Potentially Awesome Movies Ruined Half Way Through

I really don’t know why do I continue to watch Hollywood movies. 90% of the blockbusters out there are total crap. Stuff that is actually worth watching is incredibly rare. I would say that you probably won’t find more than one or two decent flicks coming out Hollywood each year. Three at most – and that’s on a good year.

These few rare gems swim in the sea of mediocrity. Then there are movies that could have been great. Every once in a while you find a movie that starts great and then takes a wrong turn somewhere and ruins all the buildup, positive impressions and shatters viewers expectations. I’m not talking about sequels here – they are a whole other story. I’m talking about movies that start great, and then flop. These are often much worse to watch than a movie that is bad through and through because they build up your expectation and then fail to deliver in twisted, and horrible ways.

Prime example here would be Hancock. The movie starts with a great premise: a deconstruction of the superman mythos. It explores what would happen if Clark Kent was a disgruntled, amnesiac short tempered black man who grew up on the streets of the inner city, instead of a white country boy raised to be a hero by idealistic and loving parents. It tries to answer questions such as: How would an average person, who was not trained and groomed to be a super-hero deal with having super-strength, invulnerability to all known weapons and ability to fly? How would it affect him if such incredible powers were bestowed upon him suddenly, out of the blue and without any explanation. Would he use them to fight crime? Would he indulge himself, knowing full well he would be virtually above the law? Or would he try to find a compromise between these two extremes?

It also talcked issue that is hardly ever even mentioned in high-powered superhero genre: collateral damage and it’s impact on normal people. It seems that in almost every comic book super-powered heroes and villains demolish whole city blocks in epic battles but no one ever seems to mind. On the other hand the damage Hancock’s antics cause to public property seem to be the focus of the first part of the movie.

As I was watching the first two acts, I could not believe how good it was. It started with a great characterization of Hancock as the anti-hero, described his fall from graces (due to the massive collateral damage to public property), his voluntary incarceration and return as a fully fledged hero. I was expecting the third act to deal with Hancock trying to cope with the demands of maintaining his new PR persona, and perhaps struggling to keep his temper. I was half expecting him to laps back into the old ways or something. The movie also set up an interesting rift between him and his only friend/PR manager – and a potential big reveal as to the mysterious source of his powers.

Unfortunately at that point someone decided that Charlize Theron also needs kick-ass superpowers. That was pretty much the end of awesomeness, and beginning of ever increasing suck. The whole thing turned into some bizarre mix of themes and genres. It was like The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny meets Highlander meets Romeo and Juliet meets The Matrix with a little bit of mythology thrown in cause 300 was apparently an awesome movie.

They had a great thing going and then they fucked it up.

I experienced similar disappointment while watching Steven Spielberg’s AI. The movie started with a very intriguing premise of an infertile couple purchasing a custom made android boy to act as their son, only to succeed in having a real child shortly afterward. It was fascinating to see the family go through the motions, first treating the “fake boy” as a real child, then as an expensive an complex toy for their growing son, and finally see them discard him as he outgrew his purpose. This could have been the whole movie – and it would be a tear jerkier. But instead, the plot continues after the boy is abandoned and we accompany him on a bizarre and surreal quest to become a real boy.

The developed characters of family members are trashed, and the story turns into a futuristic re-imaging of Pinocchio. Which is not all bad. It is an amusing re-make of the old story, and it culminates in a very sad but poignant scene: the android boy ultimately fails in his quest. It was doubly striking because of the juxtaposition between the magical world of Pinocchio and the Scifi setting of AI. The wooden boy lived in a world full of wonder, and magic and thus readers could believe that somehow he will succeed and become a real person. AI’s character on the other hand is an android and the world he lives in is devoid of magic. Science that created him, cannot turn him into a real person of flesh.

So he finds himself within the arms reach from his goal (in his mind) but at the same time infinitely distant (in the viewers mind). Then some aliens come and reunite him with some sort of simulated reconstruction of his mother’s persona. I guess it was supposed to be a happy ending, but to me it was almost like a bitter joke, or a mockery. I actually felt cheated out of the “good” ending.

