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Remix/remodel: director’s cuts and alternative versions
© Kate Gibb

To muse on how a film might have turned out had certain decisions been different is the cinephile’s equivalent of the historian’s ‘What if?’ parlour game. We might, for example, imagine an alternate reality in which Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons had been released unbutchered, or Stanley Kubrick had decided to go with Alex North’s music for 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than the classical pieces he used originally as mere guides.

Such speculations are an indulgent game, to be sure, but they do prompt consideration of just what we’re referring to when we discuss a film that does exist in different versions: whether in a director’s cut or a studio-imposed truncation; a shortened edit or a ‘Redux’ expansion.

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This feature was originally published in our April 2015 issue

Which version is definitive, and what does that mean? Are the original intentions of the director always the best guide, or once a film is released to the public does it acquire a value outside its creator’s control, much like a song does?

That’s no doubt true in part, but like the difference between a song rereleased with a few overdubs, and the release of an altogether separate take, there’s a qualitative distinction to be made between, say, tinkering with special effects to keep pace with new technology (though try telling George Lucas), and the existence of versions with new scenes and different editing rhythms.

In one sense almost all films exist in a number of versions: films are routinely edited for screening on aeroplanes; edits may be required by different national censorship boards; and there’s the routine practice of dubbing in certain countries, as just some examples. And yet such instances usually amount to little of real signifcance – the narcissism of small differences.

The 45 examples that follow are all cases where the reworkings are fascinating in their own right. They show how the alternative version and the director’s cut have historically come about for many different reasons – censorship, the screening needs of television, the director who can’t resist the temptation to get back to the editing suite… They also show how the practice stretches back to the days of silent cinema, how the coming of sound led to different language versions being produced simultaneously, and how the practice persisted through the heyday of the studio era and beyond.

But there’s no doubt that the rise first of home video and then of DVD and Blu-ray has added fuel to the idea that a film can forever remain a work in progress, and that the release of alternative versions can be an irresistible money-spinner. A quick search for ‘extended cuts’ online reveals numerous welcome examples, such as the longer cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s much-troubled Margaret (2011), or the expanded The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), which many feel better captured the immersive grimness of Tolkein’s novel than Peter Jackson’s theatrical cut.

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But alongside these examples is a daunting list of films it’s doubtful anyone knew they wanted more of – an extended cut of Coyote Ugly (2000), anyone? Several ‘Harder’ versions of the Liam Neeson Taken films? There’s even, for the truly masochistic, a longer version of the Sex and the City movie. The issuing of extended cuts on DVD and Blu-ray has almost become the norm for a certain tier of Hollywood output, and threatens to smother the genuinely interesting cases that still emerge.

If one director has become more famous than any other for his reworkings – while at the same time walking an uneasy line between the interesting and indulgent as he does so – it’s Ridley Scott. His obsession with returning to his films began with his 1982 science-fiction masterwork Blade Runner – a quintessential example of a film in which the various cuts each fascinate, giving different character motivations, and fundamentally changing the overall tone and impact.

The 45 entries that follow make no claim to be a comprehensive survey of alternative versions – that would be impossible – but they throw the spotlight on to some of the most intriguing examples, all of which are worth seeking out.

— James Bell

1. Apocalypse Now / Apocalpyse Now Redux

Francis Ford Coppola, US, 1979/2001

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Apocalpype Now Redux (2001)

Coppola was early in the re-edit game, tinkering with The Godfather I and II to produce the chronological The Godfather: A Novel for Television in 1977. And what was The Conversation (1974) if not an obsessive excavation of the cutting-room floor; the dizzying possibilities unlocked in alternate takes?

In Apocalypse Now Coppola reached for something grandiose but elusive – the war movie to end all war movies, the definitive statement on Vietnam. “My film is not about Vietnam,” he said. “It is Vietnam.” No wonder this hallucinatory phantasmagoria always had the feel of an unfinished masterwork.

It shared the Palme d’Or in May 1979 as a “work in progress”, and that summer 70mm, 35mm and European releases came with different endings. Even then, there was tantalising talk of a 289-minute work print, sequences (“the French plantation scene”) that would underline the historical context, and – the elephant in the room – more Brando, more Kurtz, more more.

Eleanor Coppola’s memoir Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now and (much later) the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) gave us glimpses, fragments, hints of the Great White Whale in Francis’s head. Apocalypse Now Redux duly delivers an additional 49 minutes, but arguably diminishes the movie’s mystique.

— Tom Charity

2. Ashes of Time / Ashes of Time Redux

Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong, 1994/2008

What you’ve heard is all true. Wong Kar Wai takes months or even years to shoot his films because he chooses not to finalise a script; Wong takes his post-production to the wire every time and is often still shooting/editing/sound-mixing a week before his premiere in Cannes; Wong obsessively tinkers with the edit of his films after their premieres, sometimes for months.

The three different released versions of The Grandmaster are the tip of the iceberg. Wong established himself as Mr Indecisive with his second feature Days of Being Wild (1990), a film that became a diptych in his mind as the shoot dragged on, only to be released as a (somewhat enigmatic) standalone movie when the producer pulled the plug.

He went from that into his all-star martial-arts fantasia Ashes of Time, a great film eventually completed and released in 1994 – but unseen in many countries because of a legal dispute. Fourteen years later, now in full control of his copyright, Wong returned to the editing suite to “make it the film it was always intended to be”. This meant adding chapter titles, a grandiose new score (with a Yo-Yo Ma cello solo!), and a little CGI embellishment. The changes allowed him to release it as a ‘new’ film, but most fans preferred the original.

— Tony Rayns

3. Betty Blue

Jean-Jacques Beineix, France, 1986

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Betty Blue (1986)

That Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1986 screen adaptation of Philippe Djian’s steamy novel 37° 2 le matin is regarded more as a softcore cause célèbre than a serious work is partly down to iconically sexy, predominantly unclothed performances by Jean-Hugues Anglade and Béatrice Dalle. But Beineix’s version intégrale, released in 2005, complicates the story beyond the central fantasy of a human sex toy who’s disposed of when she blows a psychological fuse.

