 8:14 PMReply

    What about Das Boot? The Counselor? Blood Simple? I almost said Godfather 3, but forget I said Godfather 3. Legend? Dawn of the Dead? Amadeus? Terminator 2? And if anyone's seen them, All The Pretty Horses and Wild At Heart?

    Wonderful article by the way. Thank you.

  • Kyle | May 10, 2014 11:03 PMReply

    Fascinating article and I'm very glad you went with the original cut of Apocalypse Now, I was mightily disappointed to see that extra footage had sapped the life from one of my favourite films.
    As far as suggestions go for the next one...
    1) Alexander - I deliberately sought out the 'Final Cut', bypassing the theatrical and director's cuts, and found it to be a sprawling historical epic that sufficiently long as you can get past Colin Farrell's blonde wig.
    2) Gladiator - I can't even remember the theatrical cut since I only own the extended one!
    3) Donnie Darko - Haven't seen the director's cut but any version of that film sounds intriguing.
    4) Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 - Some of my favourite sci-fi films, although the more interesting story for Alien 3 is the initial wooden monastery-planet idea. That would have been brilliant!
    5) Daredevil
    6) Kingdom of Heaven - Another Scott extended cut which felt more like an epic to me with slight hints of Lawrence of Arabia.
    7) King Kong - Is PJ over-indulging? Almost definitely yes, but is it better?
    and finally...
    8) The Lord of the Rings trilogy - Hard to say anything about these films that hasn't been said but even though I adore them and I only watch the extended editions now, the added footage seems to run the gambit from enthralling narrative addition and insight, all the way to bizarre cheerful comedy (Aragorn and the soup!). Still love it though.

  • JK1193 | May 9, 2014 8:06 PMReply

    Personal Favorites (Alphabetical Order):
    The Abyss
    American Gangster
    Blade Runner
    Kingdom of Heaven
    Robin Hood
    Sucker Punch
    Terminator 2: Judgment Day

  • JK1193 | May 9, 2014 8:14 PM

    Forgot the Alexander directors cut, which is a huge one in my opinion.

  • Eric M. Van | May 6, 2014 3:33 AMReply

    I have to chime in, in advance, on Donnie Darko, an easy choice for your next round of this fabulous feature. Richard Kelly's Director's Cut has aspects that are unquestionably superior: the restoration of a bunch of great and valuable scenes, and of the originally intended pop-music cues. It's also true that the DC gives answers to the film's mysteries; only the original cut has Lynchian ambiguity and is open to multiple interpretations, and a lot of people value that, and for good reason, and mourn its absence from the DC. Hence the common opinion that the original cut is better.

    The unasked question, by too many, is: how good are the answers Kelly provides? Kelly didn't want to make a Lynchian ambiguous film; he wanted to make a fairly rigorous time-travel-paradox sf film that would serve as a metaphor for (and examination of the nature of) free will. And the thing is, the answers are brilliant: next to DD/DC, "Twelve Monkeys" (a very good film) is the work of a small child on an Etch-a-Sketch.

    So we have a strange pair, where the Donnie Darko DC is unquestionably less satisfying than the original as ambiguous weirdness, but perhaps makes up for it by being the best science fiction film ever made -- if you're willing to do the work. (It's closer to Shane Carruth's Primer than to anything by Lynch.) I've been meaning to write a blog post unpacking the film's literal and thematic meanings, and maybe this is a good excuse to finally do so.

  • Rick | May 1, 2014 4:22 AMReply

    What's with 'Star Trek' and especially 'Dance with Wolves'?!

  • jaime | April 29, 2014 1:30 PMReply

    I could have used the Blade Runner piece a few years ago when I desperately searched and inquired as to which version was best. Finally went for the Final Cut, thankfully.

  • Benny Profane | April 25, 2014 9:56 AMReply

    US and European versions who co-exist : "The Shining" by Kubrick and "Dawn of the dead" by Romero.

  • Chris Renaud | April 24, 2014 12:05 PMReply

    My memory of the Sid Sheinberg cut of Brazil is that nearly every edit in the movie seems to have been revisited, and becomes more awkward - even in simple dialogue scenes. I'm not sure that would make sense (it would certainly be more work and $$$) nor would it make sense from a technical (negative cutting) standpoint (separating glued negative, potentially losing frames of image) - but I do remember being confounded by hamfisted editing rhythms. Time to sync those things up again. Summer project.

