Why the Chris Weitz film deserves a director’s cut
It is hard not to wonder if the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is inspiring positive critical and cultural re-evaluations of the panned 2017 superhero movie, could potentially lead to a new wave of alternate cuts on HBO Max. After all, these versions, especially those of the “director’s cut” category, can be very profitable for film companies and very good for their cultural standing with audiences and filmmakers.
In this series of posts, I will look at certain titles from the Warner Media catalog that could potentially receive and so benefit from a director’s cut on HBO Max.
Entry #1: The Golden Compass
- Directed by: Chris Weitz
- Theatrical Release Date: December 7, 2007
- IMDB entry
- Theatrical Cut: 114 min.
- Director’s Cut: 150–160 min.
A potential director’s cut of Chris Weitz’s adaptation of The Golden Compass, the first book in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, has been discussed by the filmmaker himself since before the picture even came out in theaters. In interviews leading up to release, Weitz did not hide the fact that he would prefer to see a longer version of the picture on home video.
At the same time, he put a positive spin on the shorter length of the final cut as a necessity for theatrical exhibition. The general impression is that the studio wanted the film to be as short and fast-paced as possible to increase its potential box office. Just two years after the picture had flopped at the US box office and essentially helped bring down New Line Cinema, Weitz would admit that working on Compass was a “terrible experience” and that the film was “recut by the studio.”
His proposed cut in 2007 would run about 150 minutes and include, among other things, a restored romance between the characters played by Eva Green and Tom Courtenay, which apparently did not fit into the fast pace intended for the theatrical cut. Many theatrical scenes would also be extended, providing them with more breathing room and connective tissue.
Weitz had also considered including a ‘teaser’ of the never-to-be-filmed sequel, The Subtle Knife, using some footage from the original ending that had been shot for Compass but later removed during post-production.
This ending corresponded to the last three chapters of the book (where protagonist Lyra’s friend Roger is brutally murdered by her uncle). Removing it reportedly required shooting some new material to help ‘clarify’ certain plot points.
Initially, Weitz claimed that he and others involved in the making of the film realized in the course of editing that that the original ending of Golden Compass would simply work better as the opening act of the planned sequel. However, he later admitted that this decision came on the heels of a negative test screening, during which audiences unfamiliar with the source material found the ending to be appalling and confusing.
The general consensus seemed to be that it was far too dark for the casual viewer and so Weitz chose to remove it rather than include it in a compromised or “prettied up” form, with the intent of reinstating it in its entirety in the next installment.
Of course, due to the unsuccessful run of The Golden Compass in US theaters, the sequel never came to pass and any interest on the part of Warner/New Line to release a director’s cut had vanished, leaving both the 150-minute cut and the original ending unseen by audiences. (Some footage from the latter, however, subsequently made an appearance in a tie-in videogame, allowing some fans to make an approximation of the full sequence, which is available on YouTube.)
In 2014, author Philip Pullman would criticize the decisions surrounding the ending, attributing it to the desires of the studio for a film that was simultaneously self-contained and open to continuation.
Assuming Weitz gets a chance to release his cut on HBO Max, it is almost certain that he would reinstate the missing ending from the theatrical version. While the actual running time of the original ending has, to my knowledge, never been revealed, the fan recreation is about 10 minutes long. Based on this, we can estimate that his director’s cut could run up to and over 160 minutes.
Not too long ago, Weitz commented on Twitter that the “Weitz Cut” of Compass would require $17 million to be completed, due to unfinished VFX. He did not believe, however, that there was nearly as much interest in it and/or financial incentive for Warner to make it, as was in the case of the Snyder Cut.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never seen The Golden Compass, nor have I read the books that it’s based on. But I’ve always been fascinated by the cinematic adaptation’s behind-the-scenes history. The picture had already undergone some substantial changes from its source material in the course of adaptation, only to become further revised and narratively diluted in the course of post-production.
That a LOT of footage available for the film remained on the cutting room floor was evident even before it came out in theaters. But that Warner would not release it even in the form of deleted scenes almost 15 years after its initial theatrical run to me is outright baffling. One cannot say for certain, whether a director’s cut of the picture would be necessarily better, but a lot of signs point to this being the case. At the very least, it would be a darker fantasy picture and a relatively more faithful take on the source material, something I believe would be of great appeal to the novel’s fans.
I’m also certain that there is an audience for the Weitz cut of Compass, given that the TV adaptation of the novel is, by all accounts, pulling in good ratings and that the picture actually did have a decent box office haul outside the US (something Warner was unable to capitalize on, as it had foolishly pre-sold its foreign distribution rights).
Really, if a director’s cut of Compass were released, I would purchase it alongside the theatrical just to see how different they are, to see what the studio decided to change and why. I like to think that other cinephiles and video collectors would do the same.
Consulted Sources/Recommended Links:
- A message from Chris Weitz to fans of His Dark Materials (October 9, 2007)
- Interview with Steve Weintraub of Collider.com (December 7, 2007)
- MTV News: ‘Golden Compass’ Leftovers Pointing To A Potentially Packed Director’s Cut’ (December 7, 2007)
- Female.com.au: Chris Weitz Golden Compass interview (date unspecified, presumably around December 7, 2007)
- Comic Con: “Chris Weitz Calls Golden Compass A Terrible Experience” (July 23, 2009)
- DailyMail: “Michael Gove, Catholics, the Taliban — and how Hollywood made a mess of The Golden Compass: The dark side of Philip Pullman.” (March 15, 2014)