Disney’s Splash debacle and the perils of outside censorship

facebooktwitterreddit

The 1984 film, Splash, has been censored on Disney Plus. What does this mean for the entertainment industry? Where do we draw the line?

With the recent revelation that Disney Plus would censor the 1984 film, Splash, it seems like now is as good a time as any to weigh in on the ramifications of retroactive changes like this. For those who don’t know, the movie in question was recently put on Disney’s streaming service, but there’s a catch.

The original version had a brief nude scene in which Daryl Hannah bares her behind as she runs into the ocean. The House of Mouse blocked this display by digitally extending her hair to cover her rear end.

While Disney has tried to protect their streaming audiences from unsavory content before (several of their older animated works come with content warnings for “outdated cultural depictions”) this is the first major example of outright changing the established product to suit their own ends.

More from Disney Plus

This goes beyond Splash or any one film. It raises some uncomfortable questions about compromising the artist’s vision and potentially opens the door for further tampering. Granted, censorship is far from unheard of. Television networks do it all the time.

They’ll often replace foul language and edit out entire scenes, be it because of time slots or the simple fact that they don’t want any f-bombs on the channel.

However, this is a streaming service, something thought to be free of the constraints of network TV. People generally want the full, artist-intended version of a given film or TV show when they sign into their account, and they don’t want some distributor’s agenda, quota, or bottom line compromising that experience.

It’s why people criticized Netflix for redubbing the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime, and I think it’s also where much of the Splash backlash is coming from.

Netflix
Photo Credit: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story /Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Image Acquired from EPK.TV /

Now, studio meddling is also nothing new, particularly when it comes to blockbusters. When big bucks are on the line, execs want to ensure their product is seen by as many people as possible.

A few recent examples are The Incredible Hulk, Suicide Squad, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and 2015’s Fantastic Four. Several such films are edited down to be more appealing to foreign markets, like when a same-sex kiss is deleted for a Singapore release.

More often, though, studios will insist on major narrative additions and stylistic changes. It might be to set up a franchise, or it could be intended to make the movie similar to other successful products. Ironically, these works rarely have the desired effect, frequently lambasted for their blandness, sloppy patchwork, and lack of passion.

Some filmmakers successfully resist such outside influence. In the case of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and Todd Phillips’s Joker, both directors fought against attempts to make their movies less controversial and more accessible to a wider audience.

At the end of the day, though, it’s simply easier and less hazardous to your employment to adhere to studio mandates, especially if you’re a first-time director or indie filmmaker plucked from obscurity to head a franchise. Just ask David Fincher about Alien³.

Sometimes, fans are curious enough about the original vision to warrant a re-release. One of the most popular examples of this is Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which, in my opinion, is the superior version of that film. All too often, however, we are left to wonder what might have been.

Superman
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. /

On the opposite end of the spectrum lie those who welcome such censorship. One such individual is a mother whose 8-year-old son wanted to see the ultraviolent superhero comedy, Deadpool. In response, YouTube commentator Grace Randolph petitioned 20th Century Fox to release a PG-13 cut of the flick, thereby enabling legions of younger fans to see their favorite anti-hero on the big screen.

The petition bore no such fruit, and the R-rated version was the only one in theaters. In the wake of the Disney acquisition of Fox, though, they later released a Christmas-themed PG-13 version of the sequel, titled Once Upon a Deadpool.

Other times, however, the directors themselves are responsible for after-the-fact adjustments. Star Wars is no stranger to this. George Lucas garnered constant consternation every time he re-released the original Star Wars trilogy due to the additions he always made.

Whether it was a digital alien in the background, alternate sounds and music, an extra scene with Jabba the Hutt, or Han Solo shooting second, it seemed like nothing was sacred whenever these sci-fi fantasy epics were updated.

Many audiences saw these changes as unnecessary and intrusive; they just wanted Lucas to leave his movies alone so that future generations could enjoy them as they were. What made it more egregious was the fact that previous versions of the films were made unavailable whenever a new one came out.

