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14th June
2015

  Eraser...

Cutting Edge Episode 22: James Ferman's quest to erase Hollywood violence
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Eraser header

Arnold Schwarzenegger blasted onto cinema screens in the June of 1996 with his explosive action thriller, Eraser . Although it was nominated for an Oscar for its sound effects work, the film was not warmly received by film critics. Nevertheless, it grossed over $242 million on its $100 million budget, and was thus a commercial success. It sailed through the ratings board in the United States with an R rating, but the film would go on to receive heavy cuts at the hands of the British Board of Film Classification in the UK, with its secretary James Ferman making many changes to the film. In this edition of Cutting Edge, we'll be examining the cuts made to Eraser for its original UK theatrical release, as well as taking a look at the extensive alterations that were later made to the film for its initial home video release. As you'll discover, Eraser would be one of the most heavily censored action films of the 1990s that was ever made available to British buyers.

BBFC Cuts for an 18 rated cinema release

18 certificate

Eraser first came before the BBFC in mid-1996 when it was submitted by Warner Brothers, and James Ferman stated that not only would the film would need classifying with an 18 rating, but that cuts would also be required -- even at the highest category. Around half a minute of footage was removed across three separate reels, with contentious scenes featuring bladed weapons, imitable techniques, and violent acts perpetrated against women.

Cut Scenes: Beating Johnny

The first cuts occurred in reel 1, where the witness Johnny is beaten up by two thugs. After Johnny is punched about the head, the thugs produce a knife and a pair of pliers, threatening to pull out his tongue. Ferman objected to this scene, demanding that Warner Bros:

Remove extreme close-up of knife blade near face and looser shot of knife as mouth is forced open, together with shot of pliers approaching open mouth.


knife 1

knife 2
   

Cut Scenes: Rescuing Johnny

Schwarzenegger's character, Kruger, comes to save the day; killing two thugs on his way to rescue Johnny. After hanging the first bad guy, the second meets a rather novel end in Johnny's kitchen. But Ferman objected, stating:

Remove medium close shot of Schwarzenegger breaking villain's neck in kitchen.


freezer 1

freezer 2
   

Cut Scenes: Pistol whipping Lee

Two more cuts were made in reel 5, with the first removing a pistol whip by James Caan's character DeGuerin to Vanessa William's character, Lee, after he takes her hostage.


pistol whip
 

Cut Scenes: Dispatching Haggerty

Shortly afterwards, as Kruger gives chase, he runs into DeGuerin's right-hand man, Haggerty, and quickly dispatches him. For the UK cinema version, Ferman demanded:

On roof of helicopter pad, remove shot of Schwarzenegger breaking man's back and neck.


Haggerty
 

Cut Scenes: Threatening Lee

Lee is later held hostage by the Russian villain Petrofsky, and one brief scene where he threatens her in reel 6 was also deemed unacceptable by the BBFC, with Ferman stating:

When Russian threatens heroine, remove close-up of triangular knife blade in his hand.


knife 3
 

Following these cuts, Eraser was passed with an 18 rating after 28 seconds of cuts on Monday August 5th 1996. The film's theatrical trailer had previously been passed with a PG rating on June 26th, following three seconds of cuts. A handful of shots amongst the rapidly-edited footage caused issues at the BBFC, who demanded:

Cut Scenes: Eraser cinema trailer

Reduce intensity and impact of threat and violence, particularly removing sight of woman kicking body on floor, sight of Schwarzenegger shooting two machine guns at camera and subsequent explosion of police car.


trailer 1

trailer 2
   

BBFC Cuts for a 15 rated VHS release

15 certificate

Warner Brothers later resubmitted Eraser for a UK video release with a request for a 15 rating, and James Ferman was happy to submit to Warner Brothers' request. He demanded a huge amount of cuts to the film, as he felt that British audiences of the 1990s were turned off by too much violence. Former BBFC examiner Ros Hodgkiss later recalled Ferman's ideology in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in 1998:

Ferman minimally cut the action thriller Eraser for an 18 certificate. On video, [he] made 43 cuts, including the final scene. He didn't hesitate to change the meaning to make it morally 'suitable for teenagers'. He presented this as a favour to the company. The film flopped, the video did well, ran his argument, because less violence made it palatable to the British audience.

