“There will only be one (version of the films). And it won’t be what I call the “rough cut”, it will be the “final cut”. The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, “There was an earlier draft of this.” I think it’s the director’s prerogative, not the studio’s, to go back and reinvent a movie”.
– George Lucas on the Star Wars Special Editions
The phrase “you should have left well enough alone”, or in some cases, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” could also apply to movies.
This really doesn’t happen too often these days as most directors either feel they said what needed saying the first time around or have already moved on to their next project and don’t feel the need to go back in time. To be honest, it is kind of surprising this does not happen more often, especially with home video and DVD being so easy. There are a lot of movies that are released on DVD with deleted scenes (which are usually bad) or alternate endings, but not as often do the changes make it into the actual film itself.
As with my previous list on this subject, published on Taste of Cinema on 12/2/2015, the only way we, the audience, is able to judge if something is better or worse is to see both versions and judge for themselves.
There have been a few cases, though, where certain directors have gone back one too many times and changed things that didn’t need changing or tried to make something better and didn’t.
Normally, my lists do not have a particular order since movies are subjective and opinions are wide ranging. This time is an exception and the order is on purpose.
1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (tie)
George Lucas has to be one of the most polarizing individuals on the planet. Many people forget these days if it wasn’t for him, we would not have Luke, Han, Leia, The Force, Jedi, Yoda, Light Sabers, Death Stars, Chewbacca, etc. They tend to focus on Jar Jar, Hayden Christensen, Trade Federation, Watto, Midi-chlorians and everything else that makes the prequels bad.
Many people will also never forgive him for selling Star Wars to Disney; however, the jury is still out on that. The one thing that last fact does for sure is knowing now they will never be done making Star Wars films. Some people think that is a good thing while others do not. The universe itself is vast and many many different stories can be told; however, there may be something to be said for having a beginning, middle and end and not always feeling like you are left hanging for the next chapter the way Disney has done with Marvel.
Specific to “A New Hope”, people would have been more forgiving if all he would have changed or updated were the special effects and sound. Even an additional Stormtrooper or X-Wing probably would have been overlooked if the other changes were not just so repulsive.
The main changes everyone objected to is the infamous “Who shot first” scene between Greedo and Han Solo at the beginning of the film. This scene has actually changed several time for various reasons, going from Han shot first to Greedo shot first, to both of them shooting almost simultaneously. Lucas has defended this change saying “Greedo always shot first”, but he did not shoot it that way originally, so the changes he made was to coincide with his original vision.
Harrison Ford was asked recently about the change and “Who shot first?” and he simply said “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The other main objection was a scene that was shot for the original 1977 release and not used involving Jabba the Hut and Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon’s launch bay. Boba Fett was also added to the scene one movie early. Jabba was shot with a real actor and Jabba’s image was laid over it using really bad CGI.
Then, Solo walks behind Jabba and he had to be raised and lowered onscreen as if he stepped on Jabba’s tail since the actor did not have a tail when the scene was originally shot. The look on Jabba’s face is so bad. The scene itself is so remarkably out of place it brings the whole film down as a result. In spite of all this, when this “Special Edition” of “A New Hope” was released in theatres in 1996, it did very well and earned over an additional $100 million.
2. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (tie)
For the purposes of this list, “The Empire Strikes Back” is not included since the changes to the film were not nearly as severe as the other two. The main changes consisted of adding shots of the wampa, Cloud City and changing the image of The Emperor to the likeness of Ian McDiarmid, the actor who played the character in Jedi. In Jedi, there are also many changes which only made the film worse and were ultimately unnecessary which made fans immeasurably unhappy with Lucas.
In Jabba’s palace at the beginning of the film, the song performed by Sy Snootles and the Rebo band was changed from “Lapti Nek” to “Jedi Rocks” (which was horrible) and a number of additionl shots were created of back up dancers. The original Sy Snootles as replaced by a really cheesy CGI version who was not believable at all.
