New Line Cinema
We’ve talked previously about movies that are better than their source material on the whole. Now let’s talk about movies that improve upon their source in a very specific way ‐ the ending.
A bad ending can ruin a perfectly good film (The Ninth Gate) and a good one can make an otherwise mediocre film shine (The Usual Suspects ‐ Yeah, I said it, come at me).
Even if the rest of the film was a complete dog turd, at least the creators got the ending right in movies like…
5. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Return of the King got a lot of guff for having like five different ending sequences, but it could have been oh-so-much worse. Tolkien was a historian foremost and a writer second. Thus, The Lord of the Rings books have a bit of a pacing problem.
Greater thinkers than I have pointed out that “Fellowship of the Ring” is slower than molasses and “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King” are far tighter… except for a little section known as the “Scouring of the Shire,” where the action once again grinds to a halt while Frodo and his friends, who have already proven their bravery and changed natures numerous times, once again prove their bravery and changed natures by running Saruman (who didn’t die until later in the novels) out of the Shire.
Peter Jackson was wise enough to leave this section, like Tom Bombadil, out of the film, both the theatrical version and the extended one. It would have been yet another unnecessary end cap to a story that had already finished being told and also made you wait just that much longer to get up and pee.
[Quick rant: Watchmen is criminally underrated. I’ve read the comic, and I’d read it before the film. Yeah, the comic is a fantastic and seminal piece of work. And yeah, the film isn’t perfect. Any translation of a 12-issue comic to a sub-3-hour film is going to suffer a bit. But I’d still argue that it is a great adaptation, one of the best superhero films in existence, and several years before its time considering the ongoing glut of superhero films.]
That wasn’t entirely off-topic because it leads into my point: the film itself is mostly very faithful (some critics derided it as “too faithful,” which I still don’t quite get) except for the ending. While Alan Moore’s version ends with a squid from “outer space” emerging as a threat that the entire globe can focus on, the film swaps out the squid with Doctor Manhattan.
The squid worked great for the comic because it was a bit of an homage to the B-movie sci-fi influences, but the reason Doctor Manhattan worked even better, at least in 2009, was because it fit his arc so well.
A man who was so detached from humanity would, essentially, always become a villain on a long enough philosophical timeline. He knew this and sacrificed what little connection he still had left to humans in order to ditch Earth and become a god elsewhere. (Chris Nolan had kind of the same idea with the end of The Dark Knight, but he apparently forgot about it when The Dark Knight Rises came around.) It fits extremely well thematically, not that Alan Moore would ever admit to it.
3. The Prestige
Buena Vista Pictures
Speaking of Chris Nolan, let’s talk about The Prestige. Did you know it was based on a novel? Because a lot of people don’t. The book, written by Christopher Priest in 1996, is an epistolary novel and follows more or less the same story as the film. It also includes a subplot involving Borden and Angier’s descendants in the modern day, which is a nice bit left out of the adaptation.
Things don’t progress exactly the same, but it’s close enough. Nolan’s adaptation hits the high points; Tesla’s machine, the secret twins, all that good stuff. One thing that’s changed, however, is that Nolan minimized some of the supernatural elements that the book includes. In Priest’s novel, Borden sabotages Angier’s machine, which causes Angier to be split into a weakened corporeal body and ghostly non-corporeal form. It’s only as a ghost that Angier discovers Borden’s secret twin (which readers learn about much earlier in the novel).
Afterward, Angier’s corporeal self dies and his ghostly self uses the machine to try to teleport into the dead body. In some unexplained matter, this has kept him alive for decades after. That’s… weird. Like, too weird for an otherwise straightforward film. Nolan’s ending, which reveals Borden’s secret as well as wrapping up both stories quite nicely, is a tremendous, vastly simplified improvement.
2. Interview with the Vampire
Interview with the Vampire is pretty nearly note-for-note the same. There are a few little differences, but nothing enormous. If anything, the film is more fun just for the over-the-top performances from Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and a young Kirsten Dunst. It’s corny and painfully gothic, but it’s a good pain.
And nowhere is that more emphasized than in the film’s ending. While the book ends with the reporter, Daniel, deciding to hunt down Lestat for himself, the film ends (jump scare!) by revealing Lestat has hunted Daniel down and is hiding in the backseat of his car. Why? Because it’s silly and entertaining, of course.
The coincidence level of Lestat following Louis and the reporter, knowing what they talked about, and then hiding in the reporter’s car to attack him at a dramatically appropriate moment is so high that it’s insane… just like the two-hour film you just watched. And then it’s all topped off with Guns N’ Roses’ cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” in case you didn’t catch the memo about the ridiculousness.
1. The Mist
Perhaps the most famous of the “better endings” crowd, Frank Darabont’s ending for The Mist actually made Stephen King remark that he wished he’d thought of it. After being trapped in fog for several days, the characters of the novella finally decide to pack up, get into a vehicle, and try to ride out into the mist to search for a safer spot.
The film does not fuck around with all that. Darabont’s version continues onward, with the crew eventually running out of gas. At this point, Thomas Jane’s character draws a pistol and kills everyone in the car, including his own son, then tries to kill himself only to discover that he’s out of bullets.
And hey, who’s that coming over the horizon? Oh, it’s just the military, eliminating the monsters in the mist and rescuing people. Ouch.
No wonder Darabont ended up as the original showrunner for The Walking Dead.