The Muppet Movie is 95 minutes long, and not a frame is wasted. Okay, the pacing might not be as breakneck as some of today’s movies, but I can’t think of a single scene I’ve ever wished was shorter.
So what would I do if I went to work one day, and my assignment was to cut the film down to 18 minutes and 10 seconds? I would probably have a nervous breakdown, but some hard-working editor at Walton Sound & Film Services, Ltd. had to do just that at some point in the early 1980s.
Have you ever heard of Super 8? I don’t mean the 2011 J.J. Abrams movie. I mean the motion picture film format used by the characters in the 2011 J.J. Abrams movie. Consumers mostly used it to make home movies of their family members waving at the camera on the beach, but as Wikipedia tells us, “condensed versions of popular cinema releases were available up until the mid-1980s, for projection at home. These were generally edited to fit onto a 200 ft (61 m) or 400 ft (120 m) reel.”
This was before VHS or Betamax were common, so this would have been the only way for fans to see their favorite movies at home until they happened to come on TV. So as frustrating as it might sound to only get part of a movie, I bet folks back then were thrilled to turn their living rooms into mini-movie theaters. And yep, one of those popular cinema releases — in the UK, at least — was The Muppet Movie. Recently, the Super 8 version was posted on YouTube by one Joe Davis, and Tough Pigs’ own Ken noticed it and alerted us to its presence there. Check it out:
Did you notice the differences? There’s an alternate take or two, which is pretty cool. The songs are all there, but they’ve been trimmed. But perhaps the most noticeable change is that the Doc Hopper plot is almost completely gone! There’s a moment of Kermit noticing the French Fried Frog Legs billboard on his bike, and later we see Hopper shooting Gonzo’s balloons and getting hit with a giant pie, but other than that, there’s no sign of the conflict that gives the movie its stakes (nor any explanation of why this guy is shooting at the Muppets).
I wonder: Did projector owners in the Super 8 era only buy movies they had already seen? Or did they ever take a chance and buy a title on impulse? ‘Cause this thing would be pretty hard to follow for a first-time viewer. Sure, you get the main thrust of it: Kermit leaves the swamp to go to Hollywood, and he meets some people on the way, and some crazy things happen. But you’d have a lot of questions: Why is that rock band in a church? Where did Mel Brooks come from, and why does he have Kermit strapped into a scary machine? And how the heck do the Muppets go from being stuck in the desert (“So much for Hollywood…”) to being on a bus on the way to the studio (“Next stop, Hollywood and Vine!”)?
At least they left the “fork in the road” joke in. Oh, and one more interesting thing I noticed: Unless I forgot about one, all the celebrity cameos are intact here except for Cloris Leachman. Aww, poor Cloris.
So, this whole thing got me thinking about how the other Muppet movies could be edited to under the 20-minute mark, and how one might go about it in a such a way that they would still make a lick of sense. In The Great Muppet Caper, you could actually cut the hot-air balloon stuff at the very beginning, some Lady Holiday, some of the build-up to the Mallory Gallery heist… I’m pretty sure it could be done. But so much of that movie is pure gold. It would be painful to cut something like the Pizza Twins scene, even though the movie could honestly live without it. And what about Peter Falk’s cameo? It doesn’t add anything to the story, but it’s hilarious.
The Muppets Take Manhattan would be easier, I think. If you had to, you could lose some of the postcards, trim some of the scenes with the ad agency frogs… but would you really want to get rid of Kermit’s whispering campaign or “Boffo, Lenny! Socko, Lenny?” And what if you only had a minute or two left and you had to choose between the Joan Rivers scene and “Rat Scat?” That would be impossible! I guess what I’m really trying to say here is, I’m really glad it’s not my job to cut Muppet movies down to 20 minutes or less.
What do you think? Did they make the right cuts in the Muppet Movie Super 8 release? What would you have done differently? How would you edit down the other Muppet movies? Let me know at the Tough Pigs forum!
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com