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DVDs, re-releases let directors take fresh stab
LOS ANGELES -- Some directors call it killing their babies, those painful excisions to reduce a movie to manageable length or prune it for reasons forced on them by circumstance.
More filmmakers are now revisiting past works with director's cuts or special editions thanks to the theatrical success of a handful of such new versions and the rise of DVDs, whose large storage capacity opens options for refinements to the original film.
Two patriotic films -- last year's war epic "Pearl Harbor" and the 1972 musical "1776" -- are coming to DVD just before the Fourth of July in newly prepared director's cuts.
The latest theatrical tweaking of an older film is "Cinema Paradiso: The New Version," a nearly three-hour cut of the Italian favorite in which director Giuseppe Tornatore restored 48 minutes of footage, including a reunion scene between the hero and a lost lover who vanished from his life 30 years earlier.
A long version of "Cinema Paradiso" that ran two and a half hours failed to click with Italian audiences back in the late 1980s. The movie did not catch on until a two-hour cut charmed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival.
That version won the Academy Award for foreign-language film, but "in the longer version, the destiny of the characters is further developed," Tornatore said.
"The shorter version does not have the breadth of the epic novel the longer one has. The shorter one is more like a short story," the director said in response to questions sent by e-mail, his answers translated from Italian.
Among other recent theatrical special editions or director's cuts are this year's release of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Amadeus"; last year's "Apocalypse Now Redux," which added almost 50 minutes to the original release; and "The Exorcist," whose extended cut in 2000 out-performed many new films and hit No. 2 on the box-office charts.
Gripes from fans
The most successful new film cuts were special editions of the original "Star Wars" trilogy in 1997. George Lucas added scenes, effects and digital characters, with the three reissues combining to gross $250 million.
While audiences often embrace new versions of beloved films, fans sometimes gripe when a director dares to modify a movie. Small but vocal groups on the Internet took Lucas and Spielberg to task for making changes to "Star Wars" and "E.T."
"The Luddites, who I respect, because they're our fans, too, they don't want you to harm a hair on the head of the baby that they think they gave birth to," Spielberg said. "Which is fine with me, because I think if somebody adopts my movie and feels it's now theirs, no longer mine, that's when I do a good job as a director.
"That obviously happened with 'E.T.,' and they now had adopted my child, and now the genetic parent is coming back to make changes in their baby? I understand their rage against that, but it's still my baby, too."