Multiple versions of movies have been around for a long time. “Saturday Night Fever” was shown in some theaters a year after its initial release in a “PG” version that remove the offensive content that originally caused it to be rated “R.” Most alternative versions of films are such due to editing for content to make it more economically robust. Take the bad words out of “Saturday Night Fever” and suddenly you get kids under 17 coming to see it by themselves and the box office take explodes.
In 2013, those who can stand 2.5 hours of Robert Downey, Jr. expectorating snark rather than bothering with showing up to create a character will get to see a version of “Iron Man 3” that promises to be significantly different from the version seen by moviegoers in China. Sensing that an untapped bonanza exists among Chinese audiences, Disney caved in to political censorship by agreeing to make a version of “Iron Man 3” acceptable to the political sensibilities of those in charge in China. Sad, yes, but entirely true. And, in a way, not that significantly different from the case of trimming “Saturday Night Fever” down from an “R” to a “PG” in order to collect the cash of all those younger teens and kids who plunking down their money to buy movie’s soundtrack, yet had never actually seen the movie. Alternative versions of films tend to be all about the money.
And then there’s the curious case of “Marooned.” This early effort from Gene Hackman holds a unique place in the annals of cult films by virtue of its being the only Oscar-winning movie ever riffed to pieces on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” If you go looking for an MST3K episode featuring “Marooned” you won’t find it, however.
For some reason, this precursor to the post-George Lucas view of science fiction as box office gold was re-released to television stations in a drastically shortened version under the name “Space Travelers.” “Mystery Science Theater 3000” featured a number of movies starring John Agar or directed by Roger Corman, both of which made sense. What a shock it must have been for those who tuned in for the initial airing of Space Travelers to witness the same kind snarky commentary you and Chinese moviegoers will hear from Robert Downey in “Iron Man 3” (though decidedly less humorous, if history is an indictor, and it is) directed toward Gene Hackman and his A-list co-stars.
To its credit, MST3K did not back down from the considerable job of attacking Gene Hackman with as much intensity as they tarred John Agar. The really weird part is that you will most likely prefer the version of “Marooned” that is known as “Space Travelers” that is attached by on MST3K because in its original version the film is a rather dreary affair. What we have here is a movie trapped somewhere in the limbo between the hard science of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the space opera of “Star Wars.”
What remains to be seen is if Rifftrax, one of the offspring born by those who made “Mystery Science Theater 3000” such an iconic show in American TV history will choose to bare their claws over the American or Chinese version of “Iron Man 3.” Whichever, you can bet Robert Downey will have it coming.