Friday, 21 November 2014

Thief - A Tale of Three Edits

by Anthony Nield

(Click images to see full size.)

WARNING: The following article unavoidably contains spoilers.

Michael Mann likes to tinker. The majority of his films have undergone tweaks and changes over the years, resulting in numerous variations. His 1992 feature The Last of the Mohicans, for example, was released in an original theatrical cut, then a ‘Director’s Expanded Edition’ in 1999 and, most recently, a ‘Director’s Definitive Cut’ in 2010. Not that Mann always waits so long between changes; the Miami Vice that played in cinemas in July 2006 was different to the one that came out on DVD (and HD DVD) in December of that year.

The same treatment has also happened to Thief, Mann’s first made-for-cinema feature (his 1979 TV film, The Jericho Mile, played British cinemas shortly after its success at the Emmys). It opened in 1981, playing in competition at the Cannes Film Festival under the name of Violent Streets – the title is also used for UK showings, and remained in its theatrical form until 1995, when a ‘Special Director’s Edition’ emerged on LaserDisc. The first US DVD, released by MGM in 1998, contained the same edition, although UK discs (first from MGM, later from Optimum) opted for the theatrical cut. The first US Blu-ray, meanwhile, contained a new edition once again; Mann was heavily involved in this Criterion release and so not only did he make changes once more, he also undertook an all-new colour grade. (Theatrical cut on the left, Criterion on the right. You’ll also notice that the framing is ever so slightly different.)

(Click images to see full size.)

So what are the differences between the three cuts, other than the dramatic shift in grading? The most pronounced changes occur between the theatrical and LaserDisc cuts, so much so that Mann opted to reverse a number of them for the Criterion edition.

The majority of changes occur during the final third, although the LaserDisc and Criterion cuts do get a new scene eight minutes in, immediately after the opening heist. In the theatrical cut we transition straight from the heist to Frank (James Caan’s character) beginning a day’s work at his car lot. In the other versions, however, we see him in the early hours of the morning, on the banks of Lake Michigan, talking to a fisherman. Frank offers him “a Danish” and they talk about the expanse of water and sky before them: “Magic!”, “That’s the Sky Chief.” The transition into this scene also means that the final shot of the heist sequence is held a little longer.

(Click images to see full size.)

All of the subsequent changes happen after the second heist. The first takes place during the near-wordless beach scene in which Frank and Barry (James Belushi) celebrate their success with their other halves (Tuesday Weld and Patty Ross) and, in Frank’s case, newly adopted child. For the LaserDisc, Mann removed a shot of Weld holding the baby (below) and therefore had to tweak the edit and the score ever so slightly to accommodate the change. By the time of the Criterion edition, he’d changed his mind and reinstated it.

(Click image to see full size.)

Weld also had half a line of dialogue removed from the LaserDisc, during the scene where Frank asks her character, Jessie, to leave as she and the baby are no longer safe. In the theatrical cut she asks, “We just disassemble it and put it back in a box like an erector set you just send back to a store?” But in the LaserDisc version this was cut down to: “We just disassemble it and put it back in a box?” As with previous alteration, Mann decided to revert back to the full dialogue for the Criterion version.

(Click image to see full size.)

The next change is a relatively minor one. After Frank has set fire to the cars on his lot, he pulls out the photo collage he keeps in his wallet and gives it one last look before screwing it up and throwing it away. Mann opted to shorten this shot for the LaserDisc – look closely and you can see the edit – before, once more, changing his mind by the time of the Criterion.

(Click image to see full size.)

Finally, Mann decided to alter the final shoot-out for the LaserDisc. The sequence remains exactly the same in terms of duration and soundtrack (Craig Safan’s ‘Confrontation’) but plays with the speed of some shots and therefore has to lengthen others in order to accommodate the switch. The Criterion cut ignores these changes but does tweak the soundtrack ever so slightly. Play the theatrical and Criterion versions side-by-side and you’ll notice a sudden shift during the penultimate shot – and yet the end credits remain, visually, in perfect synch.

(Click image to see full size.)

For our upcoming release of Thief we’ll be including the theatrical cut alongside the Criterion edit on a bonus disc limited to 3,000 copies [the limited edition will also be housed in a slipcase]. Subsequent releases will only include the Criterion version. The Criterion version is most definitely the superior of the two when it comes to presentation owing to its new 4k master, though we are sure that many will be grateful to also own the film as it originally screened in 1981 in high definition.

(Click images to see full size.)

Thief will be released on January 26th 2015 and available to pre-order from next week.


  1. Just purchased the Criterion dual format version via a friend who was in LA for the AFM, when Criterion just happened to have one of their 50% off sales going on...timing is everything...

  2. Mmmmm DVD case in the image, guess there will be seperate DVD and Blu-ray releases then

  3. That's the slipcase playing tricks on you: packaging will be two Blu-rays in an Amaray inside a slipcase. No DVDs, either separately or alongside the Blu-rays.

  4. I have a question regarding the special edition. I normally buy Arrow disks through Amazon, but REALLY don't want to miss this one - will it be available for pre-order through Amazon, or will I need to go through the Arrow site?

  5. Fabio - the discs will be coded for Region B.

    Tristan - it'll be available through all the usual outlets - Amazon, Zavvi and so forth as well as through our online store.

  6. Nice job! Looks like you are quite accomplished with your video editing. Keep up the great work!

    - J.O. from Maverick Video Production in Rhode Island

  7. Nice tale with much interest, loved this one.
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