Tuesday, March 01, 2005

DVD: Fatal Attraction (1987)

How much does a hot button movie cool off?

Eighteen years ago, Michael Douglas and Glenn Close were on the cover of TIME magazine, which loudly proclaimed that “the thriller is back.” (When had it left?) The movie became a cultural flashpoint, cited in conversations about feminism, relationships, AIDS. Tina Brown must have loved it. It grossed a mint and was nominated for Best Picture.

The film hasn’t quite been forgotten, but nobody talks about it much any more. All I remember is that I hated the ending.

The story has been enshrined in Hollywood lore, and was sent up by Robert Altman in THE PLAYER. The original, more subtle climax tested badly, so it was scrapped to satisfy the audience’s bloodlust. The shading of Glenn Close’s character went out the window in favor of a scene that aped the ending of DIABOLIQUE by way of FRIDAY THE 13TH.

To me, it played like a bad joke. But the crowd at the Cheri Theater in Boston lapped it up. I stormed out in disgust. Whenever I thought of the movie, I recalled that frustrated walk back to the dorm – along with the vague sense that I’d been enjoying myself until Glenn went nutzoid.

Revisiting the film for the first time since then, I can see why. Its first half is strong, smart filmmaking, a beautifully observed portrait of married urban life. The key dialogue between Douglas and Close remains potent, and the subsequent scenes detailing their affair are sharply attuned to the psychology of the characters, with Douglas casually abdicating responsibility and Close’s neediness masquerading as strength.

The ending is still a crock. The shift in tone is so jarring that I’m convinced it’s the reason why the film’s reputation has suffered. The fabled “Madame Butterfly” wrap-up is included on the DVD, and while it’s an improvement, it doesn’t completely work, either. It seems flat and a little rushed. Endings are always tough.

FATAL ATTRACTION features my all-time favorite writing credit: Screenplay by James Dearden, based on his original screenplay. The script was an expansion of a short film he made for the BBC, which would have been a nice DVD extra. In the making-of doc, all of the film’s principles shower praise on Dearden’s screenplay – even the movie’s uncredited script doctor Nicholas Meyer. But Dearden isn’t heard from once, even though as far as I know he’s still working.

TV: Ultimate Film Fanatic

The season two finale, repeated tonight at 10:30 PM Eastern and Pacific, was a disappointment. A celebrity ringer is brought in to decide between the last two contestants. This time around it’s legendary producer/raconteur/survivor Robert Evans. Who seems to have the show confused with PROJECT GREENLIGHT. It’s not about finding America’s next great filmmaker, it’s about crowning the country’s biggest movie geek. Apparently nobody explained that to Bob. Or they did and thanks to years of living the high life, it never sank in. I prefer to believe it’s the latter.

I hate seeing the rules changed at the last minute. But at least two of my fellow contestants can say that they broke bread at the Kid’s table.

Miscellaneous: Link

Mark your calendars: Turner Classic Movies explores the history of product placement.