The 5 Worst “Director’s Cut” Films.

Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue.

Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue.

There are two ways that a Director’s Cut gets released. Either the director and the studio fall out, and they each release a different version of the film, as with Cimino and Heaven’s Gate in 1981. Or alternatively, a director returns to a film to un-do the changes that were forced upon him at the time, which is what happened to Lawrence of Arabia (’62), when David Lean went back to it in 1989.

For those of us who chose a film based on who has directed it, a Director’s Cut ought to be a godsend. And yet remarkably, and with the honourable exception of Lawrence of Arabia, so far they have all been worse than their originals. Here are the 5 worst offenders:

5 Blade Runner.

Looking at the all too conventional films Ridley Scott has made since, it’s pretty obvious that Blade Runner became a cult classic despite rather than because of its director. And none of the slight changes that Scott made to the many alternative edits are an improvement on the version released by the studio.

On the contrary, both the voice over and the so say “happy” ending that they  insisted on are perfectly in keeping with its noir feel.

4. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

When Tornatore complained that he’d been forced to edit down his remarkable debut, we all of us wondered how on earth his new director’s cut would improve on the original version we’d all been so charmed by. Well it didn’t.

The Producer’s cut was leaner, sharper, and significantly better paced. And a proper director oughtn’t to have needed his producer to deliver it. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, nothing Tornatore has done since has lived up to that early promise.

Nastassja Kinski and Gerard Depardieu in The Moon InThe Gutter.

Nastassja Kinski and Gerard Depardieu in The Moon InThe Gutter.

3. Betty Blue

So explosive and compelling are the opening 20 minutes or so of this, that you try to ignore the fact that as it progresses, the film comes increasingly to sag.

Secretly though you wonder whether perhaps the film’s palpable appeal might be down to the chemistry and sparks produced by the two fiery leads. The Director’s cut alas, answers that.

Beineix’ casting is impeccable, as it was in Diva and the underrated The Moon In The Gutter. And all three of those films look fantastic. But as the longer version of Betty Blue shows, Beineix has alas no feel for drama. And he too has sadly if all too predictably faded from view.

2. The Abyss

It’s not hard to see what happened here, when you’ve watched the two versions of The Abyss side by side. Originally intended as a dreary special effects vehicle, the project was clearly hijacked by the two leads who turned it instead into a charming love story.

The “special” version, as James Cameron called his Director’s cut, mercilessly takes whatever charm the original cut had and clubs it unceremoniously to death. And never again would a couple of pesky actors be allowed inject a sense of humanity into one of his projects. From that point on, all of his films would be “special”.

Steven Bach's magisterial Final Cut.

Steven Bach’s magisterial Final Cut.

1. Heaven’s Gate

One of the myths surrounding Heaven’s Gate is that it ran aground because Cimino was forced to release the truncated version. As a matter of fact, they’re equally awful. It’s just that one of them is awful for a lot less of your time.

There’s stuff everywhere. Props and costumes and noise and sound effects and music and noise and dialogue, really, really bad dialogue, and noise and just about anything you could care to mention, except anything approximating a believable story. Or any character made of anything other than cardboard, and constructed using more than the one single dimension.

It does have one saving grace though. It led to Steven Bach writing his magisterial Final Cut here, one of the best, and one of the most beautifully written books on modern cinema. 

If anyone can think of a Director’s Cut that was an improvement on its original, I’d love to hear about it.

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5 Worst Films To Win The Oscar For Best Film.

5. Million Dollar Baby (2004). For its first 90 minutes or so (most films’ actual length), Clint Eastwood’s boxer chick flick shuffles along as a poor man’s Rocky. But then, with what’s laughably described as a plot “twist”, it suddenly veers off into the final scene of Betty Blue, which it manages to drag out for a further ¾ of an hour.

Neither one thing nor the other, it manages to be dull and tedious twice over. Incredibly, it triumphed at the expense of the rightly lauded Sideways, the charming Finding Neverland, and Scorsese’s underrated The Aviator.

Having to write Million Dollar Baby was obviously the price that Paul Haggis had to pay for being allowed to direct Crash, which quite correctly won the following year.

4. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003). The final installment of Peter Jackson’s magnum opus affords a third opportunity to spend yet another three hours (3 hours and 20 minutes actually…) watching one set of computer generated characters in a series of increasingly noisome battles with A N Other set. Which, inexplicably, they occasionally do with subtitles.

Watching a video game without being able to participate is the cinematic equivalent of being treated to a lap dance without being allowed to touch. For hours and hours. Oh and it beat Lost In Translation and Clint Eastwood’s superb Mystic River.

3. How Green Was My Valley (1941). Is John Ford the worst film maker of all time? Or is that Kurosawa? They are, as they say, well met.

Either way, just in case you thought that getting it monumentally wrong on Oscar night was a modern phenomenon, Ford’s oh so dull and typically leaden tale of, yawn, a Welsh mining town was duly awarded the gong in 1941. And at whose expense?

Well, for one there was a certain Citizen Kane. Then there was John Huston’s enigmatic and genuinely quirky noir classic, The Maltese Falcon. And William Wyler’s ice-cold but razor-sharp Bette Davis vehicle, The Little Foxes (which, like Kane, was shot by Gregg Toland). As well as Hitchcock’s Suspicion, starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine.

2. Titanic (1997). Our very own Ford and Kurosawa rolled into one (see above), the first thing you want to do with James Cameron’s mesmerically tedious  3 hours and 17 minute film is to take each and every one of its shots and chop off their opening and closing 25%. That would bring it down to just over an hour and a half.

You’d lose nothing. You would however see even more clearly that it’s little more than a shot by shot remake of the 1958 film A Night To Remember, but without any of the latter’s charm, social graces or understanding of etiquette. And as for those special effects. Well, they’re certainly special all right.

1. The Artist (2012). Anyone who’s ever done any of those Hollywood screenwriting courses will know that there are a certain number of archetypal plots. One of which is the Ironic Plot, a classic example of which goes as follows; he does something to avoid being caught, and hide his true identity, only to discover that what he does is precisely the thing that leads to him being unmasked.

The one thing that Hollywood is obsessed with, is proving to the rest of the world that, contrary to popular opinion, it is not in fact peopled by philistines. So they fell over themselves in their haste to lavish The Artist (reviewed by me here earlier) with ill-considered praise on the grounds that a) it’s French, b) it’s in black and white, and c) it’s silent.

But by failing to spot its complete absence of drama, or to notice that it’s made up of one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, albethey beautifully drawn ones, whose narrative arc could be comfortably predicted by most below-averagely intelligent 9 year olds, they have, needless to say, confirmed all our worst suspicions. So there you are then, QED.

Appropriately enough I  suppose, Hollywood itself has become a classic example of one of its own genres.