Revised versions strive for perfection

When you aim for perfection, you dioscover it’s a moving target. – George Fisher

Some directors seem to think that if they just keep tinkering, eventually they’ll achieve cinematic perfection. And studios are willing to pay the price.

After whipping directors to deliver their movies to meet certain expectations, studios are increasingly shelling out for DVD special editions that let loose the inner obsessive in every helmer.

For the studios, the motive is obvious: additional revenue from making the old new again on DVD. But for detail-obsessed directors, the motivation runs deeper: the chance for a “do over” under less-constrained circumstances. It remains to be seen whether such tweaking ever yields a markedly better film. But helmers can’t resist trying.

George Lucas and Ridley Scott have famously revisited and reworked their films multiple times in various incarnations, and Wolfgang Petersen recently did it a second time with “Troy.” Besides them, the do-over club counts helmers Oliver Stone, Richard Donner and Barry Levinson as members.

Stone, who had previously tweaked “JFK” for a reissue and already recut “Alexander” for its first DVD release in 2005, asked Warner Home Video execs last year whether they would support him in his quest to conquer the movie — once and for all.

“They came onboard more quickly than I would have imagined,” he says.

Stone, who rushed to get “Alexander” to the bigscreen, says he tried to trim the epic undertaking for its first homevid bow following criticism about its length. That director’s cut edition sold nearly 3.5 million discs, but he just wasn’t satisfied.

The new version, dubbed “Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut,” arrived on disc last week, with 45 minutes of additional footage and a new structure. Clocking in at 3½ hours, it also features racier scenes between Alexander and the eunuch.

“It had to be a 3½-hour movie,” Stone says. “I shortchanged it by truncating it.”

Levinson had always been haunted by “The Natural,” his 1984 baseball yarn starring Robert Redford.

He originally wanted it to open with a series of flashbacks, but couldn’t figure out how to do it in time to meet the release date for TriStar, so he told it in a more linear fashion.

Levinson broached the idea of redoing the film earlier, but the studio had lost the footage; by the time they approached him for a reissue, they had discovered part of it. “They began to find all these bits and pieces,” he says. “It was like an archaeological dig.”

These discoveries paved the way for “The Natural: Director’s Cut,” which arrives April 3 with a completely restructured first act and 15 minutes of additional footage.

“It was one I used to think about all the time,” says Levinson, who recalls musing about the opening with longtime editor Stu Linder over the years. “We would be working on a movie and sit around having a sandwich and say, ‘You know, about ‘The Natural’ ….”

Linder died last year, but now the movie’s finally closer to what “we would have wanted it to be,” says Levinson.

Richard Donner had all but given up on “Superman II.”

Fired by his producers almost 30 years ago, he was replaced by Richard Lester, who promptly scrapped much of his footage. “I never thought it would see the light of day,” Donner says.

But fans lobbied Warners for Donner’s original vision, so the studio approached him about reconstructing his version in a release timed to a major “Superman” box set late last year.

Through fancy f/x footwork, the director was able to reinsert Marlon Brando and stitch together a version of the sequel he envisioned with salvaged footage.

“There was so much I had never shot,” Donner sighs.

Petersen spent three months reworking “Troy,” for an upcoming director’s cut. Warner spent more than $1 million on the redo, which bowed at the Berlin Film Festival.

“It’s more the film I wanted it to be,” Petersen says.

The new cut is his second major redo (he added an hour back into “Das Boot” a decade ago) and contains enough additional footage that he had to get Screen Actors Guild clearances.

Petersen hopes this version, which contains more sex and violence, will become the accepted “Troy,” like the director’s cut of “Das Boot.”

Thanks to technology and market demand, studios and helmers now have an unprecedented ability to revisit earlier works. “We’ll only do it if there’s good financial gain for the studio and it makes good artistic sense,” says Warner Home Video senior VP of catalog marketing George Feltenstein.

Sony catalog marketing veep Marc Rashba says these projects benefit from the luxury of time. And he points out that fans of the movies and directors want to see these subsequent versions.

For their part, directors defend such efforts, saying they would only redo movies they felt they could improve.

Still, the temptation to tweak and retweak is strong. For some, it’s hard to let a film go until they’ve satisfied that itch for perfection.

Stone vows that this new DVD of “Alexander” is the end of his grand obsession.

Donner admits he would love the chance to tweak almost every movie he’s made — but won’t. “When you are done, you are done,” he says.

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