Is eight extra minutes of "Avatar" worth $20?
Fans will decide Friday, as "Avatar: Special Edition" hits theaters. Featuring added scenes set on the fictional planet Pandora - and, reportedly, a little more intimacy between Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington as the blue-skinned Na'vi - the film is showing only in 3-D and IMAX 3-D, which generally means higher prices. The studio, 20th Century Fox, seems to be hoping that new and repeat viewers will add to the movie's record-breaking ticket sales of $2.7 billion worldwide.
It's rare, however, for a longer or revamped version of a well-known movie to resonate strongly with audiences. Generally, the first impression is the strongest. Even when directors cry studio interference and release a so-called director's cut, the results aren't always noticeably better. Director James Cameron isn't even calling "Avatar: Special Edition" a definitive work, only a response to audience demand for "more of Pandora."
Fans are getting smarter at telling the difference between a genuine improvement and a mere cash-in. Here are five landmark films whose reissues met with mixed reactions over the years.
William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original novel, wasn't entirely pleased with the final cut of this 1973 horror classic. Decades later, in 2000, director William Friedkin authorized a release closer to Blatty's liking. Not all the changes seemed necessary, but one welcome addition was the now-famous "spider" scene, in which a possessed Linda Blair crawls down a staircase face up.
Although arguably the most beloved film of all time, 1977's "Star Wars" has been frequently tweaked by creator George Lucas. When Lucas embellished it (and its two sequels) with computer-aided special effects in 1997, purists groaned. After all, the original film's charm lay precisely in its old-fashioned, hands-on feel. Nevertheless, Lucas may revamp them again - in 3-D.
Did Francis Ford Coppola's two-hour, 33-minute epic about the horrors of Vietnam really need to be 49 minutes longer? New sequences in 2001's "Apocalypse Now Redux" include Martin Sheen's surreal visit to a French-Cambodian plantation and a brutal epilogue to the famous Playboy Bunny scene, but the 1979 original remains the definitive version.
Fans of Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece have long been fascinated by its many versions, partly because they differ so dramatically. Depending on which one you're watching, Harrison Ford's voice-over may disappear, the ending may not be so sunny, and the central character's very identity may change. Scott's "Final Cut," released to home video in 2007, appears to be the only one he had complete creative control over.
'The Lord of the Rings'
The massive popularity of the film and its follow-ups, released between 2001 and 2003, made them ripe for new versions with extras and bonuses. Indeed, Warner Bros. released lengthy "Special Extended Editions" on home video. These received largely positive reviews, with some critics calling them an improvement, but director Peter Jackson - perhaps mindful of his fans - diplomatically refrained from labeling them "director's cuts."