An extra hour of plot and character development permits luxurious absorption in the camaraderie as well as the carnality of Betty and Zorg’s relationship; and if his solution to their problems remains somewhat extreme, this cut renders much fuller and more sympathetic the journey he takes to get there. All of which also makes it sexier, assuming that you like your movie sex to occur between characters who seem to have inner lives as well as beautiful bodies.

— Hannah McGill

4. Blackmail

Alfred Hitchcock, UK, 1929

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Blackmail (1929)

In 1929, charged with making a ‘goat-gland’ version of his next title – that is, a silent movie pumped up with a few sound scenes to add some talkie virility – Alfred Hitchcock rebelled. Unbeknown to his studio superiors, Hitch shot Blackmail as both a silent and Britain’s first sound film, and despite the time limitations this imposed, and the novelty of the format, both are excellent. While in the silent, a creeping shadow across a breakfast table represents the heroine’s queasy conscience, Hitchcock adeptly uses sound design in the talkie to hit the same mark.

Such ingenuity compensates for the clunky dubbing of Czech star Anny Ondra. This was performed live, with Joan Barry projecting her clipped English elocution from just out of shot while Ondra mouthed her lines. This double-shooting was unusual, if not quite a one-off – Maurice Elvey also shot his futuristic 1929 thriller High Treason in two versions.

— Pamela Hutchinson

5. Das Boot

Wolfgang Petersen, Germany, 1981

After a two-year shoot, utilising detailed life-size mock-ups of both the interior and exterior of a German WWII sub, Wolfgang Petersen’s nerve-shredding chronicle of life and death on a U-96 hit US and German cinemas screens in 1981 as a 149-minute feature that merely represented the action highlights of the material.

Four years later the full picture emerged when UK and then German TV broadcast a 300-minute miniseries version – initially as three 100-minute films, later in six 50-minute episodes. With weekly credits and recaps removed, that incarnation forms 2004’s two-DVD set Das Boot: The Original Uncut Version, best capturing the slow build-up of tension in commander Jürgen Prochnow’s fateful mission, though the significant gains are in character and atmosphere since the key combat sequences appear in all the different releases.

However, Petersen’s 1997 209-minute theatrical ‘director’s cut’, saw him revisiting the material and tightening the pace for the big screen while retaining much of the characterisation. That result may still be preferred by some non-completists for providing a riveting, single-session viewing experience.

— Trevor Johnston

6. Brazil

Terry Gilliam, UK, 1985

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil may be the most ‘versioned’ film of modern times, with at least four significantly different cuts, all of which were triumphantly included in Criterion’s five-disc LaserDisc edition, and largely carried over into an early three-disc DVD edition.

The trouble began when Gilliam placed a full-page ad in Variety challenging Universal boss Sid Sheinberg to “release my film”. By this time there was a 142-minute European version and a simplified 131-minute American one. Then Universal added insult to injury by commissioning a 93-minute version for TV and theatrical release, although Gilliam had his revenge in a ‘final final’ director’s cut for Criterion that mixed elements of the earlier versions and included some revealing scenes dropped from both.

What was always a fluid fantasy, with an original script by Tom Stoppard, has since become a multitext labyrinth that echoes its own central theme of Jonathan Pryce’s everyman trapped in an incomprehensible Nineteen Eighty-Four-like bureaucracy.

— Ian Christie

7. A Brighter Summer Day

Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1991

At the heart of Edward Yang’s magnum opus is a question: in the Taiwan of the late 1950s, what is the link between a father arrested and interrogated as a suspected communist sympathiser and a son who stabs and kills the girl he loves? Yang based the film on his own childhood memories (schooldays, gang fights, Elvis records) but saw it as a dissection of a society and a culture approaching breaking point – and the not-so-elusive link between the father and the son provides the key to his analysis. The original four-hour film explores the issues in painstaking detail. The more widely seen three-hour abridgement, made at the request of distributors and sales agents, streamlines the plot and leaves gaps in the argument.

— Tony Rayns

8. Catchfire / Backtrack

Alan Smithee, US, 1989

By the time Catchfire appeared in cinemas it was already widely known that its credited auteur, Alan Smithee, was not a real person, but rather the standard pseudonym used by directors wishing to disown films that had suffered studio interference. The actual director of the film, originally titled Backtrack, was Dennis Hopper, and despite rumours that he had turned in an unreleasable three-hour cut, his preferred version ran to 116 minutes, just 17 minutes longer than the studio edition.

In either variant, this is a quirky but relatively straightforward commercial thriller, and if the re-edit by distributor Vestron Pictures eliminates some bizarre touches (notably Alex Cox’s cameo as D.H. Lawrence), most of the changes feel as arbitrary as the retitling; Catchfire even restores scenes Hopper had left on the cutting-room ffloor. Hopper’s cut was issued on VHS in the US, but the only available DVD is Artisan’s Region 1 disc, which contains the Alan Smithee/Catchfire version… only with the title changed back to Backtrack, and the direction attributed, on both packaging and credits, to Hopper.

— Brad Stevens

9. Cinema Paradiso

Giuseppe Tornatore, Italy, 1988

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Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Giuseppe Tornatore won an Oscar, a Bafta and the hearts of arthouse audiences for what’s essentially the mere husk of his original inspiration. His story of a film director recalling the Sicilian boyhood that sparked his passion for cinema first played Bari’s 1988 Europa Cinema Festival in Tornatore’s 173-minute cut, only to tank when shorn of 18 minutes for its subsequent Italian release.

Commercial pressures saw the now-familiar 124-minute cut launching in Cannes the following May, achieved by brutally excising the darker emotions in Tornatore’s rich fresco. Out went a troubling portrayal of Philippe Noiret’s curmudgeonly projectionist, plus key present-day discoveries made by homecoming auteur Jacques Perrin.

