Cutting Edge Episode 12: BBFC cuts to True Lies. By Gavin Salkeld
22nd September 2014
In 1994, James Cameron's action comedy True Lies -- starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis -- debuted at the box office and would go on to become the third highest-grossing film of the year. The film passed with an R rating in
the United States with ease, but in the UK, the BBFC decided that a single cut was required for the film's theatrical run before a 15 rating could be awarded.
James Cameron, good box office action
The Inimitable James Ferman, Director of the BBFC
Throughout his tenure as director of the BBFC, James Ferman regularly took issue with what he called imitable techniques ; potentially dangerous combat moves that he thought may inspire copycat behavior amongst the British public; scenes
showing head-butts, ear claps, throat chops and neck breaks would often be cited as immediate grounds for deletion, regardless of the rating of the film they were featured in. Ferman's treatment of these techniques was usually harsher on video,
where such events could be played out of context or in slow-motion, and thus -- in his eyes -- be more damaging to viewers. In addition, the unregulated nature of viewing in the home where underage viewers were more likely to be exposed to such
atrocities was also taken into account. On film, however, these same combat moves were sometimes treated more leniently, where underage viewing was far less likely and the ability to rewind and review scenes was impossible in the confines of a
BBFC Cinema Rating
The BBFC passed True Lies with a 15 rating on film on August 9th 1994, after demanding one second's worth of cuts.
Cut Scenes: Toilet Ear Clap
The affected scene occurs during the comical fight scene in a men's bathroom between Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a terrorist agent. In the cuts list sent to the film's distributor, United Artists Pictures, the BBFC cited one imitable technique
in Reel 2 of the film that would need to removed for the 15 rating to be given:
In fight in men's toilets, remove hero's double ear-clap... together with victim's agonised reaction, resuming to see hero push him out of the cubicle.
A heavy head-butt delivered by Harry earlier in the fight was left untouched - although the scene would be treated more strictly on video when the film's VHS release came in for classification the following year.
BBFC Video Rating
CIC Video submitted True Lies to the BBFC for video classification in early 1995, and the version of the film submitted was the pre-cut version seen in UK cinemas, which had the double ear-clap already removed. However, the Board demanded further
cuts to the film in order to maintain the same 15 rating on video. Imitable techniques were the main order of the day, but a couple of scenes where the BBFC felt that Harry was using a little more force than necessary were also trimmed, to tone
down their brutality.
Cut Scenes: Toilet Killing
The bathroom fight was the first scene to receive further cuts, with the BBFC stating:
Reduce fight in men's toilets by removing the following blows by Schwarzenegger to terrorist's head: head butt, impacts of second and third blows with hand dryer [and] second blow against back of urinal.
Reduced battering with dryer
Cut Scenes: Test Drive Punch
The overtly comic nature of True Lies did little to mitigate the impact of the violence in the eyes of the BBFC. A scene in the middle of film where Harry fantasizes about punching the sleazy car salesman, Simon -- whom Harry suspects is
having an affair with his wife, Helen -- was also cut on video. During a test drive, we see Harry apparently slamming his fist into Simon's face and knocking him out. A lingering shot of Simon lying battered and bloody was reduced to the
briefest of moments, with the BBFC keen to ensure that audiences were not horrified by Harry's apparent striking of a defenseless man:
Reduce hero's fantasy of punching salesman in the jaw by removing most of the following shot showing the latter's head reduced to a bloody pulp, resuming quickly on Schwarzenegger to show it was only a fantasy.
A rather superfluous cut, considering that the outcome of the audience learning that this is a fantasy is the same in the uncut version too.
Reduced effect of Schwarzenegger punch
Cut Scenes: Kidnapping
Harry and Helen wind up being kidnapped by the terrorists later in the film, but Harry breaks out of his handcuffs and enables both he and his wife to escape. In the process, Harry kills the two men guarding him; throwing a metal spike into
one of the man's eyes before snapping the second guard's neck. Both of these instances were cited for deletion by the BBFC, with their cuts list to the distributor demanding:
Reduce violence by Schwarzenegger during his escape from terrorists by removing clear-focus impact shot of spike thrown into man's eye together with beginning of neck twist to other man, cutting away after spike sends man's head back in soft
focus [and] resuming to see end of neck twist.
Realizing it would be impossible to simply remove these two acts of violence completely without damaging the flow of the scene, James Cameron re-edited the sequence by not only removing both the clear-focus on the spike going into the
eye and the start of the subsequent neck break, but also optically extending the whip pan shot of the spike flying through the air to help cover the missing footage.
Immediately following these two kills, Harry grabs a tire iron and lies in wait as a third man from outside comes to investigate. Harry rams the tire iron into the man's chest, before quickly wrenching it upwards and cracking the man's ribs.
Again, the BBFC objected, stating:
[Remove] second, upward blow with tyre tool into belly of third man, resuming to see Schwarzenegger drag him away as if first blow felled him.
One final cut was ordered by the BBFC a few minutes later, as Harry slides down a rope hanging above another terrorist before breaking the man's neck, with the Board requesting:
Reduce neck twist as Schwarzenegger climbs down rope and reaches out to grasp terrorist's head, cutting away as he twists and resuming on high angle shot with twist being completed just before hero jumps down.
