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10 Director's Cuts That Change The Plot

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Whether because of a dispute with the studio or just a plethora of unused material, a director often feels the need to re-release a classic (or not-so-classic) film. Often these directors’ cuts or extended editions are just more bloated versions of the original, but on occasion they represent a departure from the entire original.

By the way, there are spoilers within for both versions of these movies. Proceed with caution.

1. Blade Runner

Blade Runner has actually gone through many iterations. There was the theatrical cut released in 1982 with a “happy ending” shoehorned in by the studio. Both director Ridley Scott and star Harrison Ford hated it, and Ford has even confessed that he wasn’t giving it his all when recording a voiceover that he called “not an organic part of the film.” Then came the “directors cut” in 1992 that Scott also disowned.

Finally, Warner Brothers worked with Scott in 2007 to release the Final Cut of Blade Runner, the only version which Scott had complete control over. It contained several changes (particularly to the score) and new scenes, but perhaps the most significant was the confirmation (or close to it) that Ford’s character Deckard actually was a replicant. Instead of the “happy ending” that shows Deckard and Rachel driving through a beautiful landscape, Scott’s ending is more ambiguous and simply shows them leaving Deckard's apartment. Plus the appearance of an origami unicorn in front of Deckard’s door hints that he is, in fact, a replicant (a similar calling card had been used earlier in the film to denote replicants). In interviews about the new release, Scott confirmed that Deckard was a replicant in his version, although Ford said he believed the character was human.

2. Donnie Darko

Despite the cult success of the mind-bending film, Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly repeatedly apologized for the theatrical release of the movie, stating it was not his original film. To make up for it, he convinced 20th Century Fox to release a directors cut in 2004 that he felt would be more cohesive and easier for viewers to understand. The most notable change he made was literally adding in text from the fictional The Philosophy of Time Travel, which had previously been a DVD extra. Fans were split: some loved the explanations that filled in previous plot holes, others hated the notion that they needed to be spoon-fed the story.

Of course, some fans never got past the fact that the directors cut replaces Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" with INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart” in the opening scene.

3. Metropolis

Although it’s considered a masterpiece of cinema, the plot of Metropolis can still be a bit difficult for some viewers to understand. But a recent extended version that uses footage from prints discovered after some 80 years in Argentina and New Zealand helps remedy that –- by filling in plot details as director Fritz Lang had intended. Film historians had long been looking for the extended footage from Metropolis, which was cut before its original release to ensure a 90-minute running time.


Mostly, the new footage (which is intercut with title cards and still images to fill in for damaged or missing frames) serves to smooth out plot details, including a crucial scene in which the sorcerer Rotwang explains his plan to use robots to stir a labor revolt. But historians said it also helped them learn about how the legendary film was made, including the fact that it had been tinted by hand.

4. Salt

For a movie released just last year, there sure are a lot of different versions floating around. On the DVD release, director Phillip Noyce included an extended version and a director's cut that adds more intrigue to the film. In the original, a Russian sleeper agent played by Live Liev Schreiber follows the U.S. President to his secure bunker, then knocks him unconscious. But in the director’s cut, Schreiber’s character goes even farther and assassinates the president. In a voiceover on the director's cut, it is revealed that the new president is also a Russian agent waiting to be activated, which would make a sequel a serious bummer.

5. Payback

In the theatrical release, almost the entire third act differs from director Brian Helgeland’s original vision, which was unresolved until the release of a 2006 director's cut. The most notable change, however, comes at the very end of the movie. In the theatrical release, Mel Gibson’s character kills two top mob figures, then drives off happily with the female lead, Rosie, and his dog. In Helgeland’s version, Gibson is shot in a train station showdown. Rather than driving off happily with Rosie, she picks him up while he is bleeding and his fate is left up in the air.

6. Leon (The Professional)

In the original film, the relationship between the hitman Leon and his 12-year-old neighbor Mathilda was already a little dicey, what with the two of them collaborating on a series of murders. But the directors cut adds a whole new level of discomfort. In it, Mathilda – played by Natalie Portman in her film debut – is shown to be far more involved in the assassinations of a crew of drug dealers. She also sexually propositions Leon and plays a game of Russian roulette to force Leon to say that he loves her. Those scenes were in the original European release, but were cut because producers were concerned about how American audiences would react.

7. Superman II

Due to a number of disputes between him and the film’s producers, director Richard Donner left the set of Superman II without completing filming (he had been filming both the original and the sequel simultaneously). Notably, the producers refused to include any footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El in the sequel because of the massive cut of the box office gross he was requesting. The studio then brought in Richard Lester to replace Donner, forcing him to reshoot some scenes, rewrite others and edit out most of Donner’s work. That left a movie with roughly 25 percent of Donner’s footage and 75 percent new work (and 0 percent Brando).

The 2006 “Richard Donner Cut” brought back the director’s original vision, although the editing was choppy and Donner had to use some unfinished test footage to fill in the holes. But fans generally agree it makes more sense. For example, the theatrical release never fully explains how Superman gets his powers back after voluntarily giving them up, but the Donner cut shows that Jor-El “dies” again to restore the powers. The new version of the sequel also ends with Superman flying around the world to undo the damage of the supervillains and purge Lois Lane’s memory of the fact that he is Clark Kent. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that scene was written into the end of the original once it became clear it wouldn’t be used in the sequel.

8. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

A 2003 “special edition” release of the much-lampooned Kevin Costner vehicle doesn’t contain many earth-shattering changes. But it does introduce a new backstory for the Sheriff of Nottingham by revealing that he is, in fact, the son of the evil witch Mortianna (who murdered the real son of the original sheriff and replaced him with her own). Sadly, the special edition doesn’t do anything to fix Costner’s uneven English accent.

9. Kingdom of Heaven

By adding some 50 minutes of footage, director Ridley Scott said his new cut of Kingdom of Heaven also adds a whole heap of context for the violence in his Crusades epic. For example, a priest that the blacksmith Balian kills at the beginning is revealed to be his half-brother, making their feud more about family relations than religion. The new cut also introduces an entirely new character, Baldwin V, who even becomes king before his family discovers that he has leprosy. Although the director’s cut was widely praised (unlike the theatrical release), at 3-and-a-half hours, it never really took off with viewers who already hated the original release.

10. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and Exorcist: The Beginning

These aren’t directors cuts per se, so much as two directors using the same script and lead actor to make the different movies. Paul Schrader was hired to direct Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and managed to finish a final cut of the film. But producers at Morgan Creek weren’t happy with the result -– too much religion, not enough blood –- and decided to scrap that cut. But rather than get rid of the investment, they hired on Renny Harlin to retool the script and film a new version with star Stellan Skarsgård staying on board as Father Merrin.

Harlin’s version was released in theaters as Exorcist: The Beginning. But Schrader soon won the rights to release his own version, leaving audiences with two Exorcist prequels that both starred Stellan Skarsgard. Neither was well-received and both followed the same basic plot. But critics looked slightly more favorably on Schrader’s, which includes a love interest (that does not get possessed by a demon) and deals more with Merrin’s loss of faith.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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