Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Most obvious studio tinkering

I can still remember the first time I was abundantly aware that a feature film must have been released with an ending other than the one the shooting draft was commissioned with. The offender in question was Conspiracy Theory, a 1997 release starring Mel Gibson as a taxi driver who's obsessed with conspiracy theories. His other fixation - a State Department official played by Julia Roberts. He tries to convince her that NASA is going to pull off a presidential assassination by causing an earthquake.

Well, some government baddies led by Patrick Stewart come after Gibson's character, and Gibson and Roberts are led to believe that it's in response to the conspiracy theories presented in Gibson's latest newsletter. When they check the subscription list, everyone but one subscriber has been killed. This leads to a lot of running and chasing, and I admit I don't remember the rest of the film that well.

What I do remember is that the movie was striving for a dark and almost ambiguous tone that it never quite hit. Even at the time, I mostly blamed Gibson, thinking that someone a little off-kilter and unbalanced would have been better. I'd seen Steve Buschemi play such a character in a relatively recent episode of Homicide and figured he'd have been a better fit for the film's attempted weirdness. Gibson's performance is less Cohen Brothers-quirky and more "USA Original Series - Characters welcome" quirky.

Anyway, I've drifted from my point, which is that near the end of the film, Gibson's character is shot and seems to bleed to death right in front of Roberts and medics rush to his aide. Later, we see Roberts visit Jerry's grave... and then she walks away and the film cuts to Gibson and two agents in a van, watching her. There's some hamfisted dialogue about how she has to think he's dead and he's going to help them bring down the remaining players in the conspriacy. There's even a silly feel-good moment involving the three men singing along to a Frankie Valli song featured earlier in the film. This is followed by a coda where Roberts' character finds an object that belongs to Gibson on her horse's saddle.

So everyone's happy - Gibson's alive, Roberts knows he's alive, and we go out on a high note.

I remember walking out of that film thinking "Bullshit! He should have died!" What's more, it really felt like the movie was intended to end with that beat of her at his grave. The two reveals of "Gibson lives" and "She knows" seemed tacked on for an audience that wanted to walk out with a "Happy ending."

It completely ruined the film for me, and to this day I haven't watched it again (hence the hazily-recalled recap above.) Several years later I saw a Richard Donner interview that referenced the reshot ending and had my suspicions confirmed.

This ever happen to you?


  1. I felt this after watching 'Source Code' - brilliant, gripping film full of engaging characters, and a beautifully tragic reveal towards the end that made perfect sense.

    However - and big SPOILERS ahoy so stop reading now if you haven't seen it - there's a freeze frame moment as the bomb on the train goes off, Gyllenhall and Monaghan have a kiss and Vera Farmiga turns off his real world life support. That, to me, was a sad but arc-friendly way to end the story. He's done his job, got the girl as much as he was ever going to and we've allowed for the fact that he's basically a collection of body parts in a bag.

    But then! A strange element of time travel slips into the narrative, events spear off into a new timeline and Gyllenhall gets to Happily Ever After with the girl - albeit having possessed the body of her ACTUAL boyfriend permanently, rather than just borrowing it while he was searching for the bomb.

    May be that was the intent all along, but it really did feel like a Forced Happy Ending situation to me - not to mention the moral implications of the film wanting us to be okay with our hero essentially hijacking the body (and life) of some unknown stranger, all so he could basically carry on having an have an affair with the man's girlfriend!

    My mates adored it, I loved it right up until that ending rolled out, and then I wasn't so sure...

  2. You might want to avoid Gibson's PAYBACK, then, unless it's in the restored Brian Helgeland cut that I believe you can get on the Blu Ray release... it's based on the same Donald Westlake novel as POINT BLANK but Gibson rewrote and reshot to soften the main character and make him loveable, entirely against the grain of the material. The movie got a laugh out of me when he's seen carrying a bandaged guard dog - that he shot and obviously killed in an earlier scene - to his car.

    Maybe Gibson was trying to compensate for the first LETHAL WEAPON, where I seem to recall that the character leaves his pet pooch in a Winnebago at the beginning and there's no one to let it out for a pee until the end of the movie.

  3. I felt that way about The Breakup. I absolutely loved The Breakup, which presented very truthful moments of characters who love each other enough that they have to lash out childishly with primitive emotion.

    The comedy and slow downward spiral of the story felt natural and effective. I loved the scene near the end where they finally "Break Up," which was the TITLE of the film. It was bitter sweet. We always knew it was coming, and it presented a truthful change where the characters grew and realized they must move on. It fades out for a few seconds, and I'm thinking, "awesome!"

    But then, the film turns back on (as if a producer himself was in the projection booth tacking another reel on) and there were two random scenes where they run into each other years later, and they are all happy and smiley, and there's a moment between them as if they might get back together again. It totally went against the film. It's called The Break Up, not the But We're Going To Get Back Together Again Because This Is Hollywood. I felt like it was forced and robbed the film's realism. Now whenever I watch it I just turn off the TV when it was meant to end.

  4. Robin Williams resisted studio pressure to end MRS DOUBTFIRE with a reconciliation, on the grounds that it would create false hope in children whose parents were divorced. Good for him.

  5. I think this was in the script but it was off-putting nonetheless... the ending of 500 Days of Summer when Tom meets the woman getting interviewed.... they awkwardly flirt, which is good... but then the movie ruins it when her name is called, which just happens to be "Autumn".

    Great movie that ended on a sour note!

  6. @Master Zero, the ending to "Source Code" was pretty much the same as the original script, at least in essence. The difference was mostly cosmetic.

  7. "I mostly blamed Gibson, thinking that *someone a little off-kilter and unbalanced* would have been better." Seems ironic in retrospect, eh?

  8. Justin - Great points about THE BREAK-UP. I remember that ending being a letdown for me too.

    Stephen - very good point about MRS. DOUBTFIRE. I remember him doing a few interviews about that at the time, but I'd completely forgotten about it. I can't imagine a "happier" ending ever really working and I'm glad Williams stuck to his guns. The current ending is just too perfect.

    The Unknown Lyricist - I'm in the camp that really didn't like (500) Days of Summer, but remember audibly groaning at "Autumn." I wasn't sure if someone into the movie would have found it cute or not, so it's good to hear that didn't even work for a fan.

    TrG - I'm glad that little joke didn't go unnoticed :) And yes, quite ironic in retrospect.

  9. Army Of Darkness. While the whole ending scene in S-Mart is kind of fun, there's just something about it that feels like Sam was thinking the entire time, "Razzen-frazzen studios interfering with my original dark ending!"

    I also recently found out why I didn't care for the end of Tod Browning's Freaks - I didn't know the whole part with Hans being shown as a millionaire and all that was a tagged on studio insisted happy ending. I would've rather it either ended with the reveal of Cleopatra's fate, or the cut out scene showing a castrated Hercules singing falsetto after we see Cleopatra.

    I'm not overly fond of sad endings, but real life doesn't always have happy endings to stories. They can be sad or even ambiguous. And while I go to movies to escape reality for a couple of hours, when a happy ending is forced onto a story it just makes the whole movie meaningless. It's like when they started making Cookie Monster eat vegetables. It just does not work.

  10. Kingdom Of Heaven in its entirety. Blog post on the topic below.