Much of what was changed was added CGI including extra tentacles of the Sarlaac, extra explosions were not had previously existed or were enhanced and additional “celebration” scenes at the end of the film showing different locations within the prequel trilogy which did not exist when Jedi was originally released n 1983.
As with the beginning song, the “Ewok Celebration” song at the end of the film was replaced with “Victory Celebration”. This change was also for the worse at the original sounded more authentic and fit more with the mood at the end of the film.
Also, the “Force Ghosts” scene was changed and the head of actor Sebastian Shaw who had played the unmasked Darth Vader in Jedi was replaced with the one from young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). This really makes no sense with the mythology. If you are going to do this, then wouldn’t you also change the “Force Ghost” of Obi-Wan Kenobi to Ewan McGregor who played the young Obi-Wan? Since Anakin died as an old man, his ghost should have been that of an old man the same as Obi-Wans.
Another thing that has angered fans of the “original cuts” of the first trilogy is there has not been a high quality version of them released on DVD. There were theatrical versions released for one of the many DVD releases which were low, grainy picture quality and only Dolby 2.0 sound which were taken off the 1993 LaserDisc releases. Hopefully, we will see HD Blu-Ray releases of these original cuts within our lifetime.
3. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
No one can argue everyone loved E.T. when it was originally released in 1982. They really loved it. The film currently stands as the #11 top-grossing film in U.S. history making over $435 million on its original and subsequent releases.
Why then did director Steven Spielberg feel the need to change the film for its 20th anniversary in 2002? His “updates” included enhanced special effects including adding a CGI E.T. to a sequence of him running through a corn field, and adding more lights to the spaceship. There was also scenes added including E.T. taking a bath.
The most controversial change; however, was when Spielberg decided to remove all the guns used by law enforcement and the military in the film to walkie-talkies to make them less menacing to children. This change was abhorred by fans feeling it was unnecessary and stuck out against the original version.
Spielberg has said in interviews since the new version he regrets making the changes to the film saying “I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T.” Luckily, he film’s 2002 DVD release had high-quality transfers of both versions. Spielberg has also said he would only release the original version when the film eventually comes to Blu-Ray.
If you haven’t seen it, fans of “South Park” should also check out the episode “Free Hat” in which Hollywood studios have decided to redo other blockbuster movies on the success of the “Star Wars” and redo “Saving Private Ryan” replacing all the guns with walkie-talkies.
4. Donnie Darko
Director Richard Kelly has one of the greatest obscure and wonderfully offbeat film in Donnie Darko released in 2001. So far, it appears to be his only film which was anyone liked. His subsequent films “Southland Tales: and “The Box” were very poorly received. Few films in recent memory have sparked so much conversation and interpretation.
The film is nearly impossible to describe to someone other than to say “you have to see this”. In short, the film centers on a loner teenager who encounters a strange rabbit and participates in events that may or may not have actually happened.
For the 2004 “Director’s Cut”, nearly 20 minutes worth of 28 scenes were added. The reaction to the new cut was very mixed, but most people did not like the way the scenes changed the pacing of the film. There were some new special effects added as well as text scenes from the fictional novel “The Philosophy of Time Travel” which a lot of people felt took some of the “mystery” away and explained things a little too much.
There were also some changes of songs used in the film which did not go over well either. Kelly maintains his new cut is his preferred version.
5. Bad Santa
This “Director’s Cut” is unique in that it is the only one which makes the film shorter as a result. This 2003 Santa film is definitely not for kids and stars Billy Bob Thornton as a crooked “St. Nick” who uses his job as a department store Santa to steal from the very stores that employ him. The movie was considered a hit since it made over $60 million on a budget of only $18 million.
There has even been a sequel announced with Thornton returning which will hit theaters for Christmas 2016. In the opening scene of the new cut, Thornton’s voiceover is removed, leaving the viewer a much harsher initial impression of Santa.
Several other scenes including the advent calendar and Santa teaching his friend how to box were also removed leaving us with a much more unsympathetic character than he already was. As with the previous examples, director Terry Zwigoff prefers his shorter version.