NEW YORK – Hollywood is developing a serious footage fetish, with money-hungry studios releasing longer — sometimes much, much longer — versions of classic films that test audiences' patience and bottoms.
A "20th anniversary" version of E.T. that features two added scenes is currently in theaters, as is a "director's cut" of the 1984 Oscar-winning musical drama Amadeus — with a whopping 20 minutes of extra footage.
There is also a "large-format special edition" of Disney's cartoon musical Beauty and the Beast, which includes a newly animated number.
Miramax, which last year released Apocalypse Now: Redux — allowing Francis Ford Coppola to add 50 minutes of footage - in June will unveil a new cut of the Italian classic Cinema Paradiso, in which director Giuseppe Tornatore adds 51 minutes.
Director Peter Jackson recently told me that New Line Cinema is considering a theatrical run for an extended cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, due out on DVD this fall.
What's going on? Mostly, it's a marketing gimmick to lure audiences back for a second look.
That hasn't worked spectacularly so far for the new E.T., which has taken in a disappointing $30 million during its month in re-release.
The reality is, most re-releases generally don't do great business in theaters — the $60 million taken in by an extended cut of The Exorcist was an exception.
"E.T.," like several others, is expected to clean up on DVD, which is the true market at which most of these padded versions are actually aimed.
And any additional income would be gravy for E.T., which during its original 1982 release returned more than $700 million — a tremendous return, considering it cost only $10 million to make.
E.T. director Steven Spielberg kicked off the so-called "special edition" era when he agreed to Columbia Pictures' pleas to add a new ending for the 1980 re-release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The new scenes inside the spaceship didn't really improve this brilliant but flawed film, and Spielberg excised them for the "collector's edition" version currently available on DVD. They are among the deleted scenes on the disc, however.
Many film buffs — myself included — love watching deleted scenes from movies, whether they're the outtakes from the Godfather or the four possible endings currently on view on the DVD release of Joy Ride.
If long-lost footage of The Wizard of Oz were to materialize tomorrow, I'd go out of my way to see it.
But in most cases, material is deleted for good reason.
That was definitely the case with Apocalypse Now: Redux, which included a lengthy sequence set on a French plantation in Vietnam that was entirely superfluous.
And is a longer Amadeus a better one? Even some of us movie critics don't have 51/2 hours to spare to the compare the two versions.