I could also mention is I am Legend here. It is a classic example of a failed book adaptation, or what I call the “I did not finish the book, but I totally know how I would end it” syndrome. The adaptation completely, and stupidly subverted the whole point of the original. Book version of Robert Neville discovers that the vampires he was systematically exterminating are not really monsters. He discovers he was slaughtering not vampires but innocent victims of the disease. The title refers to his realization that he is considered to be a legendary monster among the intelligent, cultured and highly social vampires.

The movie version of Robert Neville on the other hand becomes “a legend” because he somehow manages to find the cure for the vampire disease. While the film had great visuals, and featured a great performance by Will Smith, the ending ruined the message completely and took away a very striking twist ending.

Not to mention that this un-twisting of the ending seemed to be a last minute change. One likely done to dumb down the movie. An alternate ending that leaked out on the internet revealed that the movie was initially supposed to end on a similar note as the book – with Neville being the monster.

I could go on with the examples here, but this post is already getting too long. So I will leave the rest up to you. What other movies do you think were ruined half-way through or even at the last minute? Did you ever started to watch a movie, decided that it was awesome only to be cheated and horribly disappointed when the final credits started to roll? Let me know in the comments!

Update 01/02/2009 04:23:44 PM

Note: the original version of this post was not spell checked or proofread at all. I more or less vomited my stream of consciousness onto the blog and it was… Well, terminally incoherent. Somehow most of it slipped past the spelling and grammar nazi’s but I apologize nevertheless. I re-red the post today and I realized that it was really, really below my usual (already low) standard. I fixed most of the glaring spelling mistakes, grammar abominations and mega-run-on-sentences. To my defense, when I typed this up, it was 5am, and I actually had a fever (some nasty flu I’m still recovering from).

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21 Responses to Potentially Awesome Movies Ruined Half Way Through

  1. Zack UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I just saw Gran Torino yesterday and Changeling a week or two earlier, but I must admit that Clint Eastwood movies never end in the typical Hollywood fashion. Although I didn’t really enjoy the “story” of Changeling (was too much of a downer), Gran Torino did an excellent job. I was hoping it wouldn’t be “ruined in the end” but true to Eastwood style, it wasn’t.

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  2. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    I only saw A.I. but I totally agree with you on that one, the ending sucked and destroyed a potentially great movie, especially the “alien” part, which is totally unjustified. But no Spielberg movie could end “bad”, I guess.

    I don’t see many movies and I still got a bunch of classics to watch (Reservoir dogs, Fight Club, Goodfellas, etc) so I can’t really know how is the blockbuster quality this days, but I would recommend people to see some more “indie” movies, like De Grønne Slagtere (The Green Butchers), a Danish film which won some European awards and features fine, sober dark humor.

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  3. Jaba ITALY Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    QUOTE:
    “the “I did not finish the book, but I totally know how I would end it” syndrome”

    That’s a really dark disease.

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  4. I was watching The Bridge To Terebethia (sp?) with my little brother, and that movie pissed me off at the end. :( and made me sad.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Jaba: You know, funny thing is that this is probably the least glaring sentence construction problem in that post. I of course meant “how I would end the story” but you know…

    Anyways, I proofread the post and edited it for coherence and readability. It may actually make sense now.

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  6. Jaba ITALY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    LOL, let me guess: I thought my sentence in Italian, then translated it literally to English, and I ended up with something that let you think that… I had a point against your grammar?? Again, LOL, or better, OMGWTF :D :D

    Ok, I’ll explain. I liked very much your phrase “the “I did not finish the book, but I totally know how I would end it” syndrome”, so I wanted to quote it and add a comment. The comment was, that this syndrome is IMHO simply horrible, and too widespread.

    MY problem is that I still have a terrible otitis that’s keeping my head SHAKING with pain, so it’s just hard enough to think in my mother language, you know… :P

    Don’t worry, the posts of yours that I think as too messy, simply get overlooked :P ahahah
    That’s your blog, if I write here is to give you my thoughts, not to tell you not to be… well, terminally incoherent? :D ahahahah

    No, seriously, I really liked the sentence. I’m too bad in English to recognize any grammar crapping in it, and once translated in Italian, that’s simply perfect. Gives straight the impression of a short, bald, grease-looking guy on a “director” chaise, that simply has too many chaotic thoughts (and perhaps too much ego) to get to the end of the book… But, if he ended in directing the stories instead of writing them, well, maybe there’s a reason.