  • AddictedAICN | April 9, 2014 8:26 PMReply

    Here's a few ideas:
    1. Donnie Darko
    2. Kingdom of Heaven
    3. The Abyss
    4. Mimic
    5. Payback
    6. Almost Famous
    7. Zodiac
    8. Anchorman versus Wake Up Ron Burgundy
    9. Watchmen
    10. Margaret
    11. Little Shop of Horrors
    12. Dark City
    13. Alien
    14. Terminator 2
    15. Aliens
    16. Osterman Weekend
    17. Touch of Evil

  • Glint | April 8, 2014 11:49 AMReply

    I'd be interested in the first three Alien films' theatrical versus directors cut/special edition.

  • Raul | April 7, 2014 5:15 PMReply

    How about a writer's cut? Quentin Tarantino's True Romance was supposed to have a jumbled story line just like Pulp Fiction. The studio didn't trust him enough for directing duties and Tony Scott ended up taking the helm. Sometime before the movie was released he panicked and put it all in chronological order unfortunately. I was able to find the script and edited the scenes in their right order though! Even took a while to find alternate scenes that worked better with Tarantino's vision!

  • Bill | April 6, 2014 9:27 AMReply

    Daredevil. The theatrical version is dreadful, but the directors cut is a wholly different film and vastly superior.

    Payback, another one wher the director's cut is a different film. The entire second half is replaced, even some of the cast.

  • hank | April 4, 2014 3:27 AMReply

    The Paul Seydor cut of Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid is an abomination. As you said, completely speculative and more in line with what a studio stooge of an editor would want to see rather than Peckinpah.

  • Chris138 | April 4, 2014 1:12 AMReply

    Heaven's Gate is a mess. The longer director's cut is unbearably long. The film represents the full blown self-indulgence that Cimino only flirted with in the first hour of The Deer Hunter.

  • Alex | April 15, 2014 2:24 AM

    Heaven's Gate is odd. There's a lot of great in it and those parts are really great but there's also a lot of bloat and dullness. The Directors cut is better but even then it could benefit from a lot of fat trimming. Overall it would've benefitted from the director/editor/screenwriter doing the unthinkable and that's dumbing it down.

  • MistaTMason | April 5, 2014 12:54 AM

    I haven't seen heaven's gate in either form, but maybe one day I'll give it an afternoon. As for The Deer Hunter, the first hour plus, before they go to Vietnam is the best part of the film. Everything feels real and tragic. The wedding scene is gorgeous, without feeling like a Hollywood set piece. It's like the cathedral is this shining temple in their run down industrial PA town. The characters are fleshed out as the kind of friends who are almost brotherly. They can be complete drunken assholes to each other, playing off one another's emotional weaknesses, but they stick together because they are a family.

    While the second half is still good, a lot of the Vietnam stuff goes off the rails. The first battle scene with Green Beret De Niro running while firing a machine gun and throwing a grenade in to the hideout bunker of a Vietnamese family is so unrealistic and obnoxious it's reminiscent of some twisted Chuck Norris Movie. And the Russian roulette really works at first, but that final scene with the "just one shot" line is pretty melodramatic. Cimino was much more effective on the story at home.

  • dan | April 3, 2014 10:53 PMReply

    Once upon a time in America. The theatrical version was a joke, incomprehensible. The director's cut is a masterpiece--in my opinion the greatest gangster movie ever made (even better than The Godfather).

  • Theo | April 15, 2014 9:09 AM

    I love that movie! It makes me angry that the theatrical version ruined its reputation and so it isn't considered the brilliant epic that it should be, but at least the director's cut was released eventually.

  • Alex | April 15, 2014 2:15 AM

    Omg. You are so right. I remember as a kid trying to watch the original version and being really lost and confused. Years later I got to watch the extended cut and saw a beautiful masterpiece that makes sooo much more sense. When I tell people how great that movie is people don't believe me or blow my opinion off because it's not one of those movies with a "must see" reputation.

