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Ronald Epstein

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Dave Simkiss

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With the recent release of Kino Lorber's 2 disc set for DEATH MACHINE, Director Stephen Norrington was kind enough to answer my question regarding the various cuts of DEATH MACHINE and has provided this in-depth breakdown:


ORIGINAL DIRECTOR'S CUT AKA FOREIGN CUT
this is the full length (IMHO horribly overlong) Original Director's Cut that was delivered to the financiers/distributors in 1993 - it was produced by Dominic Anciano, Ray Burdis, Jim Beach, Matthew Justice and me - it was screened for the cast and crew

UK DVD CUT
the Original Director's Cut was deemed too long by the UK financiers/distributors so I personally edited a shorter version that became the UK DVD Cut - the original materials for the UK DVD Cut are lost in time - the only record of that cut is the UK DVD/VHS, neither of which I reviewed when I created the 2024 Director's Cut this year - however the opening scene may be similar because I addressed the re-edit for the 2024 version with the similar goal of moving things along faster

TURBINE GERMAN RELEASE
this is the same cut as the Foreign Cut aka Original Director's Cut - however, the Turbine German Release was a new transfer of an original internegative, nicely done by Turbine (I was not involved) with very nice colour grading - personally I think this is the best-looking transfer

JVC JAPANESE LASERDISC CUT
this is (I think) identical to the Original Director's Cut - however, the colour grading may not be the same as the UK DVD Cut or the Turbine German Release - the Japanese distributor had an internegative so may well have made colour adjustments when encoding for the laserdisc - I don’t know who produced the laserdisc

TRIMARK US THEATRICAL CUT
this is somewhat misnamed because, as far as I know, the movie was never released theatrically in the states - the US Theatrical Cut was created by Trimark in-house, I was not involved, I don’t know who did it and what their aims were - my guess is that it was the work of executives tasked with making the movie more suitable for the US home video market - IMHO it's an overly-truncated mess, made worse be a cheap one-light transfer (in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio) that had horrible colour and weak pan-and-scan, leading to many scenes having people's faces half out of frame - the new transfer for the Kino-Lorber release improves the US Theatrical Cut a lot simply by being a nicely graded 2.39:1 aspect ratio but it's still been edited with a chainsaw, not a scalpel

2024 DIRECTOR'S CUT
this can be considered the definitive cut, director approved, moves along like a missile, nice colour, super-elevated soundtrack, correct aspect ratio, finally in great shape and fun! - I personally produced this new cut and worked with Michael Felsher to re-edit it using the German Turbine prorez master as a source - pretty much every scene was tweaked to some extent - I worked with Paul Rabjohns to completely overhaul the soundtrack - we created a new 7.1 audio mix with tons of new sound effects and 17 minutes of new music - I also created a bunch of new VFX to facilitate the re-edit - in places I used VFX to improve the existing visuals - the aim of the 2024 cut was to hugely speed things up, remove a ton of overwrought bathos and emphasize fun stuff - Paul and I fixed tonal issues with the original music - basically we kept the cues that worked and replaced overwrought cues with new music that is less abrasive, more cinematic
 

cineMANIAC

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To be honest I'm kind of surprised Kino went through the trouble of commissioning such a definitive release for what is essentially a forgotten 90's sci-fi film. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad they did - but based on some of the Insider's comments on this and other forums over the years I get the impression the studio turns their noses up at this stuff. They've even admitted releasing some titles only because they were part of a package deal and basically had no choice. Kind of an unfortunate way of doing things but at least we're getting them.
 

Dave Simkiss

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Director Stephen Norrington was kind enough to answer a few more questions

Regarding the 2024 DIRECTOR'S CUT

the new cut isn’t intended to supersede the previous versions, I just the one I like best and it does have great sound – I know how annoying it is to have one’s beloved cut of a given movie made unavailable by the orig director (Star Wars anybody?) so I insisted to Kino-Lorber that their release should offer the three version – that way everyone can have the version they like the best


Regarding Stephens UPCOMING PROJECTS
I asked if it was true that he was working on a huge stop-motion project to rival Phil Tippett's MAD GOD (something I had heard here and there)

actually no, that’s Chinese Whispers from the internet over decades – I think Stephen Dorff said somewhere I was working on an animated movie that was going to take 10 yrs to finish and someone else said I was working on a stop motion project – the truth is, after LoEG I bailed out of my old life and partied for a decade, went to Burning Man ten times and enjoyed an amazing string of non-movie adventures – in 2009 I started making a small one-man-band self-funded movie about insane racing cars that was going to be done live action + miniatures – but after a couple of years I canned it because it was too ambitious – then I attempted another small one-man-band self-funded movie (live action + CG) about battling gods which got further along than the first one but I canned that too after three years because it was also too ambitious – after that I went for a third attempt (mostly live action) and this one has gone the distance – I’m shooting the last couple of scenes right now and will get into serious post later this year – no idea when it will be finished, it’s a huge amount of work and lots of VFX but has been the best experience of my life and I think the result is pretty good – it’s a sci-fi story called The Migrant, I’ll see if someone wants to release it through usual channels but if not I’ll put it out under a Creative Commons license and get on with the next one