Hence, the famous final kissing montage, which in the cut-down version offers a pleasurable rush of sentimental nostalgia, proves far more complex in its integral form, powerfully suggesting the emotions Perrin’s broken, betrayed protagonist has spent much of his life unable to feel.

— Trevor Johnston

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Steven Spielberg, US, 1977

Close Encounters of the Third Kind initiated the trend for reissuing successful films with previously unseen footage, thus encouraging people who had already seen them once to do so again. Released theatrically in 1980, the ‘Special Edition’ restores some character-based moments that had been left on the cutting-room floor, but actually runs three minutes shorter than the original, thanks to the removal of several scenes, notably those involving the near-psychotic behaviour of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss).

Spielberg primarily undertook this new version because it enabled him to shoot a sequence in which a ship is discovered in the middle of the Gobi Desert. It was Columbia that insisted on Spielberg also showing Neary entering the mothership at the end. In 1997, Spielberg assembled a third edit that eliminated the shots of Neary in the mothership, and restored much of the footage trimmed from the special edition. All three versions are now available on DVD.

— Brad Stevens

11. The Colour of Pomegranates

Sergei Parajanov, Soviet Union, 1968

Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece was initially screened in 1969 in a 77-minute version with Armenian intertitles, and subsequently in 1973 in a 73-minute version with Russian intertitles restructured by fellow filmmaker Sergei Yutkevich. This naturally triggered the assumption that the Armenian cut was the ‘director’s cut’, but it transpired that it had also been completed and heavily censored by others, one major alteration being the removal of all verbal references to the Armenian poet Sayat Nova, the film’s subject and original title.

Another complication is that the surviving prints of the Armenian cut were of much poorer visual quality than the Soviet cut, making the latter a more aesthetically satisfying viewing experience. Given the absence of a definitive version, when Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation recently undertook a long overdue restoration of the film, they wisely opted to restore both cuts, although the Armenian version has been favoured for festival screenings.

— Michael Brooke

12. Dawn of the Dead

George A. Romero, Italy/US, 1978

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Dawn of the Dead (1978)

George Romero’s long-awaited follow-up to Night of the Living Dead proved just as profoundly influential, achieving its seismic impact despite being available in several radically different versions. To secure financial backing from Dario Argento, Romero had to grant him the right to prepare his own edit for non-English-speaking territories. Fans have been torn ever since between the Argento version, the Romero one, a so-called ‘director’s cut’ that, confusingly, the director doesn’t actually care for, and various other permutations.

Scored by his prog rock pals from Goblin, Argento’s version is darker (literally as well as figuratively), skimping on character development and going for full-on, straight-faced zombie action. Chiefly scored with library tracks, Romero’s is longer, looser, more playful, yet no less apocalyptic. But if you’re after the zombie who has his head bisected by helicopter blades – or the hilariously rinky-dink end theme, ‘The Gonk’, which is so central to the film’s satirical intent – it’s the Romero you need.

— Jonathan Rigby

13. Deep Red

Dario Argento, Italy, 1975

Dario Argento’s films are today afforded luxurious special-edition Blu-ray presentations, but this was not always the case; like many of his compatriot genre filmmakers of the time, Argento’s films were, for the most part, originally released outside Italy in truncated and retitled versions by unscrupulous distributors hungry to exploit the audience appetites of the moment. One classic Argento film that fell foul of this fate is the definitive giallo, Deep Red, which runs 126 minutes in its integral Italian cut, supervised by Argento himself.

Its original US theatrical release, by Howard Mahler Films, removed around 22 minutes of material, including some of the gory violence, most of the light-hearted romantic interplay between stars David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi, and the film’s haunting ‘House of the Screaming Child’ sub-plot.

In the early 1980s, Deep Red would be further mistreated on pan-and-scan VHS editions, which horribly cropped the film’s Techniscope image and, in one case, retitled the film The Hatchet Murders. Thankfully more recent DVD and Blu-ray editions have restored the film to its original length, although the English audio has sadly been lost (or was never recorded) for some of the scenes that were cut for export.

— James Blackford

14. Donnie Darko

Richard Kelly, US, 2001

Twenty minutes longer and with a different soundtrack, Richard Kelly’s 2004 alternative cut of his slow-burning indie hit arguably serves as a warning to directors tempted to let a film’s cult status go to their heads – and as significant evidence that the director doesn’t always know best.

Kelly’s cut, which he called “my ideal version of the film”, tackles much more explicitly the original’s most overtly geek-baiting elements – its impressionistic, imprecise engagement with religion, numerology and time-travel theory.

Though the different music tracks and some deleted scenes are fun for fans, the shifted emphasis catastrophically messes with what made the original film most memorable – its foregrounding of its protagonist’s emotional state, and its refusal to be upfront about how much of his supernatural experience is simply symptomatic. In adding layers of self-conscious mystique, it attempts to force the audience’s response to it in a particular direction – a wood-for-the-trees affliction common to the least successful director’s cuts.

— Hannah McGill

15. Dracula

George Melford, US, 1931

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Dracula (1931)

Huge hit though it was, Tod Browning’s Dracula looks like a film made by someone who lost interest at an early stage. The opening reel (armadillos and all) has tremendous atmosphere, the rest not so much.

Ordered to make a Spanish-language version on the night shift, George Melford embraced all the visual inventiveness missed by Browning – the Count rising in eerie palls of smoke, Renfeld screaming in the haloed orb of a ship’s porthole, hellish stripes of light piercing through fog, and crane shots that make far better use of Charles D. Hall’s monumental sets.

Though reportedly sharing Bela Lugosi’s hairpiece, Carlos Villarías can’t quite match Lugosi’s uncanny magnetism, but he’s certainly more feral. And Melford tidies up a few narrative threads left dangling by the indifferent Browning. The film runs more than 25 minutes longer than its progenitor, and Lugosi’s estimate of it – “beautiful, great, splendid” – has since been echoed by many.

