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Statement concerning THE LAST EMPEROR (Criterion Collection)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Jan 29, 2008.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Written by the set’s producer Kim Hendrickson with a quote from Bertolucci, this recently posted to the “ON FIVE” blog on www.criterion.com.

    We've received a number of letters recently inquiring about the various versions of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. I've been immersed in the film for several months now and wanted to clarify a few misconceptions.

    When I started working on the project, I began with the assumption that we would be releasing both versions of the film--the original theatrical version (165 minutes, on the NTSC version) and the "director's cut" (218 minutes, NTSC). Knowing that mastering would be the first step in the process, I reached out to the cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, as we wanted him to be involved in a new HD transfer of the film for our release. He wrote back right away, mentioning that he had supervised a 2K transfer of the film in Rome a year or so back. I had accumulated the various European DVD releases of the film--all of which featured both versions--so I asked him which version he had transferred. His response was surprising. He said that the director-approved version of the film (and the one he supervised) was the one we all knew from seeing it screened in theaters in 1987--the 165-minute version.

    Not long after we began corresponding, Storaro came to New York, and when we met he explained the story behind the two different cuts. The filmmakers had been required to deliver a four-hour television version as part of their original deal. They delivered four 50-plus-minute episodes, accounting for the 218-minute length. Gabriella Cristiani, the editor, and Bertolucci then continued editing until they had the picture they wanted. The film screened in movie theaters in 1987--and which swept the Oscars--is Bertolucci's final cut.

    Because we wanted this to be a "director-approved" release, I contacted Bertolucci, and he confirmed the above with the following response, which I cherish:

    "I would be very pleased to present the theatrical version for The Last Emperor, but I'm perplexed on presenting the director's cut, because I wouldn't know what else to say about a version that in my opinion is not much different from the other one, just a little bit more boring (as very often the director's cut can be). That's my sincere feeling."

    It seems that in the past few years, the television version has been improperly marketed as the approved "director's cut." Our four-disc edition will also include this longer version, which is fascinating in its own right, but it will be called precisely what it is--the television version. In the past, we've released television versions of films (Fanny and Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage, to name two) that were the directors' preferred cuts. In this case, we wanted to show the alternative--the different ways a director can refine and achieve his final vision.
     
  2. PaulDA

    PaulDA Well-Known Member

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    The assumption, at least among the general public, seems to be that the "Director's Cut" is always the LONGER version, when available. I'm glad you're able to illustrate this is not always the case. The same applies for Ridley Scott's extended Gladiator (he specifically states in the introduction that the theatrical cut is his "director's cut") and I believe the same applies to the LOTR theatrical cuts (I'm pretty sure I've seen such a comment attributed to Peter Jackson, though I'm not certain).

    In any event, it is always enjoyable to get this kind of information and I look forward to adding this to my collection.
     
  3. Bob Cashill

    Bob Cashill Well-Known Member

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    This is one case, however, where I very strongly feel that the longer cut is the better one. The theatrical version felt slimmed down to me, as if something was missing. I'm glad both will be present but I can't imagine choosing the shorter one over the far more immersive longer one, which is the one that sold me on a film I had previously only respected, and that only begrudgingly. (Per Bertolucci, I thought it was boring.)
     
  4. Chris S

    Chris S Well-Known Member

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    My thoughts exactly. This is the reason that I so cherish the work that Criterion puts forward with their releases. They take the time to talk to those involved with the film, they don't pander to the "super special ultimate edition" mentality and they present their films with some truly great DVD releases. I've had this title on pre-order for quite a while and am very eager to watch it.
     
  5. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    This could be in the running for one of 2008's "releases of the year."

    I am very much looking forward to this.

    Of course I wish it were being released on Blu-ray. Or, that at least the re-mastered SD-version also had a less-expensive theatrical-cut-only release to hold me over so that I wouldn't feel so bad when I want to double-dip on the eventual HD release. [​IMG]
     
  6. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Well-Known Member

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    Isn't Image supposed to come out with a stripped down movie-only DVD around the same time? They had a deal worked out with the Recorded Picture Company so that Criterion would do the all-out ultimate edition for several films while Image would release remastered movie-only versions.
     
