close menu
Why Theatrical Cuts of Films Are Better

Why Theatrical Cuts of Films Are Better

Back in college, whenever a new horror movie was released on DVD (long before the Blu-ray days), I would routinely wait for the inevitable Unrated/Extended cut, promising more shocking, often much gorier material than shown in theaters. As a 21-year-old blood-and-guts junkie, this was the only way to watch these movies; the dumb ol’ theatrical cut was lame. This mentality carried over to my adult life, always watching the director’s/extended/unrated cut of anything, but recently I have grown to appreciate the precision of theatrical versions. There’s a reason certain scene are cut.

I rediscovered my love for theatrical cuts thanks to Kino Lorber’s excellent release of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly— my favorite movie–which contained a brand new 4K restoration of the 162 minute theatrical cut. I’d discovered this movie, as with all of the Dollars trilogy on DVD, and the 2004 restored and extended cut had been all I knew. That cut–with scenes from the international releases restored for the first time, with Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood providing new dubbing–runs a robust 177 minutes. I know this cut incredibly well, and watching the theatrical cut proved something to me: we don’t need those extended scenes.

There’s nothing wrong with any of them, per se, and having scenes like Tuco (Wallach) torturing Blondie (Eastwood) in the desert extended, and their interaction with the drunk Union Captain (Aldo Giuffre) extended provide some nice context, but none of the most memorable scenes in the film–Tuco’s ambush in the bath, the shootout in the middle of a street being bombed, blowing up the bridge, “Ecstasy of Gold”–are effected in any way by these added scenes.

The only scene I legitimately miss is a nearly silent section of Angel Eyes, “the Bad” (Lee Van Cleef), walks through a bombed-out Confederate outpost, sees the horrible conditions the soldiers have to suffer through, and bribes a guy for information about Bill Carson, the soldier with knowledge of the treasure. This is important for plot purposes, and taking it out keeps Angel Eyes out of the movie for nearly a full hour. But is it strictly necessary? Nope. The theatrical cut is not only tighter and more exciting, it’s still narratively sound.

In the case of Good/Bad/Ugly, the extended cut was put together well after the death of its director, but the so-called “director’s cut” is now almost the standard when it comes to home media release, as though the director didn’t have a choice in the matter to begin with. Sometimes this is the case, but sometimes this is just an excuse for a double-dip in sales.

In other cases, these director’s cuts become the de-facto approved version of the movie. James Cameron’s Aliens was released in 1986 and became a massive hit, becoming one of the highest-grossing R-rated films of all time. As early as 1992, a Cameron-approved “extended cut” was released on laserdisc which restored 17 minutes of deleted footage. This is the version that played on cable, and is the version I’d seen the most. For my money, that version is not nearly as good a film as the very tightly-paced and exciting theatrical cut. An entire sequence showing what happened to the colonists on LV-426 and Newt’s family was put back into the “extended cut” and all it does is grind the movie to a halt.

The most glaring example is the original Star Wars trilogy. Every time George Lucas decided to tinker with them again, the previous versions became not only obsolete but unfindable. I think, with few exceptions, the theatrical cuts of these movies are better, even with some initial flaws. And even if that is not the case, we should at lest have the option to choose our preferred version. With Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which has had several director-approved cuts and updates, we’ve always been able to watch any and all cuts we want, from the phoned-in narration of the theatrical cut, to the “uhh, what” unicorn dream of the director’s cut.

Extended, unrated, or otherwise different versions of a movie that has already come are great, but a fan should be presented with a choice. Extended cuts should always be another option, not the mandated only version. Once a movie comes out, that becomes the document of record, and anything thereafter is the preference and purview of the audience. After all, we might discover a shorter, tighter movie actually is better in the end.

Images: Fox/MGM/Warner Bros

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

If you like movies, check out these stories!

Watch the Speed of Sound Ripple Through Queen Fans at Live Aid 1985

Watch the Speed of Sound Ripple Through Queen Fans at Live Aid 1985

article
7 Details Hidden in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE's Costumes

7 Details Hidden in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE's Costumes

article
The Heartbreaking Theory About SPIDER-MAN's Parents

The Heartbreaking Theory About SPIDER-MAN's Parents

video