Renting a movie this weekend? Expecting it to be the same film shown in theaters a few months earlier? It probably will be--but not always.
As film critic-historian Leonard Maltin points out in the new edition of his practically indispensable "TV Movies," the original versions have occasionally been altered for videocassette. That may sound terrible, but most of Maltin's examples seem fairly harmless, even beneficial.
Video, in a sense, has altered something else, too: the title of Maltin's book. For the 1987 edition it's been lengthened to "TV Movies and Video Guide." In the introduction Maltin mentions the addition of a new feature--a triangle denoting whether a movie is available on video--and warns readers to look out for "tampering" in some.
Colorization, the new practice of coloring classic black-and-white movies, which Maltin deplores, is the best known of these alterations. Contacted at the "Entertainment Tonight" set where he tapes reviews for the syndicated show, Maltin said some video versions have certain scenes cut--or, more commonly, added--to the theatrical print.
"Sex is probably the area causing the most changes," he said. " 'Crimes of Passion' (the 1984 Ken Russell film starring Kathleen Turner) is available in two video versions." One has, as Maltin's book puts it, "several minutes of kinky footage originally seen only in Europe."
Another example is the tensely sexual film "9 1/2 Weeks." "I've heard that the video is a compromise between the unexpurgated version shown in Europe and the more timid one shown in the U.S.," Maltin said. (A publicist at MGM/UA Home Video, which released the video version just a couple of weeks ago, confirmed this.)
And for Paramount's video version of "Thief of Hearts," Maltin said, "They put in some of the steamier scenes that were considered too raw in the initial screenings."
Whether these are welcome or unwanted changes lies in the eye--or the libido--of the beholder. However, there are instances where different videos can be improvements.
"(Director) Joe Dante re-edited 'Explorers' for the video," Maltin said. "He'd been forced to rush the original version to meet a release date and considered it an unfinished film. He was able to polish it more to his liking for the video."
In the new "TV Movies," Maltin writes about a similar case. Director Stuart Gordon had re-edited the original version of the grisly "Re-Animator" for an R rating and wider distribution. That was the print Maltin understood to be released by Vestron Video, but since the book's publication Vestron has made both versions available.
Said Vestron copy supervisor Ed Martin: "Many stores carry only one version of 'Re-Animator'--usually the unrated one--but the consumer can tell by looking at the package."
Oddly, the R-rated version of "Re-Animator" is longer than the version with the gorier scenes--nine minutes, according to Martin --since Gordon also lengthened some scenes in it.
Maltin even suggests some variant videos he would like to see.
"I was disappointed that 'Ragtime' wasn't expanded for video. There were extra subplots--including one about Harry Houdini--that were filmed but didn't make it into the final cut," Maltin said. "And Robert Altman shot so much footage for 'Nashville' that he even put together a version long enough for a network miniseries, but the plan fell through."
Maltin is also happy about the positive effect video has had on restoration of "lost" and incomplete films. "Video provides impetus--and sometimes extra money, too."
What worries Maltin most is that video companies will find other ways like colorization to tamper with films in a damaging way. And what might some of those ways be?
"Well," said Maltin, "let's not give them any ideas."