I was fortunate enough to see Apocalypse Now during its recent IMAX rerelease. It was advertised as the “Final Cut,” like the release Blade Runner received on its 25th anniversary. But Coppola had already recut and rereleased the film 18 years ago, and this version completely removed one of the new scenes from Apocalypse Now: Redux. Finally, the legendary making of stories surrounding the film was already revealed in the documentary Heart of Darkness. Surely, an IMAX rerelease of Apocalypse Now was nothing more than a gimmick to commemorate its 40th anniversary and to make people forget that Francis Ford Coppola’s last major film release was 22 years ago.
I was wrong. Seeing Apocalypse Now in IMAX was like watching a completely different film. Yes, the movie was effective when I first got the Complete Dossier version on DVD. But Apocalypse Now was always meant to be bigger than life. It was supposed to be seen on the biggest screen possible so viewers could really appreciate what war was like to the filmmakers. Seeing the movie on the big screen also highlighted the black comedy that was present in the film. The Flight of the Valkyries scene is now so loud that its overpowering and everything outside the helicopter attack seems meaningless. It makes Col. Kilgore’s obsession with surfing seem even more ridiculous. I could barely hear what he was saying over the bombs and the few words I did catch were worthless and pathetic. Seeing Apocalypse Now in IMAX was the first time I truly felt what Francis Ford Coppola wanted me to feel.
The experience was incredible and made me thing about what other films I wanted to see get the same treatment. For most of its existence, movies were intended to be viewed in a theater. Despite what many movie directors will tell you, movies are not subtle. To be effective, a director’s vision must be grand and bombastic.
But there’s an entire generation (of which I’m undoubtedly a member of) who only knows certain films from their home video releases. I’m hoping more studios follow the Apocalypse Now example and rerelease films in IMAX. And I have five suggestions for them. These are films with missing footage that could be reinserted for the presentation or just movies that I believe would gain a bigger audience from being viewed on the big screen. I’m not sure if it would work for all of them, but I believe it will.
Once Upon a Time in America– Once Upon a Time in America was Sergio Leone’s dream project. Unfortunately, he saw a lot of the footage he shot for its Cannes premiere cut. But it still had a mammoth running time of almost four hours and was praised for being the epic masterpiece it was. But then it was cut even further for the U.S. and became in incomprehensible mess.
Luckily, that latter version has seemingly disappeared forever, and the original Cannes premiere version is the one available now. But even that may not be everything. Leone wanted to test the boundaries of what a film could be and wanted to release a six-hour version (divided into two three-hour films). He chopped it down to four and a half hours, but even that version never saw the light of day. There was an attempt to restore it in 2012, but all we ended up with was eighteen minutes of new scenes that were in such poor shape they were barely watchable.
I want the release of the final cut of Once Upon a Time in America. And I want it to be an event and the only way that can happen is with an IMAX rerelease. Even if they can’t salvage the deleted material and make it look as good as the rest of the film, the IMAX release would allow viewers to get lost in the old New York neighborhoods and experience the sorrow of Ennio Morricone’s underrated score.
That last part is important because I don’t believe the relationship between a director and a composer has ever been as strong, barring maybe John Williams and George Lucas. The two complemented each other perfectly, but the score can be easily separated into its own piece. I think IMAX would be the best place to showcase this element. Maybe Ennio Morricone would finally be as popular as Williams and we can finally see Leone’s final film as he intended.
Kill Bill: The Whole Affair – Kill Bill was the film that helped turn a “two part” movie into a mainstream idea. Yet Tarantino always promised he meant to create a single film and even the initial teaser trailer did not indicate the movie would be split up. And the combined cut of the film exists. Tarantino has screened it at the New Beverly. But for the most part it’s not available to the public.
In other words, the complete Kill Bill something that was practically tailor made for the Apocalypse Now: Final Cut treatment.
Kill Bill may be the most important film for Tarantino in his filmography. It’s when he started to move away from indie drama occasionally peppered with graphic violence and moved straight into genre territory, be it westerns or WWII action films. It shouldn’t have worked. The genres Tarantino was spoofing had not been in the mainstream eye for decades, if they had ever been there at all. But it does, thanks to a great performance by Uma Thurman and an obsession with replicating the old-fashioned special effects Asian films used during Tarantino’s youth.
It’s the latter that would really stand out if The Whole Affair were ever released to a mass audience. Can you imagine seeing a 4k restoration of the classic Crazy 88 fight on the biggest screen possible? In full color? What about the Pai Mei training scenes? And what about the classic pop music Tarantino scores his films with? He’s been praised almost as much for his soundtracks as for his films. Could you imagine sitting down at hearing the opening guitar chords for “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)?”
Tarantino is claiming his next film will be his last. I doubt he’ll be able to stay away from the adulation that his film career brought him. Revisiting and recutting his films for IMAX may be what he ends up doing. And he may get more out of it than another chance to get back in the spotlight.
The Thief and the Cobbler – This movie could have been one of the greatest animated films of all time. It was in production for decades as director Richard Williams worked on TV movies and work for hire jobs to fund his masterpiece. But after more than twenty years of work, the film was taken away from him by his new production company that finished the film as cheaply as possible, adding as many dumb songs and unnecessary dialogue as possible. It bombed and ruined Williams’ career.