    I guess everyone has a strength. Mine isn’t writing – nor foreign languages, as you can… well, READ, here -, and maybe isn’t yours too. But if I’m here, it sure is because of something you’re good at.

    Nice sentence.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Travis McCrea: Yeah, for a kids movie it is a real downer. The ending is weak because I don’t think anything can top the emotional impact of: “oh sorry, but ROT13(lbhe orfg sevraq/svefg ybir whfg qvrq)”.

    Then again, I didn’t really think the movie was that great to begin with. The story was average and it was done a hundred times before. Their only semi-original thing was the downer near the end, but then it was done before too. By Disney no less. And it was better that time around.

    @Jaba: Ah, ok – I thought you were saying that the sentence seems to be implying something else than I intended. This prompted me to re-read the whole post and realize I probably typed it half asleep or something.

    And again, no worries – I don’t mind when people correct my horrid grammar and spelling. English is not my first language either, but I live in US and 99.9% of the stuff I write these days is in English so I should have learned by now. :P

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  8. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The alternate ending of I Am Legend was really a lot better than the ending they aired… I wouldn’t have called it a crappy ending if I’d only seen the film (it wasn’t that bad) but knowing what it could have been it’s kinda disappointing they decided to bail out on a more thought-provoking finish.

    With AI I thought the aliens were supposed to be far-future humans, all evolved past the need for muscles (or the need for a body structure that make any sense). Stupid ending really… stupid Spielberg.

    Also I can’t let the irony go un-noted that you made a typo in the box apologising for all the typos – “I re-red the post” :P

    2 separate Steven King adaptations I’ve seen (The Stand and Children of the Corn) seemed really great throughout most of the movie, then suddenly went very supernatural at the end… up until the final climax it had all been kinda creepy, but nothing that was definitely paranormal, then in one the Hand Of God quite literally swoops down out of the sky to trigger a nuclear explosion, and in the other there was some funky demon-magic thing dying to pyrotechnic accompaniment… not sure what was going on there.

    In both cases it felt like they’d painted themselves into a corner and some Friday after lunch decided “ah well, fuckit, magic happens and the story ends, that’s a wrap people”. Don’t know if it came from the source books, but if it did then I don’t know why King is so highly regarded. The Stand ended with an absolutely literal “deus ex machina” moment – God himself stepping in to fix things.

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  9. I re-red the post today and I realized that it was really, really below my usual (already low) standard.

    LOL you “re-red” the horrible grammar and spelling?

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  10. Sorry for the double post… Have you thought about adding a different graphic next to links that have been visited? Like a circle instead of an arrow… or check mark or something?

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  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Matt`: I think that’s pretty much King’s shtick. He likes to mix the mundane narrative with supernatural elements. I haven’t really read much of his books though.

    @Travis McCrea: Hey, that might be a good idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  12. Whatever.
    Will Smith, Will Smith, Will Smith.

    Hey, he’s playing the same character with a different name.
    They had no potential to be great. They started with an actor that is not great.

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Andrew J. Zimmerman: Well, that’s true for a lot of popular Hollywood actors out there. In fact, I would say that most of the top billed actors who fall into this category. The people who can actually act well, tend to get the quirky villain, oddball best friend, sidekick or comic relief roles because they are flexible enough to fill them. :P

    That said, Will Smith’s one and only character sort was actually not a bad fit in Hancock.

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  14. Ivan Voras CROATIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    [quote comment="11149"]
    In both cases it felt like they’d painted themselves into a corner and some Friday after lunch decided “ah well, fuckit, magic happens and the story ends, that’s a wrap people”. Don’t know if it came from the source books, but if it did then I don’t know why King is so highly regarded. The Stand ended with an absolutely literal “deus ex machina” moment – God himself stepping in to fix things.[/quote]

    Phew, I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates this in most of King’s work. Yes, the “deus ex machina” style isn’t rare for him – it’s right there in his books. I think it’s a pacing problem – many of his stories include subtle “weird stuff” happening to people (most of it’s in their heads) that actually manages to create a decent atmosphere, right until the end where the main character is revealed to have superpowers and starts practically hurling fireballs D&D-style (I’m exaggerating but not by much). It’s like he can’t create a good ending (mostly).