Regarding the UK DVD CUT
I asked in a roundabout way how the UK cut came into existence, I had wrongly assumed that the UK CUT was the director’s cut and the FOREIGN CUT was an earlier cut or that the 1st reel was from an earlier cut, I take a good bit of responsibility for this piece of incorrect info being out there.

there’s some befuddlement on your dmachine restore page as to why only the first reel of the UK Cut was changed, with the rest identical to the Original Cut - I can clear that up – just before the movie was finalized and released in 1993 I was conflicted about whether dmachine was good or crap – my ego was such that it was hard for me to accept that the movie was too long or dragged but many people were telling me it was too long and my gut also was telling me the truth: the movie was too long, more specifically too slow (long isn’t bad if the movie’s compelling, Terminator 2 for example) – thus, despite my ego resisting the truth, I knew deep down the movie felt too long which meant it was not particularly compelling

the problem was compounded by the movie being edited on film (this was before any form of digital picture editing was easily available) – the pacing of a film therefore depended on the instincts of the editor from day one to day delivery, it wasn’t something that could easily be changed at the last minute – I knew in my heart that the slow pace of death machine was partly because the editor was cautious and old school, prioritizing matching actions over editorial energy but mostly because I had forced him to run things long because I couldn’t bear to make things shorter, I was just too convinced of the awesomeness of every frame – in my defense it was the first movie I had ever made so I didn’t really understand much about pacing, I learned that the hard way – but, let’s be honest, the movie was slow and not particularly compelling because I had not let the editor cut freely

so, when the UK distributor complained the movie was too long (and what they really meant was the movie wasn’t compelling – the actual phrase they used was “it’s good, not great”), I said I could make it better given the film process and the limited time available by recutting only the first reel – it was deemed impractical to recut the whole movie – they agreed so I personally recut reel one on a flatbed machine and we redid the sound – then a new interneg was struck from the reel one interpos and the interneg conformed by neg cutters to create the source for the UK delivery interpos – thus the UK reel one is one generation down from the rest of the movie – a legacy of the film process - I thought the new reel one was better and the distribs agreed so that was what went out in the UK – the recut reel one work print and conformed interneg probably still exists somewhere but I’ve never been able find it


And then following on to the 2024 DIRECTOR'S CUT
these days all those film complications have gone away – we overhauled the entire picture and sound for the 2024 Director’s Cut on regular computers in a couple of months – the exhilaration I derived from the 2024 process was being able to finally fix my poor pacing choices from 1992-3 – nevertheless, the available tools and film medium back in 1992-3 were not the problem – the prime reason for the UK Cut reel one edit was that I had tied the hands of the editor to some extent, found out the hard way that my “genius” was not exactly that and then scrambled to make the movie more compelling by doing what could practically be done in the time before release, namely recutting reel one to add more energy


Regarding the fast cutting of DEATH MACHINE
all those fast-cut action seqs in Death Machine were done on film and pushed the limits of neg cutting – the neg cutters didn’t like to cut short clips or single frames because cuts put a lot of stress on the neg and if the neg broke or tore, frames could be lost and not recoverable – thus the more cuts the higher the chance of neg failure – that actually happened during the shooting of Death Machine - we had to file an insurance claim to cover a damaged neg so we could reshoot a short clip of the monster that had been lost – incidentally, the sound design and layup was done by Nainita Desai on a DAR digital soundstation so it was easier to do fast-paced audio stuff – but the visuals were cut on film




—--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




BONUS QUESTION #1
Stephen was kind enough to answer a super geeky question I had about BLADE. Specifically how did they accomplish the zoom and shake on the insert shots of Blade’s sword embedded in the La Magra temple pillars? (there's plenty of astounding camera work from Theo van de Sande in BLADE, but this one always stood out for me)

Blade was shot on film and had little money for post VFX so there’s a bunch of in-camera physical hacks we did that worked great – that particular shot was a combo of a crash zoom, a camera stop-start and a punch to the camera operator’s shoulder to jar him – the camera stop-starts were cool because when you stop a 35mm film camera while shooting, the film slows down as it passes through the gate which simultaneously causes a fade-up whiteout and an action speed-up - vice versa for restarting - I used the effect again on LoEG for the Hyde transformations – the crash zooms were inspired by zooms you see in martial arts movies (prob Wesley’s idea) – punching the operator was the operator’s idea, he would try to keep a steady shot and we’d shove him and mess around with the stop-start and the crash zoom – the dailies were filled with weird stuff that confused the executives, a lot of crap but plenty of awesome moments which made the final cut after some judicious editing – I heard Chris Cunningham did some cool things on music vids in the late nineties by cracking open the film magazine while the camera was running and shining a pocket torch into the gap, causing a bunch of cool glares and random burnout effects – shooting on film was cool – I love digital but do spend a lot of time faking organic effects like those physical film tricks from back in the day


