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Under the Cherry Moon: The Special Edition

Just a few months ago, George Lucas made another bit of movie history by releasing the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition. Thanks to the latest advancements in computer technology, Lucas was been able to go back and correct and improve upon parts of his films that he was unable to afford or accomplish when they were first made. Lucas isn't the only filmmaker to go back and improve upon past work. Steven Spielberg reworked Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a Special Edition a few years later that included added footage, some deletions, and a new ending. In the past year or two we have seen many "Director's Cut" versions of popular films, such as Blade Runner (with the narration deleted, thankfully), Spartacus, The Abyss, and most recently, Das Boot.

This got me thinking. Using the latest tools in computer technology, such as replacing one actor with another (which Lucas does in the new version of Star Wars), and using old fashioned tools like a good film editor and some common sense, what other films could be improved upon? Most of us have seen films that we thought were great, except for perhaps one or two elements that should have been deleted, or at least could have been done better. Here then, in no particular order, is my list of suggestions.

The Godfather, Part III (1990)
Sure, the plot is a bit convoluted and it doesn't quite live up to the standards set by the first two films. But, hey, those are pretty high standards. What really drags this film down from being most excellent is one performance, and you know who I mean -- Sophia Coppola. I'm willing to give her credit for trying, willing to concede that she actually does look the part, and appreciate the fact that she jumped in at the last minute when Winona Ryder, who was originally cast as Mary Corleone, became ill and was unable to do the film. But now that we have the technology, I say Coppola should cut out Sophia and replace her with Winona, so that this film can finally be as good as it should have been.

Ladyhawke (1985)
This could have been one of the all-time great romantic fantasies. Rutger Haur (when he was still doing quality work) is the dashing knight and Michelle Pfeiffer is the beautiful princess. Both are bound by a terrible curse that keeps them always together but forever apart. It's the perfect date movie, and some of Richard Donner's best work. But there's one thing that drags this film down, and keeps it from being a wonderful movie. I've talked to several people about this, including one of my film professors in college, and we all agree. It's the music. This movie should have had a wonderful, classical score with lots of horns, bass drums, and violins to reflected the medieval time period. But instead, somebody decided it should have a disco-pop soundtrack by Alan Parsons. Who came up with that idea? I kept expecting a mirror ball to drop down from the theater ceiling. I'd love to see this movie redone with a proper score. Music plays a big part in a film's mood, and this is one film where the music works against everything on screen.

The Abyss (1989)
Even though this film was just released as a Director's Cut, I'd still like to see a Special Edition with the aliens taken out altogether. Because the aliens are (for the most part) friendly, Cameron had to look elsewhere for his drama and conflict, and hit paydirt many times over. The whole plot revolving around the armed warhead at the bottom of the abyss is more than enough to keep the story moving. The aliens are just an extra subplot that doesn't even fit with the reality established by the rest of the film. Let Brigman die at the end if you have to, but this whole movie could be fixed for the most part with a pair of scissors.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) or, Coppola's Bad Casting Choices, Part II
How is it that Keanu Reeves keeps getting work? Wait a minute, let me rephrase that. In the right movie, Reeves can do a standup job (e.g., Bill & Ted, Parenthood, Speed). But why does he keep getting work in serious films? Case in point: Dracula. This is a slow movie to start with, so the last thing it needed was Keanu Reeves sleepwalking (though, I don't think he was actually that lively) through the role of Jonathan Harker. Time to crank up the computers. Replace Reeves with virtually anyone who has a pulse. Terry Kiser showed more life in Weekend at Bernie's. Virtually anyone would be better -- preferably someone who's actually English.

Willow (1988)
Despite the fact that, storywise, this film is basically a re-make of Star Wars, I found it fairly entertaining and enjoyable. Probably because in some ways it's the closest thing we've gotten so far to seeing Lord of the Rings on screen (sans animation, of course). However, since this is the film that pioneered the use of computer-morphing effects, I think it's only fitting that similar technology be used to completely delete the Brownie characters. Not only are they a bad rip-off of R2-D2 and C-3PO's comic bantering, not only do the characters themselves look completely stupid (two goofy white guys playing tiny forest natives?), but they also comprise some of the worst effects work in film history. Army of Darkness had better "little people" effects, and on a much smaller budget.

Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980)
I mention these two films together because they really are two pieces of a single puzzle. They were conceived together and, for a time, shot simultaneously. For some odd reason, screenwriters Robert Benton, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Mario Puzo thought that writing about the World's Mightiest Mortal was just a bit too confining. So, when they wrote themselves into a corner, they did the only logical thing -- give him a new power! Now Superman can turn back time, levitate people, turn his S-shield into a giant sheet of plastic wrap (which comes in really handy when he needs to keep the leftovers fresh), create holographic images of himself, hypnotize Lois Lane with a kiss, and the list goes on.

