Here’s a story you won’t hear much about outside the film-geek world, but it’s worth hearing: there’s this South Korean thriller called Snowpiercer, which is a giant hit in its home country and has played, to much acclaim, at festivals here in the US. Last November, the Weinstein Company picked it up for distribution in English-speaking markets, presumably drawn both to its genre elements and a cast that includes Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, and Alison Pill. And now, according to director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother), they’re demanding that he cut 20 minutes out of it.
“TWC people have told Bong that their aim is to make sure the film ‘will be understood by audiences in Iowa … and Oklahoma,’” according to English writer and film festival programmer Tony Rayns, who spoke to the filmmaker at the premiere in Seoul. “Leaving aside the issue of what Weinstein thinks of its audience, it seems to say the least anomalous that the rest of the English-speaking world has to be dragged down to the presumed level of American mid-west hicks.” But this isn’t the first time Weinstein himself — or Hollywood in general — has assumed that what was fine internationally was too highfalutin for audiences here.
Original length: 153 minutes
American release: 115 minutes
Fritz Lang’s science fiction masterpiece was wildly expensive, brilliantly imaginative, and light years ahead of its time. It was also a film that spent years in flux. His original cut ran two-and-a-half hours, but since the expensive picture had been partially funded by Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, they were allowed to make any alterations to the film they chose before releasing it in America. They did just that, figuring its allegorical elements would fly right over the heads of domestic audiences (or perhaps fearing that its working-class message wouldn’t). They hired American playwright Channing Pollock to basically re-edit the film, altering the narrative, changing the title cards, and tossing out scenes by the handful. The result of his efforts was a cut that ran over 30 minutes shorter — and even that was expansive compared to the subsequent re-edit from German distributors, which chopped out another half hour. Lang’s original vision was long thought lost, but the recent discoveries of longer prints managed to restore it to (almost) its fully glory.