When "Titanic" set sail for its 3-D encore this month, moviegoers saw a new ending.
After the movie's original run in 1997, astrophysicist and science celebrity Neil deGrasse Tyson objected that the night sky didn't match reality. Director James Cameron had spent millions crafting an accurate depiction of the star-crossed ship. But when it came to the constellations overhead, it seems, he faked it.
"Worse than that, it was not only the wrong sky – the left half of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right half of the sky," Mr. Tyson said in 2009. "It was not only wrong; it was lazy."
Computers can tell us exactly how the stars looked that night in 1912. So for the film's 2012 return, Cameron digitally repainted the sky. Small change, sure. But it continues a trend of directors futzing around with movies well after their debuts. "Director's cuts" are an established part of Hollywood history, yet such second drafts typically incorporate footage that already existed when the film was released. Few movies warrant brand-new material years after the fact.
George Lucas holds the title as Hollywood's biggest revisionist. With the Blu-ray release of the original "Star Wars" trilogy last September, Lucas redrafted more than a dozen scenes from the original films. His team layered on extra pyrotechnics, gave the teddy bear-like Ewoks blinking eyes, and stitched in a new line for Darth Vader. This marked a second round of edits for "Star Wars." More changes had come with the 1997 special edition.
For the 20th anniversary of "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," director Steven Spielberg changed the famous bicycle chase. Now uncomfortable with federal agents threatening the kids with guns, he swapped in walkie-talkies.
For the "The Lord of the Rings" DVDs, the studio digitally removed a car that had been accidentally left in the background of a scene.
Disney rewrote the opening number of "Aladdin." The original described a land "where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face. It's barbaric, but hey, it's home." After Arab groups protested, the home video now sings out: "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense. It's barbaric, but hey, it's home."