  7. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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  8. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I've always personally preferred the longer cut as a more cohesive and satisfying experience. The two seem quite different and I'm pleased that both will be presented albeit in SD at this point, and not HD, where this film will shine.

    Just as importantly, kudos to Criterion's Kim Hendrickson for doing the research and, in what has become SOP for Criterion, getting to the heart of the matter, and thereby "printing the truth."

    RAH
     
  9. JulianK

    JulianK Well-Known Member

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    I second that. It's about time Criterion got off the fence.

    I'm trying not to buy any SD movies any more, and certainly not titles like this, where I already have a pretty good edition on DVD (the UK two-disc set), and where it would definitely be a title I'd buy in HD if it was available.
     
  10. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Well-Known Member

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    I third that. Any word from Criterion on BD? I'll be first (or, I guess, third) in line for this one when that happens.

    But I'm not investing any more money in SD sets at this point.
     
  11. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    But I don't have a decent SD version of it...and who knows how long it'll take Criterion to start issuing HD material? And, once they do...how long before The Last Emperor gets an HD release?

    I MAY have to bite the bullet on this one...and then eschew the HD version.
     
  12. cafink

    cafink Well-Known Member

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    If HD is so important to you that you'd consider skipping the SD-only release, why wouldn't you spend a few extra bones to upgrade to an HD version should one become available?
     
  13. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Because I'm not made of money.

    What I'm saying is: if I thought an HD version of the film (even just the theatrical release) was coming out, I'd wait for that and NOT buy the 4-disc Criterion. If there's probably no hope for an HD version anytime soon, I'll get the SD and say I'm done.

    $42 (amazon) is a sizable investment for me towards one movie. I wouldn't want to spend that and then drop another $20/$30(?) on an HD version.

    That's why I was inquiring about a cheaper SD version of the re-master...after which I wouldn't feel so "awful" about upgrading to HD. [​IMG]

    Or did I not understand your question?
     
  14. Brandon Conway

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    Who did Criterion license the film from? The previous OOP release was from Artisan, so one would think they got it from Lionsgate.

    If that's the case, it begs the question - would Lionsgate out-source a HD version?

    That's the other problem with Criterion going HD - getting the rights to do it for the films they've licensed from major studios such as Paramount, Universal, Disney and Fox. Disney's BD release of The Rock is the perfect example of this, though it fortunately has most of the Criterion extras.
     
  15. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I was just thinking some more about this.

    I guess an example on the other side of this is El Cid. Since I am going to be able to pick up El Cid for
     
  16. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Well-Known Member

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    Artisan only had video rights on lease from Jeremy Thomas and his production studio (Recorded Pictures Company). The Hit, Insignificance, and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence were also included in the package. So, Criterion is dealing directly with the producer.

    However, Criterion licensed Kicking and Screaming from Lionsgate.
     
  17. Chris S

    Chris S Well-Known Member

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    I only hope that HD versions from Criterion are that cheap. Criterion does carry a premium with respect to their SD releases and I imagine the same will be true for any HD releases. But I'm all too happy to pay that higher price because you know its going to be a quality release.
     
  18. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Excellent point, Chris. I guess I used that pricepoint range because that's what it is now for most HD releases. I wasn't building-in the "Criterion bump" (which I certainly have no problem with either). I wonder what their pricepoint will be for their eventual HD releases.

    Of course, it only exacerbates my earlier point: do I spend the $42 bucks now (or maybe wait for the next Deep Discount sale! [​IMG] ) or wait for a BD release?

    It would be nice if Criterion would do for The Last Emperor what it did for Brazil...that is, a one disc release of the film alongside the full-blown 3-disc release.

    So, this is a definite "one or the other" proposition for me. I will probably opt for the SD release...not knowing how long it might be before that HD transfer makes it to disc. [​IMG]
     
  19. Martin Teller

    Martin Teller Well-Known Member

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    If and when they release it in hi-def, I hope they'll use the original aspect ratio, instead of letting Storaro butcher it.
     
  20. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    Bertolucci has also signed off on the "butchering" of the presentation, so I highly doubt that will change with a HD version.
     

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