— Jonathan Rigby

16. Dune

David Lynch, US, 1984

David Lynch never hid the fact that he had no control over the theatrical cut of his spice-addled adaptation of Frank Herbert’s intricate space epic. But it wasn’t until 1988’s three-hour TV version – complete with unicorn-in-the-moonlight fantasy art intro, recycled shots and just about every half-finished scene the hamfisted editors could fish out of the cutting bin – that he chose to remove his name from the credits, making Dune one of the most high-profile entries in Alan Smithee’s storied CV.

Interestingly, the film has now resurfaced in a totally unauthorised fan edit – the ‘Alternative Edition Redux’, courtesy of the enigmatic Spicediver – which improves considerably on both existing versions, retaining the cosmic extravagance of Lynch’s vision while rearranging the story into something closer to Herbert’s novel, and even digitally restoring the blue-in-blue shades of the Fremen’s eyes that the Smithee cut had overlooked.

It’s testament to the devotion of Lynch fans that he’s so well served by the increasingly productive fan-cut community: the extended cut of Blue Velvet (1996) is also worth a look, as is a recent edit of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), which surfaced just weeks after the release on Blu-ray of 90 minutes of the much-heralded ‘Missing Pieces’.

— Tom Huddleston

17. Eve

Joseph Losey, UK, 1972

Joseph Losey released three films in 1963, culminating in The Servant, though not by choice. Hammer had shelved The Damned for two years before dumping it sans press show, and Losey himself tried to quash the British release of Eve (aka Eva), reported by Richard Roud to have “suffered more mutilations, amputations, and distortions than any film in recent memory”. Losey’s longest cut was 168 minutes; the shortest he could tolerate was 135.

Successive versions, for the French premiere, then the French release, were shorter, and the London cut came in at 111 minutes. In 1966 there emerged a slightly longer Scandinavian print, with subtitles burned in, of which Losey pronounced himself “content to be judged on its merits”, and this has since been misleadingly marketed as the ‘director’s cut’ on DVD.

However, Losey’s objections were not restricted to the running time. As he told Tom Milne, “More damage in a sense was done to the picture by the interference with the soundtrack than with the image itself.” Just three out of 23 planned Billie Holiday tracks survived post-production, and Virna Lisi’s performance, which Losey had painstakingly dubbed with the voice of another Italian actress, Anna Proclemer, was in turn dubbed into American English.

— Henry K. Miller

18. 54

Mark Christopher, US, 1998

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54 (1998)

In 1998, Mark Christopher – a New Queer Cinema flagwaver for his short films – was given a $13 million budget by Miramax to make his long-cherished film about the New York disco mecca Studio 54. The movie, 54, suffered death by a thousand cuts, when Long Island test audiences gave a thumbs-down to the hedonism and bisexuality, especially a kissing scene between permanently shirtless bartenders Shane (Ryan Phillippe) and Greg (Breckin Meyer).

Their love triangle with Salma Hayek’s Anita was at the core of the story, but you wouldn’t have known that from the poorly received theatrical cut, which removed 40 minutes of material and added 30 more of clumsy reshoots, at Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s insistence.

After extensive lobbying, Christopher was finally given permission to reconstruct his original cut from dailies. This re-edit, which just received its world premiere in Berlin, is a wholly merited salvage job that gives the film its mojo back. The 30 minutes of studio-imposed reshoots have been almost entirely removed, and 36 minutes of cut material restored.

Mike Myers’s languidly hilarious turn as venue boss Steve Rubell was the one aspect praised on release, but his co-stars ace their work, too, now that continuity and context have been restored. Phillippe, meanly nominated for a Worst Actor Razzie at the time, should have turned heads as much as Mark Wahlberg did in Boogie Nights: a film whose glitter-encrusted East Coast twin has been hereby resuscitated.

— Tim Robey

19. A Fistful of Dollars

Sergio Leone, Italy, 1964

In 1977, director Monte Hellman – who had started out doing bits and pieces for Roger Corman – was hired to make a prologue for Sergio Leone’s seminal spaghetti western for a US TV screening. The apparent brief was to take the edge off the original’s amorality by transforming the lead from a drifting mercenary into an agent of the official law.

A double in Clint Eastwood’s poncho and cigar is hauled from a jail cell and given a pardon by a warden (Harry Dean Stanton) on the condition that he go on an undercover mission to the lawless border town of San Miguel and bring down the two criminal gangs who are running the place. A few close-ups of Eastwood’s eyes are edited in, but otherwise the new material doesn’t obtrude on Leone’s film, except to root it more firmly in a style of 1950s western morality that Leone had deliberately set aside.

— Kim Newman

20. Gojira / Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Ishiro Honda/Terry O. Morse, Japan/US, 1954/1956

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Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)

Ishiro Honda’s Gojira was made in imitation of the American The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) but played to very specific Japanese concerns – the lingering memory and effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and an international incident involving the crew of a fishing boat irradiated by a US Pacific bomb test are obvious subtexts for the story of an irradiated monster that attacks Japan.

In preparing the film for American release, under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, director Terry Morse re-edited Honda’s film, reordering the story and cutting back on any criticism of US foreign policy, and shot new scenes with Raymond Burr as an American reporter in Tokyo who covers the story from the ruins. Burr also provides narration that minimises the need to dub sections of the original film into English.

With a pleasing circularity, Toho revived the franchise in 1984 with a new Gojira and its foreign distributors rehired Burr to play the same character in added scenes that served the same purpose as the material Morse shot in 1956.

— Kim Newman

21. The Gold Rush

Charles Chaplin, US, 1925/1942

In the sound era, several changes were forced upon silent films. Some may have been improvements, while others were indignities – they were edited, given voiceovers and new music, played at a faster speed… All of these things, in 1942, Chaplin did to his own 1925 beauty The Gold Rush and as a result, unexpectedly, this silent classic went on to bag Oscars for best sound recording and best music. The score, written by Chaplin, is a pretty addition; his own narration, while eloquent, is largely redundant. The pathos of the boot-eating sequence, the breadroll ballet, the cabin teetering on the cliff-edge, need no exposition.

