12/22/2010 10:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why I Won't Be Seeing Little Fockers in Theaters...

The Wolfman, Salt, Knight and Day, The A-Team, and The Town. What do these films have in common? Not too much, except I saw all of them in theaters, all on my own dime and (more importantly) on my own time. I enjoyed The A-Team and kinda-sorta liked Knight and Day and Salt. But the one constant is that they all came to DVD/Blu Ray with extensive 'Extended Edition/Director's Cut' versions. The whole 'unrated/extended cut' thing has been around since the beginning of DVD. Usually it amounts to an R-rated comedy (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, The Hangover, Role Models, etc) or horror film (every single Saw picture) tossing in three minutes of 'extreme' material that could have allegedly gotten the film an NC-17. But this recent wave is different. These are old-fashioned action pictures and star-vehicles, the kind that are allegedly struggling to find an audience, yet they are consistently mocking their theatrical audiences by unleashing more substantial versions on the home video platform just months after theatrical release.

The Wolfman is nineteen minutes longer on DVD than it was in theaters. The A-Team has twenty minutes of character-development beats, which allegedly make the move a more thoughtful, insightful, and just-plain better action picture. The Town has a whopping 25 minutes of extra scenes. Sure, they don't help the movie all that much, but considering that the film came out on DVD just 90 days after its theatrical release, it's almost like the theatrical audience is being pranked. Knight and Day has just seven minutes of new material, but perhaps had I known I would have waited for DVD. And the heavily-tinkered-with Salt comes with three different cuts of the movie on DVD and Blu Ray. There's only about four minutes difference between versions, but it's painfully clear that the director's cut (with a much darker finale and more finite resolution) is the version that Philip Noyce submitted before Sony Pictures and/or test screening audiences demanded a more audience-friendly and/or franchise-friendly film. And that's not counting the comedies (Get Him to the Greek, Date Night, The Other Guys, etc), all of which are being released in 10-20 minute longer versions upon their home arrival. Paul Weitz has just promised 'over five movies worth of deleted scenes' for Little Fockers. Even if the reviews for that one weren't dreadful, comments like that are just the kind of thing to keep me away from the theaters.
For the record, there is a big difference between The Lord of the Rings trilogy and/or the Almost Famous 'bootleg cut' and this kind of thing. The Lord of the Rings films demanded at least one big-screen viewing, as did Avatar. All waited a full year before unleashing its 16-minutes longer extended cut on Blu Ray (plus, there was an eight-minute longer special edition released back into theaters at the end of last summer). There is a big difference between releasing a director's cut and/or extended version of a film a year or two (if not longer) after the theatrical release, especially if the audience has fair warning to make their choice accordingly. Everyone knew that Cameron would eventually release a longer version of Avatar, because he so often does (Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2). I hesitate to fault Ridley Scott's Robin Hood because Scott is such a well-known tinkerer as well (I knowingly waited until Blu Ray, hated the movie anyway).
Even audiences for Zack Snyder's Watchmen had fair warning prior to the theatrical release that there would be a longer director's cut coming down the pike. Whether or not this might affect our decision to see it in theaters, at least no one went in unaware. This isn't Dark City getting its director's cut ten years after its theatrical release. This isn't Daredevil getting an R-rated (and vastly superior) director's cut nearly two years after the film's theatrical release. These are films getting noticeably longer (and often less-comprised) cuts on DVD several months after theatrical release. These are star-driven comedies and glorified B-movie thrillers that work just as well on TNT on a lazy Sunday as they do in theaters. As studios wrestle with how to make money from old-fashioned thrillers and genre pictures, why are studios so willing to risk the people who still go out of their way to see this stuff in theaters?
When you're dealing with movies that don't necessarily need the big screen to thrive (especially in the age of large-screen HD televisions and DTS home set-ups), what exactly is the point of seeing a movie in a theater when one can wait three-to-five months and not only see it in a flawless Blu Ray presentation, but see a longer, fuller version, often as the director intended it in the first place? Maybe if I were still younger and/or had more free time, this wouldn't be as much of an issue. But I rarely have time to see a movie more than once, certainly not a movie that I wasn't over the moon about in the first place. Would I have enjoyed The Wolfman more in its two-hour extended version? Perhaps not, but I wouldn't have felt cheated after realizing that I paid $10 and went out of my way to go to the theater in order to see what turned out to be an arbitrary version of the film.
So point being, I likely won't be seeing Little Fockers in theaters over this coming weekend. I imagine the allegedly-terrible film won't play that much better in some 'extreme extended edition', but at least I'll know that A) I'll have the longer version available and/or B) I'll have the choice regarding which version to watch. I'm not sure how this trend will affect my movie going habits in the new year. I'll certainly see less comedies in theaters, but I already made that call last year (hint - not one theatrical comedy this year was as funny as any given episode of Modern Family, Community, The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, The Middle, or even Better With You). But I do enjoy the usual action picture and/or star-driven thriller. So the question becomes, do I wait until DVD/Blu Ray and forgo the review and/or commentary that comes with immediate theatrical viewing, or do I trek out to a theater and hope that I won't feel conned just four months later?

Scott Mendelson