Fans of movies love to see alternate or longer versions of their favorite movies. There are basically two different types of extended cuts for the most part, a DIRECTOR’S CUT and a SPECIAL EDITION. What is the difference between a “Director’s Cut” and a “Special Edition”?
I remember reading the back of a Laserdisc, an album sized video disc, in 1991 of James Cameron’s Special Edition of THE ABYSS, and shortly after a laserdisc of ALIENS special edition, where Cameron clearly wrote that these are NOT “Director’s Cuts”. Contractually, James Cameron had final cut on the theatrically released films, so his cut was the one released. The concerns about running time and the impact that has on box office returns is a part of his job and duty, he went on to say. Home video affords him the opportunity to add back in scenes and for James Cameron, whole subplots back into the film and they can be seen as alternate versions, and thus “Special Edition” is the apt title for these versions.
Usually a “Director’s Cut” implies that the studio or the producers made editorial decisions against the wishes of the director. In the case of James Cameron, he was fired from his first feature film, PIRANHA 2 THE SPAWNING and he did not have final cut. He vowed and has upheld that he would contractually have final cut on every movie he directs. After the debacle of what happened to Ridley Scott on BLADE RUNNER, you would think he would have similarly made sure, but even as recent as 2005, over 20 years later, he still has to release a Director’s Cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN because the theatrical version was not what he intended, although there have been extended Special Editions of BLACK HAWK DOWN and GLADIATOR released, that are not considered “Director’s Cuts” because in his DGA contract, he had final cut on those films.
Peter Jackson got proven right when he made KING KONG. During the LORD OF THE RINGS and the huge success of the “Special Editions” (not “Director’s Cuts”), when asked why he didn’t release the extended cuts of the films, he said that the only reason people say that is because they have something to compare them to, and that the initial films were very popular. With KING KONG, the main criticisms (including my own) are that the theatrical cut (technically a “Director’s Cut”) was too long and self indulgent. He even then released a LONGER “Special Edition”.