Friday, April 10, 2009

Burt Reynolds and the perils of editing

Yesterday the Beefcake and I went to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. They had a baby cheetah. I love looking at cute little baby animals who will grow up and want to eat my head.

Anyway, that's where I was, in case anybody was frantically checking to see if I posted. Because I know everybody totally does.

Anyway, the other night we watched White Lightening, a 1973 Burt Reynolds classic about a moonshine runner who uses his special skills to take down Ned Beatty's asshole of a Sheriff. The movie was pretty good, but what was remarkably disconcerting was the presentation of the DVD.

Here's the listed synopsis on Netflix: One of the best Burt Reynolds "rednecks and cars" movies, White Lightning serves up some great auto chases through a sweaty, dirt-poor Southern atmosphere. Reynolds is a good ol' boy who runs moonshine and squares off against his nemesis, a sheriff (Ned Beatty) who has as little regard for the law as Burt does. A must-see for 1970s film buffs or action fans.

Notice how it stresses the car chases and the action and sort of never reveals the plot at all? This film starts out with a terrific scene of the sheriff drowning two boys in a lake by tying them to a concrete brick and shooting holes in their canoe. It's a really terrific way to start a film because right off the bat you get how big an asshole this guy is, and it's the inciting incident for the film so we waste no time.

Then we get to Burt Reynolds as Gator, a convict who learns that one of these boys was his brother, and he swears revenge on the Sheriff. The federal government gives him the opportunity to go after him through the moonshine trade, but Gator soon learns that the only way to bring this piece of shit down is by making him dead.

Great setup. There's a lot of emotion there, and the scenes where Gator talks about his brother are terrific. Unfortunately there aren't enough of them. They are sandwiched in between some pretty terrific car chases.

Steven Spielberg was offered this film and he turned it down because he said this would be a Burt Reynolds movie and he didn't want to become a director for hire. He was right. Here's the tagline: If You Haven't Seen "White Lightning" You Haven't Seen Burt Reynolds.

Here's my problem with it. The music that plays over the car chases is this twangy Jew's harp thing that makes everything look like a comedy moment. So this film with it's heart and dark message and whatnot is made into a dilly Smoky and the Bandit before Smoky and the Bandit existed. And with the synopsis written the way it is, I know other people would be thinking the same thing I did - woohoo, another Burt Reynolds movie about car chases and silly sheriffs! It feels like they shot the film, then tried to figure out how to lighten it up.

When this film came out it was PG. So was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Know that scene where that guy's face melts off? PG. Times have changed.

The DVD version of White Lightening, released in pan n scan, no less, is edited all to pieces to keep it within modern day PG expectations. Cuss words are dubbed. "Shit" became "Shoot." It's pretty obvious.

Then there's the ending. SPOILER ALERT. Gator watches the sheriff go over a ridge and into the water in his car, drowning him. Sort of an inactive ending for the protagonist, no? In the theater version, once the sheriff was trapped in the car, Gator shot him.

That's a completely different ending. That's like saying Han didn't shoot first. You cannot edit out an entire character development point, dammit.

But now we have a movie more friendly to the Smokey and the Bandit audience, I guess.

There really are a million ways a studio can screw a good script.


  1. This may have been caused by Blockbuster - when they became a major force in the video world, they actually demanded films be recut or they wouldn't buy them.

    - Bill

  2. Well super. Thanks, Blockbuster.

  3. Saw it quite a few times at the theater when it came out.

    When movies were special...

    It was a different time and the movie was nearly perfect FOR IT'S TIME.

    Try making it today... Who could play Gator and really pull it off like Burt Reynolds did?

    Methinks nobody.

    Hmmmm. Tasty puddin'.


  4. But...did he have the Burt Reynold's mustache?

  5. Yes ma'am he certainly did.

  6. I could have sworn he was sans mustache in WHITE LIGHTNING.

    But what do I know...


  7. Yeah you're right.

    Sometimes I like to make shit up just because I'm too lazy to remember properly.


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