Executive Decision Re-Edited Blu-ray Version (1996)
Stuart Baird’s Executive Decision was one of the better action films of the late nineties, with a stronger narrative and emphasis on characters, rather than just pure mayhem. Sporting a robust cast including Kurt Russell, David Suchet (Quelle surprise, a British actor playing a villain) and a willingness to break with convention (Steven Seagal dies in the first 45 minutes), Executive Decision is still an entertaining genre piece. Therefore, its arrival on Blu-ray in 2011 was keenly anticipated. However, placed on the back of the packaging of the US region-free release was a short and initially somewhat innocuous statement. “This R-rated version contains material different from the original R-rated version”. Exactly what does this mean?
Well it has subsequently become apparent that Warner Bros have sourced a re-edited version of the film for its US Blu-ray release (and in all other territories). Specifically, cuts have been made to scenes where various characters are shown holding and reading the Quran. Please note that these alterations should not be confused with cuts that were made to the UK DVD release in 1997, in which Steven Seagal’s knife work at the start of the movie was truncated to obtain a lower rating. These new edits for Blu-ray have been made to address (and remove) the presence of a religious text that is used within the movie as a prop. If one compares the original 1997 US DVD copy of the film which is uncut, with the Blu-ray release, you’ll find that the following changes have been made to the film.
At 10:38, the scene in which the suicide bomber enters the London restaurant has shots of him holding the Quran aloft removed.
Then at 1:04:50 when David Suchet is talking to Halle Berry, similar material has been deleted. This includes him holding and leafing through the holy book.
Finally, between 1:37:04 to 1:37:11, shots of David Suchet praying are missing. This includes a scene in which a copy of the Quran can be seen on top of some radio equipment, next to him.
From a narrative point of view, these alterations do not have any tangible impact upon the story, or the characters and their motivation. However, many will argue that this is not the point. This rather arbitrary approach by Warner Bros doesn’t really achieve anything of significance, especially in light of the fact that the uncut version of the film has been in circulation globally on DVD for 13 years. It also seems paradoxical to remove one element of a film that can be perceived as offensive, when the very premise of the entire story can also be viewed in a similar fashion? Exactly who are these cuts supposed to appease? I was not aware of any major campaign against Executive Decision during its theatrical release or subsequent lifecycle on DVD. Is this more a case of the distributors having a guilty conscience or simply covering themselves legally?
Warner Bros have subsequently replaced the uncut 1997 DVD version of the movie with a new release that features the same re-edited version of the movie as the Blu-ray disc. However, the uncut version of the film still remains in circulation and can still be bought from retailers who still hold residual stock. For more specific details as to what versions are available in which regions please visit the Rewind: DVD Compare website, which provides a comprehensive breakdown and analysis. It remains to be seen as to what version of the film is currently in use on video on demand platforms and TV networks around the world.
The world has changed quite radically since 1996 and certainly post 9/11 and Iraq War sensibilities have had an impact upon such arbitrary tropes as the depiction of Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorists in cinema. Simplistic action movies like Executive Decision have given way to more nuanced films like Green Zone or Eye in the Sky. However, this retro-active editing of Executive Decision remains a curious anomaly because I am not aware of any other action of this kind being taken against similar movies from the same period. But then again, I cannot easily recall a comparable movie that featured the Quran as a visible prop. As to the moral rectitude and reasoning behind making these cuts to Executive Decision, that is a sperate debate altogether.