Renny Harlin's high-seas action adventure movie, Cutthroat Island , is perhaps unfairly remembered as being the film that bankrupted Carolco Pictures in late 1995, after the film earned only $10 million in the United States on its $98
million budget. In terms of the film's action scenes, Harlin brought a rather tough edge to what was otherwise a family-friendly production, which earned Cutthroat Island a PG-13 in the States for:
Some strong pirate
action/violence and brief sensuality.
BBFC cuts for a PG rated cinema release
When the film was submitted in its PG-13 form to the British Board of Film Classification for a
cinema certificate, the distributors requested a PG rating, but the censors refused to pass the film without cuts due to its scenes of strong violence. Three different versions of the film ended up being passed by the BBFC between 1996 and 2003 and in
this month's Cutting Edge, we'll be examining the cuts that were made to Cutthroat Island in each of these three incarnations.
The first version of the film to receive cuts in Britain was of course the original UK cinema version, with heavy cuts
made across six of the film's reels.
Cut Scenes: Opening Credits
The first cut occurs during the opening credits, after Morgan has slept with a treacherous lieutenant. He pulls a gun on her but unfazed, she shows him the bullets she has secretly removed
from his gun. Jokingly, Morgan remarks:
That won't work. See, I took your balls.
For the UK version, the BBFC demanded:
Remove Morgan's line "I took your
balls" (sight of lead shot in her hand may remain).
Still in the opening credits, as Morgan rides across a beach and attempts to steal a boat, she gets into a tussle with the boat's owner. For the UK version, the BBFC stated:
Remove heavy sound of Morgan's kick to man's face on beach.
Shortly afterwards, Morgan's father Harry is shot at by Dawg's men. For the UK version, the BBFC demanded:
Remove close-up of bullet impact into Morgan's father's neck.
A short time later, Shaw's escape from Trotter was the next scene to receive changes. After Trotter calls out Shaw on his duplicity, Shaw wrenches Trotter's arm and makes a run for it. For the UK version, the BBFC
Remove sound of arm break or sight as well if necessary.
The filmmakers chose to remove only the crunchy sound effect whilst retaining the visual details.
Cut Scenes: The Auction
The auction scene in Reel 2 where Morgan bids for Shaw's life was the next scene to receive BBFC cuts. In order to win the auction, Morgan cheekily accosts a rival bidder. Despite the scene's
levity, the BBFC demanded:
Remove sound of man being stuck in backside with dagger and of dagger being removed.
After Morgan and Shaw leave the auction, they are ambushed and a lengthily escape from Port Royal ensues. Morgan kicks, punches, and beats up various enemies with a spade before being attacked by enemy soldiers. A multitude of cuts were
requested by the BBFC here, which stated:
In escape and fight in courtyard, remove or greatly reduce sound of Morgan's kick to man's crotch, punch to soldier, elbow to face, bashes with spade, pole being thumped on
man's chest, and of punches to and by Morgan on top of carriage, as well as kick by her.
Following their escape, Morgan and Shaw converse in the back of a carriage and Morgan proceeds to threaten Shaw with her dagger; jabbing it into his groin and twisting it with a loud crunch. For the British cinema version, the BBFC
Remove sounds of Morgan's dagger being prodded into Shaw's groin in carriage, and remove sight of it being twisted.
Cut Scenes: Frisking
Continuing on her quest for the gold hidden somewhere on Cutthroat Island, Morgan visits a brothel in Spittlefield Harbor in order to speak to her uncle, Mordechai. A sleazy guard fondles Morgan's
chest as he frisks her, but the BBFC demanded:
Remove sight of man squeezing Morgan's breasts in brothel.
Cut Scenes: Brothel Ambush
In Reel 3 of the film, the next cuts were made. After Morgan has spoken to Mordechai, she is violently ambushed by Dawg and his men. For the UK cinema version, the BBFC stipulated:
Reduce Morgan's suffering as chain constricts her throat, and remove overhead shot of her falling from balcony and crash landing.
A fight between Morgan's crew and Dawg's men follows and more cuts were demanded by the BBFC here, who demanded the following three changes:
In brothel brawl, remove [Morgan's] kick to man's face and also her
vicious headbutt, together with preceding line 'Sweetheart, I promised I'd take care of you.'
Generally reduce sounds of brawl, or visuals if sound cannot be re-mixed.
After Dog tells man "You killed
my brother," remove sound of man's throat being cut.
Cut Scenes: Short Rations
The following morning, we see Dawg boarding his ship as he is confronted by one of his men. After the man complains about the lack of supplies, Dawg shoots him in cold blood. For the UK
cinema version, the BBFC demanded:
When man complains to Dog that there isn't enough food on board, and Dog shoots him, remove impact of man being shot, retaining only the end of his fall.
