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The term film modification can be used in general for any form of modification of a film to suit the distributor or the audience's politics or age.
Early cases of this practice go back to the Nazis, who regularly stole prints of American movies from European countries during their Blitzkrieg raids. They would then either cheaply reanimate the movie (see Hochzeit im Korallenmeer), or they would change the names in the credits (as with Max and David Fleischer's cartoons).
As theatrical movies began to air on television, networks successfully sought permission to air shortened versions of movies. These TV version of theatrical films had scenes or sections of movies cut out, in order to provide a length short enough to fit in fixed number normal television half-hour-based time slots (often 4 half-hour slots). This also allowed scenes unsuitable for television to be cut or trimmed such as those with sex or graphic violence. On the other hand, networks would also often add footage deleted from a film's theatrical release to pad out a certain running time (3 to 4 hours).
At the end of the 1990s, some small companies began selling copies of movies, without the violent, indecent or foul language parts, to appeal to the family audience. By 2003, Hollywood reacted against these unauthorized modifications, as it considered them to be a destruction of the filmmakers work, and a violation of the controls an author has over his or her works. Famous directors and producers, such as Steven Spielberg, have publicly criticised this practice in magazines.
Less controversial than external bodies editing movies were the rise of director's cut editions of movies, which flourished with the advent of DVDs. These restore (and occasionally also shorten or omit, as in the case of Alien) scenes or footage from movies which had been shortened for whatever reason (including studio interference with the directors creative vision, inability to finish what was intended due to technology, or even the reactions of test audiences).
In any case, theatrical films that aired on television in the 1970s and most of the 1980s would simply have an "Edited For Television" disclaimer superimposed right after the opening credits, or, in a few cases, superimposed over the movie title card itself, just below the title. However, today, when a theatrical film or television special is aired on network or syndicated television or is re-issued on video in a form different from its original version, variations of the following disclaimers appear:
- "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen."
- Depending on content and time, the disclaimer will add: "...to run in the time allotted and for content.", or, "...and to run in the time allotted", or, "...and edited for content".
- Disney films prepared for television by Disney-ABC Domestic Television and other select TV stations will have: "This film has been edited for television", or "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been edited for television and formatted to fit this screen."
- Many DVD releases that contain versions of films different from the theatrical releases, such as Universal Studios Home Video's Legend director's cut DVD will have: "This film has been modified from its original version to include additional material not in the original release."
- In the instance of Black-and-White films that have been colorized, there will often be a disclaimer such as the following: "This is a Colorized version of a film originally marketed and distributed to the public in Black and White. It has been altered without the participation of the principal Director, Screenwriter, and other creators of the original film."