The Mountain Comes to Mohammed The Fan Editing Phenomenon By Mike White. I became fascinated a few years ago with so-called "fan edits" when a handful of re-cut versions of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came to light (see "Da Jar Jar Done Gone" in Cashiers du Cinemart #13)...
I became fascinated a few years ago with so-called "fan edits" when a handful of re-cut versions of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came to light (see "Da Jar Jar Done Gone" in Cashiers du Cinemart #13). I had hoped that subsequent Lucas films would undergo manipulation to make bad films a little less bad. Indeed, The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith have both been subject to countless re-cuts (too many to keep track of, really), but the fan edit phenomenon has gone beyond the Star Wars universe, expanding into other sci-fi series and beyond.
Even while doing research into the "Phantom Edits," I had heard about variations of Star Trek V and Superman II. These rumored re-cuts existed and have helped spark a flurry of other projects that aim to restore deleted scenes, rearrange narrative arcs, or omit annoying mistakes. Aided by access to technology and distribution, these cinematic re-workings have moved from VCR-to-VCR dupes (found mostly at sci-fi conventions), to remarkably well-produced DVD-quality productions, bittorrented along the "tubes of the internet."
The creators of the website www.fanedit.org have broken fan edits into three major categories: Extended Editions, Special Editions/Preservations, and True Fan Edits. Extended editions don’t alter the plot of a film but may shade the film’s experience. Deleted scenes or even an alternate ending come into play. "Special Edition" DVDs are the editor’s best friends.
In this arena, the extended versions of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery have proven the most enjoyable to me. Courtesy of fan editor "Spence," Pirates reintegrates a crucial scene of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) in which we learn that Sparrow isn’t all wobbling bluster. Meanwhile, the original Austin Powers is given a boost from "ADigitalMan" with the addition of the various "henchmen death consequence" bits.
Conversely, the Special Edition/Preservation edits often take movies from their "mucked around with" state to their theatrical roots. Lines from allegedly offensive songs that were excised from Aladdin maintain their integrity here. We also find a wealth of films that have only been made available on laserdisc, with no hope of proper DVD releases any time soon. The most famous Special Edition/Preservation project has to be Superman II: The restored International Cut.
"True Fan Edits" are what we think of first when considering this post-modern method of movie making. Omitted scenes may get their day in the sun, but much more goes into a fan edit. These works fundamentally alter the original and often deal with films that were fundamentally flawed.
Star Trek Phase 2: In Thy Image (Jack Marshall)
Also known as Star Trek V: In Thy Image, the title refers to the script penned by Alan Dean Foster, which was to be the pilot for a second "Star Trek" series that eventually became Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Appropriately, this edit re-imagines the justly maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier as a television pilot complete with fades to black (for commercials), music, and sound effects from the original series and that classic "still frame" end credit sequence.
Trimmed to a much more digestible 63-minutes, STP2: In Thy Image eliminates a lot of the embarrassing scenes from The Final Frontier, including the campfire sing-along and the long-in-the-tooth striptease from Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). While there can be no undoing some of the film’s inherent flaws (everyone seems to forget that the Enterprise passed through the "great barrier of the galaxy" back in the original series episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before"), this cut really makes Star Trek V a watchable movie.
Apparently there are also other editors who have been working to make Star Trek V closer to the original vision of director William Shatner. This includes updating some of the CGI, including "rock men" in the third act, and changing the "alien as God" back to a much more Satanic vision. As these do nothing to delete the "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" sequence, I think I’ll pass on that when the time comes.
Batman & Robin: De-Assified (Greencapt)
A great example of the "less is more" school of thought is this paring down of Batman & Robin (Joel Schumacher, 1997). Removing some of the more painful one-liners, silly bat-shtick and crotch shots, Greencapt improves the relationship between Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell), makes Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) more menacing, and keeps the presence of Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) to a minimum.
When asked about what "choice cuts" he made, Greencapt says, "Editorially, I’m most proud of very small touches like blending in music where it hadn’t been before, snipping out a line or two of dialogue so its almost unnoticed, or using a shot that had originally been in one part of the film elsewhere. Stuff that probably wouldn’t be noticed unless you’ve watched the original a number of times."
The plot of De-Assified remains the same and Uma Thurman’s performance still stinks on ice, but this cut nearly makes the film something I’d consider watching. Now, if only Greencapt could do something about Batman Forever... or anything else that Schumacher has had a hand in.
War of the Worlds: Extinctive Cut (CBB Group)
The CBB Group’s re-cut of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds starts off promisingly enough. Beginning by replacing the laconic Morgan Freeman voiceover with a more ominous one, the CBB editors’ biggest chore for the majority of the film is attempting to make Ray (Tom Cruise) a more sympathetic character, rather than the asshole seen in the theatrical version.
Unfortunately, the CBB Group felt the need to remove Harlon (Tim Robbins) from the film completely. Yet, they tried to leave the basement of the farmhouse scene in. This results in a choppy fade-filled scene with no logical narrative flow (and with Robbins still visible in the background of some shots). This stumble is followed by a hard fall in which there is an obtuse mix of War of the Worlds with Deep Impact and the second and third Terminator films. Rather than the Martians being undone by the common cold, they’re wiped out in a nuclear annihilation while a group of survivors hide in a bunker.
