A quiet revolution led by some of the most powerful creative figures in the filmmaking industry will pick up steam today with the release of a longer, re-edited version of the 1986 science-fiction thriller "Aliens" by director James Cameron, the man behind last summer's $204-million blockbuster, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
The catch is, only people who own laser disc players--about 750,000 nationwide--will be able to watch the wide-screen edition of FoxVideo's "Aliens," featuring 17 tightly edited minutes of footage, dialogue and special effects from Cameron's original rough cut.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 19, 1991 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 7 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Laser prices-- Special-edition laser releases, which are becoming big business in Hollywood, sell from approximately $80 to $120. The information was inadvertently omitted from an article in Wednesday's Calendar.
"In essence, it's a different film," Cameron said last week after viewing the completed laser for the first time. "There's a longer, slower turning of the screw. (Nearly) 20 minutes were put back in the body of the film that were originally scripted and shot. So clearly it is the film I intended to make at the time I was writing and shooting. But in post-production, you get into certain decisions based on economics."
Although Kevin Costner proved with "Dances With Wolves" that a three-hour movie could break the box-office bank, studios today still prefer films less than two hours in length.
"This is an alternate version of the movie made possible in an electronic medium where there are no time constraints, no exhibitors wanting to turn over more ticket sales in a 24-hour period," Cameron said.
Increasingly, top directors today are using the laser format as a playground to expand, improve or comment on the original theatrical presentation of their films:
* Director Peter Bogdanovich edited seven minutes of unused footage into his 1971 classic "The Last Picture Show" for laser in August, and would like to do the same for the film's 1990 sequel, "Texasville."
* Half a dozen scenes left out of director Terry Gilliam's film "The Fisher King" are being added to the end of its laser release next year. Next up, Gilliam will tackle an extensive director's cut of "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen."
* First-time director John Singleton will tack a deleted scene to the end of "Boyz N the Hood" for an upcoming laser version.
* Several sources say that Costner's original four-hour version of "Wolves," doing strong theatrical business in England now, will be released in its entirety on laser.
* Director Danny DeVito, who released "War of the Roses" on laser in September with previously cut scenes added to the end, is going to film separate conversations and even rehearsals of his next film, "Hoffa," which he begins shooting next month, specifically for a special laser version that may be two years down the road. He's doing it, he said, "just so that the process will be remembered."
In most of these cases, the directors are recording a separate voice track with running commentary throughout the film. And unique supplemental material that the laser viewer can flip through frame by frame is usually provided in the form of production photographs, original storyboards and countless pages of screenplay drafts.
"I think of this as a great way to keep an archival record of the work," said DeVito, who hunched over a VCR in his hotel room at night when he was shooting "Other People's Money" and watched "War of the Roses" over and over, recording his kvetches on a little digital audio tape recorder, which ultimately became his voice track on laser.
"Things go 'bye bye' once you do them and turn them over to the studio," DeVito said. "With laser, you can collect all the things that usually go up in smoke, even thoughts you went through at the time, so one day your kids can look at it and say, 'This is what Daddy was thinking when he made this picture.' "
Movie buffs have been singing the praises of lasers for years. Laser picture quality is 60% sharper than VHS tapes, the sound is digitally mastered and the plastic, rainbow-colored discs are tough and don't degenerate over time. The discs have never caught on in a big way, though, largely because laser machines don't record programming and there are few outlets that rent laser discs.
But with sales of laser software this year estimated at $300 million, compared to $175 million in 1990, studios are beginning to pay more attention. And special-edition laser discs, which sell from $80 to $120, are becoming big business.
FoxVideo, Walt Disney and Orion have all worked out exclusive distribution deals with Image Entertainment, for example, and are jointly developing high-price laser releases: Fox with "Roses" and "Aliens," Disney with "Fantasia" and Orion, according to sources, with "Wolves."