Tomorrow, on its 29th day in American theaters, the British horror film 28 Days Later will be given a new ending. Moviegoers who endure the film's stark and terrifying depiction of an England all but wiped out by a rampaging virus will be able to choose how unsparing they want this apocalyptic vision of the future to be.
The current ending - fairly upbeat given what has come before - will still be there. It will now be followed, however, by a four-minute sequence, beginning with the on-screen words "But what if," during which a darker, more desperate conclusion unfolds.
Alternative endings - like deleted scenes, "making of" featurettes and directors' commentary - have become a staple of the DVD market. But adding such extras while a film is still in theaters may be unprecedented. The decision of Fox Searchlight, the movie's producer and U.S. distributor, to add the extra scenes to the theatrical version reflects the impact of technologies like DVD and the Internet on the culture of moviegoing.
28 Days Later was first released last October in Britain - where the director, Danny Boyle, has a large and devoted following - by Fox International in the same version that American audiences have been seeing. In May the British DVD was released, with multiple endings (including storyboard animation of one never shot).
News of these, and fans' responses to them, circu- lated quickly through the borderless Web-based world of hard-core horror fans, which Fox Searchlight was already cultivating by spending heavily on Internet advertising.
For Boyle and Fox Searchlight a happy conclusion is already assured. Shot in England on digital video without major stars, 28 Days Later has taken in an estimated $33.4 million in the United States since it opened in this country June 27. In a summer of disappointing blockbusters, most of which have seen steep box-office declines after big opening weekends, Boyle's film is part of an insurgency of smaller, more challenging movies that have succeeded through audience excitement and word of mouth.
From a business perspective, the new ending offers a chance to keep that momentum going.
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