I was too old to see Star Wars at the theatre during its first run. And although, obviously, I enjoyed the film when I finally saw it as a seven year-old (at least, to the point where I insisted my dad buy me all the figures and an inflatable lightsabre), it was never a particularly memorable film for me. It was nly when I was about fourteen that I got round to watching the three films again, and it was then that they captivated me ? not only because of what I was seeing on screen, but rather, what I'd heard of that hadn't made it onto the screen.
This is what really sparked my interest in films. I hadn't really been a big movie fan up until then. I don't think I even owned more than ten movies on tape, but it was the aura, the sense of wonder, the mystique surrounding lost scenes, abandoned ideas, failed concepts, and all of these unknowns that got me hooked on films. I guess I was a movie smark form the first, more allured by the backstage happenings than the end product.
Lost Biggs scenes from Star Wars. Good Lord, that tache is bad.
Deleted scenes, lost footage, abandoned shots: these are all a huge part of the movie experience for me, and in those terms, there are a number of very storied, fabled movies that come to mind: Blade Runner, Alien, Game of Death, Back To The Future. These are films that have achieved notoriety and unfathomable devotion for things that most people didn't even know about, and only a very privileged few had actually seen.
You see, that mystique doesn't exist any more. It is a rare, endangered, and rapidly dying phenomenon, propelled ever forward by the juggernaut that is DVD. Thanks to the proliferation of behind-the-scenes crews and the need (mostly promotional) to document and record every fart, sneeze and whistle that occurs on set, there is no mystique, because there is no longer anything that goes under the radar. Deleted scenes are immediately polished up and prepped for the Special Features disc. Storyboards and animatics are located for abandoned ideas and concepts. There is nothing left to discover; nothing left untold which might become the stuff of film lore; nothing left to get excited about. Well, I guess the movies themselves might be exciting in their own rights.
Slowly, the legacy of these legendary films has been raped for all its worth. Take Alien; it used to be that if you wanted to see the crab walk or coccoon scene, you would have to track down workprints, talk nicely to collectors, and find obscure fanzines and sci-fi mags. It was hard work, because it was something we were never really meant to see: this was cutting room floor stuff not meant for consumption, and you had to work to get hold of it. Which only makes having it that much sweeter.
The restored Blade Runner footage revealed Deckard as a machine, much like the lost dialogue in Alien 3 reveals Bishop II as a human. Surely we should see all this stuff? Maybe.
No longer. Now you buy a slickly packaged DVD with every kind of featurette showing every sliver of interesting lost footage. In one fell swoop, the mystique is gone. No more is there any reason to yak with your buddies about deleted scenes and how cool it would be to see them, knowing full well that you probably never will. Now, they have virtually no value. In ten years time, we won't be talking about the much-ballyhooed CGI rhino scenes from Gladiator, or even the alternate ending from Blade. Because we didn't have time to talk about them, to get excited about them, to make them the stuff of legend. As soon as the DVD was announced, they were pimped; nothing more than extra selling points to market the discs on press releases and spec sheets.
It doesn't matter what film it is nowadays; it could be Star Wars, it could be Lord of The Rings. Whatever it is, you know that any deleted scene, abandoned concept, failed special effect or idea that you may have heard or read about will never get the chance to mature or ferment. You'll never have the chance to get excited about them, or wet yourself in anticipation in years to come when you finally get to see them, because they're already bullet-points for the DVD release, which is getting ever-closer to the end the film's theatrical run.
And it's not just new films. As the studios traipse through their back-catalogues, looking for more features to exploit to the ever-hungry DVD market, the few remaining storied films are blown wide open, because old film + deleted scene = $$$. Archives are ravaged, interviews are conducted, digital remastering is conducted, and all of a sudden the magic is gone.
Thankfully, there are still some left to go.
Despite a very packed DVD release, the Back To The Future series still holds many secrets that it does not seem ready to let go of just yet. Although a number of deleted scenes are included, none of the thirty minutes or so of completed footage of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly has materialised on the DVD, and exists only in rare stills and old reports, at least, for public consumption.
