From the iconic leading duo to the soundtrack (which still slaps, for the record) to Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman‘s glorious, flowing extensions, Griffin Dunne‘s 1998 fantasy drama Practical Magic has endured as a beloved spooky-not-scary classic. In fact, combing through the Warner Bros. archives, the powers that be at HBO Max are already working on a series reimagining of the film.
Based on Alice Hoffman‘s novel of the same name, the film starred Bullock and Kidman as Sally and Gillian Owens, the next duo in a long line of tight-knit witchy sisters. But unfortunately, the bonds of sisterhood aren’t the only thing that runs in the family — there’s also a curse, which dictates that any man who falls in love with an Owens woman dies. Practical Magic as we know and love it touches on the tragedy of that curse and dabbles in darkness, but according to co-writer Akiva Goldsman, the original cut was a darker, different, and “stunningly beautiful” take on the material.
Asked about the upcoming HBO Max series, Goldsman took a minute to reflect on Dunne’s original cut of the film and why he thinks it’s even better than the cut we ultimately got to see:
“I love Practical Magic. Practical Magic for me is also a movie where there was a different version, which — weirdly in the same context we were discussing, how the world has become more interested in this range of dark and light in the same narrative object. Which I think is more recent. That you can have significance and depth and loss in fantasy or science fiction in ways that are more nuanced. There is a cut of Practical Magic, before reshoots, that Griffin put together that is stunningly beautiful. It was more 50-50 between Sandy and Nicole, and this hanging of Nicole was the counterpoint to this emergence of Sandy. It was more of a ghost story. It was really beautiful. It was weird… It got caught up in a sort of marketing thing at Warner Bros. as it moved forward in a way that I think didn’t serve it ultimately. I fundamentally believe that if HBO Max is able to play into the darkness a little more as well as the joy, I think that will be great.”
Goldsman noted that he used to have a copy of the cut and he tried to find it years after the film was released, but for now, it seems that version only exists in the Warner archives. But with a hopeful like HBO Max entering an incredibly crowded field of streaming competitors, could they turn to those lost director’s cuts for some pre-packaged IP content? Not quite.
As Goldsman notes, those cuts are rarely finished and it would take a lot of work to get them screen-ready.
“Here’s why they don’t, at least up until now, because those cuts are almost never finished. Typically what happens is, you screen these things where the visual effects are still temp. You’re testing while they’re temp. The score is not finished. So for me, the one great version of this in my career is I Am Legend, where the version that we made originally is called the alternative cut, but that’s this weird treat where I can literally go ‘That’s the one we meant to make,’ and ‘That’s the one we made later.’
But almost every movie has that, or a lot of them do. We hear about the Snyder Cut a lot. That’s so often the case, is that you sort of run down a path and then you manage at the end and sometimes for exactly the right reasons and sometimes for exactly the wrong reasons, the right reason being creative perseverance and the wrong reasons being fear, and how that broth informs the end of a movie is significant. And yes, I think it would be amazing and somewhere in the archives are all the versions you’re talking about. Somebody would have to go back. I mean, it would be a project to finish them, but I think people would actually love it.”
Movie might-have-beens are always fascinating, and there have been murmurs about the Practical Magic director’s cut for a while now, public releases of those cuts are often reserved only for the most esteemed filmmakers. And these days, it seems the trend is to say there is no director’s cut — the one on-screen is the director’s cut. Hopefully, that’s an honest reflection of a better studio-filmmaker dynamic these days, but for the films that were famously met with studio interference, like Practical Magic, is there a chance the original cut could see the light of day?
As Goldsman explained, the longtime answer to that question has been a resounding no, but it’s a curious question in the current entertainment landscape. Production is currently on pause throughout the industry as the world figures out how to get back to work safely amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And the current belief is that smaller productions will be the first to get the green light, putting the future of the biggest money-making franchises in the industry in question for the time being. Meanwhile, with more people at home than ever, streaming is at a peak. But it’s not just viewership. With giants like Disney (Disney+), Apple (Apple TV+), Time Warner (HBO Max), and NBC Universal (Peacock) entering an already crowded field, those industry giants are more in need of content than ever, at a time when new content is the most challenging it’s ever been to make.
Within their archives, the major studios have an untapped resource in the form of unseen director’s cuts. Like Goldsman said, they’re unfished and they would need a lot of work, but as the continued fervor surrounding the Snyder Cut proves — there’s a lot of viewer interest in the filmmaker visions we never quite got to see. Would I like the original cut of Practical Magic more than the one we ultimately got? Hard to say. It’s a beloved comfort movie for a reason and you don’t usually want your comfort movies dark. But would I opt to watch that before the next algorithmic streaming original? Yeah, you bet. It’s nothing more than the pipe dream of this history enthusiast at the moment, but if the pandemic pushed studios to open up their archives up a bit and shine a light on some lost edits, it would be an unexpected silver lining to the current crisis.
If you want more Goldsman, Snyder, and movies that never were, be sure to check out what the producer told us about the early 2000s Batman vs. Superman that never was.