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!
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).