We watch... so you don't have to.

Soylent Green Is... Ah, Screw It

There's a great viewing combination for movie lovers out there: Turner Classic Movies and TiVo. TCM often shows movies without commercials and in letterbox format; with TiVo you can record them and watch them whenever you have time. Add DirecTV into it and you've got near-DVD picture quality, too. If you're like me, the kind of movie lover who never has time to rent classic films, this is nearly perfect. You can -- and this is just a random example -- catch up on your film viewing after midnight when your kids have finally conked out and your wife starts snoring over the Nickelodeon repeats of The Cosby Show she insists on watching.

Taking advantage of this, I found myself watching science-fiction great "Soylent Green," starring (of course you know this already) Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. Two things struck me while watching this film: First, unlike most science-fiction movies, this one seemed more plausible, not less, than when it was originally made; and second, that the entire film is almost completely pointless if you know the surprise ending.

Huge numbers of classic movies have been ruined for future viewers by people blithely blathering on about the surprises in the films. I understand you can't really speak or write critically about a film without discussing what the film is about; that's fine for the kinds of nerds who attend film classes where they show "Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" in the original French. But "Solyent Green" was wrecked for me in order to showcase Phil Hartman's Charlton Heston impression on Saturday Night Live. While Hartman's impersonation was admittedly excellent, is any joke on SNL a good reason for giving away a surprise ending? I don't think so.

Some might argue that any movie whose release date is far enough past should be fair game, since anyone who wanted to see it fresh should already have seen it. Thus anyone not knowing the ending shouldn't mind having it given away.

I'd agree that there's a statute of limitations for movies for which the viewer was alive and movie-going during the theatrical release. But what about older movies? What about the children? Won't you think of the children? I mean, my kids haven't seen "Planet of the Apes" yet. One day, they will pop in Dad's ole DVD of Charlton Heston's masterpiece and be dazzled by the sight of the starting menu, which is a honkin' big still from the final shot of the film.

Citizen Kane: The sled is "Rosebud."
Casablanca: Ingrid Bergman gets on the plane with Paul Henreid, leaving Humphrey Bogart with the slightly less attractive Claude Raines.
The Bridge on the River Kwai: The bridge blows up.
2001, A Space Odyssey: The computer kills the one guy, so the other guy shuts the computer off and becomes a flying space fetus or something.
Spartacus: Things end poorly for Kirk Douglas.
Ben Hur: Don't bet against Chuck Heston in the chariot race. Oh, also, Jesus is crucified.
King Kong (1933 version): The giant monkey dies.
King Kong (1978 version): The giant monkey dies.
The Godfather: The giant monkey (Marlon Brando) dies.
Patton: The Allied forces defeat the Nazis.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock: They find Spock.
The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's dad!
Titanic: After more than three tedious hours, the ship finally sinks!
The Crying Game: There's a reason that chick Stephen Rea falls for has such a prominent Adam's Apple.

--Philip Michaels

I'll admit that anyone buying the DVD probably knows what to expect from a lifetime of viewing poor pan-and-scan prints on higher-numeral TV channels, usually around Thanksgiving. But my kids don't even know what channel 11 is (nowadays it's the WB, where they see "Yu-Gi-Oh!").

It's a damned shame.

At least "Planet of the Apes" has more going for it than the ending. (Like Roddy McDowall as possibly the world's first gay chimpanzee.) But what about a movie like "Psycho"? From what I've read -- I can't say since I know the ending already, which kind of proves my point -- "Psycho" was shocking because the audience went in expecting one kind of Hitchcock film (his usual thriller) when the movie made a sudden left turn about a third of the way through. Sadly, virtually no one over the age of fourteen these days can say if it's shocking or not because everyone's had the left turn described to them in great detail, or anyway parodied in so many movies (up to and including the recent "Looney Tunes: Back in Action") that there's no way anyone can see it with new eyes.

Some things have the joy drained out of them by repetition. Take "The Matrix," for example. It was great because we'd never seen anything like it. In the intervening years they've used "bullet time" for everything up to tampon commercials, so the wonder of "The Matrix" is necessarly diminshed: We'll never again know what it's like to see a multiplexed camera shot for the first time.

We can't do anything about that. That's just the march of time and fads. But we can do something about more durable movie surprises. Like the premise of "Sophie's Choice" or the ending of "Casablanca." We can save these for future generations to enjoy as if for the first time. The Critic didn't need to tell me how "Casablanca" ended, did it? Well, probably I knew the ending before that.

Just think about it, won't you? Next time you're thinking of making some off-hand remark involving blowing the entire point of watching "The Sixth Sense," imagine me, if you would (don't worry, I usually keep my clothes on for movie viewing), sitting on my couch, wife a-snoring by my side, looking only for a little entertainment, catching up on classic movies thanks to TCM and DirecTiVo, and wishing that I didn't know how it wound up in the end. Think of me, and make some other stupid joke. Just do that for me. And the world will be a better place.


TeeVee - About Us - Archive - Where We Are Now

Got a comment? Mail us at teevee@teevee.org.

* * *