Censuring The Censors
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NOTE: This version of the DVD has been withdrawn and replaced with an uncensored Special Edition.
With the popularity of both Nicolas Cage & Sean Connery at something of an extraordinary high at the time of its release, Michael Bay's "The Rock" managed to cause headaches for distributors seemingly everywhere but the US. Its fairly violent, punchy tone landed the film with classifications that no exhibitor seemed to want to carry, in light of the bankable returns promised by its two stars. So, the question posed on original theatrical release was one of "what to do?"; the obvious answer was prune the film down to a classification that would guarantee more bums on seats, a much wider audience, and more money in everyone's pockets.
In Australia, Village Roadshow (local distributor for the film's production house, Hollywood Pictures) snipped a few of the film's gorier moments on the advice of the OFLC, thus reducing the film to its financially equitable MA classification. It was this version that was eventually released to rental video, then sell-thru video in both Pan & Scan and Widescreen editions. This was a bit of an anomaly in its own right, as Australia has the privilege of submission of a stronger version of a film for video release, which has been put into practice on too many occasions to mention (but for clarity, some example are "Universal Soldier", "RoboCop", "Hellraiser", "Total Recall", "Extreme Prejudice" and most recently, Tarsem Singh's "The Cell"). Suffer the poor little Aussie bleeder!
In the UK, the film was also cut for classification, with 15 seconds of edits garnering the film its much needed '15' classification. The self-same version was also released into that market for video & DVD. If you see a pattern forming here, stick with me, as we are now descending into an alarmingly regular occurrence, and there may be many of you groaning by now "Oh no, not again!".
Although the local disc sports an R classification on its sleeve, it is fact a reformatted version of the (also) edited UK R2 edition of the film. The only difference herein is that some footage has been restored (against the Australian release print), whilst other scenes (present in the Australian release print) have now been removed. How do they differ? Well, it's like this:
The Australian Version
1. The gunfight between Hummel's (Ed Harris') and Anderson's (Michael Biehn's) units has been sorely truncated by numerous deletions of bullet hits on bodies. Virtually all close-ups of squibs firing in slow motion have been removed, effectively reducing the sustained impact of the scene & eliminating the display of excess blood.
2. The fight on the underground cable car, between Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), Mason (Sean Connery), and Hummel's men has been edited lightly, once again to reduce the impact of the scene.
3. During the climax, following Captain Darrow's (Tony Todd) rocket-aided descent out of a window, his death scene has been reduced. The Australian edition cuts immediately after his eyes jar open on impact of the post; the uncut edition plays out marginally longer with a medium shot of Darrow's still-twitching body impaled on the post.
All of the above scenes are present in the UK cut of the film and, oddly enough, were restored for the film's local cable network screenings!
The UK version
1. When Goodspeed & Mason besiege the morgue, Mason throwing a combat knife to impact in one of Hummel's men's throat has been curtailed. The camera zooms with the knife, but the impact & subsequent medium shot of the soldier with the knife in his throat have been removed. Connery's line "You must never hesitate!" to Cage has also been snipped.
2. Mason shooting a guard in the foot almost directly after has been trimmed of the close-up impact of the bullet.
3. The overhead camera zoom (lasting a massive 2 second duration) into the guard just before he is crushed by the generator has been excised.
4. Mason breaking one of Hummel's men's neck has had the sound removed.
5. During the finale's "coup-de-tat", there were trims primarily for excess blood-letting. Major Baxter (David Morse) being shot in the stomach has been reduced, and Hummel taking a hit in the left shoulder has been removed.
All of the above footage was present in the Australian theatrical release.
Pardon the pun, but this leaves Australian DVD viewers sitting between a rock and a hard place. The R4 disc, having been mastered from the UK cut of the film, adds footage unseen locally, but deletes footage that was present in the MA classified cinema & video versions. The local VHS edition, accordingly, contains scenes not present in the DVD version, as it was mastered from the Australian 35mm cinema release print. A big thank you to Touchstone on all counts...
Where does this leave us as local consumers? Stumping up the extraordinary cash (the exchange rate on the Aussie dollar being what it is these days) for Criterion's recently released 16x9 enhanced non-flipper (and uncut) US R1 two-disc set, that's where! As neither version of "The Rock" released in Australia (VHS or DVD) has done the film any sort of justice, I don't really see any other (at present) logical conclusion.