Some play tennis, some memorize baseball stats, some decorate toilet seat lids. Point is, everyone’s got a hobby, but Christopher Orgeron spent his past two years of free time on a genuinely unusual project: restoring The Dark Crystal to its original, darker version. Wait, you’re thinking. I didn’t know there was an original, darker version of that, especially since the version they released was such hardcore nightmare fuel if you were a small child in the early ‘80s (OK, now I’m just projecting). Well, if you do enough poking around in Hollywood history, you’ll find there was an original, darker version of a whole lot of movies, which studio execs and other muckety-mucks demanded filmmakers brighten up before they saw the light of a projector.
The Dark Crystal
For audiences expecting the kind of cheery, song-filled fun typical of The Muppet Show and its follow-up movies, Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal was a shock, a serious-minded puppet sci-fi/fantasy picture. The original version was even darker and weirder, but after test audiences reacted poorly, Henson and Oz were forced to cut scenes and modify much of what remained with voice-over (much like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, released the same year). Superfan Orgeron told Mental Floss that he started hearing about a VHS dub of the original cut on fan forums, and when he finally got his hands on it, he was fascinated — but the audio and video quality rendered it all but unwatchable. So he painstakingly matched up the rough cut’s video with what remained in the final version, cleaned up the audio, and created the new version above, to the delight of Dark Crystal fans around the world.
Adrian Lyne’s adultery thriller was the most talked-about picture of 1987, a cause célèbre and box office hit. But several critics objected loudly to its slasher-movie bathtub-murder ending, particularly Roger Ebert, who wrote, “you can almost feel the moment when the script goes click and sells out.” Hey may not have known how right he was; in the film’s original ending (above) Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest commits suicide, and almost manages to frame Michael Douglas’ Dan Gallagher for her murder. But that wasn’t quite grisly and simple enough for test audiences, so Lyne reshot the film’s eventual, far less interesting conclusion.
In the late 1980s, writer J.F. Lawton (Under Siege) penned $3,000, the dark story of a drug-addicted prostitute who is hired by a rich playboy for a week. And then it went to Disney and director Garry Marshall, who transformed it from a gritty drama to a sparkling Cinderella romantic comedy. But they did shoot his original ending, in which Edward and Vivian part company, the rich tycoon returning her to the streets. Of course, this simply would not do for Touchstone (Disney’s grown-up-movie arm) and the box office chances of the picture, so they had Marshall create the maudlin happy ending that (predictably) made it a fortune.
Dawn of the Dead
George A. Romero’s zombie classic/scathing indictment of consumerism originally came to a far gloomier conclusion: realizing the true hopelessness of their situation, the protagonists cap off a film’s worth of fighting for their lives by committing suicide, complete with a final shot of Fran going headfirst into a helicopter propeller. But the powers-that-be determined that it was less depressing for the characters to continue fighting zombies forever, and had Romero replace the original conclusion with a heroic escape scene.
I Am Legend
Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel originally ended much as the original book did: with our hero discovering that the monsters he’s hunted are, in fact, thinking and feeling creatures, merely trying to rescue one of their own, and that since he’s been killing them, he is the monster they fear. (It’s kinda the meaning of the title.) But that ending wasn’t blow-shit-uppy enough for test audiences, so Lawrence had to throw all of that out so Will Smith could just kill a bunch more vampires.
It’s one thing to have your alteration notes handed down by the empty suits at a movie studio; it’s quite another when they’re coming from the Central Intelligence Agency. This 1955 animated adaptation of George Orwell’s classic was one of a handful of films produced by the CIA in the 1950s as anti-Communist propaganda, and it originally concluded (true to the novel) with the farm animals looking back and forth between the pigs and the humans, unable to determine which was more exploitative. But the CIA had the filmmakers remove the humans from the equation, so that the final film only indicted the (Communist) pigs, and not the (capitalist) humans.
October: 10 Days that Shook the World
Soviet filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin) and Grigori Aleksandrov were commissioned by Stalin’s government to make this tenth-anniversary dramatization/celebration of the Russian revolution. The trouble was, Leon Trotsky was a major figure in that revolution, and thus in the film, but while it was in production, Trotsky had turned on Stalin and was leading demonstrations against the Soviet government. The powers-that-be there demanded Eisenstein re-edit the finished film to remove all references to Trotsky, who was exiled from the Soviet Union just as the film was released in January of 1928.
Here’s one where a film was altered not due to the demands of the studio or a government, but the times. Stanley Kubrick’s scathing political/military satire originally concluded with an 11-minute pie fight sequence in the war room, which was filmed and edited. And then John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Kubrick and screenwriter Terry Southern would later insist that the sequence was too long and too out of tone with the rest of the movie, but George C. Scott said in a Playboy interview that the scene was cut because of the JFK assassination, pure and simple — since its inciting incident, a pie from the Russian ambassador to the face of Peter Sellers’ US president, was followed with his line, “Gentlemen, our gallant young president has been struck down in the prime of life, by pie! We demand merciful retaliation.”
Live Free or Die Hard
From the beginning, the Die Hard movies were rated R: they featured intense violence and gunplay, plenty of blood, and a hero whose catchphrase included the word “motherfucker.” But when 20th Century Fox reignited the 12-years-dormant franchise in 2007 under director Len Wiseman (Underworld), they decided they could squeeze a few more bucks out of the movie by transforming it, in post-production, from the R-rated movie Wiseman had shot into a teen-friendly PG-13 summer movie, even though that meant their hero couldn’t even say the catchphrase everyone was waiting to hear him say. (The “fucker” portion of “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker” was covered with a loud gunshot.) Wiseman and star Bruce Willis begrudgingly went along with it, but made sure to put out an “unrated” version of the movie on DVD. Yet the PG-13 version is the only one available on Blu-ray, which is a kick in the face to action movie fans on their preferred format. (The series went back to R-rated territory for this year’s fifth installment, but that didn’t help much.)
Sorry, but this one’s just for those of you in the UK and Germany. It seems that when The Avengers was released on Blu-ray there (under the international title Avengers Assemble, to avoid confusion with the British TV series), it included a subtle change to a key moment (spoiler warning): when Agent Coulson is killed, the blade sticking out of his chest has been erased (see above). Some wondered if it was censorship, but the film still had the same rating as the unaltered theatrical version. So a theory surfaced: that Marvel was softening the death of Coulson as a “retcon,” allowing him to live on elsewhere (which he eventually did, in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series). Why this was only done for the benefit of audiences in the UK and Germany remains a mystery, so S.H.I.E.L.D. better get on that.