The “end of the world” sub-genre is filled with all kinds of variations from thrillers to horror to comedy, but some of the best (and least seen) are the ones that use mankind’s annihilation as the backdrop for romance. Two relatively recent films ‐ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and These Final Hours ‐ touch on it well and are great movies too, but neither match the romantic drive at the heart of 1988’s Miracle Mile.
Writer/director Steve De Jarnatt’s film ‐ his second and, inexplicably, last feature ‐ is a terrific little genre-bender that eases viewers into the first hours of a new relationship only to shift gears, both tonally and speed-wise, as the clock starts ticking towards an unknown possibility. It’s a great entry in the category of films taking place over one night, offers action beats, comedy, and a fun variety of interesting side characters, and commits in ways a big studio film can’t.
KL Studio Classics recently brought the film to Blu-ray featuring a wealth of special features. It’s well worth a buy for the film alone, but supplements like the commentary track we listened to should make it a no-brainer for film fans.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Miracle Mile commentary.
Miracle Mile (1989)
Commentators: Steve De Jarnatt (writer/director), Walter Chaw (film critic/moderator)
1. Chaw has actually written a book about the film called, wait for it, Miracle Mile.
2. The opening shot “doesn’t really make sense narratively,” says Chaw. “It can’t happen in the film.” De Jarnatt agrees but says it gives some viewers an out by allowing them to think the rest of the film is a dream.
3. An earlier version of the script featured a scene with Walter Cronkite reporting on the events before saying “fuck it” and walking off camera. “We actually got a script to Walter,” says De Jarnatt, “and he thought about it.”
4. The opening credits misspell Mykelti Williamson’s name wrong as “Mykel T. Williamson.” De Jarnatt was already in debt for $150k on the film and was unable to afford to fix the error.
5. Another credit he wanted fixed is “Edited by Stephen Semel and Kathie Weaver” because he feels Weaver deserves sole credit. He says she edited “every frame of this movie” while Semel only did some early work.
6. The observation deck at the La Brea Tar Pits where Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) share a brief chat is no longer there.
7. Future director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Battleship) plays “Band Member” and can be seen briefly playing an instrument in front of Harry at the outdoor concert. It was enough to get Berg his SAG card. “I bumped into him the other day,” says De Jarnatt, “he talked about a remake.” I love this movie but would not say no to a bigger-budgeted remake ‐ except we all know that bigger budget would result in a major change to the ending.
8. The original script focused on a pair of older protagonists, essentially Julie’s grandparents, with the long-separated lovers reuniting on the night the world ends.
9. The film was made for $4.4 million.
10. De Jarnatt was apparently attached to direct the Great White North classic, Strange Brew. He settled for co-writing it.
11. Chaw points out the “nerd joke” of Landa (Denise Crosby) reading Gravity’s Rainbow as Thomas Pynchon’s title refers to the trajectory of a missile.
12. The original actor voicing Chip, the panicked soldier in the missile silo, had to be replaced with the script supervisor during shooting as his performance was hindering Edwards’ on the other end of the line. They later recorded a different actor to deliver the dialogue.
13. Crispin Glover tried out for the role of Chip. It was a twenty minute audition.
14. The image of Harry pouring the creamer directly into the pot of coffee is meant to suggest the image of a mushroom cloud.
15. Warner Bros. initially put the film into development as part of Twilight Zone: The Movie.
16. The film sparked a friendship between De Jarnatt and Harlan Ellison who was a fan of both this and Cherry 2000. The two were going to collaborate on an adaptation of Ellison’s story “Killing Bernstein,” but sadly it never came to pass.
17. Chaw points out a few instances that maybe don’t look that great in retrospect ‐ he calls them “land mines” ‐ including having the Hispanic busboy hot wire a car and the car stereo thief be a black man. De Jarnatt cops to both, but he disagrees with the implied sexism in saying Landa “dated” someone who works at the Rand Corporation. Earlier script versions had her working there herself, but that would have created a concrete confirmation of the threat which in turn would have minimized the suspense.
