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This is my old blog, which I no longer update. Feel free to browse around old posts and such, but the much more recent version of my ramblings are to be found at MarilynAnneCampbell.com

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thank Goodness for Meddling Producers – The Original Ending for ‘Dodgeball’

Between Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, piratic Alan Tudyk and a sports movie about a sport I’ve actually played, it was a pretty safe bet I was going to see ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’ in a theatre. I did, it was great fun, and I came away with fond memories. At the time, screenwriting listservs were filled with articles about writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber as a filmmaking underdog who was making it big. I’d seen his hilarious commercial ‘Terry Tate, Office Linebacker’ and after popcorn-munching my way through his first feature serving I was convinced Thurber could do no wrong. Now I’m a little less sure.

Last week I saw ‘Dodgeball’ again, this time on DVD. It was still hilarious and even some of the cut scenes were more entertaining than scenes that get left in many lesser comedies. But in the DVD extras was an alternate ending that was so surprising and confusing I watched it again with the commentary on, hoping for an explanation. Enter the voice of Thurber, stating that this was the original ending – an ending he believed in so strongly he walked off the project temporarily in a refusal to replace it. Stories of directors having to bow to test audiences and producers usually frustrate me (as do stories of writers having to bow to test audiences, producers, directors, pompous actors…) but in this case I have no idea what Thurber was thinking. The original ending wasn’t an artistic one, it simply wasn’t an ending at all.


In this alternate ending, the Average Joe’s are knocked out when a throw by White (Stiller) takes out a distracted Peter (Vaughn). Then that’s it. Peter looks sad, White looks happy, credits role. If Thurber wanted to say this is how underdog stories really end, that’s one thing. I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t the whole reason he set about writing a sports movie – to finally make one where the unskilled but lovable ‘losers’ actually lose. His story wasn’t about a dodgeball final though, it was about the lives of the characters playing dodgeball. In the ending that was eventually put on the movie, the credits don’t roll after Peter’s winning throw. There’s the standard wrap-up of boy gets girl, bully gets what’s coming to him, and disheartened pirate friend gets affirmation in the form of a treasure chest1. This, I think, is where Thurber’s original ending stumbled. Audience wouldn’t have needed to see Average Joe’s win if they’d seen where they were going next.


It’s a shame that the creative and comic geniuses who came together to make ‘Dodgeball’ didn’t find a happy medium in which an unhappy ending could still leave an audience satisfied. But between the two options that were filmed, the one that I saw on the big screen was by far the better choice. I’m still looking forward to more from Thurber, but I’ve removed him from the pedestal I had him on, which is probably more comfortable for everyone.

1 I remember reading that they had to go back and film more material for ’28 Days’, another movie in which test audiences were unsatisfied with the ending, that time specifically related to Alan Tudyk’s character. The lesson here is if you’re going to put that man in a movie, you should be prepared to give him a good ending, or face an unhappy audience (*cough* Joss Whedon *cough*).


  1. Amen to that... Maybe that ending would have been appropriate for Tartovsky... Just imagine the pirate watching his ship burn slowly and then getting a job at the Gap!

  2. I hope you realize that it was just a joke. He knows exactly what movie he's making. There is no alternate ending- especially considering how much footage there is in the actual ending.

    I hear that Thurber's new movie The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is junk though.

  3. Are you sure it was a joke, Bill? I mean, has Thurber said that anywhere? Since I don't have the DVD in front of me I searched to see if anyone had written up what Thurber said in the commentary I listened to and instead found this DVD Times Review by Dave Foster which goes into detail about the three commentary tracks (two of which I didn't know about), and according to him Thurber also referred to this being his original idea for the ending in the "serious" track.

    I'm sure the alternate ending was actually filmed/included as a joke and I agree about the amount of footage that comes after - obviously they knew the alternate ending wasn't going to be the ending long before they started filming. Still, I'm not convinced that Thurber didn't think the abrupt ending was a good idea at some early point in the scripting process.

    I haven't heard anything about The Mysteries of Pittsburgh - if it really is junk that's a real shame. :(

  4. Anonymous3:19 am

    I just saw Dodgeball for the very first time on DVD and you described how I feel EXACTLY! At first I LOVED it! So we decided to watch the "extras" and was so disappointed in the alternate ending - audiences were right this time! But now I'm so confused... did he mean to write that, really? Or is he just joking? I feel the same way: if he's serious about wanting the ending like that, then I may not like his other writings afterall, but if he did really intend to write it the way it turned out, I would hope to see more of him....

    ??? Confused.

    Thanks for your blog!