Why do audiences have to wait for a DVD to see the movie the director really wanted to make' Leonard Klady argues the case.
Later this year, Warner Bros Home Video will release a five-disc set of the seminal science-fiction thriller Blade Runner that will include what's been dubbed 'the definite cut' of the movie (Blade Runner: The Final Cut is also the surprise Midnight film at the Venice film festival next month).
Based on the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep' Ridley Scott's film was released in 1982 and a decade later a 'director's cut' was made available theatrically and on video.
Movie folklore has it that Scott's work print was inadvertently sent to a theatre in the American Midwest and created a sensation. His cut had, among other things, a darker conclusion than the original film, in keeping with Dick's vision.
Prestige and credibility
Blade Runner, any way you slice it, is among the most influential science-fiction films of all time. Hundreds of subsequent movies have looked to it as a template to visualise the future. It was a cult favourite that evolved into a major worldwide commercial success, beginning with its 1992 reissue and continuing with its myriad incarnations on video and DVD.
It also established the viability of the director's cut, opening the floodgates for what's become one of the most significant ancillary money streams for the film industry. Original and 'uncut' versions vie for shelf space and it is rare for a popular success not to at least include deleted scenes on disc.
A film-maker with sufficient clout can return to the editing suite, add new digital effects and launch a DVD campaign with a limited theatrical release for added prestige and credibility. Some recent films are only available in special edition form and the sporadic signs of confused historical scholarship are likely to escalate in the future.
By rights, Blade Runner's seemingly endless permutations should have been an anomaly. Most people do not want anyone tinkering with their favourite classic under any circumstances. It might be fun to see an excised scene from Casablanca but the film works just fine as it is.
The greater significance of Scott's film and its evolving shapes is that its arrival coincided with a radical shift in the way movies were distributed. The majors began to stake out opening dates for their tentpole movies. Film-makers suddenly had to learn how to do production schedules backwards, beginning with a completion date and travelling in reverse to script development. Anyone who's gone through that process will tell you it's almost impossible to build in production delays, acts of God and other unforeseen glitches when you're working on the basis of inverse momentum.
Film-makers with a movie scheduled to open on Christmas Day (or any major holiday) do not have any option but to meet that deadline. In stated and tacit ways, they are made to understand that considerable money is being spent to promote the film and missing the date will squander millions, jeopardise strategic planning as well as have an unpleasant impact on the director's future career.
Tail wagging the dog
However, there's a consolation prize. That film you never quite got to make because time ran out is held out as an option for the DVD release. Scott's film about the Crusades, Kingdom Of Heaven, is almost an hour longer on disc and Oliver Stone appears to have created a new career making a variety of definitive versions of Alexander.
The tail is literally wagging the dog. It reduces all the posturing of industry leaders urging people to see movies as they were meant to be seen on the big screen to idle cant. The films that producers, directors, writers, actors, and so on wanted to make are too often only available for home viewing and that verity has become increasingly obvious to the general public.