BONUS QUESTION #2
I asked Stephen about the possibility of one day seeing a HD / 4K version of THE LAST MINUTE (In my opinion - a truly individual film that deserves rediscovery).

re: Last Minute – I don’t know the status of that movie – I think it’s in good shape and I think the DVD release was great – over the years people have asked me about a new release, perhaps a blu-ray or maybe even 4k, but I never heard that anything was pending – the issue is that it’s a privately-owned movie controlled by the tiny company Palm Pictures that may just be a legal entity at this point, no longer a real company – Michael Felsher at Kino-Lorber asked me about the movie – I told him I think it’s a great movie in great shape and a great candidate for a new transfer to blu-ray or 4k – he should connect with Palm Pictures – I would totally support that but have not heard any more – if you and your cohorts would like to see a new release on an upgraded format I encourage you to connect with Palm Pictures and Kino-Lorber and let them know your enthusiasm - I think these companies only act when they sense there’s fan enthusiasm for a product (aka money to be made) – just having a director demand a new release is not enough for these companies, there’s no money to be made from a demanding director, just expenses incurred
 

Dave Simkiss

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Okay folks, Stephen has replied to the questions asked on blu ray dot com.

Questions in bold, Stephen's answers in Italics.

There's some in-depth info here, fascinating and yet still upsetting that these projects never got off the ground. I for one would have loved to have seen Stephen's take on AKIRA.



User - HipsterTrash asks:
I guess my ask is what happened to the rest of the projects he planned on doing after LXG. There was a WWII horror called Lost Patrol that sounded great. And he was attached to The Crow remake, Clash of the Titans remake, and an Akira adaptation. What happened to those and what was his vision for them at the time.


just as the (mistaken) adage says “time heals all wounds”, by approx 2007 I was starting to get bored of my Burning Man adventures so I called my ex-agent and some studio execs to investigate if there any projects that I might be able to develop, with an eye to direct – in hindsight I was victim to another cliché, looking again to Hollywood with “rose-tinted spectacles” – nevertheless, my ex-agent is a great guy and a total Hollywood power player - he was able to make development deals for me with Legendary (The Lost Patrol), Ed Pressman/Relativity (The Crow) and Warner Bros (Clash Of The Titans, Akira) – here’s the details:

THE LOST PATROL
second world war trenches action meets The Thing – there was no script, just a story idea – I wrote a script that added secret Nazi reality-bending science to explain the monsters – it became trench warfare versus The Thing by way of Nazi mind-warping science – the script was well liked but “needed a lot of work” (their opinion, not mine), producers came on board, we started working out costs, I did four drafts trying to please the execs, ultimately they didn’t feel confident, they were confused by the reality-bending stuff, wanted Guillermo Del Toro involved as exec producer, I chatted with GDT, he was uncomfortable with the Nazi tech stuff, it was too close to things he was developing, it didn’t work out so the project was shelved and everyone moved on

THE CROW
Ed Pressman contacted me and asked if I was interested in rebooting The Crow – I said no unless I can write a script that completely reinvents the character and story so It can be something from me rather than another episode of James O’Barr’s world – I expected Ed to say “get lost” because O’Barr’s Crow is a well-loved and valuable property – to my surprise, Ed said yes – I wrote four drafts of a wholly original story, based on the same basic story ideas (family killed by evil gang, father resurrected to seek revenge, violence and retribution ensue) - we started budgeting but each draft found less creative favour with Relativity (the financing company) - the wholly new material illuminated that, despite what had been said, what was really wanted was another episode of O’Barr’s Crow, not an original idea – ultimately three things killed it: Relativity wanted Mark Wahlberg to play the resurrected father (and Wahlberg hated my script), Ed Pressman employed Nick Cave (the rocker) to do a presumably “gothy” rewrite, and the budget came in too high ($45million) – the project had moved far away from my original idea so I quit and moved on – I don’t think the recent release has anything to do with my material

CLASH OF THE TITANS
there was a script by Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back etc) – WBros wanted me to direct that script – I wasn’t interested, I said I would write a new script – WBros hesitantly agreed but didn’t really facilitate the process, in hindsight they said what I wanted to hear but hoped to steer me back to Kasdan’s script – Kasdan was annoyed that this no-name UK bloke wanted to jettison his script – I didn’t much care if I did the movie or not - if I was going to do it I wanted it to be something I thought was cool, with ideas and filmmaking that I sparked to – I did a audio-visual presentation to the execs – they were underwhelmed – I went on a long-planned expedition to the South Pole (seriously) – when I came back I found I’d been fired and replaced with Louis Leterrier – it was a good outcome all round – I didn’t have to do something I wasn’t interested in and the movie made $500million worldwide for WBros

