The organizers of the Cannes Film Festival recently announced that they will be screening a redux version of "Once Upon a Time in America," Sergio Leone's gangster epic and final film. Though the movie already runs an enormous 229 minutes, the new cut will add 40 minutes of original footage; this will presumably be the original cut before Leone pared it down for its premiere at Cannes in 1984.
The cuts didn't stop there, though. The Ladd Company subsequently butchered it down to 139 minutes, thereby rendering "America" nigh incomprehensible for its U.S. release. Leone was so upset by the edits that he never made another film, but, thankfully, Warner Bros. restored the 229 minute version for DVD and Blu-ray.
"Once Upon a Time in America" isn't the only film to have a harrowing journey like this. Several directors have gone to war with studios and come out the loser before their original cuts were eventually salvaged on home video. Here are five other such examples.
Sure, Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece is considered a classic now. However, the reception was lukewarm and polarized at the time, probably because the film's theatrical cut isn't exactly the same movie we've become acquainted with in the last 20 years.
Scott's preferred cut eventually made its way to VHS and Laserdisc in 1993 before he made a few cosmetic tweaks for his "Final Cut" in 2007. The material added to these cuts is indispensable, encompassing footage crucial to solving the film's central question of Deckard's identity. You also lose Harrison Ford's bored opening narration, plus the tacked-on, studio-mandated happy ending, so it's a win-win.
One of the most infamous examples of studio interference, Terry Gilliam's original vision of the film had no problem getting released in Europe. America, however, was a different story, Universal head Sid Sheinberg clashing with Gilliam over both the runtime and the story and even going so far as to have a team edit the film without the director's permission.
There's an obvious irony of a corporate overlord attempting to torpedo a work of art that satirizes mind-numbing bureaucracy. Gilliam fought back by taking out an ad in Variety calling Sheinberg out; eventually, a cut version of the film (with Gilliam's ending) was released in the United States, and Sheinberg's infamous "Love Conquers All" edit aired on syndicated TV and survives on the DVD release, where you can also find Gilliam's preferred 143 minute cut.
Somehow, despite his massive recent success at the time, Ridley Scott again found his film under siege by executives at Fox. Because Scott had directed "Gladiator" to a Best Picture win a few years earlier, Fox saw his name, a period setting, and a bunch of medieval weaponry and assumed it'd just be a spiritual successor.
Scott, on the other hand, had a true epic in mind, one that really cut to the themes underlying the Crusades. Fox won out, though, and cut 45 minutes for the film's theatrical release. Eventually, it was restored for home video, where most -- including Scott himself -- have deemed it superior.
This almost feels like déjà vu: Like Scott, you'd think Oliver Stone would have enough clout to secure a final cut, but Warner Bros. did a massive trim on his ambitious, world-conquering epic. Both violence and the intricacies of Alexander's bisexual relationship were edited, and the result was still a bit of a bloated, jumpy mess.
Stone's directors cut adds about 45 minutes, so it feels no less bloated. However, it does round the film out and smooth off the edges a bit by making "Alexander" more thematically coherent.
Perhaps the oddest, most unexpected director's cut to ever emerge, Richard Donner's cut of "Superman II" technically shouldn't exist, but the version released to DVD and Blu-ray in 2006 roughly reconstructs what could have been. Unlike the other films on this list, his version of the first "Superman" sequel was never completed because he was fired by producers during production. Richard Lester eventually commandeered the director's chair and delivered "Superman II" as we knew it for 25 years.
The fabled "Donner Cut" seemed destined to be forever mythical, but editor Michael Thau (under Donner's supervision) attempted to restore the original version as closely as possible by using rehearsal footage and scenes that were discarded and replaced by Lester. The result is more of an approximate assembly rather than a fully formed final cut, but it's more than any of us ever expected given Donner's reluctance to revisit the project for over two decades.
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- Ridley Scott
- Ridley Scott
- Terry Gilliam
- Sergio Leone