Fan Edit

The Phantom Edit

A fan edit is a version of a film modified by a viewer, that removes, reorders, or adds material in order to create a new interpretation of the source material. This includes the removal of scenes or dialogue, replacement of audio and/or visual elements, and adding material from sources such as deleted scenes or even other films. The field was popularized by an individual calling himself the ‘Phantom Editor’ (later revealed as professional editor Mike J. Nichols). He removed elements from George Lucas’ ‘The Phantom Menace’ that he felt detracted from the film, and made minor changes in dialogue, languages, and subtitles to give the film’s villains a more menacing tone.

There were a total of 18 minutes cut from the original film, reducing the run time from 136 minutes to 118 minutes. The end result became known as ‘The Phantom Edit,’ which circulated Hollywood studios on VHS in 2000. It was the first unauthorized re-edit of a major film to receive publicity and acclaim and inspired dozens of other edits to surface on the internet. Lucasfilm, the production company of series creator George Lucas, condoned the edit, and did not pursue legal action against its distributors.

Another major edit was done with ‘A.I. Artificial Intelligence,’ originally a Stanley Kubrick film that he didn’t finish before he died in 1999. Steven Spielberg finished directing the movie, and many people thought Spielberg didn’t capture the essence of Kubrick’s darker, brooding signature style. By 2002, an independent filmmaker named DJ Hupp introduced his take on the film, omitting certain scenes to alter the tone. Another popular fanedit was the ‘Purist Edit’ cut of Peter Jackson’s ‘The Two Towers’ to more closely follow Tolkien’s books. The edit was distributed through peer-to-peer networks and has also inspired imitators. However, due to extensive changes required to change the story, ‘Lord of the Rings’ projects are considered among the most challenging fan edits. There are at least two full ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan edits available.

After that the trend started to gain popularity and spread to other films in the same fashion, such as the ‘Matrix’ series, Michael Bay’s ‘Pearl Harbor,’ ‘Dune,’ ‘Superman II,’ and others. In addition to re-editing films, some fan edits feature basic corrections, such as colors or framing, that maintain or restore consistency within the film, such as the ‘Star Wars’ fan-restoration ‘The Star Wars Trilogy: Despecialised Edition.’ The Marvel character Loki was celebrated through a two hour fan edit titled ‘Loki: Brother of Thor.’ This film combined relevant scenes of the character Loki from ‘Thor,’ ‘The Avengers,’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World,’ creating a single narrative of Loki’s story. It released to Vimeo on August 2014.

Before the term ‘fan edit’ was coined, many ‘alternate versions’ of films edited by other fans or professional editors were simply known as a ‘cut.’ In the late 1970s, many alternate ‘cuts’ of films were released in the United States, and foreign films (such as those from Europe or Japan) deemed unsuitable for American audiences underwent further alterations, score changes and re-titlings. Also fan translation (fandubs or fansubs) of anime is similar in spirit to fanedits.

CleanFlicks was a Utah-based video store that offered more than 700 movies that had been remixed to appeal to Utah’s religious family audience. The chain of stores spread across 18 states in 70 different locations before a federal court judge ruled their remixes illegal in 2006. While fan edits skirt the lines of fair use, their creators emphasize the use of the final product should only be for those who own the source material (often commercial DVDs), and are not to be distributed for profit or other personal gain.

Lucasfilm is aware of the existence of Star Wars fan edits, and has stated they will take action when they believe copyright infringement has taken place. In 2007, the company took action against fan editor ‘daveytod’ after taking issue with his fan edit documentary, ‘The Clones Revealed.’ Their email to him cited the possibility of ‘consumer confusion,’ that film might be mistaken for an official Lucasfilm product. The email was sent to several active members of the fan editing community and resulted in the short down time of FanEdit.org until it was made clear which film was being cited with a cease and desist.

In 2008, fanedit.org was again briefly closed after receiving a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America regarding the use of links to its copyrights appearing on the site. After a three day downtime, the website reopened without any links to potentially infringing files. The site has a policy of not allowing fanedits made from pirated versions of films to be listed in its database. One notable victim of this policy is ‘The Purist Edit,’ as it was made from a leaked DVD screener of the theatrical version of the film. Despite being the second major fanedit available and its historical importance, it’s not listed on fanedit.org.

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