AKIRA
for years this project has been looking for the right moment – I got involved for a short while, wrote a treatment that adjusted the story into something more US-centric, more straightforward – my version would have likely annoyed fans but perhaps would have been financially viable (ie: costs a lot but makes a lot because it’s mainstream, understandable and relatable to non-fan audiences - the fan audience is dwarfed by the non-fan audience) – ultimately, though, my approach made the execs uncomfortable, too different from the original, too expensive to mount, too much of a risk in their eyes – they were probably right – everybody moved on – WBros has since explored a few other approaches – looks like Taika Waititi’s version might go the distance

needless to say, those development experiences confirmed what I had previous concluded, that I wasn’t going to find a fulfilling creative life in Hollywood – and here we are
icon_smile.gif


Does he have plans for making a grand return to the industry or is the aim to stay a true independent/one man band? Possibly any chances of branching into other mediums like comics?

no grand return but perhaps my new movie The Migrant will find some fans – yes, it’s a 98% one-man-band project (with three actors) but it’s a full-length feature and looks like it was made by a studio – small scale project, big sci-fi ideas, best experience of my life - not sure how I will release it, will see if streamers want to pay me for a 1yr exclusive license – if not, I’ll release it myself under Creative Commons license and get on with the next one (already written, ready to go, just need to finish The Migrant first)

no comics plans but I do have a 60% completed kid-centric reality-bending novel I wrote in 2003-5 – I still plan to finish it but have to get these DIY movies done first


And lastly, what's his views on the film industry and where he thinks it's going?

the film industry is going along just fine making tons of money while always pleading poverty – despite universal audience complaints about movies, streaming, TV etc, those big media corps are constantly making content, making money (because the complaining audiences are nevertheless still watching), developing risk-adverse material and turning big profits at the end of it all

very quickly AI will be used to create 99% of genre content from the big corps and (I’m guessing) 50% of non-genre content – soon it will be cheaper to use AI to create a movie like Avatar: Way Of Water rather than human crews – people will complain about AI being used but audiences will still flock to movies, TV, streamers, phones etc and the industry will still make big bucks – in other words, business as usual, just more computers

here in Norringtonland I really enjoy making real things, doing practical effects and going to amazing locations to shoot cool shots – it’s a life experience and I don’t much care if an audience likes my output - I’ll keep on keeping on making little analog films in the real world and having a laugh – but a decade from now big media will be producing most of its content in dark computer cubicles largely by way of prompts and AI focus groups


User - jess1581 asks:
I only have one pressing question.... unless it's been answered already. Can we please get an LXG 4K? Is that even a possibility? I know there are sore feelings about it, but certainly he knows the film has a fanbase. The blu-ray is ancient and could definitely use some TLC.


LXG is controlled by Fox which is now owned by Disney – I have not heard anything about a 4K release of the movie but I’m sure it will happen one day, especially if Disney senses that the movie has been re-evaluated by audiences and is now a cool relic from audience childhoods that might yield new money to Disney if they invest in a 4K release – as far as my involvement goes, I’d certainly like to orchestrate a director’s cut but I fear the improvements I’d want to make would be financially prohibitive to Disney - if they ask me I’d certainly discuss but I suspect they don’t care enough to spend meaningful money on that movie at this time in history – footnote: the first three reels of LXG were edited by the editor and me – the remaining three were edited by the editor under the direction of the Fox execs and perhaps a smidgen of Connery – this was because I bailed on the movie during post when it became obvious I was an obstacle to getting the movie finished in time for Fox’s desired summer release date (IMHO a horrible mistake, Autumn would have been better but, hey, it was Fox’s decision to make) – thus, any director’s cut would require a complete overhaul of at least 50% of the movie which would be a significant expense

User - systemrok asks:
What was the budget exactly? IIRC Stephen said $2m in one commentary but in the Ray Burdis interview he says $500k (which sounds impossible). I always thought scenes had been filmed on location because the office and vault sets are really quite amazing for a low budget film.


I don’t actually know exactly what the budget was beyond the number “two-point-five million” – that may have been dollars, may have been pounds, may have been the original number, may have been the final number – the movie went over budget so not sure where it ended up and in what denomination – I usually just say it was “2.5million dollars, or perhaps pounds” – it certainly wasn’t 500k! – but whatever it was, it was low budget and the entire crew achieved crazy impressive things in all departments for the meagre pennies they had available
 

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