Monday, January 12, 2015

Proof of a Movie God: Se7en

Proof a Movie God: Se7en

The Movie God works in mysterious ways. Every now and again one of us puny humans will get an idea for a great movie and then proceed to try and screw it up through all sorts of bad decisions, bickering, and other typical people stuff. The Movie God steps in at various points along the way and steers the boat, so to speak. To most of us they seem like strange coincidences or just pure luck. To me, they're proof a Movie God. I realize that many of you reading this may be skeptical. This feature will attempt to convert you non-believers.

Since we've spent a sizable chunk of last week gushing over David Fincher, there's no better way to kick off this new feature than by taking a look at the movie I consider to be his masterpiece and see how The Movie God intervened on his behalf.


Most of you know Se7en as that movie starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as cops trying to catch a serial killer who appears to be inspired by the seven deadly sins. Love it, or hate it, you're likely familiar with the finished product - even if you've never seen it. Well, it could've been a much different, and probably worse, movie. Thankfully, there's a Movie God.

Andrew Kevin Walker, depressed from living in New York City and not making it in the movie industry pens a downer of a screenplay called Se7en. Eventually, he shops it to New Line Cinema and they reject it. Why? You know that ending where a box is delivered to one of our heroes containing his wife's head? They said that was too dark. And doesn't have enough shootouts and explosions. So Walker reworked the ending to fall in line with more conventional cop flicks and added some action. New Line accepted this version, put the green light on it. and went about finding a director. The movie was offered to Guillermo del Toro and David Cronenberg. Both of these wonderful film makers turned it down.

Among the others who were offered the film was a young director with only one feature to his name, David Fincher. That one feature was the universally panned Alien 3. Fincher's experience on the film left such a bad taste in his mouth that he wasn't planning on ever making another one. In fact, he hadn't read a script in about a year and a half. However, he read Se7en, was intrigued, and decided to get back into the fray, That dark ending was the icing on a delicious cake.

Wait, what?

Turns out that someone over at New Line made a mistake and sent Mr. Fincher an early draft of the script, complete with the head in a box finale. The first sign of The Movie God's extistence. Big wigs at New Line realized what happened and had a meeting with Fincher. The Movie God waved a hand, giving Fincher the power of persuasion and he convinced Michael De Luca, the company's President of Production, to let him make it with that ending. Now actors needed to be cast.

Who should play Det. Mills? How about Denzel Washington? He had already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in Glory and was nominated for Best Actor (ahem...and should've won...ahem) for a truly incandescent performance in Malcolm X. His most recent work was a major role in the extremely well received Philadelphia. Movie God compelled him say no. The next big name offered the role was none other than a master thespian known as Sylvester Stallone. Movie God made him realize there were no machine guns nor boxing gloves in the movie and might require actual acting so he turned it down. Eventually, Movie God allowed the script to find its way into the hands of Brad Pitt. Pitt liked it so much, he turned down a role in Apollo 13 to work on this.

Of course, Mills has a partner - Det. Somerset. The role was actually written with William Hurt in mind. Movie God quickly nipped that idea in the bud. The role was actually offered to the legendary Al Pacino. Movie God told him he had more "important" things to do so he went and made City Hall. As if flying in from Movie Heaven, Morgan Freeman swooped in to take the role. Of course, Freeman would go on to actually play God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty (see the pic at the top of this page). Coincidence? I think not.

Two other smaller, but still significant roles also had to be filled. The role of Mills' wife was offered to Christina Applegate. I have no idea why. These days, she's one of the better, if underrated, comedic actresses working. Back then, she was just Kelly Bundy from Married...with Children and the only movie of note she appeared in was Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. Not much of a note. Movie God saw fit to have her turn it down and had the role awarded to Gwyneth Paltrow. The final role, and possibly the most important one, was still vacant. It was that of menacing and mysterious killer John Doe. I know, let's give it Val Kilmer! Seriously, that's what someone thought. Kilmer had "better" things to do anyway. 1995 saw him appear in the brilliant Heat in a supporting role, but also saw him star as The Caped Crusader in the dreadful Batman Forever. Movie God knew better, stepped in, and voila! Kevin Spacey.

Director. Director. DIRECTOR! You're looking for me.
With all of the major roles filled, it was time to film the movie. The problem was producer Arnold Kopelson still wasn't sure about that ending. Strangely, this was the guy who produced the bleak Falling Down in '93, but whatever. In fact, Kopelson flat out refused to let the filming begin if it was going to end with Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box. The Movie God compels Brad Pitt to join forces with the director and refuse to make the movie if it didn't end that way. Wisely, Kopelson let the movie be filmed.

Of course, the battle wasn't over. After the big wigs at New Line got a look at the first cut, which ends abruptly after John Doe is shot, they immediately had a cow and tried to come up with ways to "fix" it. One idea was to change it from the head of Mills' wife to that of a dog or just having Mills not shoot Doe. Fincher and Pitt continued to fight for the original ending. What The Movie God knew that we didn't was that all the studio complaining served a purpose. It was the impetus for the perfect compromise. In Fincher's mind, he thought he was just giving the studio something to shut them up when he tacked on a few moments of film during which Morgan Freeman quotes Ernest Hemingway. What he did was paint the final stroke of genius needed to complete the masterpiece. The Movie God blessed us all.


  1. Great post! I had no idea there was such an interesting history behind the making of this movie.

    1. Thanks. It took a lot to get Se7en to the big screen.

  2. Ah, Movie God. Thank thee for watching over us.

    Great post, Dell. These are fantastic. I wonder if Kilmer had taken the different his career trajectory would have been?

    1. Thanks. That's a great question. Not so sure he could've pulled it off, though.

  3. Great post Dell, I didn't know about all the BTS background about this movie. I could see Val Kilmer as perhaps in Brad Pitt role but he's not menacing enough as John Doe, Spacey's perfect in that role. I also love that quote from Hemingway and Freeman sure knows how deliver a line and make it iconic.

    1. Kilmer is definitely not menacing enough to play John Doe. I'm not sure why that thought ever crept into someone's head.

  4. I love this movie but I didn't know it went through all this. Thank you Movie God! And thank you, Dell, this post is awesome!