Friday, December 14, 2007

Movies that "welsh out"

Hollywood has an unfortunate tendency to choose a happy ending over a good ending. On the few occasions when the good ending wins out, the film tends to be a box-office disappointment (often for other reasons; think of The Break Up, which was inexplicably advertised as a romantic comedy, and is still listed as such by Amazon) and/or eventually released with an alternate "happier" ending (consider Butterfly Effect , in which the original ending concluded the movie perfectly, but only an alternate "happier" ending has been shown on television).
While happy endings can make us feel good for a moment, it is tragedies that are remembered as great. Compare two of Shakespeare's best-known romances: A Midsummer Night's Dream with Romeo and Juliet . Compare Oedipus Rex or Antigone with a comedy like The Frogs or Lysistrata. Compare the end of The Lord of the Rings with the end of the Harry Potter series (more characters die in Harry Potter -- in fact, to my recollection, only a handful of characters die in LOTR -- but Harry Potter ends on a much happier note than the melancholy last chapters of LOTR). Compare Cool Hand Luke with The Shawshank Redemption. I am sure there are some people out there who like to have everything tidied up nicely at the end, but for me, movies, stories, and plays like that just seem false. Life isn't like that.
I bring this up, having just read Time's review of the new movie of I Am Legend. I Am Legend is a great book by Richard Matheson, and part of what makes it great is Matheson's willingness to consider the unthinkable. The reviewer's comment that "It's funny how filmmakers are drawn to Matheson's subject of post-apocalyptic annihilation, yet feel the need to "fix" the story and welsh out on its conclusions," really struck a chord with me.
I will probably see this movie anyway, I will probably enjoy the first hour, and I will probably be disappointed by the end.
If you're looking for some good movies that don't "welsh out" at the end, here are 20 that I've enjoyed.
Cool Hand Luke, Titus, Fargo, Dancer in the Dark, Moulin Rouge, Unforgiven, The Break Up, Touch of Evil, Dr Strangelove, Terminator 3, A Fistful of Dollars, Casablanca, American Beauty, Falling Down, Fiddler on the Roof, Seven, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Memento, Twelve Monkeys, and Nosferatu (1922).
And the "hall of shame", 10 movies that ended the wrong way. Interestingly, the first three are all really the same story (damn you, Pygmalion!). The last two are pretty good up until the very end.
Pretty Woman, Grease, My Fair Lady, The Omega Man, Gladiator, You've Got Mail, Waterworld, The Postman, and The Patriot, Mean Girls, and The Lake House.

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