Author: Rob Stoakes
Studio executives are like the changelings from My Little Pony; inhuman creatures masquerading as real people, feeding off the love and passion of artists to fuel their dark power. Also they can fly and cast spells. So when they get worried that a film might not make enough returns, they have no scruples when it comes to taking a bonesaw to the project. Here are just a few of the most infamous surgeries, and whether or not they actually worked…
#5) Blade Runner
Blade Runner is in my top five favourite films of all time. It’s emotionally complex, philosophically deep and visually stunning. It brought cyberpunk to the mainstream and is simply a masterpiece. Or at least one of them is, and I say this because there’s a whopping seven versions of this film lying around.
The version released to cinemas was chopped up heavily by the studio, with director Ridley Scott none the wiser. Entire subplots went missing in the ether, and some of the films best scenes were cut or shortened for no real reason. However, it wasn’t all take; the studio also gave. Specifically, they thought the film was confusing (because a plotline like “robots that look like humans kill people, Harrison Ford good, Rutger Heuer evil” was too hard to follow apparently) so they had Harrison Ford add a narration to most of the film, and changed the ambiguous ending where Ford and his robot girlfriend run from the cops, unsure of their future and with one or both going to die within five years, into a happy ending where they drive off into the sunset and live happily ever after, because why not? Audiences love happy endings, right?
Was It Worth It?
The happy ending was one of the most heavily criticised parts of the film upon release.
It’s not hard to see why; the ending comes completely out of nowhere and is tonally nothing like the rest of the film, and in fact completely invalidates a lot of the film, including basically the entire motivation of the villains. To add salt to the wounds, Harrison Ford didn’t want to do the narration and made that abundantly clear, sounding drunk and uninterested. It’s why Blade Runner is one of the few films where the director’s cut DVD is actually more common than the theatrical cut.
A rare case of a studio not being the one to butcher a film, but instead the director. Still, it must have taken a lot out of Hollywood’s resident conspiracy theorist and crazy man Oliver Stone to take a scalpel to what he considers to be his magnum opus. A long and boring magnum opus in which Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins and a pair of naked breasts attached to Rosario Dawson retell the life of Alexander the Great in the most excruciating manner possible. The shortest version you can find is three hours long, with the longest cut being an agonising 214 minutes.
Was It Worth It?
Well, Oliver Stone seems to think so. Audiences refused to touch it upon its 2004 release, and up until 2014 Oliver Stone’s been taking the opportunity to release a new cut every once in a while and scream “Look, you inbred chimps, this is my masterpiece and I want you to appreciate its brilliance!” A for enthusiasm, Oliver. F for making a good movie.
#3) Highlander II – The Quickening
I don’t know how many people wanted a sequel to Highlander. I do know that nobody wanted this one.
Highlander II is infamously dreadful. Filmed in Argentina right as the entire country’s economy began to sink down the toilet, a completion bond company snatched the editing process off of the director and decided to edit the film themselves. This was after they had already demanded a few… changes to the script. Like making the Highlanders aliens. I’m serious.
Actor Christopher Lambert also demanded changes to the script to incorporate Sean Connery’s character from the first film, which was slightly difficult because the character had come down with a rare disease called “being decapitated”. Russell Mulcahy famously walked out of the premiere in disgust after just 15 minutes, which to his credit was about 10 minutes longer than most audiences could stand, and he would re-butcher the film and release a “Renegade Cut” which removed the aliens and brought the film closer to his original vision.
Was It Worth It?
Depends on your definition.
If you want a good movie, then no, the Renegade Cut is still nigh-unwatchable. Even without the aliens, the film blatantly ignores its predecessor and is just a thuddingly stupid mess. But, to its credit, if for some reason you did want to see Highlander II, then the Renegade Cut is an improvement. A turd is still a turd, but at least this one was polished a bit.
This story is very famous and very long, so I’ll try to summarise. From Arthur Jacobs buying the film rights for Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel in 1971, it wasn’t until 1984 that a film would be released, having gone through three separate producers, three directors and at least twelve drafts for the screenplay, probably more. And this isn’t getting to the movie we actually got, which was also riddled with problems. The original writers left over creative differences, Lynch’s first cut was over four hours long, and producer Dino De Laurentiis decided pretty much at random that he wanted the 417 page novel, plus its sequels, compressed into the bizarrely specific 2 hours 17 minutes. Yes, Dune is so butchered that even the butchered version of it is butchered.
Was It Worth It?
… well, the answer to that is a confusing yes and no.
Watching Dune, it is difficult to say if it’s extremely good or extremely bad. It’s dripping in atmosphere, every scene involving the Harkonnens is solid gold, and it doesn’t look like any other film of the time. But it’s far too long, it drags its feet a lot and it makes absolutely no sense, and no, the longer cuts don’t help at all. The film ends with the declaration that the main character is indeed “the Kwisatz Haderach” because I was very worried that he wouldn’t be… whatever that is. I suspect the four hour cut would’ve explained it a lot better, but then we would’ve had a four hour version of Dune, and I’d sooner eat my thigh than sit through something like that.
#1) The Thief and the Cobbler
Hey kids, do you want to make movies? Well, here’s a story to explain how, if you try to make anything, Hollywood will stomp on your heart and take a poo in your soul.
Richard Williams is one of the greatest animation directors alive, having directed amongst others the peerless Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In 1964, though, he started production on possibly the most ambitious animated film of all time, The Thief and the Cobbler. He independently funded it, and decided to use twice as many frames of animation per second as usual, making for one of the most visually stunning films of all time. During its long production, it inspired many other animated films, most notably Disney’s Aladdin, and many industry professionals eagerly awaited for what they thought would change the animation world forever.
Then in 1993, as Richard Williams was 85% complete, his investors got scared and booted him and every other animator off the project. Miramax got a hold of it, rewrote the script and inflicted the result upon the unsuspecting public like a mustard gas attack.
Was It Worth It?
HA HA HA HA HA!
At 31 years, it’s the longest production of a motion picture, and it’s also one of the worst films ever released. The added Miramax animation is amateurish and easily spotted, both the script and the acting is awful and the editing is clumsy at best, a consequence of adding dialogue to a mostly silent film. By desperately trying to appeal to everyone, it instead appeals to no one. As for whether or not it paid off, it made a miserable £6k at the cost of $28 million. The entire debacle personally ruined Richard Williams, who refused to see the film and didn’t make any more animations until 2010.
It cost Miramax $279,330,724 to commit cinematic murder.