A lot of joke Kickstarters have come and gone over the years, the most idiotic and well-known of the bunch involving potato salad. Occasionally, though, one comes along that still manages to tweak our interest, and "Digitally Erase The Rat From The End Of The Departed" absolutely does that.
Created by Brooklyn-based short filmmaker Adam Sacks, the Kickstarter aims to correct the "one huge problem" in Martin Scorsese's The Departed. The idea is that the film's final shot is "painfully on the nose" - specifically, the fact that it has a literal rat walking across the screen, capping off a movie entirely about "rats" in the pejorative, organised crime, informer sense. Sacks intends to remove the rat from the shot and, in his own small way, propagate a "fixed" version of the movie.
Sacks' explanation of where the funds will be applied in his process is rather detailed and exceptionally funny, and it gets funnier the more you know about filmmaking. It sticks rigidly to the intent of respecting copyright law and the film's creators (in spite of all this not really respecting either), and explains down to the cent what every step of the process will cost, from buying and ripping the film on Blu-Ray to hiring a VFX artist to eventually making copies of the altered movie, which will replace legit copies of the film Sacks will buy for his highest-level backers. Best part: the back-to-back steps required to print the altered shot to 35mm film, because it was originally shot on celluloid; then to scan that film back into the computer, because Sacks can't view or edit 35mm film at home.
Comments on both Kickstarter and social media have ranged from people who get the joke to people who really, really don't. A small-scale Film Twitter fight has erupted over the legitimacy of the rat, with Sacks' supporters saying it's way too obvious and his critics saying that's not a problem. Articles have popped up about what other scenes should be cut from other movies instead of this one. The response only plays into Sacks' joke, revealing how viciously Film Twitter will tear itself apart over something as silly as a fucking rat.
Of course, the project technically is a perversion of Scorsese's vision, and it is every bit as petty as unhinged Star Wars fans' desire to remake or re-edit The Last Jedi. But in all likelihood, that's the joke. This isn't about the rat. Given the drily comic tone of the Kickstarter and the insignificance of the intended change, I'm 99% certain it represents a parody of fans' desire to alter and "correct" films to their will, rather than a deeply-held belief that removing the rat will fix the movie. Let's not forget that Sacks directly references Steven Spielberg's much-despised changes to E.T., or more tellingly that he says his next project is inserting the Departed rat into Ratatouille.
With the full knowledge that this article is contributing to it, the Departed Rat Fiasco is a testament to online culture, and specifically any online culture that revolves around art. People hold strong opinions about art, and about artists. To some, a criticism of their faves is an affront to art itself; to others, art is something malleable by anyone who gets their hands on it. The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in the middle. The best argument for "ownership" of art lies with creators, for obvious reasons, but once a work is in the wild, it's in the wild. The only thing we can be sure of is the rabidity of opinions on all sides when the remixes and recuts emerge.
As of this writing, the Kickstarter has reached $2700 of its $4000 goal. It's not really worth donating your money to, obviously, unless you have cash to burn on such frivolity, which none of us working stiffs do anymore. But it's definitely worth a read, and I'm glad it exists. Sometimes, we need to be given a little bit of perspective about the things we lose our minds over.