The ending is the only thing that really hurts the first film. Yeah, the idea of Lois dying was good since everyone expects Superman to arrive on time, but the execution just didn't work. When Superman reverses time by flying around the world, you could hear a collective "Gimme a break" in the theater. I'd either have him show up on time or hurl himself around the sun so that it's just him who goes back in time. That's far more believable. There's also a bunch of great footage that was shown in the TV version that really needs to go back in, such as a cameo bit with Kirk Alyn and Noell Neil (the original Superman and Lois), and an extended sequence of Supes going down to Lex Luthor's underground lair.

As for Superman II, you can almost hang with it, even the giant plastic wrap, until you get to the ending again. Here, the producers wimped out and from out of nowhere comes the hypnotic kiss? Again, you could hear the collective "Gimme a break." Cut the kiss and Lois' whole "share you with the world" speech and just let them fly off into the sunset together. While they're at it, they can use computers to clean up some of the flying effects for both movies. Plus, there's even more footage that was shot for Superman II by Richard Donner that, rumor has it, is far superior than what made it into the final cut. Even if this footage can't be used, it should at least be shown (maybe a special Superman II DVD release?). Fortunately, I hear Warner Bros. is considering a Special Edition of Supes I. Warners, please take my advice and go for it.

A Passage To India (1984)
I think Alec Guiness is one of our finest actors. For many years I only knew him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I really grew to appreciate his talent in Dr. Zhivago and, most especially, Bridge on the River Kwai. However, Sir Alec is the one element that completely ruins this otherwise superb film. The problem is in the casting. Cast as an Englishman, which Sir Alec is, he would have been excellent. No doubts. Unfortunately, Sir David (Lean), for some ungodly reason, cast Sir Alec as a mysterious old Indian man. Perhaps it's the lousy make-up job that really ruined it for me, but Sir Alec doesn't look a bit more Indian than Kevin Costner sounds English. I'd crank up the computers and replace Sir Alec with a fine actor actually born of the Middle East, or even Ben Kingsley. But for a film that is centered in truth and realism, a white guy in a bad make-up job just doesn't cut it.

Independence Day (1996)
Most of the actors, spaceships, and everything else in Independence Day were put there with computers to start with, so taking something out or changing it shouldn't be that hard. I'd like to see Judd Hirsch's character killed off as early as possible, preferably even before the aliens arrive. A stray bullet from a drive-by shooting after his chess game with Jeff Goldblum would do the job. Or better yet, Goldblum could arrive to play chess with his father, and find him being carried away in an ambulance. Goldblum could then insist that all of his organs be donated, in keeping with his character's passion for recycling.

Granted, Independence Day was full of stock characters and stereotypes, but Judd Hirsch's "Old Jewish Man" persona was too far over the line. Eddie Murphy's Jewish character in the barber shop scenes of Coming To America were far more understated, and far more believable (plus, he had a better make-up job than Alec Guiness did in Passage To India). I'd take out Hirsch and replace him someone far more capable of handling a small character role, like Ernest Borgnine.

Under The Cherry Moon (1986)
Yes, I am embarrassed to say that I actually saw this movie. I have to emphatically point out that this is the worst film I have ever seen, and I have seen Plan 9 From Outer Space, which I found infinitely more enjoyable. And speaking of Plan 9, using computers, you could take Bela Lugosi's head and put it on that other guy's body... but I digress. No amount of computer work, editing, or anything else could improve Under the Cherry Moon enough to make it come near anything approaching good. However, there are a few simple changes that could be made to pull it out of the negative digit stars category.

The first thing I would do is cut the title sequence, where Prince (remember, this is when he was still using his real name) makes goo-goo eyes at the camera for ten minutes while he performs the opening number. I'd keep the music, but just show the titles on a black screen. Actually, a black screen would improve any number of scenes in this film. The only other major change I would make is the ending. After enduring the entire movie, which counts as torture in some third world countries, the ending is the ultimate letdown. It pains me to repeat it here. The girlfriend's father comes hunting for Prince and guns him down, but he only shoots him once! That's it?! Just one bullet and he's pushing up daisies?!? After sitting through that movie (especially since Prince directed it, too), I wanted to see him shaking on the ground like a piece of bacon in a frying pan, his body riddled and riddled and riddled with bullets. I wanted to see something that made Bonnie and Clyde or Sonny Corleone look like they were dancing in a shower of rose pedals. As members of the movie-going public, I feel we deserve no less.