9.1 The Different Versions of HC

9.1.1 Chart of video releases to date

Note: Thanks to King Arthur and Gregor Menasian for the invaluable information and insightful commentary that helped make this section possible. Be sure to visit King Arthur's site: www.heavenly-creatures.com.

Not everyone may be aware that Heavenly Creatures exists in more than one version. Some versions have more scenes, some are framed differently. This page attempts to outline the complete history of all versions ever made, both those currently available and out of release.

Happily, after a previous, inferior DVD release (which is to be avoided at all costs!) the widescreen, full-length "original cut" of HC has now been released on DVD! Before that happened, though, I embarked on a long-lived campaign I called the Heavenly Crusade.)

Alas, this newest release appears not to be available in other countries outside North America. If you know anything about DVD releases in other regions, please let me know!

These versions of HC vary not only because of different transfer methods, but also because of extra scenes which didn't make it into the original NAm theatrical or video release: Bill Perry arriving at Ilam, and Bill playing tennis at the Hulmes' garden party. Also, a longer cut of the chap in the TB ward which shows him harking up a bowlful of blood (cut short in NAm). There appear to be 3 cuts of the film, which I call short, medium and long.

Short: 99 minutes. No extra scenes. It conforms to the version released in NAm theatres.

Medium: 103 minutes. The “Bloody Bill's Arrival” and “Tennis at the Hulmes” scenes are there. The “Bowl o' Blood”, however, isn't.

Long: 109 glorious minutes. Welcome to the Holy Grail! All three scenes mentioned above are present, plus even more stuff not on any other version (see "The NZ vs. Australian Version: A Comparison", below) for a total of ten extra minutes of footage.

North America and Australia VHS (NTSC) Pan & Scan Short . Yes
North America (and Australia?) laserdisc 2.35:1 Widescreen Short . No
UK VHS (PAL*) Full-frame Medium . Unconfirmed
NZ VHS (PAL) Full-frame Long PAL format incompatible with North American equipment Unconfirmed
France DVD (PAL) 16:9 Widescreen Short French subtitles cannot be turned off even when English track is selected.** PAL format difficult to view in North America No
Germany VHS, DVD (PAL) Full-frame Listed as 104 minutes*** Only offers dubbed German audio. Unconfirmed
Canada DVD Full-frame Short English and French language track. Alliance Atlantis release under license from Buena Vista. Pros: "Budget" price point means it's easily found on Canadian retail sites for $15 (US) or less. Cons: There appears to be a 'glitch' at approx. the 68- to 74-minute point. Yes - available at videoflicks.com

*The PAL format is incompatible with North American equipment. If you're a North American resident, you will need a DVD player that is code-free or region-switchable, and that can convert the PAL signal - or a hacked version of your computer's DVD software (again, not recommended).

**If that sounds silly to you, it does to us too, but it's likely this was part of the licensing agreement to make the disc less appealing to Region 1 audiences (we note for the record that the forced subtitles theoretically could be overridden by disabling a DVD player's “User Prohibition” function in the firmware, but mileage will vary and we do not recommend it).

***The German DVD runs for 104 minutes, which is just shy of the 108 minutes that Heavenly Creatures enjoyed theatrically in New Zealand. Either this means it's the long version with PAL speedup, or (if the running time refers to the original time of the film used for the transfer) it's a German version of the UK Medium transfer. But either way, that 104 minutes is for a pan-and-scan disc, so nothing is really ideal. Unless you have a Laserdisc player, that is - Miramax's May 1995 LD offers a 2.35:1 transfer with English audio, in the 99 minute cut, and we'd get our hands on that before looking at any of the above DVDs. (We are unaware of Heavenly Creatures ever being released on widescreen VHS.)

9.1.2 Formats and transfer methods

First, a brief primer on aspect ratios. The term defines the proportions of a film or video format and consists of two numbers separated by a colon (:). The first number represents the width of the format given as a multiple of its height, which is the second number given and is always 1. Thus TV screens, with a relatively narrow width compared to their height, have a 1.33:1 ratio, and the much wider screens of cinemas are more like 1.33:1 or 1.66:1.

The aspect ration a film will be shown in can vary considerably - from the wide screen of the movie theatre to the more boxy proportions of TV. Interestingly, films are frequently shot in a manner that allows for some flexibility later in how they are framed - there's extra material at either the top or sides that goes unseen depending on the format it's presented in.

From movie screen to TV screen: three choices

HC was shot in Super-35mm, in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (the black, outermost line in the diagram at right). This image was then "blocked off" at the top and bottom to create the 2.35:1 image seen in the theatrical release (the blue line in the diagram). So far, so good. But when it's time to show it on your TV screen, either through a network broadcast or a DVD release, there is a choice to be made: letterbox, pan-and-scan, or the rarer full-frame.