Cut Scenes: Shaw Captured
No further cuts were made to the UK version until Reel 5, when Shaw is captured by Dawg and the corrupt Governor Ainslee. A brief shot of Shaw being struck in the head was censored for the UK
version, with the BBFC demanding:
Remove impact of rifle butt to back of Shaw's head.
Cut Scenes: Crew Rescued
Following Shaw's capture, Reel 6 sees Morgan rescuing her crew from the bowels of her ship, The Morning Star, by killing two soldiers standing guard. In the 1990s particularly, the BBFC were
quick to pounce on violent acts like head-butts and neck breaks -- which they termed 'imitable techniques' -- regardless of a film's rating, so for the PG-rated cinema version the Board remarked:
When Morgan rescues
chained pirates from hold of ship, remove sight of her twisting and breaking guard's neck... resuming to see Morgan throw sword but reducing sound of impact.
Cut Scenes: Finale Battle
Around 10 minutes later, the epic finale of the film begins as Morgan and her crew face-off with Dawg and his men. Numerous cuts and trims were demanded in the film's final reels, the first
of which concerned a brief tussle between Shaw and an enemy pirate:
In fight on ship, remove Shaw's breaking of pirate's arm and then punching him.
A general change was also mentioned by the BBFC
for the finale of the film, which stated:
Generally reduce sound of blows and slashes throughout battle.
Around 10 minutes' worth of the final battle was affected, with the volume of approximately 30 punches, kicks, stabbings and swords slicing into bodies being reduced in volume in order to tone down the mayhem of the film's finale. One specific
instance the BBFC cited as needing to be reduced was:
When black pirate slashes man across face, reduce sound of impact.
But the edits made to the final battle do not stop there, with the Board also stating:
Remove slow-motion shot of Morgan swinging on rope and kicking man in head.
Remove Morgan's slashing of pirate's throat.
Perhaps the most brutal fight in the film occurs between Blair and the villainous Bishop in Reel 7. The mayhem and personalised violence arguably reaches its zenith at this point in Cutthroat Island, with Bishop crushing Blair's arm in
the ship's wheel, Bishop being stabbed in his thigh in close-up with a large knife and Blair forcing Bishop's head into the wheel in order to break his neck.
For the UK cinema version, the BBFC demanded:
sight of man's arm being broken in wheel.
Remove sight of man being stabbed in back of leg.
Remove sight of man's head being crushed in wheel.
These three cuts necessitated the removal
of around 30 seconds of footage -- over 40% of the entire film's cuts -- with the resultant sequence leaving Bishop's fate to the viewers' imagination.
Another brief cut was made to this part of the film a couple of minutes later, when Glasspoole is struck by an enemy pirate, with the BBFC stating:
Remove sight of kick to man's face.
Two final cuts were made to the climactic fight between Morgan and Dawg. For this scene, the BBFC's cuts demanded:
Remove sight of Morgan's kick to Dog's crotch, as well as sight of Dog smashing
Morgan's head against mast.
After the submitting company had made 72 seconds of visual cuts and extensive sound reductions in many of the film's fight scenes, Cutthroat Island was passed PG by the BBFC on March 13th 1996.
BBFC cuts for a PG rated VHS release
Almost five months later, it was resubmitted to the Board for a video classification in the summer of 1996. The version submitted by Guild Home Video was mostly pre-cut in line with the UK cinema version, although five of the previous sound cuts had not
been made. As a result, the BBFC outlined the required changes in a new cuts list that read:
The UK cinema version was extensively re-edited for 'PG', with reductions of sound levels throughout. The following cuts are
required to bring the video version into line with that version.
The sound of Morgan's kick to the man's head on the beach is too loud and should be nearly imperceptible.
When Morgan and Shaw begin to fight their way out of garrisoned town,
considerably reduce sounds of her crotch kick and punch to soldiers in doorway.
Considerably reduce sound of spade handle being banged down on man's chest and also sound of Morgan's spade being smashed into
Reduce sound level of Morgan's punch to man's face on top of carriage and her kick which follows.
When Dog sets sail in pursuit of Morgan and gives
orders to crew, after he says "we need less mouths" and fires point blank at sailor, remove all sight of sailor being shot dead, resuming on reaction shot of other sailors."
This last cut is interesting, as the UK cinema cuts stated that only the initial impact needed to be removed whilst retaining the end of the sailor's fall. However, his death was completely eliminated on video.
Following four seconds of cuts
and sound reductions, Cutthroat Island was passed PG for a UK home video release on August 2nd 1996.
