Desperate to combat movie piracy, the Motion Picture Association of America brought the major studios together to find a creative solution. Spending an unprecedented sum, they implemented a plan to thwart digital theft for generations to come. Lobbying the authorities to sink file sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, they found two more sites rose up to take its place. Realizing they couldn’t stop people from sharing movies online, the MPAA decided to flood the net with altered versions.
Anyone who downloaded one of these movies was in for a nasty surprise come act three, that’s because Hollywood had gone to the trouble of reshooting each of them so that every story ended badly.
In the altered version of Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones sneaks a peek at the ark of the covenant at the moment it opens. When Marion opens her eyes, she finds his face has dissolved from his skull. To make matters worse, the Nazis headed Indy’s advice, and now they’re poised to debut their new weapon on the beaches of Normandy.
In the altered version of Star Wars: A New Hope Luke doesn’t realize his R2 unit is actually Jar Jar Binks in an android costume until he’s made his descent into the trenches of the Death Star. The Gungan’s antics cause the X-wing to scrape against the walls, dumping its proton torpedo reserve. Luke is forced to ram his ship at the battle station’s thermal exhaust port. His sacrifice fails to trigger an explosion. The shock of witnessing Luke’s death leaves Han distracted. Vader’s TIE fighter loops behind the Millennium Falcon and blows it apart. The Death Star obliterates the rebel outpost on Yavin IV.
A post credit teaser features what appears to be Boba Fett, until he lifts up his helmet to reveal Jar Jar has somehow survived.
In the altered version of Back to the Future Marty helplessly strums his guitar as his parents first dance is rudely interrupted. In this version, George McFly doesn’t work up the courage to punch the prick that’s cutting in. The guitar falls to the stage as Marty fades from existence.
Fleeing to the parking lot, George is confronted by Biff Tannen. With tears streaking down his cheeks, Biff admits the reason he’s so aggressive toward women is to cover his true feelings. He only picks on George, because he’s wanted to be him all along. The words TO BE CONTINUED come up before George can figure out a response.
Devoting server farms to these tragic reinterpretations, the MPAA flooded the net. Infiltrating torrent sites, they made sure these versions buried the original films in search rankings.
The MPAA’s idea was that the general public would have no choice, but to pay for the happy ending. There’s no way they could have predicted that film connoisseurs would prefer these new ones. Torrent traffic surged. Users who found the format intimidating learned how to pull files down. What was supposed to kill the format gave it a second renaissance.
IMAX screens shut down. Theaters plead for these tragic cuts in order to keep operating. Surprisingly the Criterion collection managed to go on with very few alterations to their selections.
The public had spoken. They wanted downbeat endings.
Rather than take the loss, the MPAA doubled down on their plan, spending another fortune to flood the pirate market with more altered films. Instead of saturating the net with more tragic flicks, Hollywood uploaded Saccharin sweet happy endings designed to make the viewer sick.
The pirate version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest now ends with Jack Nicholson’s character getting a clean bill of health at the height of a romantic subplot with Nurse Ratched.
Planet of the Apes now ends with Charlton Heston realizing he’s on Mars and that no time has past since he left Earth. Dr. Zaius plays him messages transmitted by his family and friends. Heston takes his human companions back with him. They visit the Statue of Liberty as tourists.
Requiem for A Dream ends with a thirty-second montage of the friends finding religion, going through their twelve steps, and getting sober followed by a half an hour wedding sequence. The foreboding Clint Mansell Kronos Quartet score has been transcribed for an uplifting ukulele, accordion, and glockenspiel arrangement.
These cheesy versions also found an audience. Some who enjoyed them for irony’s sake and other’s who thought they were a genuine improvement.
Knowing they could decide the outcome of a film, audiences demanded the same options across all platforms. Marques now required parentheses after titles that read, “(TRAGIC ENDING) (EXTRA HAPPY END) (ORIGINAL ENDING).” Television broadcasters had to buy up separate stations so they could simulcast all three versions, allowing channel surfers to decide the outcome of what they were watching.
The choose-your-own-adventure model fragmented the industry. A film’s tragic interpretation garnished Oscar nominations while the other versions got snubbed. In some instances films were in direct competition with themselves. David Fincher hung his head as he accepted his Academy Award for the super happy version of his film, his least favorite version.
As the MPAA’s methodology advanced, so too did the pirates’. They bundled every version of a movie into one convenient link. The cost of film production skyrocketed, while DVD and Blu-ray sales plummeted. Supermarkets had empty imprints where Redbox machines once stood.
That year Bob Iger, the head of Disney, opened his investor’s meeting by saying, “And this is why we can’t have nice things.”
Iger was in the middle of outlining plans to dismantle the company, when in walked his salvation. It had been a long time since any of the investors had seen George Lucas in public. Lucas had grown a long silver beard that wrapped around his shoulders like tinsel around a tree. He’d stitched together several of his iconic flannel shirts into an open robe. He wore only this and a pair of sunglasses.
“Not so fast.”
Lucas reached out toward the projector, opening and closing his hand until Iger hit the POWER button on his remote, and the screen went blank.
Satisfied, Lucas raised his chin, “I sensed a disturbance in the force.”
Lucas compelled the investors to give the MPAA’s plan one last try, adding his own bent on the scheme. He said, “Hollywood is digging it’s own grave, reuniting cast members to shoot new endings, leaving the rest of the film unaltered, giving the public something it didn’t know it wanted. We need to streamline the process, to program an algorithm that arbitrarily replaces beloved aspects of movies with unnecessary computer imagery.”
Hopping up onto the table, Lucas let his robe fall to the floor. “I want to turn proton packs into squirt guns, put wheels on hover boards, and turn light sabers into actual swords. I want to give Wolverine a digital manicure, trimming his claws right out the picture. I want to swipe Harry Potter’s wand with a laser pointer. It’s not enough to replace shotguns with walkie talkies, I want to swap out E.T. with the creature from Mac and Me.”
Iger stood to meet Lucas’s manhood head on. He brought his palms together in slow deliberate claps. The boardroom followed suit, erupting into applause behind him.
Implementing Lucas’s algorithm, Hollywood rushed these new versions into production. Within days they were all online.
And this, dear reader, is why Blu-rays still cost $29.99.