It's an edit Stanley Kubrick himself approved, say Warner Bros. officials, describing the digital enhancements performed on a 65-second orgy scene that were necessary to get the late director's last film an R rating.

But film critics who screened Eyes Wide Shut at the Warners studio over the weekend are calling the alteration a travesty.

The scene in question features Tom Cruise--while wandering New York's sexual underworld after an argument about marital infidelity with his wife--walking through a mansion as an orgy goes on. To avoid the Motion Picture Association of America's dreaded NC-17 rating, post-production work was done to hide the various genital and, er, thrusting shots--the stuff the MPAA doesn't dig--with digitally inserted props (people, mostly).

Warners screened both versions of the scene for critics Saturday evening, with Jan Harlan, Kubrick's executive producer, on hand to say both he and the late autuer would have preferred the original version, but that before his death in March Kubrick okayed such an edit to get an R rating.

According to Roger Ebert, writing in his native Chicago Sun-Times, reaction among his fellow film critics ranged from complete silence to outrage.

"My own feeling was that the altered version is a travesty," Ebert writes, comparing the edit to the comical introduction in the latest Austin Powers film, in which Mike Myers' "bits 'n' pieces" are hidden from view by various objects. Newsweek calls the effect, "annoying and ludicrous."

Meanwhile, New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews says that American audiences are being denied the chance to see Kubrick's original vision. (The unaltered edition will unspool in Europe.)

Not only does the edit destroy an important scene in which "a sense of erotic dread is building," writes Ebert, it also works against its goal of shielding youngsters from prurience, since kids can make it into an R-rated film much easier than one marked NC-17, or not rated at all.

"It will have the result of making the film more, not less, accessible to younger audiences, while denying adult audiences the power of Kubrick's vision," writes Ebert.

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