Multiple Versions – Do We Have a Two Tier Movie Industry?
Mainstream Hollywood is all about making money. Let’s not lose sight of that fact. That is not to say that the system cannot make good movies, because it does. It is just not the primary purpose. Commercial viability comes first over artistic vision. I cannot remember a time when the US film industry was more focused on targeted movie making. Projects are conceived, developed and made with specific demographics in mind. This is because certain social-economic groups go to the theatre more often, spends more while there and are driven by popular trends. The entire process of making a movie, marketing it and generating revenue has been rendered down to an equation.
As a result of this business practise, one particular phenomenon has become increasingly more common in recent years; multiple versions of movies. The theatrical cut of a tent-pole release is driven by financial imperatives such as securing the most lucrative rating and optimum running time. The shorter a movie the more often it can be shown in one day. The net result is a plethora of movies rated PG-13 and running two hours or less. Once the theatrical run of the movie is over, retails sales on home media are driven by a different set of criteria. Hence you will often find unrated, extended and directors cuts, offering more footage. These extended versions are marketed specifically on their additional content.
Affectively the movie industry is now running what is fast becoming a two tier system. Furthermore this system has an impact upon consumer’s viewing habits. However because this does not have a negative financial impact upon overall revenue , these two very separate markets are left to run in parallel, irrespective of any wider issues they may have upon the industry.
A perfect example of this situation is the recent blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Director Zack Snyder was obliged to produce a theatrical cut of the movie that was rated PG-13 for contractual reasons. This ran for 151 minutes. However the “Ultimate Edition” to be released on DVD/Blu-ray in mid-July has an additional thirty minutes of footage re-instated into the film, which has garnered an R rating. This results in two very distinct cuts of the same movie, specifically aimed at different audiences.
Now as a blogger I do like to see some movies as soon as possible because it lends itself to topical writing. However as a film fan, I often wish to see the most comprehensive version of a film and I personally dislike seeing a watered down theatrical version. This is especially so when I know that a more interesting version may be released within three months or less. As a result I and other potential viewers often do not choose to not go and see a movie during its theatrical release. Why pay for less effectively?
Faced with such marketing strategies consumers now make their choice according to their personal preferences and needs. Younger demographics will flock to the theatre to see a movie that has been marketed specifically to them, whereas the more mature film fan will simply wait for the retail version. Either way the studio still benefits from both streams of revenue.
However the question remains is creating such distinct and separate markets a good thing? Is making multiple versions of a film beneficial for a director’s artistic expression? The world is becoming increasingly niche market, with everyone doing their own thing at a time when it suits them. Many activities that use to be shared and universal experiences are now solitary and independent. Like watching TV or listening to music. I am a great fan of choice but I do worry about the notion of the movies becoming a product line rather than a single creative entity. Will we reach a point when you and I both see the same movie and have totally different experiences, not due to personal taste but due to differing content?