Are ‘extended’ and ‘unrated’ cuts of films worth investing in? Or are they just a marketing tactic to shift more discs? We take a look.
We like watching the latest films at the cinema. If we like them enough, we patiently wait for the home media release to add them to our collections. We sometimes even used to buy physical discs and everything.
Sometimes we’re also blessed with the release of a director’s cut that includes extra footage that wasn’t seen at the cinema. This was often used as a major selling point to get the public to buy the DVDs for a second time. However, there have been times when a film has been extended for apparently no other reason other than to sell more copies.
The big well-known examples, such as The Abyss: Special Edition or The Lord Of The Rings: Extended Editions, were all created with the help of their respective directors – but they’re not the director’s cuts.
A strange anomaly was the director’s cut of Alien, created for the DVD release of the Alien Quadrilogy box set. It’s true this new cut was put together by director Ridley Scott at the request of 20th Century Fox. However, Scott later admitted that his preferred cut was the original theatrical release from 1979, but he still welcomed the chance to re-edit one of his older films.
A personal bugbear for this writer was the second home media release of Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. Released as Sin City: Unrated, Recut And Extended, the promotional blurb advertised an extra 23 minutes of footage.
Sin City is a comic book adaptation, comprised of four stories that are interwoven throughout the film. This new version would edit the four stories into their own separate mini films and include new unseen footage. However, when you look a little closer, each of the four films includes the same main titles and the complete theatrical end credits. The marketing team were still counting these segments in the ‘new footage’ runtime. Once you’ve done the maths and removed these extraneous sections, you’re left with each of the four separate films containing just over two minutes of new footage apiece! It’s amazing what a little creative accounting can do.
One director in particular whose films were subjected to the extended cut gimmick was the late Tony Scott. For the first example, let’s look at 1998s Enemy Of The State.
In the film, Will Smith becomes involved with a plot about how the government is invading in our private life, especially in the rapidly emerging digital world. Enemy Of The State was re released on DVD approximately eight years after the original release in a new, ‘unrated extended version’. The new cut, which features slightly stronger material with extra swearing and a touch more violence, adds an extra seven minutes to the runtime. In all honesty, this extra material doesn’t add anything substantial to the plot and you can see why it was trimmed in the first place.
Another of Scott’s films, Crimson Tide, was also released on DVD with a longer cut. By sheer coincidence, seven minutes were added to the runtime but again nothing that adds anything to improve the story. What makes this release a little odder is that all the extra footage added to the film still resides under ‘deleted scenes’ in the DVD’s bonus section – where they’re of a noticeably worse visual/audio quality than they appeared in the main feature.
Crimson Tide and Enemy Of The State were both produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who also added Con Air to that list, the 1997 action film starring Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich.
Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition, released in 2006, adds (insert drumroll) approximately seven minutes of footage including moments which makes several scenes just a touch more violent or adds extra swearing (there’s a definite pattern emerging here).
Director Simon West was asked which version he preferred on Twitter, and well, see the reply for yourself!
I prefer the theatrical, this is how I liked it edited. The extended version had parts in it that i didn’t feel necessary to be in, which is why I edited.
— Simon West (@RealSimonWest) November 18, 2017
Sometimes, these unofficial extended editions do cause grief. In March 2011, director Todd Phillips publicly slammed the unrated cut of his film, The Hangover. The film had been released on DVD with eight minutes of deleted scenes inserted back in without his knowledge.
Phillips said that extended/unrated cuts don’t meet the rules of the Director’s Guild of America. In retaliation, he ensured fans there would be no unauthorised extended versions for the upcoming release of The Hangover II.
It’s not just the DVD market that benefited from this practice. The American television networks also used this bandwagon to try and pull in more viewers. Sometimes, these longer versions would also be released later onto DVD as well.
The climate change inspired post-apocalyptic film Waterworld was extended for its ABC television premiere. The theatrical cut runs for two hours and 15 minutes, but for its television premiere it was split across two nights and extended with 40 minutes of new footage.
It’s well known that director Kevin Reynolds fell out with the star of Waterworld, Kevin Costner, before production on the film was complete. It’s rumoured that this longer version is Reynolds’ original cut, but he left the project before most of the editing was complete. It was allegedly Costner who finalised the theatrical cut.
Ironically though, this longer cut was broadcast on ABC, a network owned by Disney and well known for its family friendly content. So, despite Waterworld’s new longer runtime, all of the violence was edited out. This version was later released on DVD – much to the dismay of fans.
For many years, the only way to watch a fully uncut extended version of Waterworld was via a fan edit which had merged the footage together from multiple extended broadcasts and ensured the theatrical violence was intact. Arrow Video thankfully released a Blu-ray in 2019 that featured the longer cut with all the theatrical violence restored.
Another very famous TV extended edition that made its way onto DVD was 1984’s Dune. Director David Lynch had a herculean task of trying to adapt such a dense story into two hours of screen time.
Whilst his original cut is rumoured to be three hours in length, at least depending on which rumour you listen to, the studio expected a more cinema-friendly cut of around two hours. Lynch delivered the final edit and this is his director’s cut that was shown in cinemas.
A two-night television premiere event broadcast a new cut that ran for an approximate 40 extra minutes. Lynch was not impressed and had his name removed from this release, hence why it’s been directed by Alan Smithee in the credits. Smithee being the now-famous title used when directors had their name removed, usually by choice.
‘Extended’ and ‘Unrated’ are terms also used by the studios to simply issue a different version that was sourced from another part of the world. In the early days of importing DVDs from the US (because US/UK release dates back then were sometimes months apart) UK owners were surprised to pop in their US DVDs and watch a film where some of the jokes were missing.
Obviously the UK DVD was untouched and by the time the US Blu-ray was issued, the international cut was used and was labelled as the unrated version. Twentieth Century Fox pushed out several titles that claimed they were “unrated and harder” editions as well.
Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free Or Die Hard for its US release) received a critical drubbing from fans and critics for being less violent that its predecessors with a PG-13 release in cinemas. Even the famous ‘yippee ki-yay’ catchphrase was drowned out by the sound of a gunshot to de-emphasise the sweary last word.
To try and appease the fans, Fox released a new version with swearing that was added via overdubbing and new footage was dropped in. Finally, many of the violent scenes were enhanced via the use of CGI blood effects.
Another big sci-fi franchise, Alien Vs Predator, also received the same unrated treatment, with deleted scenes placed back into the film with CGI used to add blood to several scenes to make them more horrific. Unfortunately, unlike Die Hard 4.0, it looks cheap and doesn’t achieve the desired effect.
There are so many more extended cuts that this article could keep listing as examples. You only have to look at the steady stream of American sex comedies from the noughties, for example American Pie, Eurotrip and The 40 Year Old Virgin. They all received longer unrated editions on home media and seemed to thrive on it.
So, what have we learnt here? For the majority, the marketing departments of the studios know that fans will purchase their favourite film again if they can see a new cut with previously unseen footage. The general public may purchase the disc because it’s advertised as containing a little more violence or some extra fruitiness.
It seems that studios will dig back into the vaults and retrieve edits that were considered a little too strong for the cinema and push them out onto home media. As the unrated name applies, these films don’t have to be reclassified by the MPAA (but UK releases still do have to be recertified by the BBFC).
There’s usually no evidence in most cases that the film’s original director was involved in this process, putting a question mark onto the release. Whose cut is this and why?
The extended and unrated cut was predominately a sneaky marketing tool to sell more DVDs and Blu-rays. With the use of seamless branching on discs, at least sometimes there was always the option to view the original and often better cut of your favourite film.
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