The Flash, a four hour assembly cut, and we’re not entitled to see every cut of every film

The Flash
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A longer cut of The Flash movie was originally compiled. But why is this a surprise, and why are more people wanting to see assembly cuts of films?

Amongst the flood of reactions for Warner Bros’ brand new The Flash movie following its debut screening in Las Vegas this week, up popped a new story about a longer cut of the film. According to a report over at Entertainment Weekly, the film – which has been directed by Andy Muschietti – originally had a cut that ran for four hours.


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Furthermore, this cut – an assembly cut, as the article describes – was pruned back by some 90 minutes, as per a Q&A that Muschietti conducted in Los Angeles earlier in the week.

This, in theory, shouldn’t be a story. But the whole world of almost-mythical cuts of movies has taken on a bit of a life of its own over the past few years. The EW article cheekily asks ‘will this be a case of #ReleaseTheMuschiettiCut’, clearly with its tongue in its cheek. But already, with the film weeks out from release (and it’s a movie, we should recognise, that’s being released against a backdrop of serious allegations against its lead, Ezra Miller), that question appears to have been taken up on – yep – social media.

And I think this is just the kind of talk we should be firmly nipping in the bud.

Even for those very on the outside of making a film, the process to putting one together follows, in theory at least, a logical path. A film is written, a film is shot, a film is edited down to the final version. This isn’t radical, but it’s the last part of the equation that’s been thrown into focus by some high profile projects in recent times.

The big one of course being Zack Snyder’s famous/infamous/delete as appropriate Justice League movie. A film that Warner Bros mandated in the end had to come in at two hours, where Joss Whedon was hired to retool the movie from which Snyder stepped away, and then resulted in an internet campaign to put back together the full version of the film. In fairness, it was a positive campaign for the most part, unified by the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, and in the end Snyder was able to go back to his film, spend another shitload of cash on it, and release a version that edged four hours.

In the aftermath of that, the question was raised about other directors who’d had their films taken off them by corporate decisions in the editing room. David Ayer was vocal that his 2016 movie Suicide Squad wasn’t the film he was looking to make, and that studio interference muddied the final cut. #ReleaseTheAyerCut came the inevitable hashtag, although this time the campaign didn’t really gather momentum. It didn’t stop Kevin Smith jumping aboard though and openly talking about a ‘Snyder cut’ of his 2004 flick Jersey Girl.

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

It’s perhaps inevitable then that the fact there’s 90 minutes of extra The Flash footage out there means that there’s interest from fans in seeing it. After all, a path to them doing so has sort of been paved.

Physical media used to handle the demand here. That if there were interesting scenes that got chopped from a film, a filmmaker would have the option of including them on the DVD or Blu-ray in some cases. Less so now, and not all filmmakers were happy including deleted material. But at least they had the option, a path that’s rarely open to them now.

Today? It feels a lot more binary. You either put the material in the film, or there’s no way to see it. And as such, the news that there’s potentially a four hour version of The Flash, just as there was talk of a four hour version of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, leads to talk about just how we get to see that material. Can’t we get to see the full, extended, assembly version of the film?

No. We absolutely shouldn’t.

The cliché of filmmaking goes that it’s made three times: when it’s written, when it’s shot, when it’s edited. An early assembly cut lays out all the footage for a director and editor to work with, and part of the mandated process laid down by the Director’s Guild of America – the DGA – is that a filmmaker gets ten weeks to shape a cut of the movie. That’s then presented to the people who paid the bills, and things move on from there.

The important thing is that this is part of the process. This is supposed to happen. Nobody’s hiding stuff from us, they’re just working their film out. As the film funnels through this post-production maze, it slims down to become the version we get to see in cinemas. Granted, it may not always be the director’s vision or the director’s final cut, but it is a version of the film that somewhere along the line, someone has signed off on.

I truly believe that 99% of the time, that’s where things should be left. In the case of The Flash, there’s a reason the film has been sculpted down from four hours to two and a half hours, or whatever the locked running time is. It’s part of the process. We’re the audience: we turn up at the end, pay our money, sometime trade stories of the film if we’re particularly invested, and then move on. We have no absolute right, nor should we, to see an earlier version of the film, just because it exists on a corporate hard drive somewhere.

The Flash

The Flash

Virtually every single film you find, certainly from the studios, originally existed in a longer cut. For whatever reason – test screenings, choices, bad calls – that was then taken down to what was determined the appropriate length to tell the story. That’s the version we got. Appreciating that very occasionally there’s an extended or director’s cut that enhances or varies a film in an interesting way – Blade Runner, Aliens, Brazil, Superman II – let’s not pretend that’s the case the majority of the time.

Muschietti himself admitted as much in his Q&A, revealing that his assembly cut of his previous movie, It: Chapter Two was an hour longer than the version we got. “I’m definitely more happy with this version than the four hour version”, he said, adding that “you get excited and you start improvising with actors, and suddenly you have a scene that has doubled the duration that was timed when they were timing the script. But it happens all the time.”

And because it happens all the time, we have a post-production process that shapes the final film. As it should.

I’m mildly hypocritical, in that I’ve devoured deleted scenes in the past, and I’ve watched a fair few alternate cuts in my time too. But making the assembly cut a thing that fans should demand be released? That’s surely a big red line, and one that really, has no need to be crossed.

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