Why Are There Different Versions of ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’? (2024)

The Big Picture

  • Changes made to the digital release of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse serve specific purposes, such as logistical reasons and creative improvements.
  • Modifying films post-debut is not uncommon, with examples like James Cameron and George Lucas updating their past projects as well.
  • The behind-the-scenes drama surrounding Across the Spider-Verse raises concerns about working conditions and supports the need for unionization in the film industry.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an animated cinematic feat, captivating audiences with its storytelling, visuals, and sharp character development. Ever since the Marvel adventure hit Netflix and a number of other digital platforms, however, fans have been experiencing deja vu. Just like eagle-eyed viewers noticed tiny variations between scenes during the film's theatrical run, the digital version contains even more tweaks. Most of these changes enhance existing moments or add new information instead of bloating the already lengthy film: for example, a flashback depicting the moment Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) was bitten by her universe's spider, Hobie Brown (Daniel Kaluuya) singing during his introduction, and less dialogue during Miles Morales' (Shameik Moore) escape from the Spider Society headquarters. But why keep changing a (supposedly) final product mere months after its theatrical debut? A recent interview with the Spider-Verse producing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller sheds light on why Hollywood's biggest movie about multiverses has multiverses — or multi-versions, if you will — of its own.

Why Are There Different Versions of ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’? (1)
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Release Date
June 2, 2023
Joaquim Dos Santos , Kemp Powers , Justin K. Thompson
Shameik Moore , Hailee Steinfeld , Oscar Isaac , Jake Johnson

140 minutes
Main Genre

Why Is the Digital Release of ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Different?

In an interview with GamesRadar, producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller revealed that the changes to the digital release of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse served specific purposes. One reason was plain old logistics. Miller cited the film's release schedule, specifically the time needed to translate the movie for international markets. Miller explained, "There was an international version that was made almost two months before the movie came out because it had to be translated into different languages and these French censors have to decide what the rating of the movie is in Europe. The team at [Sony Pictures] Imageworks still had some shots that they felt they could do better for the finished version." Miller added a secondary motive: creative peace of mind. "Certain crew members – people in the sound department or on the animation team – were like, 'Oh, could we do this instead?'" he told GamesRadar. "Because it’s a multiverse movie, it’s like there’s a multiverse of the movie – that was really the reasoning behind it. It was trying to make the best possible version that everyone was going to be the proudest of."

James Cameron and George Lucas Have Also Updated Their Past Projects

Why Are There Different Versions of ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’? (2)

One might call the Across the Spider-Verse team adjusting elements post-debut an example of "perfectionism." That descriptor is typically loaded with negative, judgmental connotations, but perfectionism isn't a dirty word if done healthily. Everyone wants to submit their best work regardless of artistic medium or profession. In the film world specifically, Across the Spider-Verse is far from the first movie to be modified by its creatives. James Cameron, a noted perfectionist, adjusted a shot of the night sky in Titanic to be historically accurate for the film's 15th-anniversary theatrical re-release.

Star Wars creator George Lucas, meanwhile, is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for the multiple updates he made to the original Star Wars trilogy. Many of these revisions were a way for Lucas and his visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, always experimental pioneers when it comes to cutting-edge technology, to test new systems before Lucas shot The Phantom Menace. For Lucas, who directed Star Wars: A New Hope on a shoestring budget and with a wing and a prayer, and someone who resisted the restrictive Hollywood studio system, these experiments also provided the chance to get his defining creation right.

He told Entertainment Tonight in 1997:

"My original motivation in going back into the film and working on it is [that] films, unlike books or symphonies, are never finished. They are abandoned or yanked away from you. [...] And it's the same thing with fine art. [...] [Painters] say, ‘Oh, yeah. I did that 12 years ago [...] But there's something I don't feel right about it.' [...] There were a lot of things in [A New Hope] I just wasn't happy with and when the film came out everyone said, ‘Oh, looks great. You love it.’ I said, ‘Well, you know it's only about 60 percent of what I wanted it to be.’ Everybody thought I was nuts."

Years before the Star Wars prequels were in active development, Lucas was also a staunch defender of artists' rights. In addition to quitting the Director's Guild of America over a credits sequence, in 1988 the Los Angeles Times reported that Lucas joined other Hollywood names advocating for a Congressional bill that would forbid businesses from colorizing black and white films. Under Ted Turner's ownership of the MGM film catalog, classic black and white features like The Maltese Falcon and Miracle on 34th Street had been adapted from black and white into artificial color. Other artists in support of the restriction included Lauren Bacall, Sydney Pollock, and Lucas' frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg.

This stance makes sense. A business executive imposing color upon a black-and-white classic isn't the same as a director choosing to remaster their film with 4K technology, especially if the directors of said classics aren't consulted first. As for the thorny subject of George Lucas and the original Star Wars cuts, fans craving the unedited theatricals make just as much sense. Claims that Lucas' additions disrupt the movies' flows or muddle character motivations are valid — but so is Lucas' prerogative as director and creator.

'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse' Had Behind-the-Scenes Drama

Unlike Star Wars and Titanic, several factors make Across the Spider-Verse and its variations unique. For one, modifying scenes after the movie's debut raises eyebrows in the wake of employees accusing Lord and Miller of strenuous working conditions, which allegedly included "alterations to already-approved animated sequences that created a backlog of work across multiple late-stage departments." If Lord and Miller allowed their team to revise something to their satisfaction collaboratively after the fact, that's excellent.

But if the Spider-Verse workplace is so perilous that an artist can't produce their best work by the deadline — which four anonymous employees claimed was the case on Across the Spider-Verse — that's an unsustainable environment and another reason to support widespread unionization across the film industry. For another, George Lucas and James Cameron altered their products years down the road. In contrast, Across the Spider-Verse might be the only movie to release different versions in rapid succession. Beginning in June, theaters around the world played at least two different cuts, both of which, presumably, included improved sound mixing after audiences cited difficulty hearing Gwen Stacy's opening monologue. The digital edition premiered in August.

Because the Spider-Verse saga hinges on the multiverse concept, it stands to reason Across the Spider-Verse is one of the few movies that can get away with such back-to-back timing without major backlash. Naturally, not every fan enjoys the digital version's revisions. This intersection of artistic license, fan response, and perfectionism has no right or wrong answer, only individual preference. Countless creatives long to "fix" their past work. Technological advancements, changes in opinion, and skill growth all affect how everyone perceives their creations. Some actors — even ones as marvelous as Dame Judi Dench — won't watch their films because they'd overanalyze and critique their performances!

One can argue that any creative team should be afforded ultimate freedom, especially for more mutable art and if a situation warrants change. On the flip side, there's also the argument a work should stand as it was at the time of its conclusion. Unlike its box-office returns and groundbreaking animation advancements, Across the Spider-Verse isn't breaking the mold here. It just happens to be a movie about multiverses with multiple cuts. All art is subjective. Whichever cut you prefer is your individual opinion, just like making different versions is the opinion, and the right, of said film's creators.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

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Why Are There Different Versions of ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’? (2024)
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