Monday, January 08, 2007

Miami Vice: The Director's Edition

I swear this is the last post about this movie, but hey, at least it's not another post about Babylon 5. Yesterday, I watched the Director's Edition of the film, which Mann claims is not a director's cut, rather it's just a different version. There's not that many differences between the two versions, and in most cases, I prefer the theatrical cut. I think what's most interesting about watching the Director's Edition is seeing how the stuff that Mann cut wound up making a more unique, focused film, cutting stuff that clarifies plot elements and provides the kind of pleasure the studio was advertising, replacing it with a more abstract, purely emotional experience.

The biggest difference between this edition and the theatrical cut is the opening, and it's the difference that made me buy the theatrical cut in the first place. The opening of the theatrical cut is one of my favorite film openings of all time. There's no titles, no background, we're just dumped right into a club, Linkin Park/Jay-Z going, and we spend the rest of the first half hour or so getting caught up on the narrative setup. Of course, the first time I saw the film, I didn't really get caught up at all, I just let the experience wash over me without worrying about narrative specifics.

The boat race sequence just doesn't work, but I could see why Mann might have wanted to include it. For one, it provides some glamourous action for the opening, the sort of thing viewers of the series would have been expecting from the film. Also, the sequence does give us some context for the club scene. It's interesting to have a better idea of what they're doing in the club, but it doesn't enhance our enjoyment of the film, and that's why I think this opening sequence was the best cut that Mann made. Opening the movie in the club was a bold choice, but it's perfect because it jumps us past all exposition and waiting, right into what we're there to see.

Reading about it after, I found out that the second track in the club sequence is a remix of Nina Simone's 'Sinnerman,' the song that was featured over the credits of Inland Empire. Mann has such a fantastic ear for music, that's a fantastic song and it segues into Goldfrapp. Great work.

For me, and I think for Mann too, the major focus of the film is the relationship between Sonny and Isabella. The scenes that are added generally distract from that focus by either filling in more background narrative information, or further developing the other characters. An addition that really hurts, even though it does convey important new narrative information, is the phone call/dinner between Rico and Trudy. In the film, Jamie Foxx gets virtually nothing to do, and these scenes give him the chance to do a bit of emoting, plus set up the bombing later in the film. However, by having him on the phone, we lose the original focus of the scene, which is Sonny and Isabella's eye contact as she's driving away. Then, that diner scene after just holds up our forward progress on their relationship.

I'd imagine there's even more material on the various people in the crew, and from a creative point of view, I think Mann was smart to cut that stuff for the theatrical cut. However, I think the added information of the new edition would make the film work better for the 'average viewer.' The theatrical cut is a Wong Kar-Wai style art film in the guise of a summer blockbuster, and that's why it largely fell through the cracks, marketed to one audience, but intended for another.

I was shocked to see Vice get some love on year end top ten lists, beyond just mine. Both Slant lists featured the film and Manhola Dargis had it on hers for the New York Times. I thought I was the only one who loved this film, but there's others out there, and I'd imagine as time passes, more and more people will recognize the film's greatness.

The middle segment of the film, tracking Sonny and Isabella's relationship is pretty much unchanged. There is one new scene, where they stand on a balcony and talk about her mother. I felt like this was unnecessary, the same material was covered in the scene with the picture, but it was good to see. Mann's eye for shots in this film is virtually unparalleled, there's so many memorable images, most of them a result of the framing and lighting that Mann and Dion Beebe choose. I particularly love the scene in Yero's club, the way the rest of the world seems to disappear as Sonny and Isabella dance with each other.

An addition I'm not sure about is putting 'In the Air Tonight' over the final showdown. It does work, but I think it makes the scene less tense than it was in the original version. On the one hand, it's a more enjoyable aesthetic experience, but I think it hurts the narrative. On the whole, I would say it was a smart cut. That said, I would have kept it over the scene where Rico and Sonny are in the car, leading up to the showdown.

The best scene in the new edition, and the only one I really wish was still in the theatrical cut, is the scene where Isabella is attacking Sonny in the car. In the theatrical cut, we only get a glimpse of her anger at finding out he's a cop, this extends that initial anger, making it more effective when she gives up the fight and just accepts what happens at the end of the film. Gong Li was great in the scene, that alone made the director's edition worth watching.

I also preferred having the film end with 'In the Air Tonight' over the credits, I liked the defiance, it fit perfectly with Sonny's walk into the hospital. So, while there's some worthwhile stuff in the new edition, when I watch the film in the future, I'll be sticking with the original cut. This new edition is most interesting because it demonstrates how a few subtle cuts can make a film much more evocative and emotional, as well as much tougher to follow. But, as I've said before about the film, the plot is just a shell to get us to the emotional relationships that are at the core of the film.

Watching the film again, I finally realized what work it was most reminiscent of, and that's Cowboy Bebop. The emphasis on lush visuals backed by great music is the primary point of connection between the two works, but there's also the themes, following people who are emotionally shut and then forced to confront challenging emotional situations. For the viewer, they reach that same emotional place.

4 comments:

prince said...
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Anonymous said...

Just to give you warm feelings---I LOVE THIS MOVIE the same way you do!!! :)

I have the HD Version which is a COMBO one. So theres the DC in HD and the TC in DVD format. With my Full HD LCD guess which version I like best...

I love the opening, its so great how it actually starts just with the subwoofer coming up and getting louder...

Thanx for your kind words on this GREAT movie.

Best Regards,
Oliver

Patrick said...

When it first came out, I thought I was the only one who liked it so much, but it's got a growing following, and I think in a couple of years it will be fully rehibilitated as a great art film, not a failed blockbuster.

www.teresaestevez.com said...

For my part every person must go through this.