More is More: Owl and Bear’s Favorite Director’s Cuts

With the increasing popularity of internet streaming, DVDs may not be long for this world. The first quarter of 2011 saw a 20% drop in DVD sales, the Blu-Ray format hasn’t rescued the the flagging market, and even Netflix is moving away from those antiquated plastic discs in favor of the easier streaming model.

How did this happen? When they were first introduced in the ’90s, DVDs were a film lover’s dream — not just because of their superior quality, but because of all those glorious special features. Supplemental bonuses like commentaries, deleted scenes, and director’s cuts made us feel less like boobs as we watched the tube, enriching our knowledge and maybe even our appreciation of cinema.

But now, it seems as though a strange exhaustion has set in. Special features are typically nowhere to be found when you opt for internet streaming, and no one seems to mind. Perhaps a decade of George Lucas-style feature escalation (“2-Disc Special Edition!” “3-Disc Collector’s Edition!” “6-Disc Ultimate Limited Collector’s Edition!”) soured viewers on what was once a fun and novel way to dig more deeply into a movie.

If any one of those features in particular has worn out its welcome, it’s the fabled director’s cut. Once heralded as a victory for artistry over studio interference, in reality director’s and unrated cuts tend to add layers of unnecessary bloat to once-lean theatrical versions of films (Cinema Paradiso being one of the most egregious examples). They can also excise the things you loved about a movie, such as the removal of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels” from the beginning of Donnie Darko or the baffling erasure of dialog and score from Last of the Mohicans. Or, in the worst cases, director’s cuts are cynical marketing gimmicks that make already bad films even worse. After all, does the world really need longer versions of Terminator: Salvation or Saw V?

Of course, they’re not all bad, and that brings us at long last to our point. For your enjoyment, we present to you:

Owl and Bear’s Top 10 Director’s Cuts: The Director’s Cut

Amadeus – Definitive proof that you can’t have too much of a good thing. The director’s cut of Milos Forman’s epic Mozart biography improves upon the already superb theatrical version by adding more glorious music, shedding more light on its characters, and — because why not — throwing in some nudity.

Dances With Wolves: Changing a 3-hour movie into a 4-hour one might seem like an exercise in sadism, but every moment of Kevin Costner’s extended version is filled with the great elements — majestic scenery, moving score, and unforgettable performances — that earned his film a Best Picture Oscar. We wouldn’t cut a single frame.

Aliens/Terminator 2/The Abyss: James Cameron has an excellent track record with director’s cuts. Thanks to added scenes like Ripley learning about her dead daughter in Aliens, Sarah Connor being visited by the ghost of Kyle Reese in T2, and the epic, I-can’t-believe-they-cut-that tidal-wave ending in The Abyss, these three extended versions of his films are all-around excellent, and should permanently replace the theatrical versions in your collection.

Blade Runner: Ridley Scott was forced to cut scenes and add a laughable voiceover from star Harrison Ford to the theatrical version of his sci-fi masterpiece, but finally got to right those wrongs — and spark endless hours of “Is or isn’t Deckard a replicant?” fanboy debate thanks to an origami unicorn — with his fantastic director’s cut. A “Final Cut” released by Scott in 2007 added even more changes.

Robocop: Paul Verhoeven’s original version of his 1987 dystopian action thriller earned an X rating for its over-the-top violence. The R-rated cut that most people have seen is far from kid-friendly, but it’s nothing compared to the sheer brutality of the director’s cut. Released as a now-out-of-print DVD by the Criterion Collection.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: All three films in Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy were indulged with partially polished, extended cuts on DVD, but Fellowship is the only one where the padded running time isn’t a liability. Stick to the theatrical versions of The Two Towers and especially the interminable Return of the King, but this excellent cut of Fellowship should be the standard.

Almost Famous: The extended “Bootleg Cut” of Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical ode to music and growing up is even more affecting and lovable than the original.

Natural Born Killers: The director’s cut of Oliver Stone’s anarchic media satire adds even more gore and carnage to an already blood-drenched film, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, did we forget any? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.

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