A director's cut is an edited version of a film (or video game, television episode, music video, or commercial) that is supposed to represent the director's own approved edit in contrast to the theatrical release. "Cut" explicitly refers to the process of film and game editing; in preparing a film for release, the director's cut is preceded by the assembly and rough editor's cut and usually followed by the final cut meant for the public film release and video game release.
Director's cuts of film are not generally released to the public because on most films the director does not have the final cut privilege. Those with money invested in the film, such as the production companies, distributors, or studios, may make changes intended to make the film more profitable at the box office. This sometimes means a happier ending or less ambiguity, or excluding scenes that would earn a more audience-restricting rating, but more often means that the film is simply shortened to provide more screenings per day.
With the rise of home video, the phrase became more generically used as a marketing term (including media such as comic books and music albums, neither of which actually have directors), and the most commonly seen form of director's cut is a cut where extra scenes and characters are added in, often making the director's cut considerably longer than the final cut.
Origin of the phrase
Traditionally, the "director's cut" is not, by definition, the director's ideal or preferred cut. The editing process of a film is broken into stages: First is the assembly/rough cut, where all selected takes are put together in the order in which they should appear in the film. Next, the editor's cut is reduced from the rough cut; the editor may be guided by their own tastes or following notes from the director or producers. Eventually is the final cut, which actually gets released or broadcast. In between the editor's cut and the final cut can come any number of fine cuts, including the director's cut. The director's cut may include unsatisfactory takes, a preliminary soundtrack, a lack of desired pick-up shots etc., which the director would not like to be shown but uses as a placeholder until satisfactory replacements can be inserted. This is still how the term is used within the film industry, as well as commercials, television, and music videos.
The trend of releasing alternate cuts of films for artistic reasons became prominent in the 1970s; in 1974, the "director's cut" of The Wild Bunch was shown theatrically in Los Angeles to sold-out audiences. The theatrical release of the film had cut 10 minutes to get an R rating, but this cut was hailed as superior and has now become the definitive one. Other early examples include George Lucas's first two films being re-released following the success of Star Wars, in cuts which more closely resembled his vision, or Peter Bogdanovich re-cutting The Last Picture Show several times. Charlie Chaplin also re-released all of his films in the 1970s, several of which were re-cut (Chaplin's re-release of The Gold Rush in the 1940s is almost certainly the earliest prominent example of a director's re-cut film being released to the public). A theatrical re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind used the phrase "Special Edition" to describe a cut which was closer to Spielberg's intent but had a compromised ending demanded by the studio.
As the home video industry rose in the early 1980s, video releases of director's cuts were sometimes created for the small but dedicated cult fan market. Los Angeles cable station Z Channel is also cited as significant in the popularization of alternate cuts. Early examples of films released in this manner include Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, where a longer cut was recalled from theatres but subsequently shown on cable and eventually released to home video; James Cameron's Aliens, where a video release restored 20 minutes the studio had insisted on cutting; James Cameron's The Abyss, where Cameron voluntarily made cuts to the theatrical version for pacing but restored them for a video release, and most famously, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, where an alternate workprint version was released to fan acclaim, ultimately resulting in the 1992 recut. Scott later recut the film once more, releasing a version dubbed "The Final Cut" in 2007. This was the final re-cut and the first in which Scott maintained creative control over the final product, leading to The Final Cut being considered the definitive version of the film.
Once distributors discovered that consumers would buy alternate versions of films, it became common for films to receive multiple releases. There is no standardization for labelling, leading to so-called "director's cuts" of films despite where the director prefers the theatrically released version, or when the director had actual final cut privilege. These were often assembled by simply restoring deleted scenes, sometimes adding as much as a half-hour to the length of the film without regard to pacing and storytelling.