Ever the restless perfectionist, Chaplin also tweaked the plot and removed the climactic kiss. These days, we have the luxury of choice. It is notable that while Chaplin added music to two more silent features, he never again went as far as he did here.

— Pamela Hutchinson

22. Heaven’s Gate

Michael Cimino, US, 1980

Heaven’s Gate is often linked with Von Stroheim’s Greed and Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons as an example of what happens when ambitious films are taken away from their creators by crass executives. Yet the real villains of this story are those New York critics who attended a preview of the 219-minute director’s cut, and responded with such scorn that Michael Cimino felt compelled to shorten the film.

The re-edited version ran to 149 minutes , and despite being a notable commercial flop, its European reviews were significantly more positive than their American equivalents. After being screened at London’s National Film Theatre (and released as a panned-and-scanned video), Cimino’s original cut was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece.

This version, with some minor changes (Cimino has removed the intermission, as well as John Hurt’s line “‘Son of a bitch’ has always been a favourite expression in this country”), is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion in the US and (with a few BBFC-imposed cuts to scenes of cockfighting and horsefalls) Second Sight in the UK.

— Brad Stevens

23. I tre volti della paura / Black Sabbath

Mario Bava, Italy, 1963

Mario Bava’s horror anthology was his first to be co-produced by American International Pictures, bringing its US kiddie matinee requirements into open conflict with those of the more adult European horror market during production. In the end, two versions emerged, with different musical scores and story ordering.

Black Sabbath also differs from the Italian original, which translates as ‘The Three Faces of Fear’, by having Boris Karloff introduce all three stories rather than book-ending them. The only contemporary story, ‘The Telephone’, was rewritten to remove all references to its lesbian relationship and to reconceive the heroine’s crank caller as a ghost rather than a vengeful prison escapee. AIP also lopped off a brilliant deconstructive postscript featuring Karloff astride a false horse as the camera pulls back to shatter the illusion. Happily, both versions are included on the current Arrow Films Blu-ray.

— Tim Lucas

24. Jour de fête

Jacques Tati, France, 1949/1995

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Jour de fête (1949)

Explanations for the high critical esteem in which Tati’s debut feature is held tend to relate to the intricate execution of its jokes, its vivid parochial characterisations and a sound design that emphasises the depth of the frame rather than just its height and width.

Watching the film in black and white or colour would likely yield a similar emotional response, although the latter was the director’s preferred version. Tati filmed it simultaneously in Thomson-color – a volatile, untested colour procedure that was tough to replicate – and monochrome, to offer a back-up. When it proved impossible to print colour copies from the Thomson-color negatives, the colour footage had to be abandoned and it was released in black and white.

Tati continued to pine for the colour version, however, even returning to the print in 1964, filming extra scenes that would house vivid swatches of colour provided by the artist and animator Paul Grimault. Eventually restored by his daughter Sophie Tatischeff in 1995, there is something about the colour version that enhances Tati’s overall ideological vision.

With its pale, washed-out hues, harking back to analogue film colourisations of the classic era, the film resembles a faded picture postcard, which is poetic considering its central subject is a blundering postman. One of the focal points of all Tati’s feature work is that bittersweet space between the antiquated and the modern, and as postman François ineptly attempts to parrot the ways of the ‘American’ postal service, Tati too emulates Hollywood cinema, but strictly in his own small, unique and beautiful fashion.

— David Jenkins

25. The Joyless Street

G.W. Pabst, Germany, 1925

Greta Garbo was already a Hollywood star by the time her last European film, The Joyless Street, was first shown in England in January 1927. A grim tale of post-war Vienna, cut into ribbons to meet national requirements everywhere else, it had been rejected by the British censors and had to make do with a single screening at the fabled Film Society.

In ordinary circumstances, the coming of sound would have made it unsaleable within a couple of years, leaving the title a fond memory for the few hundred people who had seen it; but Garbo’s extraordinary fame earned it a bizarre reprieve, not as an arthouse revival but in London’s West End. In June 1935 it was put on at the Empire in Leicester Square, the flagship venue of Garbo’s studio MGM, then released nationally.

Pabst’s original cut was, however, an unwieldy 142 minutes, which was simply too long. Only half of the original was retained, leaving a jerky, incoherent mess that prompted Alexander Korda, Anthony Asquith and Alfred Hitchcock, among other luminaries, to sign a letter of complaint. The reaction of Garbo’s fans is a matter for speculation.

— Henry K. Miller

26. Lady Chatterley

Pascale Ferran, France, 2006

When Pascale Ferran decided to adapt D.H. Lawrence for the screen, the first thing she did was approach Pierre Chevalier, head of fiction at the small French television channel ARTE. Chevalier welcomed the project and ARTE became its primary commercial backer.

Such a state of affairs is not unusual in France, where television funding is regularly used to produce a variety of films, but what’s rather more idiosyncratic about Lady Chatterley is that Ferran and ARTE made two different versions: a 220-minute two-part miniseries that aired on French television in November 2006; and a 168-minute theatrical version that premiered four months later in Berlin and went on to win five Césars.

The longer version (available on DVD to international audiences as a ‘European version’ of the film) pays more attention to its supporting characters but lacks, according to Ferran at least, the “real-time” experience of its heroine’s emotional transformation. Appropriately enough the film itself is adapted not from the third and best known of Lawrence’s drafts of his infamous novel, but the second version, until recently out of print in the UK but known to French readers as Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois.

— Catherine Wheatley

27. Malpertuis

Harry Kümel, Belgium, 1971

The success of camp vampire classic Daughters of Darkness (1971) enabled Belgian director Harry Kümel to make his dream project, a lavish adaptation of Jean Ray’s fantastical novel about a haunted house in which the bizarre inhabitants plot to inherit their share from a dying patriarch, played by Orson Welles.

The film was stunningly shot by Gerry Fisher on fabulous locations in Bruges and Ghent, but Kümel’s producers imposed on him an unsympathetic editor who had to work fast to deliver an English version (running 107 minutes) for the Cannes Film Festival.