But a bootleg workprint of Williams’ original version somehow made it out into the wild. It showed what Williams had in mind and why he devoted so many years to making the first true epic of animated cinema.
People loved the workprint. Even Roy Disney wanted to see a restored version and actively pushed for it before he the company. AMPAS has preserved the workprint in their archives and there is a very popular fan restoration called the “Recobbled” cut on YouTube that has gone through four iterations.
One of the most notable things about the film is that it was drawn “on ones” instead of the more traditional “on twos” that studios like Disney used. Basically, for the 24 frames that made up a second of film, animation studios would draw half of them to save time, money, and effort. Not Williams. His animators drew every frame that would make up that second. And they were doing it without the aid of any computers. There’s only one other film (Akira) that has managed to do that.
I’ve never seen the theatrical version, but I did see the Recobbled cut. If you watch the film with that knowledge, its visual impact is amazing. The titular characters are mostly silent because the animation was meant to make up for the lack of dialogue. The music isn’t memorable to me (it was never meant to be a musical) but the visual designs, including the 3D chase down the spiral staircase, stick with me to this day. But we’ve only been able to watch it on YouTube.
In an age where even The Other Side of the Wind sees the light of day after being buried for 40 years, why shouldn’t The Thief and the Cobbler see a new release? And not just a new release, but a release that allows an audience to see the innovative things Williams’ animation team was doing? Yes, it probably would not be a commercial success. But did anyone really think a second recut of Apocalypse Now was going to make bank at the box office?
The Thief and the Cobbler should be one of the most important animated films of all time. But, thanks to studio politics and an inability to understand what Williams was trying to accomplish, it’s a minor footnote for cult film fans. Maybe seeing it in IMAX will finally allow the movie to receive a tiny portion of the fandom it deserves.
The Qatsi Trilogy – Those of you who have seen Godfrey Reggio’s legendary art film trilogy will know why it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. For those who don’t know, The Qatsi Trilogy is a series of films completely made of images of modern life to show humanity’s relationship with the planet and with each other. It’s all done without dialogue and without a plot. The only thing we hear is the spoken title and Phillip Glass music.
It sounds like the most pretentious thing that anyone has ever created, but the film is one of the most effective films about the effect our society has on our world. It’s been imitated many times in other films and music videos, but the original trilogy has never been equaled. Besides, its themes of how humanity is separating itself from the world is particularly relevant today.
I’m unaware of any unused footage from the trilogy. But when the film never really received a wide release. It played at film festivals and played at Radio City Music Hall in New York. But it never played on more than 50 theaters in the U.S. and was unavailable on home video for years.
I’m genuinely surprised it hasn’t gotten a major rerelease considering the cult fascination around it. Plus, it seems like a tailor-made film to test what IMAX and modern theaters can do. The visuals beg to be constantly upgrade so they look as rich as possible. And Glass’ score has already been borrowed for other films to loan them prestige.
Sitting in an IMAX theater to watch these films would be a completely new experience. And it’s an experience a modern audience needs to have as we’re trying to wrap our minds around our place and future on Earth.
The Thin Red Line – The legendary Terrence Malick could spend years on a single film. His visual style has rightly been praised for his impeccable eye on nature. And while his output these days is a standard one film every two or three years, when The Thin Red Line was released it was treated as an event. Malick hadn’t made a film in twenty years and spent months in the editing room putting his film together from the mountain of footage he shot. (Sound familiar?)
More than 20 years later, Malick’s The Thin Red Line isn’t discussed nearly as much as I would expect. People I’ve spoken to think it takes place during the Vietnam War if they’ve heard of it at all. It’s deleted footage, which showcased an entirely different character as the film’s protagonist, has become almost as legendary as the film itself. People are almost entirely focused on Tree of Life now (which was in development in longer than The Thin Red Line) when they’re talking about Malick’s place in cinema.
That’s a mistake, because The Thin Red Line is a film that’s as important to Malick’s filmography. He doesn’t have the same goals Coppola did in Apocalypse Now. While Coppola wanted to discuss the absurdity of war and the army, Malick looks at war the same way Godfrey Reggio looked at humanity. It’s a part of existence. The Thin Red Line is an existential examination of war where the destruction of trees and nature is seemingly just as bad as the death of a soldier. There are many shots of bullets cutting through foliage and killing animals, as we also see predators who have done the same things to survive in the nature Malick loves.
The Thin Red Line received a re-release on home video from The Criterion Collection that included a restored picture and 15 minutes of deleted scenes. It’s one of the most beautiful home video releases ever. But it still feels incomplete with the way it handles the missing footage. There’s an entirely different version of The Thin Red Line out there that would be incredible to explore.
Even if an IMAX rerelease was just the original theatrical version, there would be enough to justify its existence. Malick seemingly requires his films to be viewed on the biggest screen possible to get the maximum impact. The Thin Red Line was seemingly shot in the style of a David Lean epic, where it required a big screen to truly understand what the filmmaker had in mind. Those static shots of flowers become more poignant when they’re just as big as the Hollywood superstars they’re meant to be compared to. I don’t recall the score being particularly memorable, but the sound effects are as important as they were for Apocalypse Now. The overwhelming presence of explosions is meant to destroy the serenity of the natural world. I think rereleasing The Thin Red Line on IMAX will help it regain its audience. And if the producers and Malick use it as an opportunity to give us a glimpse at the lost scenes, even better.