Monday, February 05, 2007

Ethics, Alternate Endings and Clerks

It is time to address yet another thorny ethical dilemma posed by the proliferation of modern technology. What could be more fun than that, eh?

In college, I learned the hard way--which is how all things truly worth knowing are learned--that the cardinal rule, the Prime Directive, if I may be so geeky, of film reviewing is that you do not give away the ending of the film. To do so is to risk death, dismemberment, or, at the very least, loss of your column. What, then, about the alternate and unused endings that are often included as extras on DVDs? How much can we say about them when reviewing or discussing the disc? After much thought, I have decided that the answer, as is often the case in most thorny ethical dilemmas is: it depends. What it depends on is, mostly, how closely the alternate or deleted scene resembles the actual ending of the film as it was released. In the case of Clerks, the DVD from which this metaphysical musing sprang, the alternate ending is not a different take but a couple of minutes of film that was cut off the end, and, truthfully, has very little to do with the rest of the movie, yet if it had been left in it would have radically changed what film maker Kevin Smith and his fans refer to as the View Askew-niverse, so I feel there's no problem with discussing and describing the scene in depth.
The scene takes place after the film's final scene, and finds Dante alone in the Quik Stop reading a magazine when someone enters. "Did you forget something?" Dante asks, thinking Randall has returned. Seeing that its not Randall, he tells the stranger that the store is closed. All of this has been shot from the mysterious visitor's point of view. Now, the scene cuts to a shot of the intruder, who pulls a gun, shoots and kills Dante, and grabs all the cash from the register. Roll credits.
Yes, Dante Hicks was originally supposed to die at the end of Clerks. I am so glad Smith let himself be talked into cutting this scene, as it really doesn't fit in with the tone of the rest of the film and is just gratuitous. Killing off the main character is just a little too heavy for this film, and would have just destroyed the good feeling that the rest of the movie left me with.
Besides, if this scene had been left in, the funniest film I've seen in years, Clerks II, would not have been possible. Of course, until he actually began writing it around 2004, Smith never intended to make a sequel to Clerks. He even states in the commentary on this disc that a music video included among the extras in which he recreated the rooftop hockey game was the closest thing he'd ever do to a Clerks sequel. Dante and Randall's appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back came even closer, and then, of course, he finally gave in and made Clerks II.
One thing I hadn't noticed the first time I saw Clerks, and I only noticed it because Smith pointed it out in the commentary, which was recorded as he shot Mallrats, is that it says at the end of the credits "Jay and Silent Bob will return in Dogma." Apparently, Smith intended Dogma to be his second, instead of fourth, film. A film called Dogma, at any rate, as it would have been a vastly different movie if made immediately after Clerks. Not only was Smith less experienced as a writer and director, but he probably wouldn't have been able to get the same budget or cast that he had access to when he finally made the film. I think it's a good thing that he waited to attempt a film as ambitious as Dogma.

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