"Where ya goin, McFly? Oh, you've been replaced, I see."
While its predecessors have been fairly well exploited, Alien3 remains one of the most storied films in movie history. With troubled development, no fewer than twelve treatments for the script, shot and unshot abandoned concepts, failed special effects shots and a myriad of deleted scenes, this is a film that is itching to be busted open by Fox execs. However, given David Fincher's utter refusal to have anything further to do with the project, most of these seem safely locked up within the confines of Rupert's basement.
The "Super Facehugger", fresh out of an ox's gut.
Bruce Lee's Game of Death has historically been one of the most talked-about films when it comes to lost footage, and indeed, in 1999 over thirty minutes of additional footage was unveiled to the public. However, it is certain that even more is in existence: stills of the infamous log fight as well as the missing intro to the beginning of the extra footage confirms that much. But there are also rumours of other floors and other guardians, outdoor fights and so on. All of which may or may not exist, but if they do, they are soundly locked within the bowels of the Lee estate or are in the tight grasp of the unscrupulous Lee collectors. Keeping it in the family, Brandon Lee's masterpiece The Crow is also infamous for its lost scenes, most notably the Skull Cowboy scenes, all of which were scripted and boarded, but only one of which was shot and exists only in workprint form.
Skull Cowboy, baby.
The original Star Wars films are probably the last true goldmine of film lore. Although much of what was sacred has already been unearthed in some from for the Special Editions - the lost Jabba scene and one of the Biggs scenes - there is still a great deal left to uncover, from more cut Biggs scenes to Wampa attacks and aborted effects shots.
In fairness, more recently The Phantom Menace has also shrouded itself in the traditional Lucas mystique, thanks both to the film's delayed DVD release and Lucasfilm's decision to omit certain key deleted scenes (perhaps most infamously the Obi-Wan swamp footage). Once can only hope that when the original trilogy finally does make it to DVD, at least some of the lost materials are left in the Skywalker vaults to inspire stires for years to come.
Various wampa scenes, including the Echo Base attack and Tauntaun scene, were abandoned.
I'm fully aware how this rant comes off: how can someone actually NOT want to see all this cool stuff? Who wouldn't have wanted to see the extra 17 minutes of Aliens, or the different cuts of Blade Runner, or the Greedo scene in Menace? Indeed. But that isn't what I'm arguing. I'm not saying that these materials should be hidden from the public forever. Far from it; I thoroughly advocate and enjoy being given access to them. What concerns me is the direction that the studios are heading with this: old films are being explored, legendary mystiques are being opened up to audiences, but nothing is being put back. When someone deletes a scene now, it isn't quietly put into storage for a few years to allow anyone to get excited about it. Look at the screens on this page - these shots are exciting not because we have immediate acces to them, but because we don't. Far be it for me to suggest that DVDs should be devoid of extra footage, but it troubles me that sooner or later, we'll have run out of these movies - these moments - and there won't be anything to replace them.
More worryingly, it seems that Hollywood is only too aware of this problem. With DVD sales skyrocketing and profits creeping ever closer to the theatrical grosses (indeed, as has been pointed out by the nationals recently, theatrical runs of movies are fast becoming little more than elaborate trailers for the DVD releases), it does appear that there is a conscious effort to manufacture content for new discs. You need look no further than Lucasfilm, where the bearded one “completes” entire new scenes for the DVD releases of his flagship films. One might also question just how liberal directors are allowed to be when filming vast quantities of footage that ultimately have to be “cut”, only to materialise on the DVD. While the effort is certainly appreciated, it does raise eyebrows as well as suspicions.
I know I haven't really gone anywhere with this - I guess it's no more than a 1,500 word bitch. And don't get me wrong, I'm gonna enjoy the Blade Runner Special Edition as much as everyone else. But in five years' time, when you think about all the films that used to spark your imagination and inspire wonder at what might have been, and when you realise that there are no such films left, don't say I didn't warn you.