As a result, the "director's cut" is often considered a mixed bag, with an equal share of supporters and detractors (including Peter Jackson and James Cameron for the latter; each preferring the phrases "special" and "extended" edition). Roger Ebert approved of the use of the label in unsuccessful films that had been tampered with by studio executives, such as Sergio Leone's original cut of Once Upon a Time in America, and the moderately successful theatrical version of Daredevil, which were altered by studio interference for their theatrical release. Other well-received director's cuts include Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven (with Empire magazine stating: "The added 45 minutes in the Director’s Cut are like pieces missing from a beautiful but incomplete puzzle"), or Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, where the restored 115-minute cut is closer to the director's intent than the theatrical 105-minute cut (the actual director's cut was 122 minutes; it was never completed to Peckinpah's satisfaction, but was used as a guide for the restoration that was done after his death).
Sometimes the term is used a marketing ploy. For example, Ridley Scott states on the director's commentary track of Alien that the original theatrical release was his "director's cut", and that the new version was released as a marketing ploy. Director Peter Bogdanovich, no stranger to director's cuts himself, cites Red River as an example where
MGM have a version of Howard Hawks's Red River that they're calling the Director's Cut and it is absolutely not the director's cut. It's a cut the director didn't want, an earlier cut that was junked. They assume because it was longer that it's a director's cut. Capra cut two reels off Lost Horizon because it didn't work and then someone tried to put it back. There are certainly mistakes and stupidities in reconstructing pictures.
In some instances, such as Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, John Cassavetes's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Blake Edwards's Darling Lili and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Coda, changes made to a director's cut resulted in a very similar runtime or a shorter, more compact cut. This generally happens when a distributor insists that a film be completed to meet a release date, but sometimes it is the result of removing scenes that the distributor insisted on inserting, as opposed to restoring scenes they insisted on cutting.
Another way that released director's cuts can be compromised is when directors were never allowed to even shoot their vision, and thus when the film is re-cut, they must make do with the footage that exists. Examples of this include Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa, Brian Helgeland's Payback, and most notably the Richard Donner re-cut of Superman II. Donner completed about 75 per cent of the shooting of the sequel during the shooting of the first one but was fired from the project. His director's cut of the film includes, among other things, screen test footage of stars Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, footage used in the first film, and entire scenes that were shot by replacement director Richard Lester which Donner dislikes but were required for story purposes.
Extended cuts and special editions
Special editions such as George Lucas's Star Wars films, and Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, in which special effects are redone in addition to a new edit, have also caused controversy.
Extended or special editions can also apply to films that have been extended for television or cut out to fill time slots and long advertisement breaks, against the explicit wishes of the director, such as the TV versions of Dune (1984), The Warriors (1979), Superman (1978) and the Harry Potter films.
The Lord of the Rings film series directed by Peter Jackson saw an "Extended Edition" release for each of the three films The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) featuring an additional 30 minutes, 46 minutes and 52 minutes respectively of new scenes, special effects and music alongside fan-club credits.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice directed by Zack Snyder had an "Ultimate Edition," which added back 31 minutes of footage cut for the theatrical release and received an R rating, released digitally on 28 June 2016, and on Blu-ray on 19 July 2016. The extended director's cut received more positive critical reviews than the theatrically released film.
The film Justice League which suffered a very troubled production, was begun by Snyder, who completed a pre-postproduction director's cut but had to step down before completing the project due to his daughter's death. Joss Whedon was hired to complete the film, which was however heavily re-shot, re-edited and released in 2017 with Snyder retaining the directorial credit, to negative reception from general audience, fans and critics alike and box office failure. Following a global fan campaign to which the director and members of the cast and crew showed support, Snyder was allowed to return and complete the project the way he intended it and a 4-hour version of the film dubbed Zack Snyder's Justice League with some additionally shot scenes at the end was released on March 18, 2021 on HBO Max to much favorable reviews and acclaim. Snyder originally teased a 214-minute cut of the film that was supposed to be the theatrical version released in 2017 if he did not step down from the project.