Letterboxing is becoming familiar to more average movie fans than ever before through the proliferation of DVD's that feature it. The entire widescreen image is shrunk down to fit on the TV frame. The top and bottom of the screen are black. This is the format most preferred by the true movie buff - or anyone who just wants to see everything the original moviegoers saw. The disadvantage is a smaller image on the screen. But with large-screen TV's in more and more homes, this is becoming less of an issue than it used to be.

But the method most often used is pan-and-scan, represented by the pink line in the diagram. Here, the film's height matches the height of the TV screen. There's no black bars - it's all image. But something's still missing.... nearly half the movie in some cases! So, during the transfer, they try and compensate by "panning" back and forth to where the action is, or flipping from a left-side to a right-side view. Trouble is, filmmakers don't always conveniently give us just one center of attention. (How dull would that be?) So it's up to the transfer operator to decide what part of the film you won't see at any given moment. A purist's nightmare. How many times I can recall watching old 50's and 60's movies on afternoon TV as a kid: Rock Hudson is talking to himself. Now suddenly we see Doris Day talking to herself in a very similar but slightly different room. Now Rock again; now Doris. Wait a minute... they're in the same room! It wasn't until years later that I realized this jerky visual style wasn't actually the filmmakers' idea.

The final option, full-frame, is rarer. It gives us more width and height than pan-and-scan. How? By matching the height of the original, full-frame image, the one that was blocked off for the final theatrical release. (See the red box above.) So we get more width - gaining about half what we lose on pan-and-scan. We also get a significant area above and below what's seen in the pan-and-scan version. But this area wasn't really intended by the filmmakers to be seen - even in the theatre, these areas were not visible. (They're indicated by lines on the cameras' viewfinders.) In fact, often one can see apparent "mistakes" like boom mikes and even the occasional errant crew member in these areas, goofs that can sometimes also be seen when the film is badly projected to show too much of the film frame. So while it's interesting to see this extra area, we're not getting the framing that the filmmakers had in mind.

9.1.3 NZ vs. N. Am/Australian version: a comparison

In September 1996, I recieved email from Brendan Moore in Auckland describing, in exquisite detail, the scenes visible in the NZ tape that were, at the time, unavailable in other versions (until the 2003 release of the widescreen, uncut DVD). It was a revelation! Brendan's report follows.

Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 00:46:26 GMT
Subject: Heavenly Creatures - deleted scenes


Thought you might like a list of most scenes deleted from the Foreign print and their approximate timings.

I have viewed both versions.

Additional info: Heavenly Creatures opened wide in NZ on Friday October 14, 1994. It had previously been shown as part of the Auckland International Film Festival in July/Aug 1994.

Two scenes of the Avon River and Christchurch's cyclists are delted from the newsreel prologue (total time 49 seconds)

The drive to Port Levy as the Hulmes and Pauline sing "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window". (40 seconds)

Hilda Hulme refers to the girls as "my two daughters" outside the holiday home in Port Levy (not timed)

Helicopter shot of Pauline pursuing Juliet over the hills (10 seconds)

Sanitorium patient coughs bloody sputum into cup (2 seconds)

Borovnian is more graphically cleft in two by castle gate (1 second)

After Juliet picks up the gem stone a shot is shown of the two girls dressed as princesses on a Borovnian balcony raising their chalices in a toast and then "morphing" into their clay-sculpted figurines before cutting to the shots of "brown" and "grey" eyes. Pauline's verse refers to watching "the race of men decay and change". (10 seconds)

The girls fantasize about love scenes with James Mason and Mel Ferrer after stealing the family silver. Juliets says they cansimply murder any odd wives that might get in their way. (26 seconds)

A garden party at the Hulmes has Hilda and Bill Perry playing tennis as the girls roam the shrubbery consuming wine and grapes. They hurl a rock in the stream to soak Pauline's psychiatrists trousers. A flashback shows Hilda at dinner suggesting Bill stay with them to recuperate and Juliets romantic vision of his arrival by ambulance segues into drab reality as he is shown to the servants quarters. Before a disciplinary committee Mr Hulme is given until the end of the year to resign his post and is seen weeping alone in his armchair as Hilda and Bill's laughter is heard from another room while they continue their affair. (3 minutes 40 seconds)

Hilda, upon being caught in bed with Bill, insists she was merely bringing him a cup of tea (10 seconds)

Pauline imagines her mother choking and her father impaling himself on a knife at the dinner table. (1 minute 24 seconds)

The girls bedroom scene (A night with the saints) shows a banner S-I-N unfurling and later bursting forth with blood. Borvnian peasants cheer the girls on from outside the window. (10 seconds)

Paulines final cry "NO" with her bloodied visage is seen in the final shot. The US version only features her cry on the soundtrack after fading to black. (3 seconds)

Hope this is of interest.

Brendan Moore