How can I find what test audiences "ruin"?
August 14, 2006 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm fascinated by changes instigated by movie/tv test audiences. Any good way to find more (or confirm internet rumors)?

After complaining about the ending of THE DESCENT, someone told me there was an alternate ending but test audiences hated it.

Time and time again, I've heard the vague rumor about the alternate endings for ARMY OF DARKNESS, an article on FATAL ATTRACTION etc that were scrapped for reshoot by fickle midwesterners with a score card. Cat and Girl had a strip about an ending of PRETTY IN PINK where Molly Ringwald chooses Ducky that I still don't know if it's based on fact or not (it's not in imdb).

Besides following the specific news of a film as it comes out (google for "test audience changes" get nothing but news about THE BREAKUP), is there book, website or other source of info to find these alternate endings (without flipping through every single imdb entry for "alternative endings")?
posted by Gucky to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: IMDb's Alternate Versions page is a good start.

As for "The Descent", here's how it ended in the original UK release.
posted by jjg at 1:46 PM on August 14, 2006

I imagine DVDs are the place to find alternate endings. I know the alternate for Army of Darkness is on the DVD, and I prefer it to the "back at S-Mart" ending. You might have to find special editions to improve your chances of finding alternate endings.
posted by revgeorge at 2:03 PM on August 14, 2006

Cat and Girl had a strip about an ending of PRETTY IN PINK where Molly Ringwald chooses Ducky that I still don't know if it's based on fact or not (it's not in imdb).

Yes it is and it even elaborates on the why past test screenings.
posted by phearlez at 2:21 PM on August 14, 2006

Well, FATAL ATTRACTION is the "catch-all" example given to support the idea of movie focus groups. (And RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is always given as the "tested badly" example argument against focus groups.)
posted by jca at 2:27 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, Phearlez. When I saw there were no "alternative endings," I didn't think to click trivia.
posted by Gucky at 2:38 PM on August 14, 2006

In the 1987 thriller "Fatal Attraction," test audiences so despised Close's character that they became responsible for having her killed off in the end.

Well, not exactly, from what I've read. Close's character was dead either way; it's the how and the implications for Michael Douglas that were different. (I think I would've preferred the original version we never got so see.)

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is always given as the "tested badly" example

I've never heard that before, but I can believe it. A friend of mine hated it. I thought it was brilliant.

Best spoof "original ending": Saturday Night Live's "lost ending" to It's a Wonderful Life in 1986.
posted by pmurray63 at 2:49 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: So, besides IMDB -- which is a good start but nowhere near complete -- do you find out about things like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, etc, etc, etc besides here and usenet?

If I have a specific title, I can track it down, but I figure I need to hear about it first. Is there a more general way? I guess I'm looking for the functional love child of Snopes and IMDB.
posted by Gucky at 3:37 PM on August 14, 2006

I didn't see Fatal Attraction for the first time until a few weeks ago, when my roommate bought the special edition.

Thankfully, on the special features, they go very in-depth on the original ending.

The first ending went along with the Madame Butterfly theme which was introduced at the beginning, having Glenn Close kill herself in a way that pinned it on Michael Douglas. So yes, she was dead either way, and yes, it mainly affected the MD character in terms of story, but that's not why the change was made.

In the test screenings, the moment that audiences most responded to was when Anne Archer says, "If you come near my family again, I will kill you." The crowd erupted in applause, and Adrian Lynne and his producers realized that they had to make true on her promise.

My favorite test-screening changes are in Coyote Ugly. The producers played it for couples, trying to see if the "female empowerment" "message" played for the women and if the women dancing on bars sufficiently did it for the guys. Across the board, the answer was clear:

We want more John Goodman.

So they added two or three more John Goodman scenes, and the movie still sucked, but at least it was bearable while he was on screen.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:06 PM on August 14, 2006

Best answer: Oh, and for verification, internet gossip is usually as good as it gets until a DVD comes out, and iMDB usually just parrots it anyway. Check if there are incidences of any test-screenings at all, and if so, you can assume that the changes probably happened.

(Though I've heard that Woody Allen had a dramatic roll in The Thin Red Line that was completely excised for tone. I have my doubts about that one.)
posted by Navelgazer at 4:08 PM on August 14, 2006

I have been at a test screening for a movie I wrote (SYVLIA). The audience was very carefully selected and the Q&A afterwards with a small group was very skillfully handled. I sat in silently in the back row and no-one knew who I was. My impresssion was that the audience had watched the movie with extreme attention and had picked up on every nuance we had tried to put in to the movie. Their comments were exceptionally illluminating and in particular helped us realise why the ending was not having the effect we wanted on a fresh audience, when it had audiences familiar with the story in tears. (It turned out to do with a crucial piece of information which we had missed out of the script, and missed, because we were all so familiar with the story). The piece of information was supplied in a piece of ADR (Automatic Dialog Replacement) while the actresses' back was to the audience. It worked fine after that.

It was one of the most illuminating experiences I've ever had, comparable only with watching films I've made go out on TV while sitting with an audience who didn't know I'd made it (in hospital, as it happens).
posted by unSane at 8:58 PM on August 14, 2006

Twenty minutes of "2001: A Space Odyssey" were trimmed on the plane between the New York and L.A. premieres, according to Jerome Agee's The Making of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (or between the L.A. and New York premieres, whichever came first). IMDB said it didn't help the critics' views of the movie any.
posted by lhauser at 9:19 PM on August 14, 2006

If you're interested in movies making a big turn in the edit and with ADR as unSane mentions I highly recommend the director's commentary for - of all things - Men in Black. It's astonishing how little that movie's ending resembles what they ended up with.
posted by phearlez at 9:25 AM on August 15, 2006

This is not so much about changes that test audiences have made, but more about test audiences in general:

On the Firefly fans' Done the Impossible DVD (here), executive producer Chris Buchanan mentions test screenings for Serenity that went awry when supposedly random selections of population were entering the theater and recognizing him, saying, "Hi, Chris!"
posted by toomanyplugs at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all. It looks like the reference site or humorous book on test audiences just doesn't exist.

Either I'll deal or start my own wiki ;)

Muchas gracias.
posted by Gucky at 5:17 PM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Also, unSane, while it isn't a direct answer, it's a refreshing perspective that I certainly needed a reminder of. I find myself bitter after too long on the other side of the glass (I'm in marketing) and assumed it worked similarly for directors, screenwriters and the like. Now I'm even more jealous of filmmaker's jobs.

Thank you.
posted by Gucky at 5:34 PM on August 15, 2006

(Though I've heard that Woody Allen had a dramatic roll in The Thin Red Line that was completely excised for tone. I have my doubts about that one.)

The credits for The Thin Red Line have a section thanking quite a few actors for contributions that didn't make it into the final film. Wikipedia mentions Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke as having contributed, but not Woody Allen. I'm pretty certain he wasn't on the list in the credits last time I watched the film.
posted by biffa at 3:36 AM on August 17, 2006

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