If there’s one advantage to the "Extinctive Cut," it’s the removal of Ray’s teary reunion with his son (who should be dead by all rights) and his ex-wife’s family in Boston. This deletion doesn’t make up for the pain of the last third of this failed experiment.
The Matrix: Dezionized (CBB Group)
Combining The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions into one less tedious film is a popular idea amongst fan editors. Dezionized is the "best" of these projects that I’ve seen so far, as it removes the embarrassing, sweaty rave scene as well as all those annoying Zion characters (Link’s family, Kid, the various bureaucrats). Essentially, this boils down the rest of The Matrix story into a series of long-winded action sequences and some philosophical gobbledygook. Oh, and there’s that annoying Frenchman, The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) who keeps popping up at inopportune times.
There’s no getting around the ceaseless silliness of these unneeded sequels to one of the best films of the ‘90s. There’s still talk of "old programs" becoming vampires, ghosts, and werewolves. There’re still fight scenes that could be ended with Neo (Keanu Reeves) flying away (as if the flying wasn’t bad enough). And, there’s still The Merovingian. Unfortunately, Dezionized proves the old axiom that you can’t polish a turd.
Superman: Redeemed (ADigitalMan)
Similar to The Matrix: Dezionized, Superman: Redeemed attempts to pull elements from two inferior films to make a superior product. Taking the Smallville story from Superman III (Richard Lester, 1983) and blending it with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Sidney J. Furie, 1987), fan editor ADigitalMan aimed to remove the "cringeworthy" parts and characters such as Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn), and Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer).
Unfortunately, the entire Nuclear Man (Marc Pillow) story arc remains ridiculous. Streaming blonde locks, golden fingernails, and a furious roar do not a supervillain make. Apart from the Smallville story line (minus the embarrassing bowling scene), ADigitalMan retains the evil Superman created from Gorman’s "tar Kryptonite." In Superman: Redeemed, the Man of Steel doesn’t encounter faux Kryptonite but, rather, reacts adversely from Nuclear Man scratching his neck. This leads to the junk yard battle of Superman III, which stands second only to the alley fight from They Live (John Carpenter, 1988) for duration and tedium.
The cross-cutting here of Superman III and Superman IV stands out as the highlight of the film along with the reuse of Lois Lane’s Paris terrorist encounter from Superman II (Richard Donner/Richard Lester, 1980) to introduce Superman’s desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Perhaps during the Cold War this scene felt more poignant, but the disarming of Earth today casts Superman as a protector who has crossed from benevolence to malevolence. Superman comes across as an overbearing father figure who needs to take away his children’s toys before they shoot their eyes out. "Effective immediately, I’m going to rid our world of all nuclear weapons." This is the kind of attitude that would catch Superman a beating in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. That the scenes of Superman tossing missiles into the sun are done with shoddy special effects is a sore spot as well (though not nearly as bad as the Tower of Pisa scenes from Superman III).
Cutting together two films made with radically different budgets (with a four-year lag between the two), makes for some difficult challenges to overcome. Clark Kent’s hair inflates and deflates, Lois’s tan comes and goes, Lex Luthor’s comfort with hairpieces increases, Jimmy Olson disappears for long stretches and Miss Tessmacher goes away completely after her initial appearance. Often, Superman: Redeemed feels like it’s being told in shorthand. Without establishing shots or key connectors, the film feels on the brink of shattering into two or three original pieces. Despite its tenuous nature, the experiment works. You will believe a franchise can be redeemed.
Star Trek: Kirkless Generations (CBB Group)
The original Star Trek: Generations (David Carson, 1994) was meant to bridge the gap between the previous six Star Trek films and the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV show. This meant appearances by, and subsequent destruction of, Scotty (James Doohan) and Chekov (Walter Koenig), along with a very dumb death of James T. Kirk (William Shatner). What could have been a very solid chapter in the lives of the crew of the Enterprise-D became a misadventure.
This was one of the earlier efforts from CBB Group editor, Boon. "When Star Trek: Generations hit the theatres, I was very disappointed by the stupid appearance of James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Yet, I still saw some entertaining scenes in the rest of the movie. I guess this is when I started to watch movies not as a whole thing, but as a collection of scenes. I cut Kirk entirely from the movie using two VHS recorders. Of course, the quality was crappy then but ever since I just deleted parts I did not like. When the tools were there to rework digitally, I started using them."
Kirkless Generations plays like the episode after the series finale, "All Good Things." All traces of the old Enterprise crew have been erased. Before I finally viewed Kirkless Generations I didn’t think that the film could survive a Kirkectomy, but it not only survives, it thrives. Alas, there’s nothing that can be done for the choice of Picard (Patrick Stewart) leaving the nebulous "nexus" at a rather inopportune time (why go back after the Enterprise is destroyed? Why not go back to their introduction and simply kill Dr. Soran (Malcolm McDowell) in Ten Forward?), but the elimination of Kirk makes the film flow much more smoothly.
For every fan edit mentioned here there are dozens more. The fan editing phenomenon shows as many signs of slowing down as Hollywood shows signs of producing flawless films. The creativity and dedication to the art of editing keeps me coming back for more and has even intrigued me enough to watch a lot of fan edited films whose original versions I would have normally have passed on. To keep up with what’s new, visit www.fanedit.org.
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