  • My life in movies | April 3, 2014 2:58 PMReply

    The 1992 "director's cut" of Blade Runner is the best one. The Final Cut is cut too tight and the Final Cuttish color correction is unnecessary. 1992 version has the best rhythm and atmosphere too.

  • MAL | April 3, 2014 1:15 PMReply

    I have never seen the "newer" version of Cinema Paradiso because of all the reasons you mention. There were such perfect mysteries in that film that I knew would destroy the emotional impact if ever revealed. That said, I originally had reservations about viewing the full television version (almost 5.5 hours) of Fanny and Alexander. But Bergman is a much more controlled filmmaker than Tornatore, so when I finally did, I was even more in love with the film. In fact, I can't watch the theatrical version anymore because of all the added richness and depth that would be missing. (And it would be great to have your take on Fanny and Alexander in your next essay on this subject!)

  • Josh O | April 3, 2014 7:46 AMReply

    The 'Kingdom of Heaven' director's cut is a masterpiece; it's a completely different movie and far superior than the theatrical edition.

  • Steven Applebaum | April 3, 2014 6:24 AMReply

    I would like to see you guys discuss the various cuts of David Lynch's Dune film, but it probably wouldn't fit the scope of this article as he never produced a "director's cut." Hopefully one day he will.

    Ridley Scott's Legend of Kingdom of Heaven (especially the latter) would both be great films to delve into.

    Probably the strangest would be Highlander II.

  • Alex | April 15, 2014 2:18 AM

    I have the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven but I actually really like the extended cut of Dune better. The beginning is not as slick and artistic but overall it explains the movie much better. As someone who hasn't read the book it's a more satisfying experience.

  • bohmer | April 6, 2014 3:59 PM

    Yes for Dune and Kingdom of Heaven. I might had Oliver Stones' Alexander also.

  • fabian | April 3, 2014 6:23 AMReply

    Kingdom of heavan. Or any other new Ridley Scott epic. Ie. american gangster, robin hood, Gladiator. All these have director's cuts. Especially kingdom of heaven, is amazing.

  • JK1193 | May 9, 2014 7:58 PM

    Ridley Scott is the modern day master of director cuts. For the life of me, I've yet to see the Gladiator cut, but the others are top-notch. Haven't watched The Counselor directors cut (haven't had time), so I really want to see that one.

  • ED | April 2, 2014 10:30 PMReply

    "“I want more life, f8cker” which is changed to “I want more life, father” in one of the Final Cut’s more pointless alterations."

    God, that is so painful. Thanks for the reminder. God, horrible.

  • MMS | April 2, 2014 7:01 PMReply


    "the movie's 65 mm splendor" is largely, if not exclusively limited to the "mushroom sequence" (only present in the Extended Cut) where Ms. Kilcher's character sees eye-to-eye with a near-suicide, until being distracted by beautiful bird singing from the adjacent tree above her.

  • FRANK | April 2, 2014 6:26 PMReply

    Donnie Darko

  • Steven Applebaum | April 3, 2014 6:07 AM

    Definitely. The two cuts are radically different in execution. Most people I've encountered seem to prefer the original.

  • droop | April 2, 2014 6:10 PMReply

    Miami vice theatrical vs. extended cut for next feature?

  • Donella | April 2, 2014 5:39 PMReply

    I'm interested in your thoughts on the theatrical release of Aliens vs the version with about twenty-five minutes added back.

  • joel | April 2, 2014 5:03 PMReply

    once upon a time in america

  • Bruce 100 | April 3, 2014 5:45 AM

    Just what I was thinking. Though isn't the non-chronological version more of a European cut rather than, strictly, a directors cut?

  • Jamie | April 2, 2014 4:30 PMReply

    I really hope that someday Hooper will let us see the four hour version of Les Miserables. The flow of a great film was hurt by edits to get it down to distribution size and I would love to see some of the scenes that were chopped.

  • DaemonX | April 2, 2014 4:13 PMReply

    BTW, the article is great, but i very miss Dark City from this list. But it's good to see the Richard Donner's Supe is here. In my opinion, this is the best Superman movie ever. Oh, and sorry about my bad English.

