Some films have moments of utter brilliance, or even just good solid quality, that are tainted by a far weaker back-end. Here, we highlight the films that are worth stopping while they’re at their peak…
Stanley Kubrick’s name is going to appear more than once in this lineup, and even though he didn’t direct AI (with the project being realised by Steven Spielberg after Kubrick’s death), his fingerprints are all over it. The film’s opening segment is absolutely outstanding, a stunning, chilling tale that features Haley Joel Osment’s very best performance. The second half loses the tone and changes the feel of the film a lot, and not for the better. Wait til the scene in the woods, and then reach for the off button. Then watch the first half all over again and revel in one of the most underappreciated segments of modern day big screen science-fiction.
Here’s something a bit more obscure. This 80s trio of stories, based on the writing of Stephen King, has one absolute stand-out, and it’s the very first story. This is the one where James Woods attempts to give up smoking, by going through the sinister company known as Quitters Inc. Really effectively put together, it’s quite an unsettling short piece, and easily better than what follows. That said, we do have a soft spot for Drew Barrymore battling a strange creature who lives in the skirting board right at the end.
Brosnan’s Bond movies
After each modern day Bond reboot, you can see a formula falling into shape when Eon selects its next director. And so with Roger Spottiswoode on Tomorrow Never Dies, Michael Apted on The World Is Not Enough and Lee Tamahori on Die Another Day, the appointed director of the moment can have the first half of the film, post the credits, to make the film they want. Then the stunt guys have to come in, and you can almost see the point where the director is no longer really in charge. There was an element of it in Quantum Of Solace, too.
Now we’re not advocating that the Brosnan Bonds are classics (although GoldenEye is very good), but Die Another Day at least had some promise to it in the first half, with the imprisonment of 007, but simply threw it away when it became conventional 007 for the back end, with a silly ice palace and a silly car. Contrast that with the bleakness of the opening half hour, and it feels like a completely different film.
Full Metal Jacket
There’s nothing actually fundamentally wrong with the second half of Full Metal Jacket. It’s just the first half is both outstanding, and utterly unforgettable. Just because R Lee Ermey is nowhere near the screen by this point, his savage training camp is the material that’ll be engrained into your ears and retinas by the time the end credits role. He’s taken on similar roles since, even sending himself up in The Frighteners, but he lifts the first half of Full Metal Jacket into something really quite horribly brilliant. The second half never stood a chance.
A controversial choice, perhaps, but Wall-E is arguably the best modern example of a film of two halves. The first 40 minutes or so is, bluntly, the best thing this writer has seen on a cinema screen in the past year, an audacious and bleak silent movie that gets you emoting with a robot that’s saying pretty much nothing. The rest of the film, from the point where the action switches to the cruise liner in the sky, is a far more conventional, and much less interesting, Disney film. It’s like the first half is for the grown ups, and the latter half is for the kids.
From Dusk Til Dawn
Again, this depends on your take on things, but there’s a strong argument that the first half of From Dusk Til Dawn is an entirely different film altogether, before all the vampires descend on it for part two. The kidnap movie of the first half, however, for this writer at least, works at lot better than the all-out mayhem of the film’s back end. I understand, however, that this is not a commonly held view!
A brilliant, brilliant setup for a Hollywood thriller, and rightly the trailer played very heavily on it. Instead of Mel Gibson’s rich American (possibly a very loose descendent of Mad Max, only in a posh house and nice clothes) paying for the ransom being demanded for the return of his kid, he offers it instead as a bounty on the kidnappers’ head.
Only thing is, the film then pulls back, and descends into a surprisingly conventional thriller from there, one that even fails to make full use of Gary Sinise as lead baddie. Watch it at best up to the point where Gibson thinks his kid has bought it, and leave it at that.
Dig into the DVD extras for Jeepers Creepers, and the crushing disappointment is that the movie they intended to make was the monster movie that dominates the latter half of the film, rather than the quite exquisite Duel homage that accounts for the first. One shot in particularly, of a car slowly catching up while the faceless heroes are driving along, is brilliant and really very tense. From the point the Creeper appears though, the film’s best moments are long, long gone.
In fact, you can apply the logic to any modern special effects film based on some disaster engulfing the world. Volcano and The Day After Tomorrow both suffer this too, but Independence Day is the poster child for it. And that’s that the back end pay off simply can’t measure anywhere near the stunning set up. I remember watching Independence Day on a huge screen when it came out, and being blown away by what we’d all bought in the trailer. The problem? The resolution of it all is simply a non-event, and utterly avoidable.
Comedies often have a habit of front loading all their gags to get audiences to buy in early, before having to revert to plot and story elements to spin a yarn out to a feature running time. The original Scary Movie fits the template perfectly, spending 45 minutes doing a bang-on send-up of the Scream franchise, before then, well, becoming a bit of a Scream movie, only not as good. When it works, Scary Movie is a very, very funny spoof. But it only works for half the film. See also: The Simpsons Movie.
I Am Legend
A surprisingly eery major Hollywood blockbuster, with Will Smith seemingly the last man of Earth, and making his way through a barren New York, without another soul in sight. But what’s this? Why does he have to stay at home during the day? Because there are some crap special effects waiting to get him, that’s why, waiting to drag the film down to a three star muddle rather than the four star outing it threatens to be for much of the first half.
The first Final Destination movie has a terrific set-up, and kicks off with quite a shocking sequence that sees a vision of a plane blowing up coming true. It then builds up the concept that death is coming back for those that it missed, and from there it becomes quite a non-descript teen horror movie. The sequel, ironically, was willing to have far more fun with the concept, and to date remains the highlight of the franchise.
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