The essential difference between the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback released to theaters in 1999 and the version found on the Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut DVD (Paramount, $20, HD-DVD and Blu-ray $30) can be summed up thusly: In the new version, they shoot the dog.
It is a sign of just how misguided Hollywood studio logic can be that despite Payback's ridiculously high body count and cartoonish approach to violence, one of the sticking points that led first-time director Brian Helgeland to walk away from the film - which was extensively altered, and not for the better, after his departure - was the insistence by executives that a scene of a dog being shot (off-camera) simply had to go.
It was that sort of inane decision - along with the inclusion of a new third act and hammy voiceover narration designed to make Gibson's anti-hero more sympathetic - that made Payback seem so generic and forgettable during its original release.
Helgeland's version, which is presented here for the first time, is shorter, tighter and infinitely more memorable, sporting a wickedly cynical sense of humor and a mean, unsparing attitude that are a much better fit for Donald E. Westlake's source novel (the same book, by the way, that inspired John Boorman's cooler-than-cool tough-guy noir Point Blank).
The DVD, which includes extensive interviews with Helgeland and Gibson about the recutting of the film, is a fascinating, uncommonly candid study of how Hollywood studios, in their attempts to make movies more audience-friendly (i.e. commercial), often end up draining what would have made the films memorable in the first place: Their spirit and originality.
Monday Apr. 23
Payback: Straight Up - The Director's Cut (2007)
Wednesday, Apr. 26
Tears of the Black Tiger (2000): Made in Thailand, this visually sumptuous western/romance/revenge drama/parody/splatter flick is, simply put, the darndest thing I ever saw.
* The Godfather (1972): Little-known bit of trivia: The horse's head was real.