By Aaron Hillis, Michelle Orange, Matt Singer, R. Emmet Sweeney and Alison Willmore
The DVD of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which went on sale this week, offers not one, not even two, but three alternate endings what, did they let test audience vote with buttons on their armrests? (Well, we wouldn’t rule it out.) In honor of a gentler, simpler time when alternate endings meant more than fodder for DVD editions, the IFC News team presents a list of notable alternate endings out there on DVD that actually offer interesting insights into the film, filmmaking or film biz.
Army of Darkness
Directed by Sam Raimi
Here’s a case of the right ending for the wrong movie. As Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” series progressed through “Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness,” things got progressively sillier the first “Evil Dead” is a straight-up gorefest, but the last picture, which includes Bruce Campbell’s doggedly unheroic Ash battling a fleet of wise-cracking miniaturized clones, is practically a renaissance faire riff on the Three Stooges. Raimi established the set-up for “AoD” at the sadistic conclusion of “Evil Dead 2,” where Ash finally defeats the unholy evil of the Book of the Dead, only to find himself sent back to the Middle Ages, where he learns he’ll have to start the battle all over again without the pleasure of adequate toilet facilities. The original ending to “AoD” took a similar bent; Ash defeats the medieval evil, but he takes too much of the potion designed to make him sleep away the centuries, and he wakes to a post-apocalyptic wasteland, bellowing “I SLEPT TOO LONG!” as the credits begin to roll. It was a fitting ending for the series, but not necessarily for “Army of Darkness,” which had pushed too far (and too successfully) into the realm of comedy to end on such a dark note. So Raimi came up with a doozy of a replacement: a silly and supremely macho shoot-’em-up at Ash’s place of business, S-Mart superstore. Purists prefer the original version, but purists also prefer “Evil Dead 2.” Personally, I’ll take the fun of “Army of Darkness” and Campbell’s pitch-perfect portrayal of a man with an ego that far exceeds his talents or his smarts, and the ending that goes along with it.
Better ending: Theatrical. Matt Singer
Directed by Terry Gilliam
It may be Gilliam’s career high point to date, but the director’s clash with Universal Pictures over getting “Brazil” released in the cut he intended is almost as famous as the film itself (see Jack Mathews’ book “The Battle of Brazil” for a blow-by-blow). Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg’s infamous if ultimately TV-only “Love Conquers All” cut, included on Criterion’s 1999 special edition three-disc DVD release, involves plenty of additions and subtractions, but none more significant than the alteration of the ending, which the studio found too dark. In the Sheinberg edit, Jonathan Pryce’s Sam wakes up in the idyllic country house he’s escaped to with ladylove Jill, and declares that he “doesn’t dream anymore.” Soaring music, clouds and…Fin! Of course, Gilliam’s version of the film then cuts to Mr. Helpmann and Jack Lint, who’ve been torturing Sam in the Information Retrieval Room. The final shot, of Sam smiling cheerfully and humming, sanity clearly gone, is bleakly perfect. Too perfect to mess with Gilliam ultimately prevailed in getting it into theaters.
Better ending: Theatrical. Alison Willmore
Directed by Kevin Smith
Naming the lead character in Kevin Smith’s $27,000 mini-masterpiece of suburban ennui “Clerks” Dante always struck me as an odd choice. It’s way more gothic and theatrical than the rest of Smith’s immature brood (Randal, Jay, Bob). Smith’s original ending gave the moniker a bit more weight. As first conceived, the movie continued for one more scene after the ending that appeared in the final theatrical version (where Dante and Randal reconcile before Dante closes the Quick Stop for the night). Instead of that optimistic denouement, a burglar enters the convenience store, shoots Dante and robs the cash register. Instead of a cut to black and credits over upbeat selections from the soundtrack, the titles roll over the continuing shot of the Quick Stop, as a customer walks in (played by Smith himself) and steals a pack of cigarettes. The initial ending adds the extra oomph to “Dante” but it’s also wildly out of character for a comedy that, while dark, essentially laughs at all of life’s mysteries and dilemmas.
Better ending: Theatrical. MS
[Photo at top: Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Universal Pictures, 1985]