The film Caligula exists in at least 10 different officially released versions, ranging from a sub-90-minute television edit version of TV-14 (later TV-MA) for cable television to an unrated full pornographic version exceeding 3.5 hours. This is believed to be the largest amount of distinct versions of a single film. Among major studio films, the record is believed to be held by Blade Runner; the magazine Video Watchdog counted no less than seven distinct versions in a 1993 issue, before director Ridley Scott later released a "Final Cut" in 2007 to acclaim from critics including Roger Ebert who included it on his great movies list, The release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut brings the supposed grand total to eight differing versions of Blade Runner.
When released on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2019, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald featured an extended cut with seven minutes of additional footage. This is the first time since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, that a Harry Potter film has had one.
An animated example of an extended cut without the approval of the director was 1983's Twice Upon a Time, which was extended to have more profanity (supervised by co-writer and producer Bill Couturié) as opposed to co-director John Korty's original.
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The music video for the 2006 Academy Award-nominated song "Listen", performed by Beyoncé, received a director's cut by Diane Martel. This version of the video was later included on Knowles' B'Day Anthology Video Album (2007). Linkin Park has a director's cut version for their music video "Faint" (directed by Mark Romanek) in which one of the band members spray paints the words "En Proceso" on a wall, as well as Hoobastank also having one for 2004's "The Reason" which omits the woman getting hit by the car. Britney Spears' music video for 2007's "Gimme More" was first released as a director's cut on iTunes, with the official video released 3 days later. Many other director's cut music videos contain sexual content that can't be shown on TV thus creating alternative scenes, such as Thirty Seconds to Mars's "Hurricane", and in some cases, alternative videos, such as in the case of Spears' 2008 video for "Womanizer".
Expanded usage in pop culture
As the trend became more widely recognized, the term director's cut became increasingly used as a colloquialism to refer to an expanded version of other things, including video games, music, and comic books. This confusing usage only served to further reduce the artistic value of a director's cut, and it is currently rarely used in those ways.
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For video games, these expanded versions, also referred as "complete editions", will have additions to the gameplay or additional game modes and features outside the main portion of the game.
As is the case with certain high-profile Japanese-produced games, the game designers may take the liberty to revise their product for the overseas market with additional features during the localization process. These features are later added back to the native market in a re-release of a game in what is often referred as the international version of the game. This was the case with the overseas versions of Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid and Rogue Galaxy, which contained additional features (such as new difficulty settings for Metal Gear Solid), resulting in re-released versions of those respective games in Japan (Final Fantasy VII International, Metal Gear Solid: Integral and Rogue Galaxy: Director's Cut).In the case of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the American versions were released first, followed by the Japanese versions and then the European versions, with each regional release offering new content not found in the previous one. All of the added content from the Japanese and European versions of those games were included in the expanded editions titled Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.
They also, similar to movies, will occasionally include extra, uncensored or alternate versions of cutscenes, as was the case with Resident Evil: Code Veronica X. In markets with strict censorship, a later relaxing of those laws occasional will result in the game being rereleased with the "Special/Uncut Edition" tag added to differentiate between the originally released censored version and the current uncensored edition.
Several of the Pokémon games have also received director's cuts and have used the term "extension", though "remake" and "third version" are also often used by many fans. These include Pocket Monsters: Blue (Japan only), Pokémon Yellow (for Pokémon Red and Green/Blue), Pokémon Crystal (for Pokémon Gold and Silver), Pokémon Emerald (for Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire), Pokémon Platinum (for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl) and Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
"Director's cuts" in music are rarely released. A few exceptions include Guided by Voices' 1994 album Bee Thousand, which was re-released as a three disc vinyl LP director's cut in 2004, and Fall Out Boy's 2003 album Take This to Your Grave, which was re-released as a Director's cut in 2005 with two extra tracks.
In 2011 British singer Kate Bush released the album titled Director's Cut. It is made up of songs from her earlier albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes which have been remixed and restructured, three of which were re-recorded completely.
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