Top 10 movie re-edits

Here are the films that benefited from a loving second-look in the editing suite...

Play it again. Matt...

Greedo, go and stand at the back…

10: Leon International Cut

Running 23 minutes longer than the general theatrical release of Leon, most of the extra footage in this version is concentrated around the relationship between Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, greatly developing our understanding of the bond between the two. We also get some insight into the romantic misadventure that turned Leon into a hired killer. This is basically more of an already-great film, adding subtractable but rewarding depth to the characters.

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9: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The 2004 re-mastered and re-edited special edition of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti classic is not without its flaws – notably that the voices of old Clint Eastwood’s and old Eli Wallach were too altered by the time they were asked to dub the soundless sections of TGTBATU that were restored in the film. Ironically the voice-actor standing in for the late Lee Van Cleef provides the best looping coverage of them all. But The film contains some very welcome ‘new’ scenes, including Tuco conspiring with his old bandit friends in a cave, and the amusing ‘six bullets’ sequence. The ‘torture in the desert’ scene is notably extended too, as Tuco literally makes a meal of his opportunity to take revenge on ‘Blondie’.

8: Daredevil director’s cut

Mark Steven Johnson’s little-appreciated 2003 take on Marvel’s blind superhero cut no great dash at the box-office or with critics, but the director’s cut proved how harshly the original edit had been treated by producers and marketers. Daredevil V2.0 is a tighter, darker and far more engaging take on Matt Murdoch and his alter-ego. The re-edit features several subplots and telling scenes absent from the theatrical release, such as our hero pondering his numerous scars after dealing with a rapist, and Murdoch’s defence of a Hell’s Kitchen denizen falsely accused of murder. We get in the re-edit some sense of what Daredevil/Murdoch is fighting for, and what it costs him.

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7: Superman II – The Richard Donner edition

Director Richard Donner laments in the extras on Superman that his reward for delivering Warner Brothers a huge blockbuster in Winter of 1978 was to get fired and replaced by Richard Lester, who nominally helmed Superman II and the rather lighter Superman III a couple of years later. Truth is that producers the Salkind Brothers, ever fond of dividing up a huge movie production into two films (as they had done with the Musketeers movies) had envisaged Superman and Superman II as rolling output. Soaring costs and overruns on principal photography and special effects on the first film meant that further funds for Superman II would have to await the outcome of the first film at the box office. Therefore great swathes of Superman II were already in the can by the time Donner himself was canned in favour of Salkind Bros. favourite Lester, and it was a pleasure to see the director’s original vision for the sequel, even if it had to employ footage from a screen test between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, in a clever scene that was ultimately replaced by the more action-oriented ‘Niagara falls’ sequence. The sequence where Superman receives some advice from the ghostly Jor-El, mainly in regards to not letting Earth-people abuse him as a resource, is also a fascinating restoration.

6: Aliens Director’s Cut

The theatrical, VHS and Laserdisc edition of James Cameron’s much-lauded sequel restored several segments which were excised to keep the popcorn flowing and the runtime low. None of them are really essential and one or two aren’t necessarily wise, but there’s nothing in the special edition that makes the film worse, and for those of us who had worn our VHS copies thin, it was a thrilling reinvigoration of an old favourite. Scenes restored included Ripley’s dealing with the death of her daughter and an extended bit of business with the setting up of automatic machine-guns prior to the siege of the control room. The former served as perhaps-unnecessary set-up for Ripley’s bond with Newt, the latter as an over-the-top tech/firepower wank for the boys (though watching quite that many aliens die automatically did thin down their menace for a little while). The most important addition was the restitution of the colony-scenes on LV421 leading up to the alien infestation, wherein we see Newt as a normal young girl and the colony in good order. Here we also get a very good look at the restored Giger alien spaceship, in some very impressive Skotak Bros. VFX work. There are a few other tweaks here and there, but this is basically a ‘more Aliens per pound’ deal – and seeing as Aliens is great, that’s a pretty good deal.

