The Three Endings of Clue

If you’re not familiar with the movie Clue, it’s based on the boardgame of the same name (known as Cluedo in Britain). It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it’s a lot of fun. I own it both on DVD and Blu-ray and recommend it if you like murder mysteries and fun.

A curious feature of the movie is that it was filmed with three different endings. Movie theaters would be given one of the three endings, so viewers would see a different ending depending on which movie theater they saw it in. However, this posed something of a problem for the VHS version of the movie.

Technically, of course, it was possible that they could have made three copies of the VHS cassettes, but probably would have been prohibitively expensive. Thousands of people see the copy of a movie sent to a theater, whereas each VHS cassette would have cost $15 or $20 at the time. The labor involved in shuffling the cassettes couldn’t have been worth it.

Whatever the reason, three different copies of the movie was not the approach taken by the makers of the VHS. And since VHS was a linear medium, it wasn’t possible to shuffle the endings. So the of the endings were presented as possible endings, while the third was presented as “what really happened”. A nice touch is that this information is presented in the sort of text cards that one might see in a silent film; it fits nicely with the setting in the 1950s (desipte that being long after the era of silent films, curiously) and with the fact hat it’s a movie based on a board game. (Which would be ludicrous except that the movie doesn’t take itself seriously, though not in the modern wink-at-the-audience way which we all know and hate.)

About ten years after the release of Clue (the movie), DVDs hit the market. Unlike VHS cassettes, DVDs did not have to be linear and it became possible to play one of the theatrical endings at random. And the first DVD of Clue that I bought indeed had that option, though thankfully it also had (and defaulted to) the option to play the VHS ending, i.e. the three endings together with the title cards identifying the first two endings as possibilities. I’m thankful because I far prefer that ending; it’s in keeping with the fun and tone of the rest of the movie.

But this raises the interesting question: if VHS hadn’t had the technical limitation of being purely sequential, would the three-in-one ending ever have been made? There’s no way to know, of course, but it points to a larger issue of providence and limitations. Limitations often force people to be creative in ways they would not have been without them. Perhaps the best example of this I can think of is Star Wars episodes IV-VI. When one compares them to episodes I-III, when George Lucas, now very rich, had (effectively) no limits, he did much worse work.

The issue of providence is probably fairly obvious, but we as finite creatures don’t see the big picture; we chafe at our limitations. But our limitations often guide us to the work which we’re supposed to be doing. The things which frustrate us are often safety rails. Not so much that they protect our health—though they occasionally do that—but they protect the good work which we’ve been given to do. This is all the more helpful because we so rarely recognize that work until long after it was (all but) forced on us. If we even recognize it then. Something to remember is that God loves Beetles.


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