“Let me explain it to you. Mitchell’s the man. I’m the idiot. You’re the screw-up. And we’re all losers. Welcome to Music Town.”
Justin’s rating: When’s the last time you walked into a physical store to buy a physical CD?
Justin’s review: Empire Records emerged from heavy handed studio interference and a limited theater run to become easily one of the top five cult movies to come out of the 1990s. Having read up on the making of this movie, which largely stemmed from a desire to sell soundtracks by crafting a 90-minute musical commercial, I’m shocked how much was cut out of the movie, including whole characters and plot lines. Knowing that, I find it astounding that Empire Records turned out as funny, likable, and entertaining as it did.
That’s why I became intensely curious about a 2001 special edition of the film, dubbed the Remix! Special Fan Edition, and how it attempted to add back in 17 minutes of cut footage as well as alternate takes on scenes. I’d heard that it was a somewhat controversial edition among fans, but really, should any fan look a second or third edition of their favorite films in the mouth? So I carved out some time over the weekend to get reacquainted with the crew at Music Town and see if those 17 minutes are a net positive, negative, or a wash.
I will say that it’s been a very long time — perhaps a decade, decade-and-a-half — since I saw this, so coming back to it was a weird experience. It was like going back to your high school as an adult: familiar yet jarring. Part of my head could watch this fresh thanks to all of that time, while another part recalled pretty much line-by-line the entire film. That made all of the extra stuff stick out quite a lot.
Some thoughts on revisiting this cult classic:
(1) It’s still infectiously fun, likable, and funny. That should almost go without saying, but I’m impressed how much this holds up.
(2) It’s also flat-out ridiculous how much Gen X angst that it packs into two hours without flipping overboard into deep depression. It’s almost laughable how half of the store’s employees have a breakdown of some sort on the same day during the same hour, but it kind of resolves and moves past it without wallowing like so many other ’90s flicks did.
(3) It really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever that the police wouldn’t retain a kid who waved a gun around (with blanks? How do teens get blanks?) and terrorized a store. Or that a manager would offer him a job. I love Warren, don’t get me wrong, but his subplot strains all the incredulity.
(4) Back when I used to watch this religiously, I never paid that close attention to just how many songs are crammed into this film. This time I totally did. Apparently there are 50 of them. It’s like a music video that occasionally takes a break to be a movie. It’s also like a mix tape of my college years.
(5) Rex Manning Day is every day.
So how much do those extra 17 minutes work in this mix? It doesn’t really change anything that dramatically, but it is a net positive. A few scenes are so superfluous that you understand instantly why they were cut, and one or two are awkwardly jammed into the events without fitting. But I did appreciate getting some more time with these characters, especially in seeing an expanded dynamic between father figure Joe and pseudo-adopted son Lucas. Jane gets an extra scene explaining why she was quitting, and there were a few (just a few) bonus quotables that deserved to be seen.
Regular version or remix special edition, Empire Records is terrific all around. It was 25 years ago, and it is now.