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5: Apocalypse Now Redux

There’s some controversy as to the merits of restoring the French-colonialism scenes to the 2001 cinematic (and subsequent DVD) re-release of Francis Ford Coppola’s anti-war hymnal. Though the technical aspects of this section which bothered the director so much were cleaned up digitally, some of the acting is below-par for the movie, some of the dialogue incomprehensible and all of Carmine Coppola’s (FFC sr.) score for the segment an absolutely abysmal synth/organ dirge. But the restored segment has some wonderful moments, such as the ghostly appearance of the colonials at the beginning. Elsewhere the restitution of the ‘Playboy bunny’ scenes now seem, for me, irremovable from Apocalypse Now, along with the counterpoint of humour when Willard (Martin Sheen) steals the surfboard of gung-ho Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), soon followed by an even more amusing section where the colonel is scouring Vietnam for the offenders who stole his beloved board. Being able to laugh with these characters bonds them both to each other and to us, and lends both weight and sadness to subsequent events.

4: Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director’s Cut

It’s hard to believe that Robert Wise’s 2004 re-edit of the 1979 blockbuster actually runs longer than the original, because it is almost infinitely more watchable. With a distance of years, Wise was able to bin the inordinate amount of expensive ‘entering V’Ger’ footage turned out by John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull as superfluous to the telling of a tale about actual people. Ironically, the movie’s tag-line ‘The human adventure is just beginning’ is still more applicable to Nick Meyer’s superb 1982 sequel The Wrath Of Khan than this first movie, but if – like me – you were getting drowsy through the original release edit of TMP, give V2.0 a chance – it is an infinitely more watchable movie, with excess effects excised and large chunks of character-building and plot-driven scenes restored or enhanced. This version also provides a complete view of the unshielded V’Ger approaching Earth and an extended scene of V’Ger menacing ‘the creator’ by trying to remove its ‘carbon-unit infestation’.

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3: Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut

It’s disputed whether or not Harrison Ford deliberately gave a poor performance on the tacked-on Chandler-esque voice-over that the producers forced on Ridley Scott’s cult classic shortly before release; Ford himself disputes it, admitting that he disliked the idea, but that once obliged to take part, he gave it as good a shot as such a lame notion – and script – could merit. Also excised in Scott’s 1990 re-release were the out-takes from The Shining and the entire ‘happy ending’ scenario that the execs believed – unwisely – would help the movie at the box-office. The restoration of the ‘unicorn’ dream-sequence convinced many that Harrison Ford’s Deckard was intended to himself be a replicant within the narrative, though to this day Ford and Scott hold different opinions on the matter. The superb DVD and Blu-ray special edition of 2008 cleaned up some of the production glitches, including the digital removal of the suspending wires on several prop-‘spinners’, but ultimately the 1990 re-edit gave most Blade Runner fans the version they prefer.

2: Alien 3 Special Edition

The justly-revered Alien quadrilogy box-set sets many things right regarding the film that David Fincher will neither touch, re-touch nor talk about. The special edition of this third entry in the Alien franchise, though not worked on at all by Fincher, follows the director’s original work-print and intentions and actually begins to make sense of the movie’s baffling fatalism. In the original script, the Dog-Alien was trapped in a nuclear storage bunker for a fair chunk of the middle of the film, until producers Giler and Hill decided that it degraded this classically scary creature to entrap it. Once that element was removed from Alien 3, a huge section of the film didn’t make sense – why was everyone standing round pondering their navels when they were about to be eaten alive by the most feral and savage example of a race pretty well known for being feral and savage?

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One of the welcome off-shoots of restoring this strand was the restitution of Paul McGann’s performance as the religious maniac who identifies with the new guest on ‘Fury’ and sets it free, hoping to be led like a disciple (rather than just torn to pieces, which is what he gets). Additionally there is an extended sequence showing Dr. Charles Dance recovering Sigourney Weaver from the crash wreckage on the blasted surface of the planet. And there’s a fair bit less running round corridors screaming.

Seriously, if you wrote off Alien 3 without seeing this version, you’ve literally only got half the story.

1: The Godfather saga

I’m referring here to the 1980s chronological TV-edit (later released to VHS but never to DVD) of Francis Ford Coppola’s tale of a mobster family, which not only began with the Robert De Niro entry from Godfather Part II (1974) but included much previously-discarded footage and scenes from the two movies. This is the only way to appreciate the broad scope of the gangster epic, and it’s only slightly ruined by the fact that both the Laserdisc chronological Godfather/II edit (1990) and the 1970s network TV chronological release both contain completely different excised scenes.

Time, then, for that definitive, utterly completist Godfather/II re-edit, Francis. This time please leave nothing out. Except Godfather Part III.

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