Censuring The Censors


Rod W coordinates and maintains these entries. He also maintains The Chopping List, a comprehensive guide to movies which have been censored in Australia.



Commando

At a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger's film output seemed to directly mirror that of Sylvester Stallone (First Blood 2: Rambo/Commando, Cobra/Raw Deal etc), big Arnie turned up trumps with a solid bone-crunching actioner from the director of the notorious (and much banned) "Class Of 1984", Mark L. Lester...and before anybody even thinks about asking, no he is not the same Mark Lester who played Oliver Twist in Carol Reed's musical "Oliver!" back in 1968.

Lester's ultra-violent cartoon was awarded an R rating in its uncut form by the OFLC back in October of 1985 when it was submitted for cinema exhibition by then amalgamate distributor Fox Columbia Tristar Films. Come February of 1986, the same uncut print was classified R for video exhibition when submitted by CBS Fox Video. So far, so good. However, one has to ask what on earth happened when the digital revolution hit and the film was put forward for DVD release in Region 4.

Fox Home Entertainment appear to have simply gone with the notion of pre-existing classification, and then sourced an R2 master for the Australian disc release, much like they had previously with Albert Pyun's Van Damme flick "Cyborg". There has been much conjecture as to the origin of the gutted R4 disc, with most fingers pointing towards the UK, as it is well-documented that the BBFC did indeed censor the British release.

But, this theory comes off the rails when we go into the figures, so bear with me as things are about to become decidedly "sticky"...

When submitted to the OFLC for cinema exhibition in 1985, "Commando" had a listed running time of 89 minutes. It was passed uncut with an R rating.

When resubmitted for video exhibition in 1986, it had a submitted running time of 86 minutes, which perfectly allows for the 4% speed-up of a PAL transfer. This version was also passed, per the cinema version, without cuts for an R rating.

The film was submitted to the British Board of Film Classification at a running time of 90m08s in December 1985. The Board requested 15 seconds of cuts to allow UK distributor 20th Century Fox Film Co. Ltd to exhibit the film with an '18' classification. Fox complied, and the film went out slightly trimmed (details to follow).

When submitted for video classification the following year (October 1986) CBS Fox Video put forward the uncut print, PAL converted, at 86m08s. This time out the BBFC only requested 12 seconds of cuts for an '18' classification. CBS Fox Video complied, and the film was classified '18'.

The cuts were as follows:

1. During John Matrix's (Schwarzenegger's) climactic siege on Arius' (Dan Hedaya's) villa to reclaim his daughter (a very young Alyssa Milano), the infamous "toolshed" sequence was trimmed of two brief, though graphic, moments; the guard being downed by an axe to the groin was removed, and the guard who has his arm chopped off by Matrix with a machete, as well as the subsequent shot of him screaming in pain at his bleeding stump, were removed in their entirety.

2. The finale fight between Matrix and Bennett (Vernon Wells, who astute readers will remember as Wes in "Mad Max 2") has been trimmed of the pay-off to Bennett's evisceration with a length of pipe. The close-up tracking shot down the pipe has been removed.

Clearly, the number of cuts detailed in Paul Williams' review of Fox's R4 do not match at all against the above cuts as censored from the UK R2 release! At a staggering 56 seconds (estimated), the cuts do not at all mirror the 12 seconds of cuts requested of the UK edition. So, the question remains, where did Fox source their master for the R4 release?

I had entertained the idea that the Australian master had been lifted from a European R2 original, and reformatted, but a decisive email from one of our readers from Denmark confirmed that the R2 disc is definitely uncut. There has been strong confirmation that the French R2 PAL disc is complete.

Thus, and I'm going out on a limb here, based upon the censorship history of film in a variety of world-wide territories; confirmation that the French R2 disc is uncut; coupled with confirmation that the UK R2 disc will undoubtedly mirror that territory's video release (ie: the 12 seconds of cuts will stand), there is only one remaining European territory where the film was trimmed for violence for both its cinema & video releases. That territory was Germany. I am happy to be proven wrong in this instance, but all current information points towards Fox utilising an edited German R2 master for the Australian R4 release. Until somebody owns up to the facts, or I am deluged by email from our European readers confirming otherwise, this is the best hypothesis I can offer as to the reasons behind the R4 disc of "Commando" being released in such a shoddy, emasculated version.
Paul W's comments

    I don't know who's R-Rated version of Commando we got, but it sure as hell ain't the Australian version I grew up watching. Actually, this statement isn't quite correct, as I have a pretty good idea of where this version came from - Region 2. This accounts for the numerous cuts made to the gory and bloody scenes. Personally, I feel this is totally unacceptable, not just because of the number of cuts that have been made, but because we should be getting the same cut on Region 4 DVD that we saw at the cinema or can hire on video. When there are no differences between the international theatrical releases, I have no problems with the distributors getting masters from anywhere they like, as long as we get the best transfer.

    There are approximately 56 seconds of missing footage in total. Here is a list of all the cut scenes that I noticed and their approximate lengths, plus a general comment on what happened in the cut footage. I played my VHS tape version of Commando simultaneously with the DVD to produce this list.
 
Location
(mins:secs)
Cut
(secs)
Description of cut footage
2:01 4 Making sure the first target is dead by shooting him again.
21:18 5 John Matrix snapping Henriques's neck.
45:31 14 Close up of Cooke dying whilst impaled on a table leg.
66:50 1 John cutting guard's throat.
67:09 2 John cutting another guard's throat.
67:18 5 John killing two guards.
68:35 5 John shooting two guards.
70:20 4 John shooting more guards.
71:36 2 John stabbing a guard with a pitchfork in the chest.
71:40 6 John using an axe and a machete to dispatch two more guards (ouch - that's got to have hurt).
79:16 2 Bennett gets a longer electric shock.
79:50 1 Pipe hitting Bennett.
79:55 5 Panning shot along the pipe protruding from Bennett's chest.

Update 28/2/2006: This title has been re-released in its uncut form by Fox. Currently, the outside cover is reportedly exactly the same as the original cut release. The classification logo is the same as before. However, the OFLC reclassified Commando MA 15+ in 2001 for DVD, so in theory, the DVD should be carrying the more saleable MA rating. The inside cover is different, and the top side of the disc itself has the following legend: "DVD 5 SINGLE LAYER SINGLE SIDED DISK 1484SDW". This means that there is no way of determining which version you are buying unless the store clerk says it's new stock, or the case is opened. The new uncut version (i.e. the same as the US R-rated edition) has a running time of 86:34 PAL. (RodW)