The second DVD release of Avatar hits shelves next week, bringing with it the third version of the movie (with an addition fourth on the disc, with edited-for-children language) in two years. With special editions, DVDs, director's cuts and everything else available to allow filmmakers to revise their original visions in public, how much freedom is too much?
Before we get too far into things, I want to say that I'm actually kind of a fan of the idea of the "special edition" of any given movie, if it's done well; there's something to be said for the ability to go back and revisit stories after the fact and "fix" things that didn't quite work out the first time - Given the rush that's sometimes (often?) involved in moviemaking, it's unsurprising that occasionally things don't work out as well as might've been hoped the first time, and so letting the director (or whoever) go back and get a second chance...? Seems like a great idea to me.
For fans, too, there's some excitement in seeing things that might've been cut for various reasons in the original release. The upcoming Avatar Special Edition Blu-Ray is a great example of that, offering the chance to see the movie's original (and, in my opinion, better) opening, which gives a little more backstory to Jake's life before he went to Pandora. And yet... and yet...
And yet, the upcoming Avatar release will be the third (and fourth, if you count the edited-for-language version that'll be available on the disc) version of the movie. Blade Runner has gone through, what, five different versions in its history? The 3D versions of the Star Wars movies will be their second and third different editions, depending on which trilogy you're asking about, and - well, I can't be the only person who thinks that the first versions haven't really been improved on that much by what followed. At some point, the ability to fix things or offer new material for fans became something else altogether - or two different somethings, perhaps - and that's where the problem starts, for me.
You see, I feel like a lot of movies these days have two versions planned from the start. There's the version that's going to be released in theaters, and at the same time, there's already a special edition cut planned for the home release, not because the movie needed "fixed" or because things were cut for time or whatever in the theater version, but purely because "added material never before seen in theaters" means that more people will shell out for the DVD or Blu-Ray. Or, worse yet, that the theater version will be released on DVD and then another DVD will be released with all the added scenes that were left off the first release because... well, I'm not entirely sure. Because they could feel confident in the geek-centric completist tendency pushing people towards buying it, perhaps (Hello, Watchmen and Avatar!)?
Where the ability to put new versions of existing movies out goes wrong for me isn't really in any artistic decisions - Yes, even Han shooting first - but in the business decision of making each one its own thing, for full price, each time (This isn't always the case, admittedly; Avatar's new edition has the original version, the cinema re-release and an even longer cut). The audience is asked to be paying for the filmmaker's perfectionism, or studio's original misjudgment, which seems... greedy? unfair? both? With the amount of information that a Blu-Ray can hold - and, also, its ability to link to live web content - there's no reason that buying a Blu-Ray disc can't offer multiple versions of any movie, even those that don't even exist when the disc was first released. That way, for one price, the fan can get the full package, and the moviemaker can get to continue to work on their projects until they're satisfied - or beyond, if that's what takes their fancy. Who wouldn't want a scenario where everyone can win?