The rest of these movies really need to let the theatrical release cuts stand, because believe it or not, the directors’ original ideas for these are even more detrimental than before. Let’s waste no time.

  1. The Brown Bunny

 

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You know that boring art film that tries to be “deep” by dwelling on normal people and their normal, unimportant activities, where most of the scenes are monotone, even when weird or dangerous events do occur? Remember how it at least made you think that maybe the guy responsible had some sort of point in mind, but you really, really didn’t care? Well, imagine if all of those “everyday” scenes were even longer and all in the same shot, as if someone just left the camera on and walked away. Imagine that when nothing was happening, it wasn’t “nothing” as in nothing you cared about. It was “nothing” as in nothing about the endless scene had changed after the first 10 seconds, like a 9 minute scene of a man driving his car down the highway in silence. If you can picture this, you might have some idea of director Vincent Gallo’s first cut of The Brown Bunny, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival before being altered for its theatrical release.

As a matter of fact, this version took such a beating in Cannes – unanimous jeers from those who weren’t among the hundreds of walkouts – that the first one to decide the film needed a re-edit was Gallo himself, cutting 25 minutes from the movie to take it down to 93. He then entered this version in a couple more film festivals before sending it to theaters for the world to see (or part of the world anyway, since it was a pretty limited release). While the reception wasn’t exactly good, it was much better than the Cannes version got. Now it’s just another boring art film, trying to be hypnotically monotone but at least not hypnotically (laughably) pointless. All the scenes end when they get the point across, and though they may be slow and uneventful, they do have a true director’s craft and intent behind them. If it doesn’t reach a lot of people, it still doesn’t warrant the average teenager’s shortcut to this type of thing, brushing it off as trying to be “weird” for its own sake. Most filmmaker’s do have a purpose in mind, however well or poorly they pull it off, and it’s worth having movies like this around when you find the ones that really do resonate with you.

 

  1. Dumb and Dumber

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Is the unrated cut of this movie even dumber? Maybe, in one sense of the word or another. But it is gross. And grosser.

In the first cut, the adventures of the two titular protagonists, Lloyd and Harry, are lovably innocent and fun, even when things get crude or the heroes run into some unsavory people. But the unrated version shoves it in our face a little too much, to the point where even Lloyd and Harry aren’t so pleasant to be around. Where to start? Remember the scene in which two goons invades their apartment and decide to send a message by killing their parakeet, only to cut to Harry crying, under the false impression that its head fell off from natural causes? Now we get to see the goon strangle the parakeet for several seconds. Or the scene in which the thug spits on Harry’s burger? Did you ever think that scene was missing an extended close up on the puddle of spit? And later on, when he catches Lloyd in a gas station bathroom, what if instead of just beating him up, he was actually visiting the bathroom to see if he could catch a man alone to… whoever had the sense to cut that in the first place is probably due for some kind of award.

But even worse, it adds just a few hints that the childlike Harry and Lloyd are more akin to mentally stunted creepers. Many of these hints are homosexuality jokes that I won’t say are homophobic, because they seem more confused than anything, ranging from Harry teasing Lloyd about being caught with a tall guy in his underwear in the above scene to both of them in a hot tub, one describing what he’d do if the other was a woman. Watching them go just isn’t as carefree or as fun with bits like this in mind. That and I can’t say Harry’s solution in his scene with a broken toilet is as funny in this version.

 

  1. The Shining

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In its 113 minute cut, The Shining is my favorite horror movie of all time, unless you count Invasion of the Body Snatchers as science fiction and horror. In its 144 minute cut, it’s… not. The edits in the shorter cut make the film much more claustrophobic and atmospheric, with brisk buildup that sets the story up without the extended speeches that drag and get sidetracked. It also makes the family feel much more cut off from the outside world, with fewer scenes taking place outside the hotel. We don’t even see them watching TV in this version. What’s more, it makes sure the scares are only the best of the best. Cheap attempts like the room full of costume shop skeletons covered in cheap cobwebs are eliminated, as are the ones that break the pace, such as the sequences cutting back to Wendy wandering the hotel while Jack pursues Danny.

