Is it OK for directors to change their films?

Last updated 10:19 01/06/2012

E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial is coming out on Blu Ray this year. It's a special film to me. I've seen it twice at the cinema - once when I was five years old in 1982, and again when I was 25 years old in 2002 for the 20th anniversary reissue.

Both were great experiences. I remember first seeing ET with my mum and my sister in one of those decaying old fleapits I wrote about a couple of weeks back.

I remember leaning forward at the climax of the film to hide the fact I was crying from my mum and sister.

It was a mind-blowing experience and a film that I carried around in my head for a long time. From then on, whenever street lights shone through fog I would think of it as "ET light". Even today, if I see fir trees sillhouetted against the moon I can only think of one film.

I must have talked about the film a lot because I remember months later being given an ET jigsaw and a clockwork ET spaceship toy for my birthday.

Then, 20 years later, I saw the film at the cinema again with an old friend. It marked the end of an incredibly intense period of work and was an amazing experience. It was literally the first time I had sat down to relax in 10 days.

At one point during the film, my friend turned to me and said: "This is amazing." He was right. It was.

But that 20th anniversary reissue caused a controversy that the Blu Ray release is only now putting to rest a decade later.

Check out this trailer for the Blu Ray release and see if you spot anything interesting:


Did you spot it? In a clear message to the geeky fans like me, they have included a shot in the trailer where the Feds are carrying rifles when the bikes become airborne.

In the 20th anniversary edition the guns had been digitally replaced with walkie talkies. Steven Spielberg felt queasy about the Feds pointing guns at children and so had it changed for the re-release.

It was a small, subtle change, along with a few other CGI tweaks that were even less noticeable, but it caused a bit of a backlash at the time.

It was Speilberg's "Han Shot First" debacle. But, unlike George Lucas, Spielberg listened to the fans. The Blu Ray edition has been restored to the original release.

In a lovely mea culpa, Spielberg recently told Aint It Cool News this:

"There's going to be no more digital enhancements or digital additions to anything based on any film I direct. I'm not going to do any corrections digitally to even wires that show."

"If 1941 comes on Blu-Ray I'm not going to go back and take the wires out because the Blu-Ray will bring the wires out that are guiding the airplane down Hollywood Blvd. At this point right now I think letting movies exist in the era, with all the flaws and all of the flourishes, is a wonderful way to mark time and mark history."

And this:

"When people ask me which E.T. they should look at, I always tell them to look at the original 1982 E.T. If you notice, when we did put out E.T. we put out two E.T.s. We put out the digitally enhanced version with the additional scenes and for no extra money, in the same package, we put out the original '82 version. I always tell people to go back to the '82 version."

Amen to that.

I completely agree with Spielberg. I don't think classic movies should be messed about with. A director may feel he could do things better now with new technology, but a film is rooted in its era and should remain so. Once a film is released, it should remain as it is.

I am in favour of digital restorations, but that is all they should be - restoration. They should not seek to radically improve or transform. They need to be true to the original film.

A perfect example of restoration rather than needless tinkering is Blade Runner: The Final Cut. That was a classic film with many problems that was restored and healed to the form its original director wanted.

Ridley Scott didn't make Han shoot first or indulge in revisionism, he just made his film shine.

So, what do you think? Did it annoy you when George Lucas messed with Star Wars? Do you agree with Spielberg? Or do you think a director has the right to alter their own work as they see fit?

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Niri Tacen   #1   10:28 am Jun 01 2012

Han shot. Period. There is no "first".

I kind of agree. Changing things from the original because you want to enhance it and remove the guns or whatever is a no-no.

Re-cutting it because the studio messed with it is okay (as with Blade Runner, and even Lucas inserting the Jabba/Han scene into Star Wars - just a shame Jabba was bad CGI). But this is only okay if the film is marked as "the directors cut". Trying to say its the same film is wrong.

tim24frames   #2   11:08 am Jun 01 2012

I have no issue with George Lucas changing Star Wars. As the writer/director* he has the right to alter the films so that they more clearly match his original vision and/or to make his 6-episode saga a more aesthetically-coherent body of work.

