Like most film fanatics, I have watched, with excitement and intrigue, director’s cuts of some of my favorite movies on DVD. Afterward, however, the intoxication of seeing those new versions, complete with precious outtakes and rejiggered sequences, tends to give way to an eerie sort of hangover. Yes, these ”deluxe” editions are fascinating, even when they reveal — as is often the case — that the original, theatrical version was actually better. To give just one example: Ridley Scott may think that the director’s cut of Blade Runner, with the hambone voice-over and fish-eye-into-heaven finale excised, is a ”purer” piece of cinema, but it’s also artier and more torpid. It turns out that the Harrison Ford narration really does help glue Scott’s images of an entropic urban-future nightscape together.
Artistic indulgence aside, though, the real problem I have is this: Once we’ve all become director’s-cut junkies, what happens, in our imaginations, to the original versions of movies? Can they hold us in quite the same way? Will we truly be able to say that the singular, definitive version of a movie even exists?
I would argue that we won’t, and that that’s a pop-cultural disaster. For a century, movies have been our collective dreams. We share them, every moment of them (even the flawed moments), in experience and in memory. To say that their very substance is fluid, up for grabs, ever-changing, is to dilute the powerful essence of what a movie is: not just a diversion, like a videogame, but a timeless touchstone of fantasy and drama and emotion. For the right to have their precious director’s cut out on DVD, filmmakers may now be forsaking the chance to create something far more vital: the audience’s cut.