Have you ever met a fan who was content watching the theatrical release edition of The Lord of the Rings trilogy? We ran a poll on our social media accounts, and our followers were overwhelmingly in favor of watching the extended editions of all three films.
I have to suspect that most people who feel so strongly about the extended editions already own their own copies on DVD or Blu-ray. But what about first-time viewers who want to see what all the fuss is about? None of the (lawful) online streaming services offer the longer cuts, so their only hope is having an enthusiastic geeky friend who is willing to lend their copy.
While showing off the company’s next big step, streaming video at 4K, Netflix chief product officer Neil Hunt told Stuff.co.nz, “My guess is that there really isn’t a case for different versions of a film […] Our job is to get the director’s cut and not bother with all the rest of it; there are very, very few users who are going to care about watching the five different versions and geeking out on it. That’s probably not an audience that it’s cost-effective and worthwhile to chase.”
And while I agree with him that “very few users” will want to watch all of the different versions of a film, there are different types of users, and those different types of users have different viewing preferences. Casual viewers may want one version; film buffs and LOTR fans may want another. The same could be said for other films with different cuts, like Star Wars (I’ll take my Han Solo with a side of unprovoked gunfire, thank you very much), Blade Runner, and Apocalypse Now.
As we gradually shift towards more streaming of digital media and away from owning actual physical copies, are we in danger of being hemmed in to only one version by online content providers? Will future generations of audiences be unable to watch the alternate (and let’s face it, superior) cuts of films? Unless we can count on services like Amazon to allow us to purchase full downloads of alternate versions of films, we might need to start hoarding our extended editions in preparation for this likely, if accidental, censorship.