Tom Jolliffe looks at the recent demands for director’s cuts with Justice League and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…
A film comes out. The director hits the press circuit prior and things seem to be rosy. The film comes out and is greeted with derision. Suddenly there are growing calls for a directors cut. Occasionally said director will fuel those flames, particularly if they feel let down by what was delivered.
Of late the most infamous mythical films that are out there to allure the fans, or fervent supporters of these artists who believe that J.J. Abrams and Zack Snyder have been thrown under the bus. It wouldn’t be the first time people wanted, and Zack teased, a directors cut for a Batman film (and they kind of got it with the extended Batman v Superman cut) but, Justice League was a little different given that Snyder was taken off the project and replaced with Joss Whedon. Said replacement came about from unfortunate tragedy. Trouble was, it seems, WB weren’t liking the direction Snyder was going in anyway. Whedon entered under studio mandate to deliver said mandate. He ‘Whedoned’ the film with Marvel-esque repartee, lightened the whole look visually and what was delivered was an incoherent mess. Now in the long line of DC projects to that point, coherence had long since fucked off from the building. Still, fans petitioned for the Snyder cut and he continues to tease it though through a whole array of complicated reasons, it’s unlikely to see the light of day any time soon.
As for Abrams, well the final Star Wars was supposed to be the film that brought back the magic after seeing Star Wars burn out and heights of fandom vitriol reach savage heights with The Last Jedi. It seemed Rian Johnson, given largely carte-blanche (though there are aspects in the film that have a clear, cynical studio gaze over them… Johnson cut?) delivered a film so divisive it became exhausting. It made Star Wars exhausting and indeed, that affected Solo: A Star Wars Story the following summer and it probably contributed to the ‘disappointing’ gross for The Rise of Skywalker.
The thing is, a lack of structure and planning and consistency has hampered this new franchise. Okay, this actually kind of worked with the original trilogies, though largely because Lucas, whilst switching up directors, remained behind the typewriter. That original three, particularly the middle section do have an unexpected change of style, tone and structure. J.J. came and started something. Rian followed up, tossing out a lot of what he deemed to not work. J.J. returns the favour, but it seems of all three films the final one has been most carefully ‘tailored’ by the studio. Reason for a directors cut?
Well no. Director’s Cuts, with only a few exceptions (Blade Runner) are a pointless exercise in ego-massage. For the most part (Alien, Apocalypse Now, Terminator 2: Judgment Day for example) they tend to lengthen a film, add in scenes the director loves but for the greater good are best left out and do they end up better? Rarely. How much better is The Rise of Skywalker going to be by having (as teased in some stories) a 4 hour cut? Or Justice League in somehow cobbling all of Snyder’s stuff from an incomplete shoot and retain some semblance of consistency. This isn’t new for Superman either, given that Richard Donner famously left Superman 2 during the shoot. In the end a Donner cut emerged but was infamously messy, unpolished and haphazardly put together. The result? Well, the theatrical cut, for all its flaws, was better.
Sometimes there needs to be an acceptance that a film just isn’t good. All the furore and desire for a ‘Snyder cut’ comes from too small a minority, whereas the wider film world just doesn’t care. The same can be said regarding the Abrams cut. To an extent it can simply be an exercise in keeping a films buzz alive beyond its first weeks. Perhaps it’s all pre-planned by the studio. ‘If the rubes don’t like it we’ll tease a directors cut…’ We’ll be getting a Cats directors cut next I imagine. Curiosity was what lead me to even watching Justice League. If that mess can be salvaged by Zack Snyder, I’d be very surprised. It needs a Scorsese cut. Re-shoot the whole film and Marty can show us how to do comic book films correctly. The directors cut for Snyder’s previous, Batman v Superman was nothing but even more painfully long. A tougher test of endurance. You can’t salvage some things. If something is quite clearly odd and out of place and doesn’t work, it’s different. Something as clumsily placed as a narration in Blade Runner and a fumbling end were clear corrections to be made, and given by the late 80’s few people cared about the film given its initial tanking, there was enough studio indifference to let Ridley Scott re-cut the film.
People care about Justice League and Star Wars. As much as both respective films were deemed financial disappointments, they still made huge amounts (Rise of Skywalker particularly). The studios won’t always admit error, a requirement in green-lighting a directors cut. If they do there will be the cynical mark of cash-in attached to it. It will be like a one hand behind the back directors cut. ‘Sure you can release it, because…cha-ching…but we’re gonna have to green-light every change you wanna make…’ Then it comes out. It’s still shit. Director’s Directors Cut? Oh…Final Cut! How many times will Coppola revisit Nam or Ridley Scott 2019 L.A, or Lucas fiddle with his original trilogy?
The Rise of Skywalker is a mess because too much was thrown in from too many sides. Fan appeasement after the previous film was amped up even beyond the safe approach of The Force Awakens. When part of your mind is on what fans will like, to the expense of the overall story, then you will lose grip of the film. The studio attitude and power is also as financially and business motivated as it’s ever been. Directors aren’t heading to set secretly shooting stuff they think is great that studios won’t like in the hope of a Directors cut for a film that they’re losing. Disney and Marvel have previous for sacking directors, or carefully peppering studio inference into films. When you take on projects this big you rarely get creative freedom. So where does a coherent directors vision come from if you didn’t have it in the first place? You won’t get a good Justice League. You won’t get a good Rise of Skywalker (without baking soda…lolz…). It’s time to let this fad fade into nothing like a dying Jedi.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.