    On the other hand it would probably be even worse if he started pulling the Neal Stephenson’s thing and published stories without endings, stopped without closure.

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  15. ThirstyMurphy UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    I’ve seen both Hancock and I Am Legend. To me, Hancock would’ve been a good movie if it had a more meaningful explanation and ending. Besides, the moon shouldn’t be miraculously colored pink by Will Smith. As for I AmLwgend, I really actually enjoyed the movie, perhaps because I am, of course, a lazy American and I’d much rather be spoon-fed than actually pick up a book. That said, I think the movie would’ve been much more mentionable if it did have the twist ending. I haven’t seen the leaked alternate ending unless it’s the one that was on the two disk set or some such nonsense. Anyway, I might’ve actually payed for it, which I seldom do, if they chose to go with the book.

    I really enjoyed that sentence about painting themselves into a corner then going to lunch….is it me, or am I nearly the only one without Linux?

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  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ThirstyMurphy: The alternate ending was originally posted here. I think it is included on the DVD’s.

    Re: Linux – yeah, a large percentage of my readers consists of Linux users. I’m sort of proud of that fact. :) There are some Mac users here too though.

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  17. ThirstyMurphy UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    I just noticed some typos. Please forgive me, I’m on an iPhone.

    :D

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  18. E UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    [quote comment="11154"]Whatever.
    Will Smith, Will Smith, Will Smith.
    [/quote]

    I have to agree that after I watched Hancock, I tried so hard to find a redeeming quality in its conclusion, but to no avail. But I think the lure for many is the whole “Will-Smith-anomenon”…did you know there are rumors circulating already about Smith playing Barack Obama?

    Perhaps you should avoid at all costs “Seven Pounds” (the weight of the organs Smith’s character will donate) because of 1) another “messiah clause” like that of I am legend and Hancock; 2) another bad ending.

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  19. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I think that’s pretty much King’s shtick. He likes to mix the mundane narrative with supernatural elements. I haven’t really read much of his books though.

    Some supernatural elements or overtones I can stomach, like the bad guy in the Stand (he was able to turn into a crow or a raven or something… I think he was pretty much the incarnation of Satan) and the whole thing had a lot of allegorical feeling. That I don’t mind. It just pushes it too far when, in the space of a few minutes and without precedent:

    The bad guy starts shooting magic missiles
    The hand of God arrives on scene
    and the bad guy quite literally transforms into a demon in denim.

    Although to be fair I think that last one may have happened earlier on in the film too.

    Just feels like a sudden slap in the face to have a 6 hour film (The Stand is looooong) get to the final half hour without doing any of this crazy stuff, then suddenly pop it all out in 15 minutes flat (leaving 15 minutes for a happy ending of course)

    Same deal with Children of the Corn – the whole movie goes by without anything explicitly supernatural, just some damn creepy kids, religious overtones and absolutely masterful suspense-building, then 15 minutes from the end, interjected into what felt like it was about to be a perfectly good resolution you get this tacked on…

    The previous creepy-leader kid turns into some kind of superhuman zombie thing and starts talking in a deep demon-voice (voice not pictured)
    The attack of the killer corn snares the outsider guy because he’s trying to make with the cleansing flame
    And then… you have to see it really, screenshots don’t do it justice, but a big demonic pain-face comes out of the cornfield on a mushroom cloud.

    Separate links to the images made my comment look spammy… how annoying. Here’s a flickr link http://www.flickr.com/photos/34062714@N02/

    Feel honoured – I made that account purely for this post.

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  20. jaymz UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Totally agree with you on Hancock. It annoyed me so much when it turned half way through into some love story that I turned it off and didn’t finish it. Its doubling annoying because it was really good to see everyone getting pissed off with all the damage. Oh well…

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  21. A.I: The far-future coda has nothing to do with aliens. They are highly evolved mechas (compare their physiology to the Cybertronics logos earlier in the film), trying to learn about mankind – their creators – who have died out. The archaeological dig recovers David, a “living” mecha artifact who has had direct experience with humans. Imagine what we’d be like if we found a living person who had direct experience with God?

    There’s a lot of great ideas and questions in that ending – in what is one of the best films of the last decade.

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