Basically, if you want to watch Return of the Jedi on Blu-ray, then you have to deal with the embarrassment of hearing Darth Vader scream “No!” as he throws the Emperor into the pit.

Understanding this issue in all its context and forming your own informed opinion are critical actions at this time. Streaming services are rapidly becoming the most popular method of consumption for film and TV buffs. Because of that trend, these services are now in a position where they can potentially filter what people watch.

This debate is even more timely with Disney buying up seemingly every intellectual property out there. What’s going to happen if they put Die Hard or Alien on one of their platforms?

Personally, I don’t agree that artistic works should be edited down for kids, and that includes Splash. The rating system exists for a reason. Back in the day, you didn’t see anyone clamoring for a child-friendly version of The Terminator; the subject matter didn’t call for it.

Some films just aren’t meant for younger viewers, and watering down the product does no one any favors. On one hand, it insults age-appropriate audiences by denying them the mature entertainment they asked for and forcing them to concede to impatient kids. On the other hand, it lessens the enjoyment and impact for those kids by not giving them the full experience.

The most diplomatic answer seems to be releasing two versions of the product. Writer-director Peter Jackson has used this strategy in both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, albeit not strictly for censorship. For each film, he’s released the theatrical cut, as well as an extended edition to further flesh out the world and lore.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 09: Director Peter Jackson attends the premiere of New Line Cinema, MGM Pictures And Warner Bros. Pictures’ “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies” at Dolby Theatre on December 9, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 09: Director Peter Jackson attends the premiere of New Line Cinema, MGM Pictures And Warner Bros. Pictures’ “The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies” at Dolby Theatre on December 9, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) /

Basically, it’s for fans of the books who want to spend more time in Middle-earth, but that doesn’t mean that it replaces the previous version on store shelves. In fact, during the audio commentary for An Unexpected Journey, fellow writer Philippa Boyens asked Jackson whether he would ever re-release the Lord of the Rings movies with The Hobbit scenes inserted into the prologue. He said that he wouldn’t do that without also making the original version available.

Going back to the Deadpool example, the X-Men films have also utilized this tactic with the time-traveling adventure, Days of Future Past. A year after its theatrical run, it got a second home video release.

The title was The Rogue Cut, and it was essentially meant to satiate viewers who felt the initial flick downplayed the older X-Men cast in favor of the prequel team. Once again, both renditions were available for purchase.

Even video games have gotten in on the action of accessibility. Of course, you have the tried and true formula of easy, medium, and hard modes of difficulty, but developers have increasingly emphasized that “Easy Mode” is for people who want to experience the narrative with little challenge. Works like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and 2018’s God of War spring to mind.

Some have even gone a step beyond and created a mode that’s even easier and more automated so that it’s like watching a movie. Final Fantasy VII Remake, anyone? Obviously, developers and publishers want to draw in larger audiences, attempting to attract fans of other onscreen stories like film and television.

At the same time, they don’t want to compromise the experience for those looking to test their skills, increase interactivity, and consume everything the game has to offer.

Censorship, both first and third party, is a slippery slope. We don’t want to diminish an artist’s vision, but what if that impedes people’s ability to enjoy said vision? Once they’ve hired a filmmaker, is it ethical for corporate execs to interfere with the job they’ve contracted? Is it right for studios to pick and choose which portions of a movie to show?

What about if that movie has previously been released in its entirety? All of these questions and more will only grow more prevalent as entertainment persists and audiences share their opinions. The Disney debacle with Splash is just one incident in a host of past and future debates. If we don’t make some real progress in this discourse and come up with a solution that suits everyone, then consumers will only continue to divide.

Next. For a more positive Disney Plus story, check out the latest Star Wars: The Clone Wars review.. dark

Do you agree with the points made? Have you seen the Disney edit of Splash? Where do you think we should draw the line with censorship?

Splash is available to stream on Disney Plus. You can watch the uncensored version through other outlets, such as Amazon or iTunes.