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Great Movies That Are Also TV Shows

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A leather-clad outlaw to give since Jacques Mesrine a run for his unmarked francs, Carlos was developed as a three part miniseries for French TV and in shorter, feature-film format concurrently. It’s not the first time different versions of a story have appeared on big and small screens. Some started out as movies before reaching the diode (Das Boot), some as TV pilots that went horribly wrong (Mulholland Drive), and some as herculean endurance tests that you can watch in one sitting but only if you’re got 16 hours spare (Berlin Alexanderplatz). They’ve all made it to our cinemas in one form or another. Here’s how.

TV release: 2010
Cinema release: 2010
TV runtime: 338 mins.
Cinema runtime: 165 mins.

Myth of his own making, legend of the extreme left and posterboy for leather jacket shops the world over, terrorist and revolutionary Carlos ‘the Jackal’ is a seriously complex man to capture on celluloid. Like Mesrine and Steven Soderbergh’s Che, his life packed in far too much paramilitary mayhem, political nuance and hand-grenade chucking to squeeze into a conventional two-hour runtime. Which, as producer Daniel Leconte explains, was never the idea for his semi-fictionalised biopic. “We wanted to combine money from television and cinema to make two distinct works from the same shoot: a theatrical movie and TV drama,” he says.

With a $19m budget and 30-year span, Carlos was released as a three part miniseries for French TV earlier this year, and split in two 140 minute movies for US cinemas. In the UK, we’ll get the chance to see it as a shorter, 165 minute edit and, for those with no pressing engagements, the longer 338 minute version. Which gives plenty to soak up Carlos’ maverick brand of Marxist carnage, all centrepieced by an insanely daring but completely hapless attempt to take all of OPEC hostage in 1975.

TV release: 1989
Cinema release: 1988/1989
TV runtime: A Short Film About Killing (84 mins.), A Short Film About Love (86 mins.)
Cinema runtime: 600 mins.

You can get a lot done in ten hours – fly to Mumbai, remake the Eiffel Tower from matchsticks, master the stepover in FIFA 11 or take a really long nap. And if you’re feeling especially worthy, you can watch The Decalogue, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s stunning Warsaw-set opus of love, death and big grey buildings. It was based on the Ten Commandments, each episode taking a different bit of Moses’ mighty tablets as its theme, and, perhaps inevitably, found little favour with the Communist government. More surprisingly, it also upset the Catholic Church, aggrieved when the bit about coverting your neighbour’s ass was taken a bit more literally than they’d expected.

Kieslowski initially planned to find a separate director for each of the hour-long TV episodes but, along with co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, couldn’t bring himself to hand overcreative control. Not only did he helm each episode, but he spun off Decalogue V (Murder) and VI (Adultery) into two features. Filled with drifters, peeping toms and lost souls, neither A Short Film About Killing or A Short Film About Love were exactly fluffied up for cinemas. Both were as brutal, compelling and insightful as the TV series. And that slice of TV was declared a masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick, no less, something he never said about ChiPs.

TV release: 1980 (Germany)
Cinema release: 1983 (USA)
TV runtime: 894 mins.
Cinema runtime: 931 mins.

It’s not known whether anyone has made it all the way through Rainer Fassbinder’s 15 ½ hour epic in one sitting and whether they had use of their legs afterwards, but one thing’s for sure: it’s a lot more buttock-friendly in its original 14-part TV format. The unexpurgated cinema version was once shown at Hollywood’s Vista cinema with a break for dinner in the middle, which is obviously cheating (unless they showed Heimat during the main course). Thanks to the German Cultural Institute and Criterion, Berlin Alexanderplatz has been restored and box-setted, giving viewers the chance to settle down to watch it without needing to inform loved ones that they’ll be away for some time.~

Based on Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel of Weimar Berlin, it’s as brilliant (and at times, bonkers) as its director, a meandering narrative filled with shysters, criminals and grasping party men, that ends with the longest dream sequence in human history. Fassbinder never got the chance to shoot the shorter cinematic version he’d planned to make with Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani, and more’s the pity. Catch it if you can, but take a thermos and pillows.

TV release: 1985
Cinema release: 1981 (Director’s Cut 1997)
TV runtime: 300 mins
Cinema runtime: 150 mins. (Director’s Cut 209 mins.)

To finance Das Boot, Wolfgang Petersen persuaded the awesomely-named German broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk and equally brilliantly monikered Süddeutscher Rundfunk, among others, to dip into their pockets to the tune of 28m DM. That made the U-boat drama officially the second most expensive German film of all time, after Fritz Lang's 'bot bonanza Metropolis. Filming it was an epic undertaking that put terrific strain on cast and crew, stripped of their Gilettes and confined to the dripping innards of U-96 for almost a year. The backers, keen on ensuring the maximum ping for their pound, broadcast it four years after its theatrical release as three 100 minute TV episodes.

It’s more movie-to-TV than vice versa, but the telly version (complete with cutback scenes at the beginning each episode for recap purposes) gave an even more acute sense of those extremes of boredom, nerves and claustrophobia, while allowing extra time for the characters to breath the fetid U-boat air. Until the longer Director’s Cut in 1997, which married some of the deeper characterisation of the TV version with the feature film’s deep-charging carnage, this was the finest version of Petersen’s finest film.

TV release: Unreleased
Cinema release: 2002
TV runtime: Unreleased
Cinema runtime: 147 mins.

It was StudioCanal – also backers of Carlos – who rescued David Lynch’s dense, elliptical noir mystery from the TV scrapheap. Initially developed as a two-hour pilot ahead of a seven-part miniseries for ABC’s fall 1999 season, things started to go skewy for Mulholland Drive during development meetings. Lynch, keen to show a cooperative spirit but reluctant to answer endless questions about the Cowboy and what Club Silencio was all about, refused to divulge plot details to quizzical execs. “Obviously we asked, 'What happens next?'” one executive remembers, “And David said, 'You have to buy the pitch for me to tell you.'”

Instead of taking a chance on repeating Twin Peaks’ zeitgeisty TV success, the network decided it’d be too much like herding tiny surrealist kittens and pulled the pin. Lynch was unimpressed. “I feel it's possibly true that there are aliens on earth,” he reflected, “and they work in television.” Luckily, the French studio picked up the pieces, investing $7m for 18 pages of extra scenes that added Rita and Betty’s romantic relationship and an ending that turned up to be a lot more comprehensible than ABC execs could have expected. Still not entirely comprehensible, mind you. Lynch hates the idea that the pilot is out there so if you're the owner of one of the 300-odd grainy VHS copies, keep it locked in your blue box.

TV release: 2010
Cinema release: 2011
TV runtime: 180 mins.
Cinema runtime: 100 mins.

Michael Winterbottom, who cut his teeth directing sofa-time staples like Boon and Cracker, has gone back to his TV roots to make a largely improvised, six-part BBC pseudo-doc called The Trip, which follows fictionalised versions of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan around the Lake District. Coogan is a food critic from The Guardian, trawling Cumbria for hot new restaurants, while Brydon is the friend brought along for the ride when his girlfriend pulls out. A coq and bowl story, we’re saying. Winterbottom has also edited the six 30 minute episodes into a feature film’s worth of gags, bickering and Michael Caine impressions. The 100 minute theatrical version got raves in Toronto and should be appearing on our screens, big and small, later this year.