After a poor reception – it was dismissed as just a “horror movie” – Malpertuis was mostly seen in even shorter versions until funding from the Belgian Royal Film Archive allowed Kümel in 2002 to complete his ‘official’ two-hour Flemish version using alternative takes. Missing scenes were restored better to prepare the audience for twists to come, and the dreamy rhythm of the film was much improved, with the only significant loss being the sherry-toned voice of Welles himself.

— David Thompson

28. Metropolis

Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927

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Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang couldn’t bear to watch the cut of his dystopian thriller Metropolis that was released in the US, a butchered version that lost 38 minutes from the original German incarnation, partly through censorship but also, supposedly, for simplification.

Confrming his fears, H.G. Wells called it “the silliest film” in the New York Times. But for decades the film languished unexhibited and we had no Metropolis at all. The print that was restored in the early 70s was taken from the American cut, and so Lang’s film came to be known as a masterpiece of design, but one with a garbled narrative.

The discovery of a near-complete original print in Buenos Aires in 2008 was cause for riotous celebration, and now we can watch the film almost as it was intended to be seen – plotholes neatly filled in. However, Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 makeover, with primary-colour washes, deleted intertitles and a pop-rock score, still has devoted fans, and is available on Blu-ray.

— Pamela Hutchinson

29. Miami Vice

Michael Mann, US, 2006

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Miami Vice (2006)

First off – and this is all some people will need to know about the director’s cut – you lose the cold opening in the nightclub. When Michael Mann’s Miami Vice first came to DVD, a friend warned me about the new intro: “It’s a boat race. Feels like Mann included it because he felt like he needed to justify all the budget he’d blown through.”

An inveterate fiddler – Thief (1981) and The Last of the Mohicans (1992) both exist in different versions from the theatrical release – Mann’s other major addition to Vice is an intense diner conversation between Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) and his girlfriend and fellow officer Trudy (Naomie Harris). “If your focus is on me,” she tells him, “your attention is distracted. You will miss something coming at you” – words repeated nearly verbatim in the tête-à-tête between Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei in Mann’s Blackhat. None of the additions detract, even the much-debated catamaran race, a blindingly bright prologue to a movie that is for the most part nocturnal and overhung with storm clouds.

— Nick Pinkerton

30. Napoleon

Abel Gance, France, 1927

There have been more versions of Napoléon than territories in his empire. This groundbreaking film was premiered twice: once, rapturously received, at the Paris Opera running for four hours, then the nine-and-a-half hour version definitive in the Apollo. Gance preferred a six-and-a-half-hour cut, but Napoléon was cut and cut again for international release. He reused footage in other films and even shot a sound version.

Enter Kevin Brownlow, who starting with a tiny 9.5mm scrap, acquired in his teens, has attempted to reconstitute the whole film, a heroic quest that has spanned the decades and is a worthy rival to Gance’s mission to shoot this masterpiece, if not to Napoleon’s own epic trajectory.

Its length and its stunning ‘triptych’ finale make screenings a rarity. Most fans consider Brownlow’s restoration definitive, and Carl Davis’s score a triumph, flocking to its rare 35mm outings. However, an alternative restoration by Costa-Gavras and Francis Ford Coppola is being digitally prepped for release in 2017, with an adaptation of Coppola’s father’s score.

— Pamela Hutchinson

31. Nebo zovyot / Battle Beyond the Sun

Mikhail Karzhukov & Aleksandr Kozyr, USSR/US, 1959/1962

In the early 1960s, Roger Corman purchased US rights to a handful of Russian science-fiction films that were blessed with exceptional spaceship model effects but otherwise lacked elements that might appeal to American drive-in crowds.

Mikhail Karzhukov and Aleksandr Kozyr’s Nebo Zovyot (1959), an inspiring tale of a Soviet space mission that beats the Americans to Mars, was handed over to a young Francis Ford Coppola (credited as Thomas Colchart), who painstakingly removed hammer-and-sickle insignia from the spaceships and added a prologue which established a future where the world is divided into North and South rather than East and West. The original Russian good guys become Yank-sounding Southies.

In addition, Coppola cut out a symbolic finish in which a golden astronaut symbolises hope for the future, and replaced it with an extraordinary model sequence involving two toothy monsters which resemble male and female genitalia having a fight that involves vigorous penetration. The results were so successful that Corman did it again, hiring Peter Bogdanovich to turn Pavel Klushantsev’s Planeta Bur/Planet of Storms (1962) into Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968).

— Kim Newman

32. The New World

Terrence Malick, US, 2005

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The New World (2005)

Terrence Malick’s epic about the discovery of America and the romance between explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Virginia Indian Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) exists in three versions.

Initially, Malick released a 150-minute cut that played in New York and Los Angeles for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run. (This version is no longer widely available.) He then went back to the editing room; the resulting theatrical cut runs to 135 minutes. The differences mainly have to do with rhythm: the 150-minute version ebbs and flows while the 135-minute cut is more dreamily propulsive.

Finally, in 2008, Malick put out a 172-minute extended cut of the film on DVD, which adds some poetic intertitles, features a more intricate and surreal sound design, and restores several subplots (notably one involving a mute Indian who wanders into the European settlers camp) that make an already masterful movie even richer.

— Keith Uhlich

33. Nightbreed

Clive Barker, US, 1990

“The Star Wars of monster movies” was Clive Barker’s stated vision for his second film as writer-director, an adaptation of his own novel Cabal, about a supernatural secret society of outcasts, mutants and misfits lurking in the Midwestern backwoods. But the version that ultimately limped into cinemas was a full 40 minutes shorter than Barker’s workprint, retaining almost nothing of the director’s subversive vision.

It wasn’t until 2012 that an unauthorised 155-minute version – the ‘Cabal Cut’ – was finally screened to fans, prompting the director to revisit the film and deliver his own two-hour director’s cut, junking much of the original version in the process.

