Once upon a time "director's cut" implied retribution for a grave injustice, payback for a crime against cinema. It meant Blade Runner sans sludgy narration. The lost version of Heaven's Gate restored to its full, pre-critical-drubbing glory. Now, sadly, it's just another marketing ploy—easy money for, more often than not, scenes that should have continued gathering dust on the cutting-room floor. Every director needs an editor—too few, however, really listen to them, and DVD, with its crack of special features and ample digital real estate, only exasperates matters. Think Oliver Stone's Alexander was bad in theaters? Check out the extended director's cut—or, if you feel like really punishing yourself, wait for his second, even longer version, due any day now. (No, seriously.)

At first glance, Miami Vice: Unrated Director's Cut just seems like more slop in the DVD trough. Maybe seven minutes longer than the original theatrical version, its most notable change is a new opening, which finds Detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) competing in a high-speed boat race. But while the original version opened with an impressive kick-start, plunging us into the action without an invitation, Mann's "true vision" eases into the proceedings by way of rote speed-junkie high jinks—like shaking a Mountain Dew, cracking it open, and calling it Miami Vice. As an opening, it completely alters the tone of the film, adding a bit of dude to Mann's reflexive brooding, and its existence begs two theories: (1) Mann, from the outset, had no real idea of just what mood he was trying to establish, or (2) he's assembled this cheesy special "unrated director's cut" to showcase just how misunderstood his original version was.

I prefer to believe it's a mixture of the two. Watching the extended Miami Vice, it was hard not reexamine my initial impressions of the film. What had once seemed pretty but lacking in substance now seemed like an original, almost audacious fit of filmmaking—a giant fuck you to everyone who greeted news of the film with a roll of the eyes and a crack about pastel suits. But the new version also hints at Mann's own confliction about what Miami Vice was supposed to be. Artistic procedural or popcorn summer fare? Reconciling the two, it seems, is not an easy thing, and for a director who depends so much on mood and rhythm, the two versions of Miami Vice are light years apart. Watching the director's cut, it's hard not to appreciate—even newly appreciate—what Mann first gave us, and though I'm still not convinced it's a great film, as so many cineastes and Mann apologists have claimed, I can't help but appreciate what it initially turned out to be. And that, it seems, is what a good "director's cut" should do. Studios will always mangle films. Artistic visions will always be trampled upon. But a director wrestling publicly with his own work? That's at least worth a rental.