To be fair, the skill put into this movie is masterful regardless, and if I’d been unlucky enough to see the long version first, it may have seemed more dated with its cut and dry, stop and start pace, but there’s still a good chance it would’ve made my top ten. But it’s hard to get me to pick a #1 favorite in anything, so rest assured, the difference there is a wide margin. But don’t just take my word for it. You know who agrees with me? Director Stanley Kubrick. That’s right, in a condensed version of the story behind The Brown Bunny, the critics and his own keen eye gave him second thoughts right in the middle of the movie’s theatrical run. So before its overseas release, he cut it down to the 113 minute version and billed it as the “official” cut. Granted, this does blur the line a bit, since the long version had a theatrical release first. But the short version’s story is pretty much the same as all the others on this list, and the long version may not be a director’s cut, but it’s sure treated like one, erroneously being labeled as such more than once. People who saw the short version first have sought it out – while the reverse is less common – and even argued in favor of it. Trust me (I have Kubrick’s approval by implication, after all), the long version is only worth it for curiosity’s sake, and even then, it can hurt the experience, like actually seeing Michael Myers run off-screen while no one is looking.

Note: Depending on who you ask, the short version is either 113 or 119 minutes long. Don’t quote me on this, but I think the 119 minute version is the DVD release with a couple of the scenes thrown back in, such as Wendy talking about her past with Jack’s alcoholism before they get to the hotel. In some ways, I like that better, so either is fine with me.

 

  1. Little Shop of Horrors

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This is it. The big one. The director’s cut that never got an ounce of support in context, nor any reason whatsoever to think it was a good idea, yet has a whole choir’s-worth singing its praises today as a bold moralizer that surely would have been better, if only test audiences could have accepted it daring to go against the grain. Pretentiousness was its conception and pretentiousness is its salvation, with the most recent DVD release disregarding the theatrical version altogether and restoring this one. This won’t be pretty.

Upon its release, Little Shop of Horrors turned a few heads as possibly the next Rocky Horror Picture Show. It tells the slapdash story of a bloodthirsty singing plant, who manages to befriend a flower shop employee named Seymour (Rick Moranis) and dupe him into feeding it enough people to grow strong and begin its quest for world domination. Seymour has a weak but gentle spirit, and when it comes to the choice between killing people who deserve it and allowing his plant friend to die, he can’t quite decide. Luckily – for lack of a better word – he doesn’t really have to, because a string of crazy events ends up presenting him with the bodies before he makes his choice. But despite the newfound fame that comes from having a one-of-a-kind plant, when his “friend” makes a move to eat Audrey, the girl he loves, Seymour saves her and opts to run away together, only to learn that if the plant isn’t stopped, many more like it will devour the world’s population. Thus, he marches back into the flower shop and declares that only one of them will leave alive.

Granted, there are several different endings, depending on which version you’re watching. In the original 1960s B-movie version, for example, Seymour had to sacrifice himself to take the plant down with him, which worked pretty well as redemption for a less-sympathetic version of the character. In the theatrical release of this version, after taking a beating from the plant while it sings an awesome little victory tune, Seymour rises from the wreckage and strikes it down, moving into a happy home with Audrey, only to end on a final hint that the plant might not be done with them. It keeps the gleeful and venomous yet carefree tone going perfectly to the end and rounds out all the characters involved.

But what about the version that director Frank Oz wanted to use? Get a load of this: First, the plant’s attempt to eat Audrey mortally wounds her, and her last wish is for Seymour to feed her body to the plant so that it will continue to bring him fame, wealth, and glory. So he takes the body of the girl who spent most of her screen time being used and abused by her ex-boyfriend and lets her last act be volunteering herself for more of the same. Despicable, right? Actually, the movie tries to play it as a beautiful moment of fulfillment for her character, a noble sacrifice that fulfills her established desire to be “somewhere that’s green.” (Because the man-eating plant is green, get it? Har har.) So if her last act to benefit Seymour was so great, then logically, he should honor it by making the most of the rest of his life, right? Actually, he goes to commit suicide in the very next scene, only stopping to try and destroy the plant first when he learns about its plan for world domination. They then have a fight which the plant wins, tragically eating Seymour – well granted, he was going to kill himself anyway, but… ahem, tragically eating Seymour and successfully launching its attack. We then get a ten minute audience beat down, in which the background choir girls sing about how you shouldn’t give into temptation, as everyone in the world apparently does by feeding bodies to the plants and enabling their grand-scale takeover. Why should we believe regular people would do that, after the movie went through such lengths to show us how out of the ordinary Seymour’s circumstances were? Well, because we’re a selfish, greedy race, of course! How could you possibly question that undeniable truth, when the movie is so righteous in its depiction of dramatic convenience temptation as the cause! Truly Little Shop of Horrors could have been the movie to cut right to the rot in the heart of humanity and scrape it out for all to see, if only they hadn’t given into the sheeple who never ever ever ever ever ever ever want anything to end sadly!