The result would never have been the box-office triumph Barker so badly wanted – it’s tonally uneven, weakly characterised and defiantly, uncompromisingly weird – but Nightbreed remains a unique piece of work, an epic of carnival grotesquerie pitched somewhere between Bosch, Fellini and Spielberg.

— Tom Huddleston

34. Once upon a Time in America

Sergio Leone, US/Italy, 1983

Sergio Leone’s epic gangster saga, flashing backwards and forwards from the 1920s through to the 1960s in the lives of a group of Jewish New York mobsters, was never released in a version true to the director’s original conception. While Europe saw a cut of 228 minutes, in the US Warner Bros took fright and re-edited the film into a chronological narrative that ran for 139 minutes, an abomination that failed both critically and commercially.

The ‘European’ cut, in which the story is linked by ageing gangster Noodles (Robert De Niro) revisiting the scenes of his youth to track down the friend who betrayed him, thereafter has held sway. But it was always known certain actors had gone missing (such as Louise Fletcher as a cemetery director) and events left more ambiguous than intended.

In 2012 a longer cut of 251 minutes was unveiled at Cannes, courtesy of the Cineteca di Bologna, with some tantalising scenes reinstated in spite of the poor quality of the existing source material. Though still available on an Italian Blu-ray, that version has apparently now been withdrawn pending further restoration work.

— David Thompson

35. The Opening of Misty Beethoven

Radley Metzger, US, 1976

In the sex-film business, the practice of producing multiple cuts to fit different markets has been endemic for decades, but for the most part these merely adjusted the explicitness of the sex scenes to match local community standards: during the mid-1970s, the so-called ‘porno chic’ era, more censorious Britain invariably saw the milder versions, at least in public cinemas.

Normally this would have been cause for severe disappointment on the part of the viewer, but when writer-director-producer-distributor Radley Metzger turned to hardcore pornography under the pseudonym Henry Paris, he also produced alternative softcore cuts of films such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven and Barbara Broadcast (1977), which offered additional scenes and dialogue as compensation for the sex scenes being drastically pruned (both temporally and visually). Since Metzger was just about the wittiest screenwriter working in porn, for once the exchange seemed halfway fair.

— Michael Brooke

36. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

Sam Peckinpah, US, 1973

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Pat Garrett & Billy the Kind (1973)

When Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid opened in 1973, critics had no doubt that the version they were watching bore little resemblance to the film conceived by Sam Peckinpah. Virtually every review mentioned the director’s well-publicised dispute with MGM, which resulted in the loss of a framing story involving the death of Pat Garrett, and noted that several actors who participated in the shoot – including Elisha Cook Jr, Aurora Clavell and Barry Sullivan – did not appear on screen (though glimpses of them remained in the trailer, and some of their scenes were restored to the television version).

After Peckinpah’s death, a preview cut was discovered and released: it restored most of the excised material, but was still missing Aurora Clavell’s appearance as Garrett’s wife, and eliminated a section (present in the theatrical edition) in which Garrett interrogates a prostitute played by Rutanya Alda. Paul Seydor subsequently assembled another cut for DVD, restoring the footage of Alda and Clavell, but removing several moments from the preview print, notably Elisha Cook’s cameo. None of the available variants is completely satisfying, but taken together they represent a major achievement.

— Brad Stevens

37. The Phantom of the Opera

Rupert Julian, US, 1925/1929

Between January and October 1925, three versions of Universal’s troubled adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s thriller were previewed to the US public, none very satisfactorily. The first was a dark gothic melodrama directed by Rupert Julian; the second a lighter, more ‘popular’ version with romantic comedy elements added by Edward Sedgwick; lastly, there was a composite of the two, which the announced composer Gustav Hinrichs could not view in time to score properly, leaving the musical accompaniment to be patched together from existing pieces.

Today, the film survives in its third version, and as a curious Eastman House archived composite which blends that version with scenes shot in 1929 for a now lost ‘talkie’ version (only its sound discs endure). Actors Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry reprised their roles for the sound footage, while scenes of recently deceased Lon Chaney were left untouched, albeit augmented with new shots bringing the Phantom’s shadow into contact with the sound actors or addressing the audience directly. The 2003 Image Entertainment DVD made an attempt to synchronise the sound discs to the Eastman House composite, with flawed results.

— Tim Lucas

38. Platform

Jia Zhangke, China, 2000

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Platform (2000)

Working as an ‘underground’ independent, off the Beijing Film Bureau’s radar, Jia Zhangke got a huge lift from the international success of his debut Pickpocket (Xiao Wu, 1997). So his follow-up Platform was a massively ambitious project, chronicling China’s transition from the fag-end of Maoism to the beginnings of a state-capitalist economy through the fate of a song-and-dance troupe in Shanxi.

The original version, premiered in Venice, ran for about four hours; most foreigners didn’t get it, and sales were few. Hence the current three-hour cut, designed to make it easier to distribute.

But Jia still talks about revisiting the film to produce a definitive version. Giving himself the time and space to rethink his films is anyway part of his process. He came up with a new ending for 2013’s A Touch of Sin (the soft-drink bottling plant in Shanxi, the open-air opera performance) and shot it little more than a month before the premiere in Cannes.

— Tony Rayns

39. The Promised Land

Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1974

Running nearly three hours at its premiere, Andrzej Wajda’s sweeping portrait of the ruthless capitalists driving Poland’s breakneck industrial revolution secured him his first Oscar nomination, but it was attacked at home for being pornographic and abroad for being anti-Semitic, the latter charge thought to have scuppered its international distribution (even though it’s easy enough to counter: the film’s Jewish characters may behave appallingly, but so does everybody else).

Believing that the film’s core message about the excesses of unfettered capitalism was even more relevant after communism’s collapse, Wajda released a ‘director’s cut’ in 2000 that was 25 minutes shorter, and which seemed to directly address the earlier criticisms. For more than a decade this and the four-part TV miniseries version were all that was easily available, but Wajda seems to have changed his mind of late, approving a high-definition restoration of the original cut.

