20th Century Fox are about to release a completely new creature into the world. At the start of December you will be able to buy all four sci-fi/horror/action films in the Alien series, as the Alien Quadrilogy on DVD.
What the hell, you may reasonably ask, is a quadrilogy? I can only suppose that the producers considered the correct term — ‘quartet’ — to be effete and dry. However, the problem with coining ‘quadrilogy’, apart from it making them look like barbarian know-nothings, is that it’s an oafish neologism. It manages to lumpenly fall halfway between suggesting ‘four’ (they must have been thinking of ‘quad-bike’), and ‘three’ (’-rilogy’ really doesn’t leave many options, does it?). Worst of all, thanks to the global reach of these films, some coked-up production manager has successfully launched a real three-legged word into the world where it will gain increasing usage.
If I’m sounding snobbish about this, I’m not particularly sorry. Let me repeat: I don’t mind them coming up with a new word to indicate a group of four related things. Anything that saves us from yet another film trilogy is a Good Thing. What I object to is them coming up with such an obvious dog of a word, and not caring enough to run it past anyone with a semblance of sense first. ‘Quadrilogy’? I ask you.
Rant off. What is interesting is a quick shuftie at what you get in your quadrilogy:
- Two versions of each of the four films.
- Commentary from director, cast, writers, producers on each film (although it’s not clear whether there’s a different commentary for each version.
- A myriad of making-of, pre-, in- and post-production documentaries.
- Deleted scenes.
- Any other rubbish they could find. I mean, anything.
What I find interesting is that one of the big selling points of DVD ’special editions’ is the Director’s Cut. Films, more than novels, for instance, are subject to pressures from and interference by a whole host of people who consider the film to be ‘theirs’. The director, the editor, the producer(s), the stars, the studio, the distributors, all potentially have the power to change aspects of the film they’re not happy with. And they will.
Nevertheless, the myth of the director as auteur persists even in mainstream cinema, and the audience often suspects that there was once a pure, magnificent vision of the director that has been wrecked by the meddling of ignorant producers. Just as often, of course, it’s judicious fixing of the director’s first attempt that saves a turkey, or elevates it from being tolerable to something rather better.
Regardless, I know plenty of people who invest in DVD editions of films on the basis that they offer something truer to the director’s vision than the original cinema release. And yet, what the original cinema release offered was a single, uninterruptable, linear experience. Film is designed that way. That’s what makes it so radically different to books, to painting, or to oral narrative. That’s what relates it to theatre so closely. Filling up the DVD with tinkerish bits and pieces of extra ‘film’ explode this idea of a single experience. Including deleted scenes makes mincemeat of what the film is. Does it include the information or emotions contained in a deleted scene? Or is it the other way round: is a suggested meaning in the film thereby erased if we’re aware that it was made explicit in a deleted scene?
And don’t even get me started on watching films with commentary. What fresh madness is this? Can you imagine reading a book with accompanying author’s notes explaining how certain scenes came about, what was intended, including amusing anecdotes about the book’s production. I’m sorry to say it, but the ‘real’ film, if such exists, is your rapidly fading memory of the first time you saw it, in the cinema, in the dark, with no cues or clues, as not the director but the Lumiere brothers intended.
Cinema is dead. Long live the fractal film experience.