Saturday, March 24, 2012

On The Importance Of Cutting Things Out - I. E., EDITING

I've had an epiphany.

Of something I already knew and believed in.  But it was delivered to me in a very tangible way, and not only is its timing so apropos, it adds more fuel to the fire regarding this whole "self-publishing thing" that I've been grappling with.

This week, I had to watch Alien and Aliens for my "Film & Philosophy" grad class.  I'll probably be pulling those movies apart here on the blog later this week, to help get my thoughts in order for class.  In any case, I happened to pick up the Special Edition of Aliens.   It had some bonus footage that had been cut from the original theatrical release.

Some of that footage was cool.  Especially a scene with these remote guns the marines put in the corridors.  I remember seeing Aliens on TV as a kid, and for some reason they showed that version with the guns, and then years later, when I watched the movie, I was confused that no versions available for purchase actually had the remote guns.  Also, there's more of an intimate moment at the end - right before Ripley goes off to find Newt - when Ripley and Hicks share their first names. 

But for the most part, the Special Edition wasn't worth it.  Because the extra footage spoiled the movie - about twenty minutes into it. I mean, I've seen Aliens countless of times, but I'm one of those folks who really gets into the mood and atmosphere of movies, so it doesn't matter if I know how it goes.  I get into it.

And there's an extra, extended scene early in the movie that COMPLETELY ruins all of the film's dramatic tension, for me.  

In the original version, Ripley is just back on Earth, out of a job, pilot status revoked for destroying the Nostromo, unsuccessful in convincing the ever nefarious "Company" that aliens are on LV-whatever-they-called-it and that's why she had to destroy the ship, why the whole crew is dead.  Worse yet, she discovers the planet's been colonized for years, and, according to one fat-cat Company suit, "they've never complained about anything."

Cut to Ripley - presumably weeks later - her hair cut, sitting around a cramped apartment, cigarette smouldering between her fingers.  A Space Marine and Burke (smiley but ultimately slimy Company rep, played by Paul Reiser) show up with the alarming - but not unexpected - news that they've lost contact with the colony on LV-whatever-they-called-it. 

In the theatrical version, Ripley tells them to screw off, has another nightmare, joins the squad, we get there....and because we really don't know what's happened, have no idea how the aliens got into the colony, it's just. So.  Freaking. CREEPY.  

The destroyed halls.  Desperate barricades.  Torn down doors, signs of battle.  And no. Bodies. Anywhere.

All those face huggers, inexplicably in stasis containers in the Med Lab, with only a med report of how medics had to remove a face hugger from one of the colonists, who died in the process.

And then, later, when Ripley discovers the colony logs showing BURKE himself sent the colonists to that wrecked space ship where all the alien eggs are, we're stunned.  Up to that point, Burke had actually been pretty disarming, making us think that maybe, just maybe this Company stooge wasn't such a stooge, after all (though the more cynical of us may've already suspected it, regardless).  But anyway, because we knew nothing until this point, there's almost a sense of outraged betrayal, which only heightens the movie's impact.

But the Special Edition  - IMHO - undercuts and ruins ALL this tension, with an early scene at the colony when everything's normal, with some dispatcher complaining about how the Company has sent them out to check some quadrant, then we shift to the intrepid explorers in their land rover - which happens to be Newt and her family - and there's the space ship, which they've been sent to investigate. And, Newt's dad gets a face-hugger for his troubles.

So this extra scene lessens the impact of the following:

1. the outrage and betrayal we feel at Burke, because now we know ahead of time the Company sent them out there

2. any mystery as to how the aliens got into the compound

And it occurred to me right then: this is why editing is SO, SO important.  It's easy to see WHY that scene was edited out of the final theatrical version.  It revealed two essential elements too early, taking a lot of the surprise and tension away from the movie, even for me, a guy's who's seen this flick countless of times. The movie was better WITHOUT this scene.  Somebody thought so, anyway, and I'd have to agree.  Maybe I'm reacting this way because I'm so used to the original, but I don't think so.  The story just works so much better without that scene.

Ironic, seeing as I'm almost finished with the first draft of this novel, and I'm already lining up scenes - and an entire perspective - to axe from the story, simply because they reveal too much and drain suspense and tension from the story.  

Also, thought-provoking when it comes to the ever-present self-publishing dilemma.  Don't know how it works when editing out scenes from a movie, but to me, this still speaks VOLUMES about the necessity of having someone impartial and objective - and with an editor's authority - to look at a work and say: "This scene. Not sure it works, or serves the story the way it should."

Anyway.  Just some random thoughts on a Saturday morning.  Now, off to my Energy drink, cereal, and some cartoons...