Few filmmakers have embraced the extended director’s cut as much as Ridley Scott. Plenty of other directors dabble in the form, but results vary. When George Lucas revisited the original Star Wars trilogy, adding new special effects and splicing in scenes that were originally left on the cutting room floor, fans grew irate. When Steven Spielberg digitally swapped-out rifles for walkie-talkies in a re-release of E.T., it was viewed as pointless. In the cases of Lucas and Spielberg, the filmmakers were attempting to improve on things that perhaps didn’t need improving, leading to the age-old question, “If it ain’t broke why fix it?”
But for Scott, the director’s cut is something of an art form. The Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne was famous for frequently not signing his name to his paintings, because he didn’t want to admit the work was done. He recreated the same painting again and again, sometimes even destroying canvases, in an elusive quest for perfection. Perhaps this is what Scott is doing as well; leaving the corner of the frame blank, delaying the final signature.
Dangerous Days: The Many Visions of Blade Runner
Of all of Scott’s alternate cuts, Blade Runner is the most famous. Scott’s 1982 neo-noir was ahead of its time, both thematically and with audiences. The bleak, smoggy, neon-lit sci-fi flick turned off critics and audiences alike, and producers ordered changes. There were a total of seven different Blade Runner cuts, some more different than others. Some versions featured a lifeless voice-over from star Harrison Ford. Some featured dream-footage of a unicorn recycled from Scott’s Legend.
Despite Blade Runner’s initial box office failure, it developed a substantial cult following to the point that the desire for an ultimate cut was too great for Scott to ignore. “I get on with life and move on, but the thing kept resurfacing and coming up and bopping me in the head,” Scott said. “I just keep doing things too early, which is really annoying because they don’t make money.”
In 2007, Scott oversaw Blade Runner: The Final Cut, a home vide release which contained five of the different cuts of the film as well as a new version that was as closest to what Scott had originally intended. “I figured I’d really got it right,” Scott said of the film’s original release. “I’d already done Alien, I’d already done 2,000 commercials. I figured I’d apply what I knew about Heavy Metal comics to Blade Runner. It didn’t strike a chord because people didn’t know what Heavy Metal comics were then. They hadn’t a clue.” The passage of time gave the filmmaker a chance to let his audience catch up with what he originally intended.
“God Wills It”: The Drastically Different Kingdom of Heaven Extended Director’s Cut
Even with all of its various versions, Blade Runner remained the same basic film. Narration or no narration, the skeleton of the story was always there. Scott’s 2005 Crusades-era epic Kingdom of Heaven is an entirely different beast. Poor preview audience reactions resulted in Scott retooling the film into a less-than-desirable cut.
“By going to a preview, a director becomes insidiously infected by the process,” said the filmmaker. “So by the end of it you’re thinking: ‘It may be a bit too long.’ That’s how this one arrived at two hours 23 minutes. So it was my fault. The studio aren’t to be at all blamed for this, they weren’t bullies.”
When Kingdom of Heaven came to DVD, it gave Scott a chance to essentially remake the film as originally intended. The end result is an almost completely different experience – and a far more rewarding one. Scott added 45 minutes onto an already lengthy film, fleshing out characters and revealing entire plotlines that didn’t make the theatrical version. It’s still not perfect – no amount of extra footage can make Orlando Bloom a convincing star – but it comes pretty damn close.
The Truth of the Situation: Saving The Counselor
In 2013’s The Counselor, Scott teamed with acclaimed writer Cormac McCarthy and a dynamite cast including Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. It was a disaster. Critics savaged the film and for many, it passed into the so-bad-it’s-good pantheon – the type of film one watches to mock instead of enjoy.
Scott couldn’t resist an opportunity to tinker with the film and try to right what went wrong. “When you’re in the editing room,” the filmmaker says on a commentary track for the extended cut, “the dangerous thing is that it becomes like telling a joke again and again and again. Eventually the joke starts to not be funny. So you have to be careful that you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
This approach led to Scott cutting out a much-needed rhythm that’s blessedly restored in the extended cut. It’s not the type of world-changing cut that the extended Kingdom of Heaven is, but it’s a much more coherent, impactful film. And it still has a scene where Javier Bardem watches stunned as Cameron Diaz has sex with a car.
Final Cut and Beyond
Scott’s retooling of his films isn’t always rewarding. Alien, the film that put Scott on the map, has an extended cut that actually shortens the theatrical cut instead of extending it. Scott used alternate or new scenes, including the somewhat famous moment when Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) discovers the alien hasn’t killed several of her crew members, but cocooned them to become new hosts. It’s a moment that James Cameron was expand on in Aliens, and it works like gangbusters there. But it feels extraneous in Alien and completely throws off the film’s perfect pacing.
A Director’s Cut of Scott’s mostly forgotten 2010 Robin Hood adds 16 flawed minutes to an already flawed film. For home release, Scott cut in 19 extra minutes to his 2007 American Gangster, and while these additions give the film a little extra breathing room, the theatrical cut is the superior version. In 2015, Scott garnered some of the best reviews of his later career with The Martian, yet even that didn’t stop him from leaving well enough alone and added 20 minutes for Blu-ray extended cut. Yet there, just as with American Gangster, the version that hit theaters is better.
Scott’s newest film finds him returning to the Alien franchise with Alien: Covenant, a sequel to Prometheus and prequel to Alien. We’ll have to wait and see if the director decides to continue his time-honored tradition of reworking his movies. Something to take note of, though: several of the trailers and TV spots for Alien: Covenant contain moments that are definitely not in the film hitting theaters this weekend. Scott may have another Director’s Cut in him yet.
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