Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Payback (Director's Cut) Vs. Payback (Theatrical Version)

Any time I hear about Director's Cuts and Theatrical versions I normally just sort of go into a "wait and see" mode. Because some films are needlessly butchered by directors just as often as they are butchered by studios. I mean, how many "unrated" or "extended" versions of decent movies have you watched that have been reduced to less than mediocre thanks to five or ten minutes of essentially pointless footage?

But sometimes, and this is a rarity, both versions of a film are as valid as the other. They are similar and contain a lot of the same footage, but they are so far different that they become completely different. And the weird thing is, they are both good. I really can't think of too many situations like this. The director's cut is a lot truer to the Richard Stark book and Mel Gibson's character is quite a bit harder and meaner, too. That's the way Parker (although he's Porter in the movie) should be, too. The man ain't likeable and he doesn't have a sense of humor. He treats women like shit and he'll kill people with his bare hands. Humor is one thing the theatrical version tried to add in courtesy of the Mel Gibson voice over and the weird theatrics of Lucy Liu. 

But the director's cut strips away that voice over and much of the humor. This movie is quite a bit more "stark" even if it isn't as violent as the 1999 version. 

The blue-looking black and white type of feel the theatrical version has is also done away with in favor of a more realistic but also gritty colorized look. 

The studio shunned Brian Helgeland's original view of the film in favor of a more Mel Gibson-sympathetic vehicle. Yes, once upon a time Mel Gibson was box office gold and folks didn't think Gibson had it in him to play a hardcore asshole. Well, Helgeland's view is restored and so is his original ending. Trust me, the final two thirds of the director's cut are so different that the Kris Kristofferson character doesn't even appear in the director's cut. The bad guy Bronson is actually voiced by a woman. 

And the director's cut of the film is actually a variation of the ending of the novel the film is supposed to be based on. So that's a plus.
Ironically, this picture for the theatrical version
appears to be from the final scene of the director's cut

But both versions work well for what they try to achieve. Maybe they aren't great or instant classics, but they are good and could appeal to different crowds of folks. If you want something gritty but humorous then watch the theatrical version. If you want to see Mel Gibson beat the dog shit out of Deborah Unger and then kill a guy in cold blood for insulting Maria Bello then watch the director's cut. 

One more thing I should note is that the director's cut not only has a different ending, a few alternate scenes, some completely different music, no Mel Gibson torture scene, and a completely different look... it is also about eleven minutes shorter than the theatrical version. Radical, right? No "extended version" here. And with the exception of maybe the beating of Deborah Unger (which might piss of some activists), this film is a lot less violent. So no "unrated" stuff, either. 

My advice? Buy and read the book and then buy the import blu-ray that includes both versions and then watch them. They're all a bit different but they are all pretty good and you'll undoubtedly love the book the best. But you'll enjoy the movies as well. 


  1. I agree - I like both versions of this movie.

    Some other notable director cuts:

    Blade Runner - The theatrical version is good but the director's cut is far superior (but the theatrical version does have its fans that swear by it). The studio thought that this movie was too complex for the moron public to understand (when in truth, it was the moron studio execs who didn't understand) so they decided that Harrison Ford needed to do a voice over narration explaining everything and they tacked on the standard happy ending. The Ridley Scott version is much better and has no narration and the bleak ending.

    Aliens - The movie was over 2 1/2 hours long so the studio chopped out over 30 minutes of (often crucial) story. The directors cut is a long haul but it's worth it.

    Spartacus - They did a great restoration of this movie. There was a classic scene with Lawrence Olivier and Tony Curtis cut from the original because it was too racy. The footage was found but it had no sound and Anthony Hopkins dubbed in Olivier's lines and Tony Curtis was still alive and did his. This is a magnificent flick that you need to see.

    There are actually a lot of great director's cuts out there but the problem is that now studios are using the term as a marketing tool to trick people into buying extra versions.

    1. That must be the version of Spartacus I own then. Because I know exactly what scene you're talking about. Still haven't seen Blade Runner.