Jan. 30, 2005
The other day I was reading my old "Treasury
Sized" comic book version of Steven Spielberg's UFO movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
This was the tie-in put out by Marvel Comics which, although it was
completed before the movie actually hit theaters, nonetheless followed
the finished film fairly closely. One difference, though, was the
scene in which we are first introduced to our Everyman protagonist, Roy
Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss), As Archie Goodwin, the
writer, explained in the afterword: He had felt the filmed version of
that scene was too brief to properly introduce us to the
protagonist. Instead, he had gone back to an earlier draft of the
screenplay which had a slightly longer scene.
In that earlier draft, the scene was essentially structured around a
visual gag. It begins with Roy and his family at home, Roy
engrossed working on a miniature landscape for his model train.
One of his children angrily accuses him of stealing his
glow-in-the-dark paint, a charge which Roy denies, demanding why he is
always blamed whenever anything goes missing. The scene then
continues with other things until Roy gets a call from his supervisor
at the power plant where he works. The whole city is losing power
for some unknown reason; Roy is ordered to report to work. At
that moment, the lights go out, plunging the room into total darkness
except for one source of light -- huge sections of Roy's miniature
landscape glow the distinctive luminous green of glow-in-the-dark
paint. From the darkness, Roy's kid says bitterly, "I told you he
stole my paint."
Now, the fact that the joke part of this scene was left out of the
final film isn't especially interesting. All films have bits that
end up on the editing room floor. In fact, nowadays, with the
advent of "director's cuts", it is almost de rigeur that something be
left out of the theatrical release just so it can be put back in for
the DVD! No. What makes this scene special is that it must
have been dropped so late in the post production process that its
remains on the finished print.
If you watch the scene as it appears in widescreen (it isn't visible
in the cropped version), when the lights go out, the room is indeed
plunged into total darkness -- except for the large luminous patches on
the miniature landscape in the background. Now, keep in mind, in
this version, there is no reference to the missing glow-in-the-dark
paint. No one accuses Roy of stealing it; Roy doesn't ask why
he is always blamed when anything goes missing. It simply isn't
mentioned. So there's no explanation for what those weird, really
obvious glowing patches are in the otherwise pitch black room.
Obviously Spielberg would have preferred not to have had those
glowing patches messing up his shot. But either he had already
shot the scene with the joke intact, only then deciding to drop it in
the editing room, or else no one thought to tell the prop guys to
eighty-six the glow-in-the-dark paint. One way or t'other, there
the paint remains, a mystery to anyone who didn't read Marvel's comic
Thinking about the excised paint joke in Close Encounters got me thinking
about other examples of such dropped scenes -- scenes which were
dropped sufficiently late in the process that their "mark" remains, an
unexplained mystery in the final cut.
Once again, Marvel Comics' Treasury Sized adaptation comes to our
rescue. While the Close
Encounters comic book tie-in relied on the screenplay, the Empire Strikes Back adaptation,
drawn by the legendary Al Williamson, was clearly done using stills
taken from the finished film. Not only do the drawn characters
look like the actors, but many of the panels have the same composition
as the same shots in the movie. But in the comic book adaptation,
there is an entire subplot which doesn't appear in the film.
In setting up a base on the ice planet Hoth, the rebels have first checked to make sure the planet is uninhabited. That's why Luke is taken by surprise when he runs into the "Ice Creature which is NOT a Bumble". But then other Ice Creatures somehow find their way into the rebel base itself, where they kill a Tauntaun. (The rebels realize the Creature's metabolism is so low it doesn't register on their sensors.) Soon the rebels find themselves knee-deep in attacking Ice Creatures, even as they are preparing to abandon the planet because they have been discovered by the evil Darth Vader and his stormtroopers.
It is easy to see why George Lucas dropped the Ice Creature
subplot. Firstly, it paints our rebel heroes in a desperately bad
light, maliciously trying to exterminate the Ice Creatures (which,
after all, were there first) even though they are already planning to
abandon the planet. Secondly, it competes with the main plot in
which the rebels have to evacuate before the stormtroopers
arrive. It was just one complication too many. And so Lucas
gave it the ax and all that remains is that strange shot of the dead
Tauntaun and the smear of blood.
Another example and then I'll let you get back to work. (Or back to
playing FreeCell. That's right. I can SEE you.
