Today came the most inevitable announcement of 2016. No, not that the King of All Clowns finally announced that recent clown attacks around the country have indeed been in support of Donald Trump. Guggo is speaking on Tuesday.
No, it’s that Suicide Squad is getting an Extended Edition. Despite the fact that we had already apparently seen the Director’s Cut, November 15th Digitally and then December 13th on Snail Media will see the Extended Edition of Suicide Squad being released.
This isn’t an article to speculate what’s on the Extended Edition. My guess is some sort of justification for why Jared Leto had to send dead pigs and anal beads to A- and B-list celebrities by putting back some of the apparently missing Joker scenes.
This also isn’t an article to further crap on Suicide Squad. I’ve done that enough. To be honest, I’m guessing that much like The People v. Batman v. Superman, the Extended Edition can at best trim some of the film’s incoherencies. The DCEU’s narrative problems are often the least of its crimes. Its story decisions, character-building decisions and tone problems will always ultimately be the most damning things that no Extended Decision can fix.
This will however be further bashing on the DCEU. Sorry about that, but I love the DC Comics Universe and the amount of leeway these films would have with me otherwise should tell you how root-of-it-all offensive I find a lot of the decisions. Moreover, I think the problem of Warner Brothers twice-now releasing an Extended Edition (three times if we count Watchmen) of their DC Films may speak to the root of what’s wrong with the thought process behind this universe.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Warner Brothers has let loose their Extended Editions. Trust me, we wouldn’t have these if it wasn’t for Lord of The Rings, a popular trilogy of releases that added back in a lot of content and pushed a watch of all three into true endurance test territory.
Now, those editions added a lot. Nothing that fundamentally changed the film, but plenty of new content to sink their teeth into. And that was largely true for Watchmen, just additions based on an already existing story.
But then that brings us to Batman v. Superman: Take Two. Rather than being extra, the Ultimate Edition re-release functioned almost as an apology and second chance, an attempt by Warner Brothers to reconfigure the film after the less popular release. It added back in character moments, including almost rewriting Superman as a public figure, Clark Kent as a reporter, and extra detail about the beyond violent Batman. It also added in new plot details, including confirmation of Lex Luthor’s string-pulling and the death of Jimmy Olsen.
All of this actually does change the film, creating a different reading of its narrative arc and the way that we need to engage with its characters. It recontextualizes the film. The obvious problem is that releasing a separate (and arguably improved, though barely) version of the film, for lack of a better term, on DVD is a slap in the face to viewers and a total missed opportunity that shows how little thought Warner Brothers puts into planning this universe. Why was the best version of this material not available initially? Why was a film that needed these fixes put out well after the fact? What changed their mind?
There’s a bigger problem though, and it’s how Warner Brothers is engaging with the Cinematic Universe mode of storytelling.
Actually, I don’t like that term. When we get down to it, every film is a cinematic universe. They’re creating a world for us to live in with its own history outside the edges. A good film should be a universe on its own.
Rather, I want to propose that the model we see with Marvel Studios, DC Films, Star Wars, and countless other attempts should be better deemed “Open System” cinematic storytelling, which is a deviation from the standard mode of “Closed System” cinematic storytelling.
In Open System cinematic storytelling, there is no resolution. That’s the basic building block. The universe always exists for the viewer, and no one story is bringing it to an end. While you may close off an individual path, there is always a mind towards moving towards the next step, and the decisions made will affect each step. Because of that, Open System is inherently transmedia, because any media introduced into an Open System storytelling model will alter the characters and the universe around it, whether they’re acknowledged or not.
Just to note, this isn’t a new model. Comic books and most nerdy genre series like Star Wars and Star Trek have existed in this space. That’s why we have arguments about what’s Canon and what’s not, determining what’s a part of the system to understand the next step.
To contrast, Closed System cinematic storytelling is about resolution. The end of the film closes off the story loop, and even if it’s reopened, it’s closed the next time. Our adventure is over, and any hint at the next one doesn’t mean that the loop is still open. Our time in this cinematic universe can only be altered at fixed points, and there’s always an endgame in mind.
Lord of the Rings is very much a Closed System series. We’ve seen the end, we’ve had the resolution of the specific story universe therein. The Extended Editions are therefore a reopening and reclosing of that loop. No matter what happens, we still hit the same conclusion at the end, there wasn’t more to change.
On the other hand, the DCEU is an Open System series. We’ve not resolved the story, on the contrary, we’ve just begun. We see where our story is going, and we see there’s countless deviations and paths the story can go down. Which is why Warner Brothers recontextualization of their stories in multiple mediums is such a problem.
Marvel Studios adds, but never changes. We find out new information, but we do not change the information we know. On the contrary, the changes of the Ultimate Edition is an alteration to the story, with no clear path on which is now the story the Open System has absorbed. Is the Theatrical Edition the version of Superman that’s coming back to life in Justice League, or is it the Ultimate Edition? Is the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker loving or abusive, depending on the scenes the Extended Edition adds in, when it inevitably comes up in The Batman?
Warner Brothers isn’t thinking ahead to what it means to drop new information and change things around in their Open System, because they aren’t planning. They’re reacting, reacting to bad news and bad press and good news and potential new revenue streams. Which is fine, they’re a business. But they’re an artistic business, and they’re harming their art for business potential. Is it any wonder there’s been such behind the scenes drama when we see above the board evidence that Warner Brothers isn’t thinking through the decisions they made, with the consoling thought that they can fix it later?
If Warner Brothers, and countless other studios sure to soon jump on the Open System model, want to survive, planning and clarity is key. Otherwise, Justice League may end up the most expensive egg on their face any studio has ever had.