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Restoring The Wicker Man



The film The Wicker Man, from 1973, is a fine film that was poorly preserved. Several versions exist, but the only ones generally available are short versions that lack several important scenes and details. Longer versions exist, but since the originals have been lost they exist only in low-quality forms that can be hard to find. So, I undertook a project to restore as much as possible of the film, with as high a quality as I could, by remixing audio and video from multiple sources.

If you want to skip to the download, see the bottom of the article.

Versions of the film

The original cut of the film was over 100 minutes long. English film executives requested that it be cut down. A slightly reduced, 99-minute version was sent to American film executives, who also asked for cuts. Ultimately it was cut down to 87 minutes to satisfy English and American executives and censors, and this became the original theatrical release. Some years later, they attempted to restore the original cut and found that some of the footage had been lost. Nonetheless, they were able to restore the film to 96 minutes in length, possibly by substituting other footage, while the 99-minute version sent to America still existed on VHS tape. A 99-minute hybrid version was released on DVD as The Director's Cut. Finally, a 91-minute version was found in the Harvard film archive and dubbed "The Final Cut".

Most versions available now are the "Final Cut", but unfortunately it's missing a couple important scenes, and has truncated versions of several others. If you can get ahold of the hybrid Director's Cut on DVD, that's probably the best you'll be able to find, although there are some bits of footage that exist in the Final Cut but don't exist in the Director's Cut. I've taken what I believe to be those two versions and painstakingly combined them into a 101-minute version that contains almost all the footage from both.

Generally speaking, the footage from the Final Cut is of high quality, while the footage from the Director's cut is of low quality, so I've preferred to take footage from the Final Cut where it exists in both. Combining them wasn't easy, since they have different frame rates, different resolutions, different aspect ratios, and different time bases, and since one tends to use cuts between scenes while the other tends to use fades. I also didn't have any good tools for the job. (I used ffmpeg on the command line with a massive hand-written graph of about 70 lines of filters.) But ultimately I think I did a decent job.


The scenes in the film and the differences between the versions are briefly described here. I've tried to avoid significant spoilers. (There are some minor, additional differences not mentioned here.)

Opening scene

The Director's Cut contains a sequence showing some opening credits and Howie interacting with one of his colleagues before transitioning to the church scene. The Final Cut opens directly with the church scene. I've restored the scene from the Director's Cut. The Director's Cut also had an opening card that adds a bit more character to the film, which I restored.

The letter scene

After the church scene, the Director's cut shows the receipt of the letter and a discussion of Howie by his coworkers which helps establish Howie's character. The entire letter is read aloud. Then, it transitions to the remainder of the opening credits. The Final Cut goes directly from the church scene to the opening credits. I've restored the letter scene and the transition into the opening credits.

Opening credits

The Final Cut has a slightly longer opening credits scene, which I preferred in my version. In the director's cut, the opening credits were split between this scene and the opening scene. So, there are a few duplicated credits in my version, but it doesn't hurt anything. After this, the films proceed identically until the bar scene.

The bar scene

For whatever reason, the Final Cut removed the second verse from the bar song. Restoring it wasn't easy because they didn't simply cut out a piece of the video. Rather, the video and the audio were cut in different places. Nonetheless I tried to restore the second verse of the song as seamlessly as I could. The Director's Cut also has a short scene of McGregor looking at the empty spot on the wall where the harvest photo was. It doesn't add much, but I restored that as well. The Final Cut dubbed over a small amount of speech during the dinner; the new words sounded clearly out of place and were unnecessary given the restored letter scene, so I put back the original words from the Director's Cut.

The graveyard

The Final Cut is missing a small amount of footage showing Howie walking towards and into the graveyard. It adds nothing to the story, so I didn't do the work to restore it.

The coroner

The Final Cut removed the scene where Howie speaks to the coroner about signing the death certificate. I restored the scene, but honestly I'm not sure the scene makes much sense. In the very next scene, Howie finds in the records office that there is no death certificate. This seems incongruous, but it could be another instance of the islanders lying to Howie or not agreeing in their stories.

The exhumation

After the exhumation, there is another song, a duet. The Final Cut removed the first verse of that duet, which I've restored. Restoring it was fairly difficult to do seamlessly, but I tried.

The photo room

In the photo processing room, Howie has a rather longer monologue with himself in the Director's Cut. I restored the missing parts of the monologue.

Willow's song

Willow's song has a few significant differences between the two versions. For example, in the Final Cut, it begins with Howie awake in the light, whereas in the Director's Cut, it begins with a cut to the hotel exterior followed by Howie in bed in the dark thinking to himself about Rowan. Overall, the Director's Cut version is better, in my opinion, but since this is a scene that one would like to have in high quality (ahem), I tried to use as much footage from the Final Cut as possible. As with the other songs, the Final Cut removed parts of the song. Because much of the song is sung without seeing Willow's mouth moving (and since anyway the original was imperfectly lip-synced), they could significantly shift and change the video between the two versions. This made inserting the missing pieces from the Director's Cut rather tricky, but I tried to do it in a way that wasn't too jarring.

The morning after

The Final Cut has an additional scene not found in the Director's Cut, where Willow talks to Howie in the morning. I included that scene. Next, the Director's Cut has additional monologue in the library, which I restored.

The search

The Director's Cut has a little bit more video in the scene where Howie is searching the village. It's rather pointless footage – in fact, it may well detract from the film – but nonetheless I threw it in.

The march and the fire

There's a very minor difference in speech between the Final Cut and the Director's Cut during the march. As usual, the Director's Cut seems better, but it wasn't worth the effort to try to restore a few extra words. Similarly, Howie gives a bit longer speech in the Director's Cut during the fire scene, but the extra words seemed to belabor the point unnecessarily and I didn't make the effort to restore them.


If you'd like to download my restored version of the film, you can do that here. There are two versions, one at 1280x688 resolution and another at 1920x1040 resolution. I recommend trying to download them via Bittorrent (using either of the first two links) because it's faster for you, but if you don't know how to do that or it doesn't work, you can use the direct download link.


2023-01-03 06:07PM
Thank you for this. Much appreciated.
an anonymous WarrenZ
Additional footage 2023-05-17 12:02PM
Dear Sir,
If you ever decide to restore the additional (unnecessary) footage, I would certainly love to see it. You have done a magnificent job restoring this movie; a real favorite of mine! I have watched it multiple times in the past. This restoration enlightened me and warmed my heart (fire?!...lol!!)
Most sincerely,
an anonymous Carla D. Jones-Alt
RE: Additional footage 2023-06-29 11:46PM
Dear Carla,

If I remember correctly, the only significant footage I didn't include was the longer version of the speech inside the wicker man from the director's cut. I haven't found a copy on YouTube, but if you've seen the director's cut then you should know the scene. If you haven't seen the director's cut and can't find it, feel free to send me an email and I can send it to you.

Take care,
-- Adam

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