— Michael Brooke

40. ¡Que viva Mexico!

Sergei Eisenstein, Mexico

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¡Que viva Mexico! (1932)

The one thing that ¡Que Viva México! lacks is a director’s cut, since the changing Soviet political climate of the early 1930s prevented Sergei Eisenstein from ever editing the 200,000 feet of film he had shot in Mexico between 1930-32. The expedition to make a six-part epic had been financed by socialist author Upton Sinclair, but when relations soured he refused to send the material to Moscow, and started to sell it off.

Among at least five versions, Thunder over Mexico (1933) was a hack job by future Tarzan producer Sol Lesser, while the Eisenstein biographer Marie Seton made her Time in the Sun version in 1940 and scholar Jay Leyda assembled a ‘study version’ of the footage in 1959.

Back in Russia, Eisenstein’s co-director Grigori Alexandrov made a vulgarised version in 1979 and Oleg Kovalov produced his lurid Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy (1998). Debate continues over whether Eisenstein’s original scenario could still be followed, and what his choices for sound would have been.

— Ian Christie

41. The Red and the White

Miklós Jancsó, Hungary, 1967

Following his breakthrough The Round-Up (1965), Miklós Jancsó was hired to direct a Hungarian-Soviet co-production that was intended to form part of the Russian Revolution’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

A Mosfilm memo reveals Russian qualms even before shooting, reporting that Jancsó “is a typical representative of auteur filmmaking. This movement is much more extreme in Hungary than in our country. Even at this point we regret to disappoint those comrades who expect a huge celebratory film for the anniversary. This will not happen.”

It duly didn’t, but Mosfilm cobbled together an ostensibly Soviet-friendly version anyway, removing 20 minutes, deleting entire scenes that were perceived to be either off-message or excessively ambiguous, and crudely chopping nudity and other contentious material out of the middle of Jancsó’s elegantly elongated takes. Unsurprisingly, international distributors favoured Jancsó’s own cut, although both are included (with English subtitles) on the Hungarian DVD edition.

— Michael Brooke

42. Repo Man

Alex Cox, UK, 1984

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Repo Man (1984)

The phrase “Flip you, melon farmer!” may have become popular shorthand for the heartless, artless TV-friendly bowdlerisation of great movies, but let’s not forget that director Alex Cox personally oversaw the recut and dubbing of his scuzzily magnificent Los Angeles punk debut in which the phrase was first uttered.

The result is, unexpectedly, an improvement, with this wild, weirdly appropriate nursery-school street slang adding a unique edge of surreality to the film’s already off-beam pseudo-apocalyptic landscape. The TV cut also allowed Cox to reinsert two key scenes that were inexplicably removed from the theatrical edit: one in which Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) furiously trashes a phone booth with a baseball bat, and a frazzled exchange outside a gas station in which we learn that “vended food contains all the necessary nutrients for survival”.

— Tom Huddleston

43. Videodrome

David Cronenberg, US, 1983

The straightest sex in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome underwent some modest cuts before winning its R rating from the MPAA, its unrated director’s cut withheld until the film debuted on home video. But its theatrical trimmings were nothing compared with the radical, family-friendly retelling proposed by the MCA TV version, shown on select cable outlets through the mid-1990s. The already short film was disembowelled to such an extent that its beginning and ending had to be padded with leisurely new titles superimposed over surrealistic paintings.

MCA TV’s version restores much of Debbie Harry’s truncated performance (whittled down as Cronenberg rewrote his story in the editing room), depicting her as an ally of, and occasional replacement for, the film’s corporate villain Barry Convex. Recovered dialogue scenes unmask the US military as the architects of Videodrome and a conclusive voiceover confirms the foregoing mess as “a political thriller”. Some fascinating fragments here, but Cronenberg rightly disowns this.

— Tim Lucas

44. The Warriors

Walter Hill, US, 1979

Apparently director Walter Hill saw problems to be fixed in his 1979 film about a Coney Island-based gang fighting their way home from The Bronx, in particular the tenuous attachment of the material to its “comic-book origins” and “historical connections to the Greeks” – he discussed these in the introduction to the 2005 DVD rerelease of the film, which appeared to cross-promote a new The Warriors beat-’em-up from Rockstar Games.

This ‘Ultimate Director’s Cut’ realises Hill’s stated original intention to use interstitial ‘splash panels’ to transition between scenes in the live-action narrative, and includes a corny prologue that explicitly draws out the parallel between the Warriors’ quest and the aftermath of the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC as described in Xenophon’s Anabasis, an element in Sol Yurick’s source novel.

Even the one comicbooky effect that did make it into the original, the Kurosawa-esque ‘wipe’ transitions, have been embellished here. The interruptions are rare enough to do minimal damage – though the introduction of the Baseball Furies is totally mishandled – but no one except Walter Hill could think of them as an improvement.

— Nick Pinkerton

45. The Wicker Man

Robin Hardy, UK, 1973

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The Wicker Man (1973)

Robin Hardy’s British folk horror policier exists in a bewildering variety of versions. Hardy made a 102-minute rough assembly but distributor British Lion had editor Eric Boyd-Perkins prepare an 88-minute version for release on a double bill with Don’t Look Now.

Almost immediately The Wicker Man became a textbook martyred cult film – it’s even about a cult – with Hardy and others lamenting the loss of many sequences. Though the original materials were reputedly buried under a motorway, the rough cut surfaced and several refinements of it, with varying levels of involvement of and approval by Hardy, have been issued over the years.

By the time any of these appeared, the film was so well known that the extended versions felt a little protracted – after all, Anthony Shaffer’s canny script builds up to a twist most audiences now knew. Some extended versions include plodding exposition scenes that Hardy has dropped from others and none are as well-paced or edited as Boyd-Perkins’s very effective cut. In this case, the ‘restorations’ all have moments of interest but it’s the studio version that justly won plaudits in the first place.

— Kim Newman

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