The Tale of Two Cuts

3-19-09

Despite a fairly impressive amount of negative media attention I decided to watch Babylon A.D. this past weekend. I was in the mood for a gritty, rough kind of action film and I was pretty sure that Vin Diesel would deliver. I didn’t really get that from Babylon A.D.

Instead, what I ended up with was yet another DVD that decided to try and defeat poor reviews and box office performance by including two versions of the movie on the DVD. This is what we call the “Throw everything we shot at the audience and hope something sticks” technique.

This is not a new practice and, I have to admit, once upon a time I found this concept to be appealing. My thought process ran something like, “You have footage that is not properly edited, scored and lacking digital effects that you have decided to share with me?! I am ready!”.

Lately I have found that I lack the interest to watch two different versions of the same film during a rental period (even a Netflix rental period) or even to sit through the deleted scenes which are served up as some rare delicacy. The reason for this is fairly simple, I’d like someone to decide what the movie is and I don’t think that person should be me.

Babylon A.D is a great example of the studio/director not presenting a unified front and giving the world one version of their movie. So instead the audience is given two versions of the film, neither of which is really complete. Now perhaps the two opposing camps did not have access to the same footage, or perhaps there was so much ill-will floating around that they intentionally tried not to use the same footage — but for some reason critical pieces of dialog and even portions of scenes are missing from both cuts.

What you end up with is one cut which we shall call “The Dark Cut” and the other which we shall call, “The Less Dark Cut”. Now the only way that the viewer which we shall call “The Unsatisfied Customer” can actually see this movie and get all of the information they need in order to

a) understand the movie’s point and
b) attempt to enjoy it is by watching both of these versions and mentally editing sections from each together.

I have never seen a case as severe as this, although I am sure there are probably worse. I have seen differences with films like Die Hard 4.0 where one version is missing a few expletives and the blood splatter is toned down. I have seen differences like with the numerous versions of Blade Runner where a dream sequence or a shot of an origami unicorn is missing.

My long-winded point I am trying to make here is that typically when studios and directors do this nonsense the cuts that are ultimately released differ in such slight ways that it is rather obvious as to why certain scenes, lines or shots were scrapped. The studio wanted a PG-13 rating or felt that shooting the dog would upset the audience too much. What is going on with Babylon A.D. is like being served up three-quarters of a movie in either version and being told “It’s not my fault, blame the other guy.”

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