What I take umbrage with is his attempts (very successful thus far) to deny the existence of the original, and much-cherished, versions of the films. It is a disservice to the fans, whose passion (and hard-earned cash) has put him in a position where he can alter the films, and a complete disregard to the heritage of cinema of which Star Wars plays a very important part.

In my mind there are two Star Wars sagas. The original trilogy and the complete (CG heavy) 6 episode saga. If George would just release the original trilogy on Blu-Ray and allow it to be shown at festivals etc then, not only would he make a truckload of cash, he would silence all of the fervor over his alterations.

* Of course this is a little contentious with Empire and Jedi as he had less creative input.

D   #3   11:24 am Jun 01 2012

My only problem with 'director's cut' versions is their existence removes the original beloved version from availability - anyone tried to get their hands on an ORIGINAL version of Star Wars ep IV? Doesn't seem to be possible.

His Lordship   #4   11:36 am Jun 01 2012

Of course directors should have the ability to tinker with and alter their films.

So long as they retain access to the original release, as Spielberg has done, and not pretend that the original has been wiped from history, as Lucas has.

Just so long as they don't start trying to colourise the old classics, as they threatened to do 20 years ago...

Leon   #5   11:43 am Jun 01 2012

People can fiddle with their own films as much as their interest, money, and in some cases vanity dictate.

I do think though Charlie, that you can't have your cake and eat it ... you're saying that ET being altered was "wrong", as was Han shooting first, yet then you say that Blade Runner being altered was good. Both films were altered though, so you can't really take a firm moral stance on the subject if you're only going to approve of films being altered if *you* approve of the changed version :-)

gus fring   #6   11:47 am Jun 01 2012

I enjoy Blade Runner but i wish Ridley had kept the option to have the voice over in his last version.

Scott   #7   12:15 pm Jun 01 2012

I don't much care about minor tweaks and twiddles to things that I'm unlikely to notice. Blade Runner has over done that though. At last count there's like SIX different versions , 2 or 3 different endings, a voice-over (or not). I've now given up on it. Much as I like the film I will never watch it ever again.

Most Director's cuts seem to me to include additional scenes that were cut originally for length or some other problem. Putting those back in doesn't bother me (much) ..Lord of the Rings..... Updating CGI mmmmm..I've seen some of the remastered Star Trek TV episodes, and it just seemed a waste of effort.

As well as an attempt to sell something again that everyone that wanted it has already bought.

bOb   #8   12:24 pm Jun 01 2012

Got to mention Close encounters of the 3rd kind with this. The BRD has 3 (or is it 4?) versions of the film and an included booklet shows which bits are in which version. Thats how it should be - directors can play away but let people choose the version they want to watch.

Malky   #9   01:06 pm Jun 01 2012

You should watch "The People vs George Lucas" which explores the changing relationship between Lucas and the fans (from hero to villain) over the period of him making the 6 movies and then subsequent re-releases. Very interesting. What's pertinent to this discussion is his opinion regarding the changes he's made (BTW - Han Shot First!). Whereas the fans believe the movies belong to them, George obviously believes they're his and he can do what he wants to realise his vision. As with all art, it is up to the viewer to decide whether they like it or not. It's an interesting watch.

Nathan   #10   01:32 pm Jun 01 2012

Apocalypse Now Redux is an interesting case where Francis Ford Coppolla recut the film again from the start using his original footage. I quite like the Redux version. The 1937 Frank Capra film Lost Horizon had things trimmed from it for length and political reasons and different territories had different versions. It has been rereleased on DVD with the "lost" scenes(some of the scenes only have the sudio left) that were bodged from various acetate copies around the world to make it how Capra originally wanted it. Director's Cuts are fine as long as that is how they are packaged.

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