Take a raunchy Hollywood comedy, remove the jokes, and what do you have left?
Room for 763 new, and even raunchier, jokes.
In what appears to be the movie equivalent of blood replacement therapy - and possibly a cinematic first - Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, released in December and still on a handful of screens this week, is poised for a fresh release by Paramount Pictures in about 1,000 theaters next Friday. But with all new humour. Why?
In this era of high-speed digital editing, the better question is: Why not?
“We started talking and realized, we can replace every single joke in the movie with another joke,” said Adam McKay, who directed Anchorman 2 and wrote the film with its star, Will Ferrell.
Ferrell was expected to announce the rerelease during a Thursday night appearance with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show.
McKay, who spoke by telephone Tuesday, said that “there were a couple of jokes left for continuity” but that 95 per cent of the gags were stripped out and replaced with alternate bits that had been left behind in the editing process.
What is the logic of completely overhauling a film that is already a hit? The impetus was not exactly about making more money. Anchorman 2 has already topped $125 million in domestic ticket sales and is likely to expand that total only slightly with a seven-day rerelease. Video sales of both versions will follow on April 1.
Rather, McKay said, the idea grew naturally from the improvisational nature of the Anchorman films, in which Ferrell plays pompous newscaster Ron Burgundy and often lingers in character, both on camera and off.
“There are tons of leftover alternate takes when we shoot; that’s our method,” McKay said.
Initially, he noted, the filmmakers planned to use some of the extra shots in a conventional, extended video edition, as they did with the original Anchorman and its unrated version, released on DVD. But McKay, Ferrell and an editing team that included Melissa Bretherton, Brent White and Jay Deuby eventually decided to go for broke, with a full joke replacement.
Then Paramount executives surprised them by insisting on a theatrical rerelease, mostly, McKay said, because it had never been done before. “It’s crazy,” he said. “Normally, you’d think I’d be the one asking for a new release.” In an unusual matchup of mashups, the rerelease, officially called Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Super-Sized R-Rated Version (the film was rated PG-13) will open against Son of God, from 20th Century Fox, a religious film built from the television series The Bible, with added scenes.
There are precedents to the rerelease of Anchorman 2, although not close ones.
In 1966, Woody Allen added new dialogue and a plot about a secret egg-salad recipe to an existing Japanese action thriller. The result was Allen’s first film (more or less), What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
Much later, Walter Hill, shooting Another 48 Hrs. in Los Angeles, told a reporter that he had covered virtually every scene in the film with an alternate take that eliminated the ubiquitous profanities. The end product, he said, would be a family-friendly TV version that might not have many shots in common with the movie in theaters.
But the new Anchorman 2, according to McKay, will be dirtier, not cleaner, than the original, although in contemporary comedy, he explained, that is not necessarily a bad thing. He illustrated with side-by-side jokes. They were not fit for publication here, but they showed how a new punch line can re-punctuate broad humor without changing the narrative, such as it is.
The revised version, McKay added, will be considerably longer than the original, which clocked in at 1 hour, 59 minutes. At McKay’s insistence, it is to be labeled “supersized.”
“You should feel free to get up, go the bathroom,” he advised, referring both to the length and the optional nature of the material.
And, no, McKay does not believe the new version is actually better than his first cut, which achieved a middling score of 61 on the Metacritic website, which compiles and rates reviews.
“This is a stitched up, Frankenstein version,” he said, for those who need the whole Ron Burgundy experience - including misfires, obscure sendups and plenty of jokes to match Ferrell’s off-color jacket. “You’ll either love it or hate it.”