There’s a certain level of expectation that comes attached to large-scale, dramatic, sword-and-shield epics, with movies like BRAVEHEART, GLADIATOR and even LORD OF THE RINGS coming to mind. These expectations are often lofty, and unfortunately, OUTLAW KING didn’t live up to them after it screened at TIFF two months ago. After receiving lukewarm-bad reviews, director David Mackenzie knew what he had to do, and that meant cutting over 20 minutes off his 137-minute historical epic.
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While that seems like – and certainly is – a big slice of the movie, Mackenzie recently spoke to IndieWire about why the edit was necessary. He knew as the movie was screening that there were big chunks that weren’t playing well, and he could feel the audience losing interest as the movie bounced from character to character. Among the first scenes to go were some battle and action scenes, which may sound like the good stuff, but once they were cut the director believes the movie became more focused and less chaotic.
“The film was almost too relentless, and put Robert in a position of vulnerability too often. That’s the kind of thing that can lead an audience to disengage.”
“I didn’t know if streamlining those elements was going to work, but as soon as I did it, it was like — snap! — this is good, this is the way it should be. I didn’t really change the structure too much, it was more about lifting out whole things and going ‘gosh, the story doesn’t collapse when you do that.’ It was quite educational, really.”
As well, there were some scenes between Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) and William Wallace that made it on the cutting room floor. Mackenzie recalls looking back on that bit, saying, “To be honest, it always felt contrived. Robert just accidentally encounters this guy in the woods?” He continued, saying he they were also “aware of the shadow of that character,” and the work Mel Gibson did with the character on the movie BRAVEHEART, which was about Wallace fighting the British for Scotland’s independence. At the end of the day, Mackenzie feels the movie is stronger without him and works better without “forcing an actor to play someone who people across the world already know.”
When it comes down to it, a shorter movie is actually more in line with Mackenzie’s sensibilities, saying that his final cuts are often much shorter, whereas other “Director’s Cuts” tend to add more to the theatrical cuts.
“More often than not, my director’s cuts are shorter than how they started. People have encouraged me to put stuff back into the movies, so I’m quite capable of being tough on the material. Sitting through the premiere of ‘Outlaw King’ and having a strong sense that it was playing long and all over the place kind of gave me the carte blanche I needed to be more ruthless in the editorial process.”
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Most people who watch OUTLAW KING – which hits Netflix today – will never know how the movie played before Mackenzie made the cuts, but perhaps that’s for the best. Mackenzie believes the movie is much stronger and more streamlined than before, and perhaps by making the movie have less people will get more out of it. At least he kept the shots of Pine going full monty, which may be enough to justify any runtime, no matter how bloated.
You can watch OUTLAW KING now on Netflix, and you can listen to Chris Bumbray’s review of the original cut above.
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