  • DaemonX | April 2, 2014 4:11 PMReply

    So where the hell is Dark City (Director's Cut) ?
    It is one of the best sci-fi movies ever made.

  • Mark | April 2, 2014 4:08 PMReply

    The Abyss. STILL unavailable on Blu. I mean, what the hell?

  • Alex | April 15, 2014 2:21 AM

    The directors cut is a better movie that actually improves the story and adds more suspense.

  • Xian | April 2, 2014 6:05 PM

    Cameron is too busy playing on Pandora (the planet, of course). Sigh.

  • burt | April 2, 2014 4:19 PM


  • drawing | April 2, 2014 4:02 PMReply

    You guys have, per uge, got your facts wrong on The New World. The theatrical cut is still very easy to find on DVD, and can be had through Amazon for 8 bucks, new. Plus a million used and new copies on eBay. So, yeah, one does have the choice. Both extended and theatrical are readily available in the US (150 minute cut is another story). I prefer the first act of the extended cut, but the second and third acts of the theatrical. Both are wonderful

  • Frank | May 7, 2014 4:40 PM

    The 150 minute cut (PAL = 144 mins) is (or was) available on DVD in Italy (I own it).

  • James | April 2, 2014 4:00 PMReply

    I only nitpick out of love:) The New World 150 min cut is on DVD in Italy. It's a two disc set with the wide release cut.

  • James | April 2, 2014 4:02 PM

    You also got it for a few months as a digitl down load with the US extended cut DVD, but I suspect that was an accident. You've accidentally combined those two facts.

  • rhunt | April 2, 2014 4:00 PMReply

    If I remember correctly, Cimino had nothing to do with the shorter, theatrically released "Heaven's Gate". As for "Pat Garrett", I prefer the "Turner" version, but I'm not convinced that it can truly be called a "Director's cut". It's missing the scene with Garrett's wife, which was added to the 70s tv cut,.. but more mysteriously, it's missing Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" , which Peckinpah reportedly loved.

  • yer | April 2, 2014 3:59 PMReply

    The New World has to be one of the most reversed opinion films from release to post-release ever. I remember it being on every other 'best of the decade' list when those lists were being made a couple of years ago. Brilliant film.

  • James | April 2, 2014 3:59 PMReply

    I was lucky enough to see the 150 min version of The New World twice on the big screen in Los Angeles. It's by far the superior version, in my mind. The shorter one eviscerates the movie and removes an absolutely KEY shot of an eskimo girl on a beach in Iceland in the final portion, who looks just like Pocahontas, showing how much John Smith still thinks about and loves her. The extended cut adds most everything back, but also adds some unnecessary stuff and also some jarringly modern jump-cuts.

  • Spoiler alert! | April 2, 2014 3:50 PMReply

    Better get ready for a new cut of the New World... coming soon on a Criterion blu-ray near you.

  • MMS | April 2, 2014 7:22 PM

    Very good to know. Oh, and so am I.

  • SPOILER ALERT! | April 2, 2014 6:54 PM

    MMS, not joking. Too old for April Fools.

  • MMS | April 2, 2014 6:48 PM


    Seriously, you better not be joking. If this is true, both TNW and ToL re-cuts out on Criterion Blu-ray's in the near future - well, I'll be one goddamned happy guy.

    "Coming soon" - like, before years end..?

  • James | April 2, 2014 4:53 PM

    April 1 was yesterday.

  • Spoiler alert! | April 2, 2014 4:21 PM

    Nope, no joke. It'll be announced alongside the extended edition of the Tree of Life.

  • halb | April 2, 2014 4:05 PM

    Joke I'm not getting?

  • James | April 2, 2014 3:47 PMReply

    Great article! However there's no Criterion release of "Touch of Evil", though Universal is releasing it on Blu-Ray next week.

  • James | April 2, 2014 3:47 PM

    Oops, I meant in two weeks.

  • Sebastian | April 2, 2014 3:43 PMReply

    Great article. I loved reading it so much. Great job!

    Here are some cuts that might go into a follow up: (1) The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (2) Once Upon a Time in America (3) Payback, the Mel Gibson movie (4) True Romance (5) Sin City

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