Okay, ‘betrayal’ is a strong word, but at the least they were let down. skyfCriticism of a film’s staff beyond the cast usually starts and ends with the director, but editors are often just as responsible for a film’s success or failure onscreen. Here’s three quick examples of recent times where they’ve screwed up right at the last; where the final scene has been a mistake and its omission would have been instantly and easily better for the experience. If you’ve not seen any of the films, the fact that I’m talking about their conclusions should be a pretty harsh warning that spoilers await those who venture on.
The Bourne Ultimatum
The first film on our list isn’t a bad one, nor is its ending. The Bourne films made a name for themselves however through quick cuts, open ended questions and misdirection (“Get some sleep, Pam. You look tired.”). So when the second to last shot of the film shows Julia Styles watching a news report about Bourne’s ‘death’ that ends with the revelation that no body has been recovered, her small smile confirms what everyone watching the film already knows as a result of the same news report; that Bourne is alive. No body, no death. Them be the rules of spydom. Time to have one of those really cool smashes to the credits and that great Moby song.
But no. That’s not good enough. What if the audience are really, really stupid? Let’s show them a shot of Bourne swimming away to freedom anyway just so no one is in any doubt that he survived.
There’s no need. It’s insulting to the audience, particularly from a series of films that though bound by action, were actually reasonably intelligent and treated the audience the same way for the majority. That final shot is dumbed-down, hit-you-over-the-head, obvious, screaming-out-loud, redundant Hollywood fail.
What’s more, slim though the chance may have been, if you left it at the smile, there’s the chance Bourne did die. It’s hugely unlikely but it’s a possibility and if there’s one thing movie goers like, it’s an unanswered question that they’re pretty sure they know the answer to. Bourne deserved better.
The Dark Knight Rises
Despite the fact that I think The Dark Knight has serious flaws and I’m not ready to elevate Heath Ledger to the position of Messiah, I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s take on the caped crusader, considering his trilogy to be the unchallenged highlight of a bumpy ride on the silver screen for the man in black. Unfortunately then, The Dark Knight Rises compounds the errors of its immediate predecessor and makes a few new ones of its own.
One of them is the ending montage. With Batman ‘dead’ – an ending which wouldn’t have been too horrific – we get to see his funeral, Michael Caine cries (perhaps because he’s been lonely having missed almost all of the film), Gordon reads from Dickens, new guy is revealed to be Robin and finds the Batcave and Morgan Freeman finds out that Wayne fixed the autopilot on the Batwing.
With good editing, frankly that would be enough. The film has spent more time talking about the lack of autopilot in the thing than Top Gun spent on Navy clichés and the fact that it was fixed, and the fact that it was Wayne that fixed it makes it instantly clear that he’s probably still alive. Maybe not, because he did tell Anne Hathaway that there was no autopilot just before he went off on his suicide flight, but probably. Just as with Bourne, the question is left open, but to a greater degree here, and that’s a good thing.
Perhaps it’s not enough for some though, so we have the Alfred scene that was set up early on. As he’d spoken about, he goes to a café in France and looks for Bruce, hoping that a sight of him will confirm that all is well with the lad. So we see Caine get served, look up, and smile. There it is again. The look on his face shouts louder than Michael Strahan on the D-line that Wayne is alive and well. It’s a perfect, lovely moment to cut to the credits.
So we’re shown another shot where Wayne is having coffee with Selina Kyle. To compound the mistake, he looks at the camera (Alfred) and gives us a smile back. There’s simply no need. The ‘dumbing down’ thing I said about Bourne? Repeat.
Though it will have escaped many (mine included) immediate reflections, Skyfal is something of an oddity in the Bond series. Why? Well, because the bad guy wins. He may not live happily ever after (having that in common with most people Bond has killed) but that was never his goal. Skyfall is a film about revenge; specifically Javier Bardem wants Judi Dench’s M dead and… he gets what he wants. This isn’t strictly relevant but it does set the scene for the film’s final shots.
Bond is introduced to the new Moneypenny; a revelation which is an enjoyable surprise and is then summoned into the new M’s office with the words, “he’ll see you now.” This almost certainly means that the likeable ‘only reason he’s in the film is to replace Dench’ Ralph Fiennes is his new boss; another nice development. There’s no reason to hammer it home though. All we need see is Bond walk in, utter something like, ‘Good morning, Sir,’ perhaps have a little smile on his face and then CUT TO: the closing credits with a crescendo.
Aside from anything else, it’s good filmmaking from a business point of view. Now they’re locked in with Fiennes, and whilst this is hardly a bad choice, what if the next guy wanted to go in another direction? The problem is the same as Dark Knight Rises as well. There’s no need to treat the audience like idiots.
My complaints with all three films above are essentially the same. Not everything needs a pretty little bow wrapped up around it in order for it to be good. Indeed sometimes this ruins things, or at the least makes them worse. I hate sprawling unintelligent endings as much as anyone else that moaned about Mass Effect 3, but you don’t need to nail everything down to the deck. Sometimes it’s nice to leave us guessing, even if we’re really only doing it in jest.