This has been out for a week now, but I just finally got mine in the mail yesterday. I watched the extended version last night. It runs 3 hours, 17 minutes. This is the best effort ever in 50 years to restore the film back to the way it was at its original premiere. Using newly found scraps of footage, stills and audio clips, they’ve managed to gather every bit that has survived and assembled it all into the most complete version of the film we’ll ever see.
The two most notable scenes are when Sylvester (Dick Shawn) steals the car, and when Captain Culpepper (Spencer Tracy) talks to Jimmy the Crook (Buster Keaton) on the phone. Unfortunately, the footage has never been found, but the audio exists as well as some B&W stills. The scene with the car has so many stills that it almost give a flip book effect and hearing the dialogue makes it very clear what’s going on. It was amazing to see proof that these scenes were real, after hearing about them for so long.
A lot of it’s added running time, as expected comes from the all the different musical breaks, like the overture, the intermission and the police radio calls that played in the lobby before the film came back on. The Blu-ray doesn’t attempt to edit any of this down, it stays very faithful to how it was in the theater, with long gaps of silence, and nothing but a black screen. It felt weird to be sitting in my living room in the dark, but it was fun listening to the police voices explain what is happening. It was sort of like the experience of listening to a radio show.
The rest of the added footage are seconds here and there, small bits cut from the beginning or end of scenes. You can see why they cut out what they did, and it helps you appreciate the editing that was done to keep the pace moving faster. For example, there’s a cut scene where the Chief walks in to the police station and is introduced. You start wondering how they could have cut the character’s introduction. But then, the regular footage cuts back in, just as Culpepper calls him “Chief.” It gets to the point. You didn’t need the stuff at the beginning. Still there are some moments that explain more to the plot, like after Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) accidentally slams his truck into the back of the car, and has to start peddling on the “little girl’s” bicycle. Now we’re actually shown the damage to the vehicles and there’s a little bit more of a segue into him having to find the bike.
Other than some very brief moments, there’s not much to really amaze you, if you’re already familiar with the previous extended version from 1991 that was on the Laserdisc, VHS and played on Turner Classic Movies. Most of the added scenes, I’ve already seen before, but this time they’ve been reputedly re-edited into their correct order. Often times, I would get excited when I thought I was seeing new footage, but then deja vu would kick in, and I ‘d remember it was from the old extended version that I saw more than 20 years ago. There were even parts where the found footage had Asian subtitles that couldn’t be removed, like the scene where Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers) gets his steering wheel ripped out by a disgruntled passenger. I distinctly remember seeing this already, WITHOUT the subtitles. So there’s instances like this where I’m really confused.
I wish I had time to make a detailed comparison of all the different versions. I am very curious to know how much footage was actually added to this Criterion version, NOT counting the overture, intermission, police radios, and exit music. I’ve searched the internet in vain, and so far I have yet to see it done.
I would recommend Criterion’s extended version to hardcore fans only. Casual watchers may find it distracting, with all the sudden changes in image quality, randomly appearing subtitles, audio with no picture, picture with no audio, and having to face a black screen for several minutes, more than once. If I was not such a huge fan of the movie, I would be wondering what all this mess was. But the regular version I think still holds up, and should catch on to younger generations.
Part of the appeal is that the movie flows in real time, as if you’re actually traveling with them down to the California coast, but I still think the shorter 2 hour, 45 minute version is the best. The Criterion release comes with BOTH versions, and a ton of extras. You can’t go wrong. Except I do miss normal DVD packaging.
UPDATE: Great news! The 1991 extended version has just been compared to the 2014 extended version. It’s very detailed and accurate. Check it out on movie-censorship.com (German).