A director's cut is a version of a film that typically is the version that the filmmaker thinks is the most true to the film that he or she intended to make. The original cutting or editing of the film for its release in theaters might have been taken out of the director's control for various reasons. The director's cut is released after the original cinema version has been shown, and it usually is available only in recorded versions instead of being shown in theaters. Most directors cuts are longer than the original versions of the same films, although some are shorter.
A Matter of Control
Many film studios give the director control over the final cut of a film. This means that the director ultimately determines what is shown in theaters. Even if the director thinks he or she has control over the final cut, a studio still might decide to cut down the film or to edit or add certain scenes. This might occur for a number of reasons.
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Ratings a Factor
The organizations that give films ratings, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), are powerful because they determine the audiences that films will attract. An original release of a film might be edited to maximize viewership by earning a rating that is suitable for children or teenagers. A director's cut, however, might include additional material that is suitable only for adults.
When a film is finished, many studios run a test screening for an audience. The audience are given ratings cards, which have numbers that the audience chooses to grade the film. If the test screening is given a low grade, the studio might decide to edit the film to increase the ratings.
Many directors hate test screenings. They argue that a proper grading of a film cannot be taken from a single screening for a select amount of people. The studios, however, typically take these screenings very seriously. Low grades mean low performances in the theaters, which translates into lost revenue. Scenes might be re-shot, added or cut depending on the producer’s thoughts on the film.
Different Ending is Possible
The director's cut usually includes deleted scenes, and there might be a different ending to the film. Studios often want happy endings to films, and this can be directly opposed to the director's cuts. In many cases, director's cuts are released by studios to gain more revenue from the films. The cuts that were seen originally in theaters might not have been the director's intended version.
When studios release director's cuts, they might add deleted scenes with the sole intention of making more money. Sometimes, placing deleted scenes back into films does not enhance the films at all. Those scenes might detract from the pace and storyline of the films. Nevertheless, if studios can make more money by marketing films as director's cuts, they typically will do so.
Which version of a film is superior is up to the viewer. A famous director's cut was made by Ridley Scott of his film Bladerunner. Scott shortened the film, changed some scenes and completely deleted a voiceover narration by Harrison Ford. Many critics think that the director's cut is superior, but audiences at the time were divided.