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Are Deleted Scenes “In Continuity”?

One of the wonderful things about the advent of portable media like DVDs and BluRay is that it allows filmmakers to cram a whole lot more of their film on to the disk. Most offer a variety of insights into the filmmaking process – such as featurettes or commentaries – whereas some add more texture to the environment created – deleted or extended scenes, or included multimedia extras and so on. It’s become quite common to release extended editions (or directors’ cuts) of major motion picture releases – Watchmen, for example, has no less than three versions so far, for example. Here’s the question though: should those deleted or extended scenes be treated as the word of god (for lack of a better description) and as having occurred in the continuity with which we are presented? Admittedly it’s less of a problem for movies, where there are only occasionally sequels and even then continuity is generally loose, but what about television series? I’m watching the second season of Battlestar Galactica and it includes two distinct versions of the episode Pegasus – the extended one featuring at least one important plotpoint – so which do I presume happened when I view the following episodes?

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Is it only the final cut that matters?

Continuity is a very internet nerd type of term. Basically it’s the events that have occurred earlier in a particular narrative that may reasonably be expected to come to bear on current events. It’s what ties a movie together internally as more than just a string of scenes – the assumption that the actor is playing the same character throughout, for example, or that the marraige between two characters at the start of the film still defines their relationship when we see them again later. Sometimes – in a medium such as film, where it’s all self-contained – this is fairly easy to follow (for example, Inglourious Basterds has only three hours of continuity), whereas in other examples – such as television or comics – it isn’t really (Batman draws upon seventy years of stories (though it’s debateable what is and isn’t continuity), The X-Files had a decade of television behind its final year). You can generally accept that what you have seen or been told about occurs. But what happens when – through the medium of deleted scenes or extended episodes – you see or are told about something that regular viewers aren’t clued in upon.

Admittedly this is only really a problem if you are a bit of a new media nerd. If we watched the show on television, you can assume that what you saw happened and that everything the follows fits into that little mould. Or you can just shrug your shoulders and let it be. If a character who died in the extended cut turns up okay a few episodes later, you assume that the extended cut isn’t actually within continuity – it might as well have never happened.

This notion supposes that there is only ever one true interpretation of a work – and it can be determined retroactively. Events that are referenced further down the line can be taken as having occurred, and thus can be used by the individual in considering the series as a whole. How I predict the final season of a show is going to play out may depend greatly upon whether a character was put on a plane leaving the country or killed in a car accident, or so on. So, if I am serious about a television show, then that is probably the way to view it. And that way is probably exactly what the creator of the show intended to occur.

You could also make the case that a television show is a work of art like any other. And art is open to interpretation. We could argue, for example, over the ending of the Usual Suspects, for example – even though the writer and director have been unambiguous about what they believed occurred. So, surely the same could be true for a television show. The person viewing should determine which elements of what they see are particularly relevent to their own experience. If a character having a spouse that is never mentioned outside a deleted scene makes sense to your own view of the show, for whatever reason, then bear with it.

I’d argue that such a view might be a little extreme. It arguably undermines television and film as shared mediums (much moreso than painting or even music). How we relate and discuss these series and movies are generally grounded in an assumption that we are agreed upon what we are presented with – what has been ruled in or ruled out. Discussion about the identity of a killer at the end of a whodunnit, for example, would be greatly undermined if one participant includes a deleted scene, and another doesn’t, or if one cites the cirector’s commentary as an authoritive source, while the other draws from the celluloid presented as the primary text. On one hand it’s always fun to add additional material to the discussion, but, on the other, it isn’t much of a discussion if you can’t agree on what constitue facts and what are the arguments up for discussion. Quibbles over what the facts are tend to go around in circles and become bitter, whereas proposing and critiquing arguments generally leads to a more interesting discussion. You might suggest then that one should simply remove all the facts, but the discussion needs at least some grounded basis.

It may be best to adopt a “live and let live” approach to this topic – everybody decides what counts as continuity for them. They are, after all, the people who are enjoying their experience of a movie or television show. Surely continuity, like truth, is relative. Or is it? I don’t know, that sounds like an awfully philosophical question.

Perhaps the most practical input I have on the subject is to suggest that we attempt a holistic approach to the continuity of media. Fussing over whether or not something that happened in a fictional programme is, of itself, a trivial pursuit – let alone worrying about what occurred in a scene tucked away on a DVD. It – like many an obscure philosophical quandry before it – seems like an idea best pursued recreationally, as a hobby, rather than seeming a particularly pressing matter.

For myself, I’ve seen what I’ve seen and it will inform my opinion of the series (whether I regard it as a matter of continuity or not). I can’t unsee it, after all. Whether or not it ‘really’ happened will be explored farther down the line (in that plot relevance of an event can only be conclusively determined retroactively). There are generally any number of events which occur on a show which are not directly plot relevent, they serve instead to suit or develop the mood and ambiance of the series in question. Even if a deleted scene is not part of aq show’s continuity, it can inform a show in that way.

It’s also important to remember that material is cut for a reason often (as in this case), it is cut to make the episode fit a particular runtime. Other times it is cut because it doesn’t work, or it required extra special effects work, or it undermines something coming up. Deleting a scene can represent a very delayed script revision. I think it’s unfair not to keep that in mind when viewing them.

Or maybe I’m just being a nerd, and I need to loosen up a bit and stop using words like “continuity”.

You know what, delete this entire article…

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