The version of Eraser that was submitted to the BBFC for video classification was the full, uncut R-rated version as released in the United States. With Warner Brothers having requested a 15 rating, the cuts required by James Ferman on video were far more extensive than those requested for the cinema release. For many British action movie fans growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, the BBFC as an entity was seen as Public Enemy #1. But the blame could arguably be laid more directly at the feet of James Ferman. Many of our favourite actioners were cut during his reign, mostly due to his own personal views of acceptability, and not everyone at the Board agreed with his methods. As former BBFC examiner Maggie Mills once stated in The Sunday Times:

[Ferman] was a control freak who would sit in his office alone, late into the night, obsessively watching videos. His lack of contact with the normal human world showed; he ran the BBFC as his personal fiefdom, overriding those who disagreed with him.

And so, with Eraser sat before Ferman, he sharpened his scissors and hit the Play button.

Cut Scenes: Beating Johnny

To begin with, thirteen cuts were requested in the opening scene alone where Johnny is beaten up by the two thugs. Cuts were also requested to Kruger's killing of the two men on guard in the kitchen, with Ferman writing:

"Remove brutality of opening scene by removing the following:

  • heavy punch to head of bound and gagged man  
  • petrol being doused on floor and on bound and gagged woman  
  • second punch being thrown to head of bound man  
  • medium close-up of head recoiling and man looking away, saying: 'Get me some ice, I think I broke my goddam hand.'  
  • medium shot of man with petrol can saying, 'Sure boss.'  
  • close-up of man with noose around neck being lifted up  
  • knife blade near man's face, followed by his mouth being forced open as pliers come into shot  
  • medium close-up of heavy's neck being broken behind freezer door."  

opening 1

opening 2

opening 3

opening 4

Just a  few examples of the removed shots
 


As Kruger runs into the living room, he shoots at one of Johnny's captors and kicks the other one into a table, before Kruger forces his arm onto the man's throat and breaks his neck. Ferman stated that this sound effect should also be removed for the 15 version.

Kruger then drags the two dead thugs outside, shooting a bullet into each of the two dead bodies to make it appear that the men shot one another as part of his 'erasing' process. However, Ferman demanded that this should be reduced to only one gunshot.

This change resulted in Kruger's dialogue which follows to become nonsensical in the UK version, when he says to Johnny that the two men turned on each other. Since we only see one man shot in the cut version, this introduces a clear continuity error.


close up gun
 


Kruger continues his clean-up operation, placing two more corpses in the living room to stand in for the bodies of Johnny and his wife, thus making it seem that the couple are dead. Dowsing the area with petrol, Kruger sets fire to the room, but even this was too much for Ferman, with his cuts list stating:

As hero ignites petrol on floor, cut away to remove sight of flames engulfing corpse.


corpses
 

 


Cut Scenes: Donohue's game is up

A little while later, our heroine Lee is caught trying to dig up some dirt on her corrupt boss, Donohue. He calls Lee to his office and realising he is for the chop, Donohue pulls a gun on Lee but turns the gun on himself instead. Again Ferman objected, demanding:

When corporate boss threatens woman with gun, reduce intensity by removing cross cuts between her fear and his loss of control.


office 1

office 2
   

Remove medium close-up of boss pointing gun into his mouth.

Remove medium close-up of boss slumped in chair with blood coming out of his mouth and shorten medium shot of the same.


office 3

office 4
   

Cut Scenes: Killing Alison

Kruger, DeGuerin and his men later raid a woodland cabin on the pretence of rescuing a female witness, Alison. But unbeknownst to Kruger, it is all a setup so that DeGuerin can kill Alison in order to protect his own hide. Ferman listed two changes that had to be made to this scene, the first of which concerned Kruger's killing of two villains:

Remove sequence at top of stairs in which hero stabs man trapped behind door and shoots second man with bloody impacts.


door

impacts
   


The villainous DeGuerin then proceeds to shoot and smother Alison in Kruger's absence, but again this sequence proved too strong for Ferman's tastes:

Remove details of villain suffocating woman by feigning mouth to mouth resuscitation, resuming as hero revives to see villain looking up with feigned regret.


