I checked the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven off my Netflix queue this weekend. It’s an interesting movie, but I can see why it didn’t captivate hearts and minds the way the producers must have hoped. It’s certainly not shot like an epic. Much of the cinematography has that dim, bird’s-eye perspective that can only come from CGI. And there are no transition shots to speak of. People arrive at places – Messina, Jerusalem, Ibelin – and start doing things. How much time passes: a week, a month, an afternoon? We can never tell. It doesn’t help that Orlando Bloom is the least compelling protagonist: the Big Lebowski of the Crusades, wandering from crime scene to crime scene, never doing so much as done to.
This got me thinking about director’s cuts in general. I can’t think of any film I’ve seen where the director’s cut transforms the product from mediocre to fair, or from good to great. I’m told there’s a director’s cut of Blade Runner that transforms it from campy to deep, and if someone could let me know which of the thirteen versions it is I’ll check it out. Apocalypse Now Redux is a substantially worse film, adding several elements to Martin Sheen’s character that contradict his other scenes and tacking on a bizarre conversation with a Frenchman who hasn’t heard that it’s no longer French Indochina. There’s various extended editions of Lord of the Rings, if you thought they weren’t long enough to begin with, and there’s a director’s cut of Dune that elevates the movie from Gibberish to merely Bad.
(I’m being a little fatuous; I’ve left Brazil off the list, for instance. If there are any other examples you can think of, please list them in the comments)
Anne Rice went on an infamous rant six years ago about how she “fought a great battle to achieve a status where [she] did not have to put up with editors making demands on [her].” That’s the last I ever heard of her, though I’m sure that’s coincidence; also I’m not very familiar with the GothMantic genre. Regardless, very few successful authors – and almost no good ones – consider themselves imprisoned, or demanded of, by their editors. Open to the Acknowledgments page and count the words of praise lavished on them. An editor is, at the very least, another pair of eyes: at best, a seasoned hand for pacing, perspective and tone. A good editor makes a good story better. But the best editor can’t make a muddle into a masterpiece. That, I suspect, is why most director’s cuts fail to grab me. If the movie had been that good in the first place, it wouldn’t need a second chance.