How Disney could revolutionize the theatrical experience and put ‘Multi’ back in Multiplex

Anghus Houvouras on how Disney could put the ‘multi’ back into multiplex…

Spider-Man: No Way Home was a massive hit. The kind of film that appealed to a wide variety of film fans. A rare blend of comedy, tragedy and bombast that made it one the most lucrative movies ever released. A new version of the film is back in theaters containing more lighthearted and comedic scenes titled ‘No Way Home: The More Fun Stuff Version‘. It’s not the first time something like this has happened. A few years back 20th Century Fox tried going back to the well with a lighter, less violent version of Deadpool 2 titled ‘Once Upon a Deadpool‘.

The number of films re-released theatrically with additional footage or edited down to get a more family-friendly rating happens rarely. Normally reserved for massive blockbusters that have made their studios and stockholders very happy. In the past, the concept of releasing two versions of a film simultaneously has always been a difficult proposition. Due to the financials, the limitations of technology and the interest of protecting the integrity of the filmmaker. But most of those reservations have become much more manageable. Analog has become digital. Studios and filmmakers are far more used to cutting different versions of their movies to align with the cultural sensibilities of foreign markets.

So why not release multiple versions of the same movie into theaters simultaneously?

And I’m not talking about a few clips here and there that take out obscenities, nudity or acts of violence to appease the MPAA. I’m talking about pursuing two different creative goals from the same footage. Clearly releasing multiple versions of a film wouldn’t work for every studio, nor every franchise, but it feels like there’s one studio that could benefit from the practice: Disney.

Thor: Love and Thunder was a financial success but there wasn’t a lot of love for Taika Waititi’s much maligned second outing with everyone’s favorite hammer wielding God. Like any Marvel movie, it had to try and balance appealing to both kids and adults. The dark themes of the story that centered around Jane Foster’s mortality and the suffering inflicted on innocent beings by the Gods and the kid-friendly mandate by the studio made for a mess of a movie. One moment you’re watching an army of lightning powered eight-year-olds fighting to rock-n-roll music and moments later you’re dealing with the death of a main character. This kind of wild pendulum swing is difficult for any filmmaker to manage. Love and Thunder is a salient example of the disappointment that can emerge from trying too hard to please everyone.

Christian Bale talked at length about all the dark, moving scenes he shot while playing Gorr the God Butcher. Scenes that tapped into the depth and tragedy of the character and the story arc that was adapted from the comics. However, we didn’t get to see those moments because the film had to skew towards a younger, toy buying audience.

I’m sure there’s a lot of people, myself included, that would love to see a version of Love and Thunder that left out the hackneyed gags and pursued the more tragic themes of the story. In this day and age, why can’t that be a possibility?

Imagine a theatrical experience where you can go to the cinemas and pick what version of Love and Thunder you wanted to see. Is it a family outing with the kids in tow? Go check out the more comedic, less traumatic PG version. Are you going to the theater to see a movie with your comic book loving friends eager to see a faithful adaptation of Jason Aaron’s dark examination of faith and fury? Check out the PG-13 version that leans into the dramatic elements of the story. There are potential benefits to this model, at least for a company always looking seeking out new ways to please audiences.

Major studio blockbusters with budgets of 200 million dollars (or more) have the difficult task of appealing to different demographics in order to make their money back. Love and Thunder is a fantastic example of a movie that suffers from trying to be all things to all people. The film is broken at a foundational level. I could spend an entire column discussing the insanity of attempting to creatively reconcile the tragedy of Gorr the God Butcher and Jane Foster’s terminal cancer diagnosis into a movie aimed at children. There’s a reason McDonalds opted to not make a Gorr toy for their Thor themed Happy Meals.

However, if Disney released two different versions of the movie, fans could choose which version of the film they’d prefer. Instead of fans of more serious cinema spending countless hours bemoaning the childishness and corny gags preventing the film from achieving any level of stakes or emotional weight, you now have two different versions of the film that can be discussed and dissected.

When Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released, it was a choppy and almost incoherent version of his vision. Mostly because the studio was worried about how much the movie could make at a three hour run time. What if Warner Bros. had released his original version of the movie alongside the theatrical cut and allowed fans of Snyder’s vision to experience his version?

How many years of social media suffering could have been spared if Warner Bros. had let Zack Snyder release his version of Justice League alongside a pared down two and a half hour version? What would the cost differential been for Warner Bros.? Surely less than the $150 million spent on reshoots with Joss Whedon and the absolute dumpster fire that came from their attempts do what Marvel did with Love and Thunder; try way too hard to make one movie that appealed to everyone.

I understand any apprehension. But times are changing and there is a need for new paradigms. The cinematic experience has been impacted by a global pandemic and the rising popularity of streaming services. And certainly there are logistical and creative issues to be addressed. What would the ratio be for the different versions? Do you opt for one screen for the darker version of Love and Thunder for every three screens showing the family friendly version?

With theaters now using digital files for screenings, the blend could be easily adjusted to accommodate whichever version is getting more traffic. And given the woeful state of cinematic exhibition, what theater chain would turn down the opportunity to have a variation on the same blockbuster that’s going to be occupying 75% of their available screens? Creatively, it would require flexibility from filmmakers. Instead of finding the right cut for one movie, creators would go into the edit with an agenda targeting a more specific audience for each cut.

Again, this is very specific to a company like Disney and the kinds of movies they make. This model will not work for every studio, but in the hands of the world’s largest collection of intellectual properties, a multi-version movie release is certainly something they could accommodate and potentially see success with while giving new meaning to the word ‘Multiplex’.

What are your thoughts? Be sure to let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…

Anghus Houvouras


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