18. De Jarnatt wrote the script at night while the score to William Friedkin’s Sorcerer played in the background. It’s no coincidence that Tangerine Dream scored both films.
19. “Y’all got the guns man,” is a tremendously prescient line and was improvised by Williamson.
20. The scene where the two cops are doused in gasoline and accidentally set themselves on fire is, in part, meant to symbolize how if “we shoot off our missiles, blinded, we’re going to blow ourselves up.”
21. Chaw makes an interesting observation, one that even seems like a revelation to De Jarnatt, when he points out the correlation between pressing the two red buttons on the cop car radio and the two red buttons that presumably launched missiles to and from the U.S.
22. Jenette Goldstein (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) plays “Beverly Hills Chick #1” here and now owns a lingerie company in L.A.
23. De Jarnatte’s favorite shot of his career is the bit where Harry looks up towards the roof of the building when Julie screams.
24. Neither of the men mention the random naked lady who opens the tanning-bed room at the 59:37 mark.
25. Brian Thompson (Cobra), who plays the “Power Lifter”/helicopter pilot, is the son of De Jarnatt’s high school oceanography teacher.
26. De Jarnatt writes fiction now, and he plans on writing a short story for his next collection that explores what happened to the diner folks who were heading to Antarctica.
27. The original ending featured a shot of white lights transforming into diamonds meant to symbolize Harry and Julie being turned into something beautiful, but the head of the studio said “too upbeat, let’s take it out, lets rip their hearts out.” Chaw echoes our own thoughts when he says “Bless his heart.”
28. De Jarnatte rightfully points out how problematic it is that when Harry thinks he sees the helicopter pilot running down the street he splits up with Julie ‐ “Once you’re together, why would you ever separate?” ‐ but he points out that Harry needs the pilot.
29. De Jarnatte cameos as the man who is shot and falls face first onto the sewer grate.
30. One of the questions De Jarnatte gets after every screening is whether or not Gerstead (Kurt Fuller) is molesting a dead body as Harry and Julie exit the elevator on the roof. It certainly appears that way, but he neglects to confirm one way or the other except to say that “as long as she’s above 85 degrees maybe it’s not necrophilia.”
31. An earlier edit featured a missile landing six blocks away but failing to detonate after the Rand Corporation suggested that only 1/3 of Russia’s missiles would actually explode.
32. The work print featured an audio-only stinger at the end of the credits of an air raid siren that was missing from the theatrical release. It’s been restored here. De Jarnatte had wanted to do some marketing for the film by triggering some of the sirens that were still located around L.A.
33. De Jarnatte says this “romantic” ending was the reason the film took eight years to make and was stuck with such a small budget. “I could have made it differently on a lot bigger budget, but I’m glad I spent all my money and the eight years doing that.”
34. Chaw points out that De Jarnatte was something of a “hot property” coming out of film school, and each time he turned down an offer for a feature his cache grew. Then he made Cherry 2000. The early ’80s saw him attached to several projects that never materialized including a boxing movie with Mickey Rourke, a Hell’s Angels movie, a film about D.B. Cooper, and he was even set to direct Desperately Seeking Susan. He also turned down directing Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
35. The film is dedicated to his cat, Doctor Biobrain.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- De Jarnatt: “I put all my Cherry 2000 money into this.”
- De Jarnatt: “I read somewhere that there’s a million rats living in the palm trees of L.A.”
- De Jarnatt: “Movie plots are made of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only they would of.’”
- De Jarnatt: “We need Harlan Ellison in this world.”
- Chaw: “Let’s not ‘Special Edition’ Miracle Mile. It’s fine just the way it is.”
- De Jarnatt: “This was my life in the ‘80s.”
Miracle Mile remains a fantastic gem of a film, and listening to these two talk about it adds even more elements to enjoy. De Jarnatt is still fond of his film, as he rightly should be, and he shows great affection for everyone who helped him on the long road to its completion. Chaw meanwhile makes a strong case as the go-to moderator for commentary tracks as he shows an immense knowledge of the film, works to keep the silence to a minimum, and provides an engaging balance of pure facts and more entertaining anecdotes/tidbits.