Pure Danger Tech


One man’s refactoring is another man’s director’s cut

02 Oct 2007

I was reading Wired’s article/Q&A with Ridley Scott while brushing my teeth this morning and found it pretty interesting. It’s triggered by the upcoming re-re-release of Blade Runner (the “final cut”). For purely accidental reasons, Blade Runner was never an important movie for me. I got interested in it a lot later than most and by that point had been heavily influenced by reading a lot of hard SF and cyberpunk books, which had already had a lot of the impact. Regardless, it’s a beautiful piece of work and I have a deep respect for it now.

I mentioned the new cut to my friend Scott, who is an avid Blade Runner fan and we got to talking about the seeming race between Ridley and George Lucas to put out as many versions of their early great work as possible. Lots of interesting parallels between these two cases – two perfectionist directors that made great early films that failed to fully execute the creative vision of the director (plus the Harrison Ford linkage of course). In the case of Star Wars, the gap seemed to be largely technical (despite the amazing and innovative work they did) and with Blade Runner, there was the famous saccharine ending that was forced on him by the studio. In subsequent years, these directors can’t resist the urge to return to their films to make both editing changes and improve technical execution, not just once but repeatedly.

The whole directors cut thing (esp when done multiple times) seems a little hokey to me. I kind of feel like there is some value in saying “pencils down” at some point and calling a work complete. In some sense, it feels like going back and changing lots of details later devalues all the decisions and compromises made to complete the work in the first place, decisions which in sum actually are the value of that original work, made under whatever constraints existed in the environment.

But then as I mulled this over in the back of my mind, I realized I’m a total hypocrite because in making software, I spend virtually 100% of my time tweaking every last detail of an existing code base. Sometimes you’re inserting scenes or making feature changes that really alter the character of the code base, but usually you’re just replacing the lamp shade in the bedroom scene or making sure the guy is holding the cup the same way in both takes. So, I’m stepping (probably falling) off my high horse and they can release as many cuts as they want and I’ll keep my mouth shut.