Now, plenty of classics and modern day hits alike have sad endings. What matters is the delivery, and this one is so at odds with the rest of the movie, it plays like the first 80 minutes were just Oz trying to bait you in, so you’d at least stick around for him to finish kicking you in the pants, if not accept it. It’s like The Rocky Horror Picture Show ending with the sibling villains deciding Brad and Janet had proven humanity is too pro-lust and castrating every man on earth, dooming us to extinction. As I pointed out, the older movie didn’t end happily – for the main character, anyway – but it worked by continuing to build on itself and keeping the focus on our main characters, all of whom are brought to a fitting resolution. So what does the rest of the world have to do with this? What does a feel-bad montage and a dead serious attempt to chastise us about giving into temptation have to do with this? Why does it go on forever, as though someone on the other end of the camera is having a lot more fun than we are?

The biggest gun in the arsenal of the director’s cut supporters is the fact that the Off-Broadway musical the movie is also based on ended pretty much the same as the director’s cut, therefor the two versions must be equal and superior to all alternative takes. Well, we already know that the original movie didn’t end that way, so I’d say the notion of what the movie “should” do is pretty much off the table. So in a different medium, with different actors and different portrayals of the characters, what reasons do you have to think that the musical’s ending is the best fit, especially after two cities gave it a universal thumbs down?

Oz, speculating on the difference in medium, said the backlash came from the audience not “knowing” the actors are still alive afterwards, that onstage, they come out for the curtain call, whereas they’re “dead” forever at the end of a movie. Still, that’s as much accusation as it is insightful comprehension, and from what acquaintance I do have with acting, I think he’s only starting to get the picture. Theater isn’t a different medium because the encyclopedias need to differentiate. It brings with it a different atmosphere and a different relationship between the audience and the characters. On a stage, there are no close ups, or jump cuts, or chances that a scene will be just a little bit different the next time you see it. The actors cannot distance themselves from the audience’s reaction. It’s a much more intimate relationship. As such, it’s become the ideal platform for subverting the norm, as in the stage version of Little Shop. After all, a play is an agreement between the audience and the actors to lose themselves in an experience together. The audience is almost always in on it. It’s not a reel that never changes in the slightest, no matter how the audience reacts, so holding up to scrutiny is less essential than conveying the mood of the moment. (Although on that note, the stage version still holds up to scrutiny better than the director’s cut. There, Seymous is once again played as not quite so sympathetic, and the evil plant’s victory is partly played for comedy). Rebelliousness can be its own justification on the stage.

So would you like to know the reasons Oz gave in the most prominent interview I could find on the subject for wanting to use the Off-Broadway ending? Because it was “true” to the “original” and that, well, he and his screenwriter just really wanted to, despite the none-the-less supportive producer warning them it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing about how well it fit with his take on the story, or how he’d worked in points to support it, or even how much this particular message meant to him in that light. He just really wanted to be like those Off-Broadway rebels. To me, this speaks to a larger problem behind every entry on this list. It’s the reason their supporters usually lead with what they don’t want these movies to be – watered down violence for the kids, lighter comedy pandering to the masses, etc. – or else, as with Kiki and the Japanese version, Little Shop and the play, and arguably Greed and the novel, what they want these movies to be just like. These director’s cuts have the very problem they’re trying to remedy. Most of them aren’t telling this version of the story for its own sake but rather, to stand out, to avoid matching a label they don’t like. They want to be individuals, just like everyone who agrees with them.

Say, if I went out with that, I could give the supporters of the Little Shop director’s cut a taste of their own beat down finality… Eh, nah. Onto the optimistic ending:

 

 

So the thing to keep in mind, methinks, is that it’s not how uncommon or dark your subject matter is but the reason you’re progressing it that way. Take Clint Eastwood the director, for example. The tone of his movies, especially in the endings he thinks up, is always a little different than in his last one. Sometimes they’re as tragic as they could be, and sometimes they’re happy. Sometimes the hero wins and it’s terrible, and sometimes their untimely death makes for a feel-good ending. But rarely do they feel forced or contrived or even particularly shocking, regardless of whether you saw it coming. They feel like perfectly conceived arks building to a pinnacle, with an ending that resolves the story and adds to the effect, even when it’s hard to swallow. That is the mark of a true vision.

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