BBFC cuts for an already pre-cut version for a PG rated DVD release
Some eight years later, Momentum Pictures submitted the film anew for a DVD classification. Much like their horrible DVD release of Cliffhanger in 2001, the company submitted a pre-cut
version of Cutthroat Island that ran nowhere nearly as smoothly as the cut version that was released on VHS in the 1990s. Additionally, the cuts were not made in the same manner as they had been on film or video, with some footage having being reinstated
and other footage and additional sound cuts made that had not being done before. A summary of the main differences between the UK VHS version and Momentum's DVD version is as follows:
The UK DVD reinstates Morgan's joke about taking the man's "balls" in the opening scene
Her kick to the man on the beach a couple of minutes later is also now as its proper volume on DVD, and not diminished as it was on film
The shooting of Harry is extended by a few frames on DVD; we still lose sight of the bullet impact into his neck but the tail end of the same shot is now restored
Shaw's loud cracking of Trotter's arm at the dance
is restored on DVD
The sound effects of Morgan stabbing the man at the auction are restored on DVD
Morgan kicking the soldier in the groin is trimmed slightly on DVD. This shot was present on film and video, although the
sound effect had been reduced. On the DVD, the very start of the shot showing Morgan's foot making contact is truncated
The many sound cuts originally made to various kicks, punches and impacts with the spade during Morgan's escape are all
restored in the DVD
When Morgan threatens Shaw with her dagger in the carriage, Momentum chose to remove the offending close-up shots altogether, which results in a slight jump on the start of Shaw saying "Ouch!" on the film's
Morgan's breasts being squeezed in the brothel was still cut, but more footage from the top of the shot was removed in comparison to the cinema- and VHS versions to remove the clear sight of her chest
being yanked from the balcony with the chain and falling is restored in full on DVD
Dawg's slashing of the throat of the man who killed his brother has its sound effect restored on the DVD, whereas it was removed on film and video
The kick by Morgan to the face of one enemy was removed outright on DVD, whereas on film only the sound effect had been reduced
The head-butt to the groping guard shortly afterwards was still cut on DVD but the scene restores the
surrounding non-contentious footage to make it look like Morgan pushes the man over the balcony. Her earlier joke about "taking care" of the guard now has a pay-off on the DVD version due to the restored footage
sounds of all punches, kicks and slashes in the ensuing fight appear to have been restored on the UK DVD
Dawg's shooting of the sailor jumps quite horrendously on the DVD, with the end of the gunshot being abruptly cut short
A curious cut exclusive to the UK DVD occurs around 64 minutes into the film, after Morgan steals from Dawg. His line, "Bitch stole my map!" is missing the word 'bitch'
The sound effect of Shaw being struck on the back of
the head with a rifle butt is loud and restored in the DVD
Morgan's rescue of her crew from below deck is edited far less smoothly on the DVD, removing only the actual neck break. This now makes it look like the first guard suddenly falls
down for no reason. However, the impact of Morgan's sword landing in the second guard's belly is restored to its original volume
Shaw's breaking of the pirate's arm and punching him in the face on deck was removed altogether on film and
video, but the UK DVD restores the rather harmless punch to the face
Morgan's slow-motion kicking of the man in the face is partially restored on DVD, removing only the actual sight of her foot making contact, but it looks worse than the
The fight between Blair and Bishop is cut entirely differently on the DVD in comparison to how it was on film, with Momentum making more cuts than were necessary. For example, the scene removes entirely the sight of Trotter
shooting one of his own men in order to save Blair's life; a turning point for his character. This instance was never a cause of concern for the BBFC, so it is interesting to ponder why it was cut on DVD. Bishop also seems to scream suddenly (as we do
not see him being stabbed) and he then seems to die by simply standing too close to the ship's wheel. The soundtrack in particular is very badly mixed here, as we can still hear the sounds of the two men fighting a good few seconds after Bishop has
Glasspoole being kicked in the face was also cut differently. Once again, only the actual impact was removed, whereas the original UK version simply removed that part of the scene altogether. It looks worse on the DVD.
Morgan's kick to Dawg's crotch was cut on DVD to remove only the actual impact, but the sight of her being smashed into the ship's mast was reinstated. The point where the kick was removed looks particularly jumpy
As for the sound effects of the epic battle, none of them were reduced for the DVD release, despite them receiving heavy reductions for the film's original UK release. This point in particular is interesting, because despite Momentum submitting a
pre-cut version for a DVD rating, the BBFC still demanded two compulsory cuts, remarking:
Reduce sound of throat slicing by woman.
Reduce sound of woman being punched in the face.
Despite this, the UK DVD does not appear to implement these two changes.
The Cutthroat Island DVD was awarded a PG classification for "moderate violence" by the BBFC on November 24th 2003 and was first released by
Momentum Pictures in 2002 and again by Optimum Releasing in 2008. Both versions contain the same cut version of the film.
At the time we went to print, Cutthroat Island only remained available in a cut version on DVD in the UK. Fans of the film who
wish to own the uncut version would do well to important the American Blu-ray disc, which is Region Free and will play in all UK Blu-ray players without issue.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode
34: Cutthroat Island
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