This sequence is covered in three shots in the uncut version:
a high-angle shot of Harry moving down the rope
a profile shot of the terrorist getting his neck twisted with a crack
a return to a high-angle shot of Harry coming down from the rope
To accommodate this change satisfactorily, James Cameron rearranged the surrounding footage slightly to appease the BBFC. The profile shot of Harry twisting the man's neck with a loud crack was removed entirely, and other footage inserted
between the two high-angle shots to fill in the gap.
Replacement footage from earlier in the scene
Following these changes, True Lies was passed with a 15 rating after eight seconds of cuts for its video release on Valentine's Day 1995, and the cut version of the film was also released on Laserdisc. James Cameron was allegedly rather miffed at
the BBFC's treatment of the film and in an unusual turn of events, a disclaimer was printed on the reverse of the UK video cover that read:
This film has been edited for censorship purposes.
Admittedly the cuts in the original video version were quite well concealed, but this would all change a few years later when a widescreen version of True Lies came in for a DVD classification.
Same But Different: A 2nd Cut Video Version
The uncut version of the film was resubmitted to the BBFC in 2001 by Columbia Tri-Star. At the time, the BBFC would not pass an uncut version of a film with a higher rating if the cut version was still on the market. Ergo, with the cut version of
True Lies still available on VHS, the BBFC demanded the same video cuts be made before it could be passed with a 15 rating for DVD, with the BBFC noting:
Cuts required to detailed scenes of violence in order to allow the work to pass at the same category as previous versions of the same feature, in accordance with BBFC policy.
Cut Scenes: Re-cut
In an effort to avoid removing any footage and affecting the film's running time and soundtrack as much as possible, the distributors opted to reuse shots in the affected scenes by inserting repeated footage in place of the offending shots.
For example, to hide the head-butt and blows with the hand dryer in the cut UK DVD, we are repeatedly treated to totally incongruous cutaway shots of the old man sitting on the toilet, along with a completely out of place shot of the terrorist
wearing his coat from earlier in the fight.
The scene where Harry fantasizes about smashing Simon in the face is also handled with the same aplomb; repeating the zoom-in to Harry looking at Simon from before the punch and causing a jump cut to occur when the inoffensive footage resumes.
Harry's escape from the terrorists has the spike in the eye and the neck break removed entirely, with the film resuming on the torturer's neck already broken - but the cracking sound effect is shifted to play over this shot, which looks rather
ridiculous. The tire iron in the third terrorist's chest is cut in the same manner as the video version, however, and is the only cut that is not noticeable in the cut UK DVD.
The last cut where Harry breaks the terrorist's neck after sliding down the rope is also handled in a ham-fisted manner. The visuals of the neck break contained in the profile shot have been removed, with the footage following the twisting of
his head that shows the terrorist slumping forward now slowed down to fill in the gap left by the removal of offending footage.
Not only do all of these cuts make a mockery of the skill of a such a respected filmmaker like James Cameron, but they introduce continuity errors in scenes such as the bathroom fight and the scene with Harry and Simon.
Following these changes and dire substitutions, the resulting cuts amount to 20 seconds for the cut UK DVD version. However, when the actual DVD was released later in the year, the wrong master ended up making its way onto the UK market. The UK
shares its DVD region, Region 2, with Europe and the uncut Spanish DVD ended up being the disc that actually made its way into UK stores. Learning of the anomaly, film fans quickly snatched up the disc fearing it would be removed from sale as per
UK law. In the end, the disc stayed on the market in this uncut form for another two years, and it would be 2003 before a re-pressed disc made its way into stores. By then, of course, the horse had already bolted. The original uncut UK release
can be identified by the red widescreen banner across the top edge of the front cover, the presence of both English and Spanish audio tracks on the disc, and a selection of 14 different subtitle tracks.
One may like to think that Columbia released this uncut disc on purpose; ashamed with themselves for producing such an atrocious cut version of a much-loved film. There is, nevertheless, no proof that this was done. The cut 2003 DVD release can
be identified by the Universal logo in the lower right corner on the front cover, as well as the presence of only English 5.1 audio and English subtitles
The uncut version of True Lies also appeared in a 2008 DVD collection entitled Greatest Ever Action Heroes alongside other films of varying quality that was released in October of that year. The film had still not been officially passed
uncut by the BBFC at this time, but no one in the industry seemed to care.
Accidental uncut release
Uncut on 2010 DVD
A couple of years later, with distribution rights now belonging to Fox, Fox resubmitted the uncut version of True Lies to the BBFC for a new DVD release and it was officially passed uncut on February 4th 2010. This uncut version is now widely
available in the UK, and can be identified by the Fox logos on the DVD cover, the presence of both BBFC and IFCO logos on the lower left of the front cover, and the addition of Danish, English, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitle tracks. UK
buyers can therefore buy this disc; safe in the knowledge that they are getting the full, uncut version of the film in a really solid anamorphic presentation.
Official uncut release
Cutting Edge Episode 12: True Lies
Gavin Salkeld spies on the BBFC cinema and video cuts
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.