Some directors just can’t seem to leave well enough alone. There are plenty of times when a director’s cut is totally justified – studio interference, a troubled production, fans just want more of what they love – but going back over old work is probably not the kind of thing you want to make a habit of.
Word is that Francis Ford Coppola’s latest cut of Apocalypse Now is the final, definitive one (and it’s also meant to be pretty good), but as this is his third time around it’s hard to believe he won’t suddenly come out with edit number four on his deathbed. There’s at least five different versions of Blade Runner floating out there, but you can’t have too much of a classic; on the other hand, rumours of an extended director’s cut of the recent sequel were largely met with a deafening silence.
But when it comes to tinkering with a finished film you can’t go past Michael Mann; the director of classics like Heat and Collateral is constantly returning to previously finished films to give them one last going over. It’s probably easier to list the films of his he hasn’t gone back and re-worked: while Collateral, Public Enemies and Thief have been left alone, just about everything else has been fair game over the years, either for a few tweaks here and there – even the recent re-release of Heat had a few moments shaved down – or full-blown re-edits into official directors cuts like Ali.
Somewhat notoriously, when asked to cut down Miami Vice to make the required running time, he simply lopped five minutes or so off the front; the director’s cut restores those missing scenes, but many fans prefer the more abrupt opening. His most recent film, Blackhat, has a director’s cut that hasn’t been officially released (though you can find it if you, uh, look around), though in that film’s case it’s more that it was restored to its original state (which makes a lot more sense than the chopped and changed version that came to cinemas).
But perhaps the biggest reworking he’s done to date is with 1992’s Last of the Mohicans, where he initially made a wide range of changes to the first directors cut, then went back and undid a number of them for the Director’s Definitive Cut.
For a director whose name is now synonymous with urban cityscapes, it’s easy to forget just how stunning this (largely wilderness-set) film is to look at. It’s the first of Mann’s epic romances, as adopted Mohican Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis) and Cora (Madeleine Stowe), daughter of an English Colonel, find their love under threat from the three-sided conflict that threatens to engulf the frontier of colonial America. There’s not a massive gulf between the theatrical and Director’s Definitive Cut but there are a lot of little changes that add up so for fans looking to compare and contrast – or just aren’t sure which version they like best – the Ultimate Edition (out now on DVD and blu-ray) features both versions.
It’s an epic film whichever version you choose to watch; why Mann struggles to get feature films made remains one of Hollywood’s more frustrating mysteries.
Written by Anthony Morris