Alice 1

Alice 2
   


For some reason, Warner Brothers took it upon themselves to drastically re-edit this portion of the film in order to accommodate Ferman's cuts. As a result, the music and sound effects flow rather abruptly throughout the scene in the UK version, with frantic cross-cutting between Kruger and DeGuerin's individual scenes. The death of Alison is also hugely underplayed, and it is not immediately clear what fate has befallen her. For a look at the rather poorly-edited UK version, readers can refer to the video below.


Cut Scenes: Shooting Monroe

Following the cabin raid, the naive officer Monroe is shot twice by DeGuerin onboard his jet. Despite its brevity, Ferman objected to the incident of violence, stating:

As villain shoots young officer, reduce impact shots.


Monroe
 

Cut Scenes: Disarming the Bad Guy

Eraser continues without cuts for the next 12 minutes in the UK version, until the scene in the zoo where a bad guy has his arm ripped off by a crocodile. The explicit sight of this was removed for the UK version.


croc
 

Cut Scenes: Attacking the SWAT team

Further cuts were later made in the Cyrez break-in sequence, beginning with a brief cut to Kruger's striking of a SWAT team member, where the impact shot of Kruger smacking the man in the face with a handgun was removed.


SWAT 1
 


Immediately afterwards, more SWAT team members arrive in an elevator, and Kruger proceeds to use the pistol-whipped man as a human shield. It was too much for Ferman's tastes, however:

As SWAT team start to emerge from lift, remove sight of hero removing pins from grenades in man's belt and throwing him into lift to blow them all up.


SWAT 2

SWAT 3
   

Cut Scenes: Pistol Whipping Lee and Dispatching Haggerty

The next two cuts occur a minute or two later, and mirrored those implemented for the UK cinema version. DeGuerin's pistol whipping of Lee was once again eliminated, as was the sight of Kruger breaking Haggerty's neck on the heli-pad.


Cut Scenes: Rescuing Lee

As Eraser moves into its final act, heavy cuts were made by Ferman to the film's final 20 minutes. Almost every violent occurrence was cut, resulting in undetailed and generic action scenes that greatly reduced the impact of the film's climax. The first removal occurs whilst Lee is held captive by Petrofsky.

A shot of him slapping Lee across the face was eliminated.


slap
 


Kruger makes his appearance a couple of minutes later, and takes down two guards who are patrolling the docks. Johnny and his boys follow suit, beating up some other guards who are barring their way onto the docks. With regards to this sequence, Ferman demanded:

When hero jumps onto guards on dock, reduce punches and kicks, and after cutting to villain's reaction, remove rifle butt to man's face.


dock 1

dock 2
   


After gaining access to a warehouse, Kruger is forced to hide beneath the floorboards as five more thugs show up. The fate of the villains is hugely diluted in the UK video version, thanks to Ferman's drastic cuts:

When hero fires up through floor of docks, remove sight of first man being riddled with bullets, resuming on longer shot of two men being shot through floor.


riddled
 


And immediately afterwards:

When hero fires at two men running from warehouse, remove impact shot of them both being thrown back against shed, resuming on big close-up of hero as he fires; also remove impact shot of third man being shot and thrown back through window.


rail guns 1

rail guns 2
   


Another cut occurs around half a minute later, where Lee is threatened with a knife by Petrofsky. The BBFC had demanded that the shot of the knife opening be removed for an 18 rating on film, so it naturally had to be removed for the15-rated video version. Lee escapes a few seconds later, and after felling Petrofsky, she kicks him in the head as he lies on the ground. Ferman also demanded that this be removed.


headkick
 

Cut Scenes: Leaving the Warehouse

Kruger emerges from the warehouse, armed with a pair of Cyrez railguns, and blasts away at the many random bad guys waiting for him outside. Amongst the mayhem, Johnny's buddy Sal makes a crack shot and shoots a thug in the eye with a sniper rifle -- but not in the UK video version:

As hero advances firing, remove group impact shot of three men being thrown into the air together with gunplay and impacts which follow. [Also remove] close impact shot of bullet in man's face.


