The rumors may have begun as early as 1990 when The Exorcist III immediately struggled at the box office and with critics. There was a superior cut called Legion somewhere out there, writer-director William Peter Blatty’s ultimate vision. As the years turned to more than two decades, fans anxiously waited. All they had were some screenshots, a few fleeting seconds in one of the early trailers which included footage not in the theatrical cut, and stories from people who had seen the script to ponder “what should have been”. It’s now 2016, and we have the cut of Legion. While it still seems a bit incomplete, we cannot be surprised. In an almost unprecedented move, Shout! Factory did what it could, using whatever footage they could find, and put it together in a way that the story would still make sense. Whether you like the finished product or not, after 26 years of waiting, their effort was more than commendable. While this does in fact bring about an end to the wondering, it also marks the end of an era: we may never again have a search for a “lost cut” of a feature film of this magnitude.
Since the invention of film, we have seen movies outright lost to time, studios editing out major portions of a director’s work, or sometimes changing the cast/crew and re-shooting altogether. Stuff ends up on the cutting room floor, as they say, sometimes never seen again. Sometimes. We have special editions, collector’s editions, extended cuts, and director’s cuts. Some took years, others came right out with the initial home releases. Every situation was a little different. The footage in question could have been thought lost, in studio limbo, or right there all along just waiting for the budget and approval to re-insert it. But in this digital age, where film is no longer stored in cans, we will never again have a moment like this down the line.
At no point in the coming history of movie making will a studio be able to throw out or misplace footage. At no point will a mad scramble out of desperation be made for VHS dailies of certain scenes which then need to be restored and spliced into the regular film. Everything will be preserved digitally, for eternity. That’s not to say we will never again have major director’s cut releases because that comes down to rights issues and budgetary constraints, but said footage will never be “lost”.
Fans across all genres have their favorite movies which have been through this. I waited eight years to see the full version of Gods and Generals, which was an hour longer. Alexander (2004) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005) saw significant additions, but both were available almost immediately upon DVD release. However, I am still waiting 12 years now to see John Lee Hancock’s full cut of The Alamo, and Legion die-hards waited an unfathomable 26 years.
Morgan Creek should have done with Blatty and Legion what they did with Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Ironically, this is the other instance in this franchise where the director’s vision was not good enough, or to be blunt, commercially viable and violent enough. But, they righted a wrong. Even though they fired the director of Dominion, replaced most of the cast, and re-shot what would end up being the entire movie, they did allow Paul Schrader the chance to work on his version and release it straight to home video. While they robbed him of a chance to have such a major project in theaters, fans did not have to wait. This was the beginning of the digital age. Funny enough, it was his “bad” version which has a higher score on IMDB. I would be curious to see what Legion would do with its own page.
Director’s cuts and lost cuts have gained notoriety over the years. Some are legendary. But as my friend would say, “Them days are over”. For better or for worse, we are in the era of instant gratification and we will never have a situation like this ever again.
More on my coverage of The Exorcist III director’s cut can be found here.