Everyone has a handful of films they're just compelled to watch at least once a year. For me, quite a few of those are made by the maestro of the B action movie, Renny Harlin. As it just so happens, this past weekend I was getting my Harlin fix with the incomparable double bill that is Deep Blue Sea and Mindhunters (if you've never seen this batty gem, you're sorely missing out), when fellow Harlin aficionado Fred Topel informed that he'd once seen a different ending to the movie that has never been publicly released.
Obviously the below contains spoilers for Deep Blue Sea. Then again, if you haven't seen Deep Blue Sea at this point, you're not really living, anyway, and so spoilers will have no emotional effect on your dead heart.
In the released film, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, and Saffron Burrows all make it to the surface. One supersmart shark remains, though, and manages to make an instant meal of Burrows right as she's trying to swim to safety. The audience is on board with this death, though. After all, Burrows was the Dr. Frankenstein behind the entire operation. Sure, she's sexy and there's some tension between her and Jane's character, but Deep Blue Sea is a horror movie after all, and she needs to get her comeuppance.
Originally she didn't.
Fred Topel happened to catch a test screening of Deep Blue Sea soon after moving to L.A. in 1999, and in the version he saw, Burrows not only survived, but pulls off a crucial harpoon shot. The test audience hated this, though. And unfortunately for Harlin and the studio, this screening was only a month before the movie was set to open. So they did a very quick reshoot at Universal Studios' tank, did the ending with only Jane and Cool J surviving (the latter gets to shoot the harpoon in this one), and chomped Burrows to bits with a CGI shark.
Now, if you're thinking Topel might just be misremembering this little detail, he actually asked Harlin about it a few weeks ago. Here's part of what he had to say:
Yeah, it was one of those great surprises where we thought, okay, we hope it works. At the test screening, as you might remember, the audience was really with the movie and when Sam Jackson gets eaten, the audience was screaming and laughing and we thought, okay, it’s a home run. When it came to the last seven minutes of the film, all of a sudden it just fell flat like a pancake and people kind of hated it. We were like, what the hell happened?
It just shows how sometimes you can be clueless and you’re so deep in the project that you can’t read the audience’s mind. Basically what had happened was that the audience felt so deeply that the scientist character, the woman who was behind the whole experiment with the sharks, that it was all her fault. In their minds, she was the bad guy and in our minds, she was the heroine and we thought saving her was the key. Basically, we had test cards that said, “Kill the bitch.” It was an amazing revelation.
Harlin goes on to further explain the fixes and why you need to trust audience reactions, so you should give it a read if you're a fan of the man's films. And if you are, you'll also like this enticing tidbit Topel scored about Harlin's next movie, Hercules 3D:
I have a battle scene that lasts six minutes that is all one shot, and covers a sea battle and ground battle and hand to hand combat and sword fighting, spears and bows and arrows and flying boulders, all done in one shot that never cuts. I’ll give you that spoiler. That’s one of the biggest shots I’ve ever created.
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