N'yah-ha-ha!) I've seen the Ridley Scott/Dan O'Bannon sci-fi
horror flick, Alien, a
zillion times. There is a scene where Ripley (played by Sigourney
Weaver) -- with the death of the ship's commander, Dallas -- finally
gets access to the spaceship's computer. To her horror, she
learns that she, and the rest of the crew, are all dupes, considered
expendable in the mother corporation's desire to bring home an alien --
said nefarious plan to be secretly carried out by the ship's doctor,
Ash (played by Ian Holm). When Ripley learns this, she flies into
a rage, shoves Ash violently against the wall and storms off.
What's so strange about that, you ask? What I noticed only after
many viewings because it was so subtle, was that Ripley's nose was...
Intially, when I first noticed this, I assumed Ash must have fought back, hitting her and I had just missed it. But rewinding and watching it again, I found no such thing. Ash doesn't hit back. She just slams him against the wall, then storms off. Stranger, I realized her nose was bleeding before she attacks Ash, while she was still typing questions into the computer keyboard. At that point, nothing violent had happened. So why, I wondered, was her nose bleeding?
Only recently did I discover the answer when, reading screenplays
posted on the Internet, I found the screenplay to Alien -- but one that was clearly
an earlier draft. In this earlier version, there is a long,
exciting scene between the death of the commander Dallas and the scene
where Ripley finally gets access to the computer -- a scene which doesn't appear in the final film.
Ripley has sent Parker to refill Dallas's flame-thrower. On
the way, Parker encounters the Alien standing near the main
airlock. He contacts Ripley, on the bridge, and, whispering,
tells her to slowly open the interior airlock door. She does so
and, curious. the Alien enters the airlock, whereupon Parker shouts for
Ripley to close it again fast.
But at that moment, someone (we can assume it was Ash, although he
never admits it, the little shit) activates the klaxon, startling the
which leaps back out before the door can close. The door briefly
catches the Alien's tail and its acidic blood sprays all over the door,
where it immediately begins melting a hole through the metal.
Parker is struck by the fleeing Alien and knocked unconscious. He
is unable to tell Ripley about the melting hole. Her console
indicates the interior door is sealed and, thinking the Alien trapped
in the airlock, she begins opening the outer airlock door to flush it
out into space. When she can't get Parker to respond, Ripley
rushes to the airlock to see for herself, arriving just as the Alien's
acidic blood melts a hole through the inner door. With the outer
door open to the vacuum of space, the air begins to be sucked out the
hole, causing bulkhead doors to seal, trapping both Parker and
Ripley. The pressure plummets precipitously (Who says
alliteration is dead?) and it looks like curtains
for our heroes when another crew member, Lambert, opens the door and
lets them out. But not before we are told: "Blood froths at their
noses and ears."
In this earlier screenplay, Ripley needed a special card to access
the computer, a card which she was certain Ash was hiding from
her. So, directly following her scene with the airlock, she went
to Ash's compartment, found the card and then went to the computer
compartment where she learned the terrible truth of Ash's secret
Why did Scott drop the airlock scene from the final
film? There may be various possible reasons. For one thing,
although H.R. Giger's Alien costume has received a considerable amount
of praise down through the years (and turned Giger into the most famous
monster maker since Jack "Frankenstein" Pierce), the truth is it still
looked like what it was: a guy in a rubber suit. Scott was
very conscious of this, which is why he opted to keep the Alien in
shadow, revealing it only in darkly lit glimpses. Then too,
he may have felt this scene was far too similar to the climactic scene
where Ripley finally does flush the Alien out an airlock -- which kind
of robs that climax of its climactic aspect.
Whatever Scott's reason, the airlock scene got the chop, but not
the scene in the computer room had already been lensed with Ripley's
bloody nose -- a relic of her near fatal exposure to the vacuum of
I can't see any lesson that is learned from these dropped
scenes. I guess they're just interesting in a really trivial sort
of way. If you know of any other example, I'd love to hear from
I was hoping to work in a reference to Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy,
partly because, as you well know, I somehow seem to refer to Star Trek
in just about every essay, no matter what it's supposed to be about, so
I figure, why not make it a personal idiosyncracy? Partly
that. But also because Leonard Nimoy hosted a series called In
Search Of... and I wanted to justify calling this editorial
quirky like "In Search of...Sigourney Weaver's Bloody Nose".
Something like that. If I had referred to Leonard Nimoy, that
title might make sense. But, as it is, it would be pretty lame to
call it that now. But don't worry. I'll think of something
better. Just give me a moment. It'll come to
me. Any minute now. It'll come to me.
Aa-ny minute now.
Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate
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