Once again, the movie seemingly everyone’s talking about isn’t something that was released in theaters. Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a four-hour recut of a film that had been initially greeted with a shrug and bombed in the U.S. when it was released in 2017. Warner Media, sensing an opportunity when they saw the #releasetheSnyderCut fan campaign online, gave Snyder $70 million for reshoots and a bunch of new special effects. I had not seen the original, but the new version is a lot more fun than I expected. Despite its crushing runtime, the film is very tightly paced (the chapter breaks help) and I was never bored. Still, Snyder indulges in his worst instincts with the constant slow-mo effects and the epilogue is garbage. (Especially because we know there’s never going to be a sequel, which means all the teases about future movies amount to nothing.)
Still, Zack Snyder’s Justice League proves a great experiment with some positive results. The concept of “Director’s Cuts” used to be exciting when the term was first popularized in the 1980s with the cable rerelease of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. But in the age of DVD, slowly became just another marketing gimmick in which deleted scenes were awkwardly added back in to pad out the runtime. Ridley Scott was famously asked to make a “director’s cut” of Alien, which famously removed footage from the theatrical version in order to properly incorporate the deleted scenes. Even the Lord of the Rings Extended Cuts aren’t proper director’s cuts, as Jackson says they’re not the definitive versions of the movies.
But Zack Snyder’s Justice League represents another type of “director’s cut.” It’s not just a marketing gimmick. Snyder didn’t just awkwardly insert deleted scenes into the theatrical cut. His version is an entirely different experience.
It also means that directors could have another opportunity to make a film that was blocked by the studio. And that directors have platforms to showcase their version of their movies.
So, what do we do with this?
There are a number of opportunities to recreate a director’s vision after it was yanked away. There’s now a precedent for directors to go back to recreate their film, sometimes nearly from scratch. And I believe there are some great opportunities to repeat Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s success.
Event Horizon – Paul W. Anderson’s cult sci-fi horror movie Event Horizon’s original cut has become almost as famous as the released version. Allegedly, when Anderon’s first cut was screened to a test audience, people were fainting at some of the most violent scenes. Even the released version contains the level of gore that most mainstream studios would never try. But the result, although visually interesting, still feels like it’s rushing through the plot. Character motivation is gone and Dr. Weir’s transformation into the villain seems random – never mind his sudden reappearance back on the ship after his death scene. I completely understand why it has a cult following – it’s a better Hellraiser in space movie than the actual Hellraiser movie with Pinhead in space – but I also get why critics don’t embrace the film. But what if Anderson had his way? According to IMDB, much of the deleted footage was to shorten the most violent parts of the movie to get an R rating. Romantic subplots were also cut, as was the explanation to why one character enters the black hole that powers the titular spaceship and some great atmospheric scenes and at least one alternate ending. Anderson has said the deleted footage has long since deteriorated and unwatchable (including a videotaped copy of the original cut he and his producer supposedly located in 2012) and the few scenes that do survive are in incredibly rough shape and lack sound. But what if Anderson had an opportunity to recreate the footage? Most of the cast could come back and the special effects would be much cheaper to recreate. It may be a pipe dream – I am sure the costs are far higher than I’m imagining – but amongst horror fans, the original Event Horizon is a holy grail. Even Anderson compared his original version to The Snyder Cut. Now, the original Horizon a far more marketable idea than it was in 1997.
