Does a bad ending ruin an otherwise good movie? Can you forgive a film that stumbles in its last act if you enjoyed the rest of it? This week’s Roundtable is all about movies that come so close to greatness, but fail to stick the landing.
Needless to say given the topic, this article will contain PLOT SPOILERS for all of the movies mentioned.
I think I may have brought this movie up in a similar topic in the past, but for me no movie has a better build-up and a more disappointing ending that M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs‘. Now keep in mind that this film came out long before M. Night’s directorial career went off the rails, not to mention Mel Gibson’s personal life. This was back in the day when both the director and star were at the top of their games, so none of that baggage went into one’s viewing or opinion of the movie.
The set-up of the story is fantastic, as crop circles appear in a farmer’s field and there’s a growing tension about what may be coming to Earth. While all this is going on, the farmer (Gibson) is having a crisis of faith. He’s a widower who has lost his faith in God due to his wife’s passing. When the aliens finally arrive, the movie totally cops-out on us by revealing that the one thing that can kill them is water. Yes, these advanced aliens traveled all the way across the universe (or possibly from another dimension) and chose a planet where 70% of the make-up is lethal to them. I guess what Harlan Ellison said is true: “The two most abundant things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
The dark, destructive climax to ‘Superman: The Movie‘ painted the Man of Steel into such a corner that the only way he could claw himself out was to travel back in time. This is a power that was never established or even hinted at beforehand, has no negative consequences, and is never again used throughout the four sequels that follow. It’s the worst kind of deus ex machina, stomping all over the drama of any crisis afterwards since Superman could always just fly around the planet and make sure it never happened in the first place. Apparently, narrative logic has the same crippling effect as Kryptonite.
I enjoy a good Will Smith movie. With the star’s charm and charisma, they’re fun and entertaining. But no matter how intense ‘I Am Legend‘ may be, the movie is completely undermined by a stupid ending.
I’m fine with central characters dying in heroic ways, but this one is not heroic. It’s a needless suicide scene. I’d enjoyed everything up to that point, but strongly disliked the movie due to the climax. Wanting to strike it from my memory, I wrote the movie off at that point. Just as I started learning more about the book, its character and the overall themes, the Director’s Cut alternate ending appeared online. Out of curiosity, I watched it and instantly found the ending that I’d hoped to see theatrically. Instead of having a character needlessly die in way that goes against everything the movie had set up until that point, it closes in a fitting way. If the only version of ‘I Am Legend’ in existence was the theatrical cut, I never would watch it again. Luckily, you can watch the full Director’s Cut with the proper ending on Blu-ray.
I don’t mind a sad ending now and then, just so long as it feels right, but there’s something about a story that doesn’t resolve itself in a satisfying way that leaves me eternally discombobulated. Without saying what happens, ‘Love Is Strange‘ is the most recent film to leave me feeling out of joint as a viewer. If you’ve seen this one, I’m sure you have either a resigned acceptance of the conclusion, or you’re still asking the same question I am: Where the heck did that ending come from? I was just shelving this Blu-ray yesterday and was strongly tempted to give it away. That never happens. So disappointing.
It would be so tempting for me to pick ’28 Days Later’ as a great movie marred by a bad ending (or series of ending scenes), but instead I’ll pick on another Danny Boyle film: ‘Sunshine‘. Every time I try to explain to someone how much I like the movie, I get this cold, sickly feeling, because it has this certain plot element that nearly consumes the conclusion of the film that I really think stinks. That plot element is an entire character, and could even be considered the antagonist. I really can’t say anything good about the character or his runaway effect on the story. It’s a shame.
Steven Spielberg frequently has a problem ending his movies. He has a compulsion to tidy everything up in a neat little bow, even when that doesn’t make much narrative sense (e.g. ‘Minority Report’, ‘War of the Worlds’). Even his masterpiece ‘Schindler’s List’ goes on for a few beats too long with that schmaltzy “I could have saved one more!” scene.
Perhaps the most frustrating of Spielberg’s endings happens in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘. Spielberg has cut three different versions of this movie so far, and even though one of them (the 1980 “Special Edition”) compounds the issue by dragging it out much longer, they all still share the same fundamental problem: In every version of the story, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) hops on the alien mothership to take a cruise across the galaxy for what will presumably pass as decades here on Earth – and in doing so, abandons his wife and children. He doesn’t even give them a second thought when he suits up for his new adventure. Although Neary had been driven to obsession in his quest to prove the existence of aliens, this final decision to leave his family behind feels like a betrayal of his character. It turns him into a straight-up asshole.
What kills me about this is that the problem would be so easy to solve with one more re-edit. The mothership lands, the aliens walk out, Neary is vindicated for everything he’s done in the film, the music swells and – BAM! – cut to the credits. That’s it. That’s how the movie needs to end. What happens next is up to the audience to imagine for themselves.
Sadly, Spielberg cannot abide any sense of ambiguity in his films, and would never let this story end without telling us exactly what he wants to happen next.
‘Close Encounters’ is such a good movie up until that moment, which really sours what could have been a masterpiece.
The key to this discussion is that we’re talking about movies that are good except for their endings. Movies that suck all the way through don’t count. Please keep that in mind when adding your own picks in the Comments.