fireman

eye
   

Cut Scenes: Fighting on a shipping container

DeGuerin takes Lee hostage, and threatens Kruger from atop a shipping container. He pulls her hair sharply, which Ferman also objected to, strangely demanding:

Remove villain's apparent pistol blow to woman.


hair pull
 


Despite being shot, Kruger makes a run towards the shipping container as it is hoisted up, managing to grab onto it at the last moment. At the same time, Johnny and his boys take out the last of DeGuerin's men, but the intensity and mayhem was too much for Ferman and he demanded further cuts, stating:

After hero jumps up onto container being craned up, reduce gunfire.


gunfire 1

gunfire 2
   


When union boys rise up shooting from mechanical dredger, reduce close shots of firing and impact shots on villains."

A couple more cuts occur during Kruger and DeGuerin's brawl atop the shipping container, with Ferman demanding that Warner Bros:

Remove shots of villain swinging crowbar and hitting hero, as well as repeat of same shortly afterwards.


crowbar
 

Cut Scenes: Trivial Killing

Perhaps the most drastic alteration made to Eraser was to its final scene. As previously mentioned, Ferman cut the ending of the film to make it "morally suitable" for a mid-teen audience. The uncut version shows Johnny driving DeGuerin and his cohorts onto a railway line, before hopping out and leaving them stranded in the path of an oncoming train. Kruger coolly watches from the sidelines as the men try to escape, but the train ploughs into their car, killing them all in a fiery explosion. The scene ends with Johnny driving off to a new life with a new identity, as he waves cheerfully at Kruger. Ferman considered this to be hugely distasteful and sadistic, removing almost 30 seconds of footage and leaving the fate of the villains completely unseen. His cuts list demanded:

In final scene when car is trapped in railway crossing, remove all sight of trapped villains panicking in car as train bears down on them; car being demolished as satisfied hero looks on and accomplice drives up smiling; and wrecked car in smoking ruins of train.


panic 1

panic 2

panic 3

panic 4

Just a few examples of the removed shots
 


With Warner having made the necessary cuts, Eraser was passed with a 15 rating on February 13th 1997 -- with a staggering three minutes and 22 seconds worth of cuts. The film was released in this cut version on VHS and later on DVD.

Eraser UK DVD


BBFC cuts waived in 2009

Fast forward to 2009, and Eraser found itself back before the BBFC for a new classification; almost 12 years to the day since it was first classified for video. The BBFC passed the film completely uncut, waiving all of Ferman's original edits, and the film was classified with a 15 rating on February 10th for:

Strong violence and language.

Eraser US Blu-ray

At the time this episode was in production, Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, had still not released the uncut version of Eraser on its own DVD or Blu-disc ray in the UK. However, fans wishing to savour the full uncut version can import the American Blu-ray disc, which is completely Region Free and available for a very reasonable price.

One final point worth mentioning is the BBFC's classification of the original teaser trailer for Eraser. It was classified on film on September 27th 1996, almost eight weeks after the film had been granted an 18 rating with cuts. It is initially a dark and moody piece of work, and features specially shot material with Vanessa Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It begins showing a black-clad figure smashing up a home. He drops a woman's body to the floor, before producing a switchblade knife in order to rip her nylons and shirt open. The woman has a small amount of blood around her mouth and on her clothing, and the black figure takes Polaroid pictures of her body. As he finishes doing so, she opens her eyes, smiles, and is helped up by the figure, who is revealed to be Kruger. As the voiceover explains, he is the Eraser of the title, and the trailer ends with a token action montage showing highlights from the film.


teaser 1

teaser 2
   

Whilst it begins as a dark piece, any tension is quickly alleviated when we realise that the whole scene is a faked set-up, which serves to provide the audience with both the basic premise of the film and Kruger's job as a witness protection officer. The trailer was classified as being suitable for all audiences in the United States.

In the UK, the BBFC passed it with an 18 rating.

Their reasoning? The work contained suggestions of sexual assault. And yet people think Americans are prudish...

 

 Cutting Edge Video Episode 22: Eraser

 
 

Cutting Edge

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25: Doctor Who Special Edition
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