Josh Trank’s Fant4stic – Josh Trank would be my pick as the successor to Michael Cimino. He started out his career with a big hit and was given an opportunity and a huge budget to make his Hollywood masterpiece. But the film became a tabloid scandal and the result was ravaged by critics and struggled to make any money at the box office. Of course, the times we’re living in means his big hit was a genre film about kids with superpowers and his Hollywood masterpiece would have been an adaptation of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. But the parallels are still there. Trank’s movie was the lowest grossing movie ever released in more 4,000 theaters in North America and his on-set behavior ensured he’d never be able to work with a big studio again. But unlike Cimino, who had total control over the production and editing of his anti-western Heaven’s Gate, Trank had Fant4stic yanked away from him and rebuilt under the careful eye of Fox. Trank wanted an epic that ran nearly two and a half hours. The final version had at least 40 minutes cut out and included many scenes Trank didn’t direct. Yet, Trank had supposedly delivered his own cut – and bragged about it on Twitter – before the studio decided to recreate the movie. Sound familiar? The Snyder Cut has received great reviews even though Zack Snyder himself has long been scorned by critics. Trank insists his original cut was better and Cimino got a chance to redeem Heaven’s Gate. I think Trank should be judged on his version of the film. Granted, he says he’s not interested in creating it and whether or not what he turned in is an actual “director’s cut” is up for debate. But we already got a formulaic movie version of Marvel’s original superhero team. I’ve seen it and it’s boring. Trank was trying something new and should not have been punished for it.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 – It’s highly unlikely that an “original cut” of Spider-Man 3 exists that Sam Raimi could just reassemble. He’d have to take a lot of footage out (notably all the scenes with Venom, who he didn’t want to include) and shoot a lot more footage with the original cast. But I believe the end result would be worth it. Compared to the first two, the reception to Spider-Man 3 was chilly at best. When I first saw the movie, it amazed me that someone who’d understood the source material so well in the first two movies suddenly lost it in the third. The strange dance sequences were widely mocked and even referenced in Into the Spiderverse. The latter movie is what makes me want Sam Raimi’s version of Spider-Man 3 more exciting. Peter B Parker’s story arc was based on what Raimi had in mind for a potential third sequel – to the point where Tobey Maguire was almost cast in the role – that he abandoned after Sony set an unrealistic release date for the film. And Peter B. Parker’s story in Into the Spiderverse was a fantastic take on the character. He’s superhero who imploded because he can’t separate his superhero identity with his personal life. Spider-Man 3 tried to set that up, but it failed because the plot was focused on too many characters. Why not have a version without Venom and with the Sandman reworked so he’s fully established as a representation as Spider-Man’s first failure? I’m sure the script is out there somewhere, and I’d love to see it fully realized. Maybe Sony can recreate it as a motion comic?
The Thief and the Cobbler – I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it’s impossible for the late Richard Williams to be involved in any director’s cut at this point. Still, the production of this movie is one of the great tragedies of the studio system. Director Williams spent literal decades on this movie, taking a bunch of animation jobs to get money to finish production. (Including supervising the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which won him an Oscar.) He wanted it to be the greatest animated movie of all time and, from a technical standpoint, he nearly succeeded. It was one of only two animated films ever completed “on ones,” in which the animation team illustrated every separate frame of the film. It is also heavily based on Middle Eastern art, a trend which is still ignored in the U.S. and the UK. Yet, when it looked like the film might be completed and released, Williams was fired for being behind schedule and given to Fred Calvert, who proceeded to finish it on the cheap. The result was a disaster and, rather than a labor of love to animation, the end results felt like an Aladdin ripoff. There are fan cuts based on the workprint, but there are still fan edits and not professionally completed films. Roy Disney, at one point, pushed for Disney to restore William’s version of the film. As good as the fan edits are, I want to see a Disney-level version of this. For one, Disney is partly responsible the movie was taken out of William’s hands. (Aladdin contains a lot of visual nods to Cobbler’s workprint.) They also still retain some of the most talented animators on the planet. Finally, Williams’ workprint is out there as a template and most of the footage was completed. As dedicated as fans are, we shouldn’t have to rely on their re-edit attempts.
Tinto Brass’s Caligula – This Penthouse produced movie lives in infamy as the highest budgeted porn flick ever made and something that practically everyone is embarrassed of having starred in. (Helen Mirren being an exception.) Roger Ebert thought it was one of the worst movies he’d ever seen and described it as shameful trash. Caligula was produced by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, but he didn’t want the film to be just another titillating piece of pornography. He wanted to bring prestige to porn and show people that he could emulate New Hollywood. Guccione hired Gore Vidal to write the screenplay and then tapped Tinto Brass to direct. (His previous movie was Salon Kitty about a real-life spy operation in which prostitutes are tasked with seducing Nazi officers). Both were long gone when the film was finally released and disowned the final version. Guccione inserted hardcore pornographic scenes that neither Brass nor Vidal wanted. It’s impossible to guess what Vidal visually had in mind – he was an author and not a director – but Brass had edited the first hour of his cut before he was locked out of the editing room. To me, that leads to fascinating speculation of what the original Caligula could have been. Maybe it would still be trash, but at least it would have at least been more competent. Guccione and his editors created numerous continuity errors – not to mention the fact the pacing would cause a tortoise to yell at it for being too slow. But more than that, Brass knew how to combine sex and social commentary. Yes, Salon Kitty is a sexploitation movie at its core, but it at least has a head on its shoulders. Maybe Brass could have made something interesting, especially working with the legendary cast he had assembled for his Roman epic. At least we’d finally get to see for ourselves.