Dimension Films already changed the title of Kevin Williamson's student revenge movie, now known as Teaching Mrs. Tingle. On Monday, the studio announced a major change in the film's conclusion, only days before its release.
Teaching Mrs. Tingle was titled Killing Mrs. Tingle, until violence at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., prompted the switch in April. This story of three students who invade a mean teacher's home and make her a prisoner until they get their way now has a different ending than audiences saw at previous sneak previews.
News about the deletion of the film's original epilogue came through a phone call from a Dimension publicist. Later, Dimension and Williamson issued a statement saying the new ending was intended to "merely enhance closure of the film to make it more succinct." Williamson declined a request for an interview.
Allow me to explain what moviegoers won't see and venture some guesses about why the epilogue was changed. Williamson, or any Dimension spokesperson, is invited to contact me for rebuttal, if they choose.
Be advised that this column contains what are known among Internet movie discussion groups as "spoilers." I'll be cautious about not revealing more of the film's climax, but that will still be too much for some readers.
If you're truly looking forward to seeing Teaching Mrs. Tingle, save the rest of this column for after the show. If you want to know an example of studio reactionism in the face of a possible backlash against a movie, read on.
By the time police are finally called to Mrs. Tingle's home, someone appears mortally wounded and another seems headed for jail. The new, happier ending begins soon after that point, with graduation day revealing particularly good news for a key character.
In the previous version, an epilogue showed one of the graduates in a college classroom delivering a presentation on creative writing. The story of Mrs. Tingle and her captors was the subject of the student's story. The student finished the public reading, basked in the applause of classmates and cracked an inscrutable freeze-framed smile before end credits rolled.
The original ending raised more questions than it answered.
Was the story a figment of the student's imagination? If so, the real-life movie audience would likely feel cheated, led by the nose to a bland finale.
Did Mrs. Tingle and the students really do all those nasty things? If so, the idea that anyone would profit from it, even academically, is distasteful and leaves a poor final impression of someone intended to be heroic.
Either way, moviegoers would be disappointed, possibly irritated. Dimension decided to avoid complaints by ordering the deletion of the scene.
There's nothing wrong with late changes to make a movie better. Happens all the time.
However, coupled with the title change and lingering sensitivity about Littleton, Dimension also seems to have second thoughts about supporting Williamson's film. I've seen minimal promotion for Teaching Mrs. Tingle in terms of television ads, theater previews and interviews.
If Williamson hadn't already made a fortune for Dimension with his Scream franchise, Teaching Mrs. Tingle might never have been released in theaters. With Scream 3 due in the fall, Dimension can't afford to make Williamson mad. And, as a subsidiary of Miramax Films and the Disney empire link that provides, Dimension doesn't want to alert cultural watchdogs that something offensive might be coming.
In fact, Mrs. Tingle doesn't kill anyone or get killed herself. The original title Killing Mrs. Tingle is either meaningless or was planned as an irresponsible tease for young viewers. Or else, there have been reshoots and edits to eliminate death promised by the first title. If so, Dimension hasn't volunteered that information.
The entire Tingle situation is probably a mild embarrassment to a company that prides itself on marketing savvy. Dimension Films should consider as much when it decides to approve movies that blend teens with violence for entertainment's sake. There are better ways to make a killing at the box office.
WHAT'S NEW _ Universal Soldier: The Return (R) may have endured some late changes of its own, but we can't be certain. TriStar Pictures didn't offer advance screenings of this sequel for critics to know the difference.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Luc Devereaux, a biomechanical military weapon that survived Dolph Lundgren in the original 1992 adventure. He's a widowed father now, working to develop bigger and badder military cyborgs. Of course, those machines will rebel and Van Damme must kick them back to obedience.
Spawn star Michael Jai White plays Devereaux's nemesis SETH (i.e. Self-Evolving Thought Helix). Wrestling star Bill Goldberg co-stars as SETH's brawny henchman, which guarantees a cheese factor off the charts.
Production notes declare this is the first sequel that Van Damme has ever made. Unless, of course, his martial arts battles and struggles with the English language always seem familiar. Van Damme makes any movie a sequel just by showing up.