Deservedly deleted

These dvd outtakes prove that some material belongs on the cutting-room floor

One of the selling points of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux was that it finally let viewers see scenes trimmed from the version of the film released in 1979. These include the much-discussed French plantation scene—which, unfortunately, stops the film cold—among other restored segments which contribute nothing but run time. Sometimes, it's best to cut.

In the pre-DVD age, most deleted scenes were lost to the ages, but new technology has helped immortalize them. Though some DVDs' deleted-scenes archives feature intriguing or even superior moments, the not-quite-there sequences, narrative dead-ends, and just-plain-bad ideas are far more plentiful. Here's a guide to some moments that illustrate the wisdom of judicious editing.

Pulp Fiction

Scene: Monster Joe's Truck & Tow

What Happens: After "The Bonnie Situation," in which troubleshooter Harvey Keitel helps John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson scrub down a bloodied car interior, Keitel stops at a junkyard to destroy the evidence. Once there, he chats with Saturday Night Live alumnus and It's Pat star Julia Sweeney, who playfully insists he take her out to breakfast.

Why It Doesn't Belong: In his introduction to the deleted scene—which, at nearly two minutes, could use a little trimming of its own—writer-director Quentin Tarantino claims its stilted dialogue is "the closest I've ever come to writing a scene like Ernst Lubitsch." Never mind that every other scene in the movie comes closer: Would Lubitsch have paused just before the climax for a mundane exchange between two minor characters?

Where It Might Belong: Could be used as the prelude to a diner scene in which Keitel delicately asks the androgynous Sweeney about last night's big date with "Sandy."

28 Days Later

Scene: Alternate Theatrical Ending

What Happens: [Warning: Spoiler ahead.] After the climactic zombies-vs.-soldiers showdown at the manor house-turned-military base, Naomie Harris and Megan Burns flee with badly wounded protagonist Cillian Murphy. In the original theatrical finale, they all find safe haven in the countryside, but the alternate ending follows Harris and Burns in a mad dash to the hospital, where they watch Murphy die.

Why It Doesn't Belong: Actually, this scene, included as a bonus late in 28 Days Later's theatrical run, is no worse than the original anticlimactic ending. But it's also no better, making it even clearer that director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland didn't know how to end their frequently terrific film. Or, as one of them puts it on the commentary track, "This was an ending."

Where It Might Belong: The scene would make a terrific inclusion for a post-apocalyptic episode of ER.

Almost Famous

Scene: Stairway To Heaven

What Happens: In order to convince Frances McDormand of the virtues of rock 'n' roll, Patrick Fugit hands her the lyric sheet to the Led Zeppelin classic and plays the entire eight-minute track, while she feigns interest.

Why It Doesn't Belong: While the scene perfectly captures the awkwardness of one person playing a song for another person—with all the furtive glances and cautiously approving nods—a full eight minutes of watching people listen to a song would have been self-indulgent, even for a movie that's essentially writer-director Cameron Crowe's life story.

Where It Might Belong: Intercut with one of those Brady Bunch episodes where Greg plays his latest song, while his brothers and stepsisters smile and nod at how awesome it is.

Saturday Night Fever

Scene: Arriving At The Apartment

What Happens: After a hard night of disco dancing and self-examination, John Travolta tries to get former dance partner Karen Lynn Gorney to give him a second chance. In the final cut, he just shows up at her door and knocks, but in this deleted scene, Travolta spends a good minute at her building's intercom, buzzing and begging to be let in.

Why It Doesn't Belong: Naturalism has its place, but where does it end? If the hero makes a phone call, do we have to watch him look around his room for the scrap of paper where he jotted down the number, watch him dial, and then watch him sit through three or four rings before someone picks up?

Where It Might Belong: In one of those contemporary Taiwanese or French art films, where directors care more about how many steps the characters take to their destination than what they do when they get there.

Lagaan

Scene: The Equipment Scandal

What Happens: In a 17-minute sequence excised from the nearly four-hour Bollywood musical, British colonial Rachel Shelley sneaks some cricket equipment to Indian villager Aamir Khan, setting off a chain of events: jealousy in Khan's girlfriend, betrayal by a teammate, and incarceration when a British commander insists that the equipment was stolen.

Why It Doesn't Belong: For starters, the movie is already four goddamned hours long. Anything that doesn't involve singing, dancing, or the actual playing of cricket is best left out. Also, the sequence is anchored by an interminable interrogation scene in which each team member must individually prove that he isn't the traitor.

Where It Might Belong: As a stand-alone, semi-allegorical short film, in which gifts from strangers lead to unfortunate ends.

In The Mood For Love

Scene: The Secret Of Room 2046

What Happens: In Wong Kar-Wai's gorgeous reverie about repressed passions in 1962 Hong Kong, the unrequited love between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung is requited on a rainy night in a hotel room.

Why It Doesn't Belong: Wong is notorious for his semi-improvisational shooting style, which results in miles of footage that never make it into the final cut. While his methods contribute to a dazzling cinema of possibilities, it's hard to believe that he ever thought to sabotage the exquisite sense of loss that makes his characters' relationship so heartbreaking.

Where It Might Belong: Wong has been known to spin off material from one movie into another: Chungking Express was originally supposed to contain three stories, until the third was developed into Fallen Angels. Full of false starts and bittersweet resignation, this deleted scene works well out of context, but it belongs in a movie that Wong didn't (and shouldn't) make.

Out Of Sight

Scene: Untitled Hotel Scene

What Happens: In an exchange whose sexual undercurrents recall the infamous "oysters" scene in Spartacus, ex-con George Clooney and associate Ving Rhames talk about the pleasures of a nice warm bath. Rhames tells Clooney there's some lilac oil and a vanilla candle under the sink, then goes on to explain how "the heat and the wet is calming," settling him "in a way that I really can't articulate." Clooney then says he could "go for a little wine tonight."

Why It Doesn't Belong: Moments of homosexual panic are a staple of Hollywood comedies, but no other scene in the movie suggests that these sensitive and tight-knit crooks are quite so intimate. Then again, hard time has been known to change a man...

Where It Might Belong: An all-gay, Off-Broadway reworking of the film needn't involve a complete overhaul of the material.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Scene: Extended Special Edition Ending

What Happens: Set years after the events of T2, this scene features Linda Hamilton living in a future America that apparently requires its citizens to wear jumpsuits, overalls, and unconvincing old-lady makeup. Her son is now a senator, and Hamilton spends her days on park benches, narrating dark observations about the averted apocalypse while wildly enthusiastic young people play a futuristic version of frisbee behind her.

Why It Doesn't Belong: Reportedly excised by James Cameron because he wanted to keep the door open for future sequels, this scene could have been cut simply because Cameron came to his senses. Not only is it awkward, but it also unintentionally breaks the film's mood for a bit of pastel-colored future-kitsch.

Where It Might Belong: Currently accessible only as an elaborately hidden Easter egg on an out-of-print version of the film, it should be destroyed entirely, lest it return at some point in the future to kill the enjoyment of future generations of T2 fans.

Filed Under: DVD

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