In the early 2000’s, two films with heavy effects came out with similar plotlines: Bedazzled (2000) and The Butterfly Effect (2004). In both films, a protagonist with a less than satisfying life suddenly finds that he has the ability to metaphysically change his life. He decides to use this power to help the woman of his dreams.
In Bedazzled, Elliott Richards (Brendan Fraser) signs a deal with the devil (Elizabeth Hurley) in order to win over Alison (Australian actress Frances O’Connor), the woman of his dreams. The devil agrees to change him into whatever he wants to win over Alison. However, each time she adds an unexpected twist that makes the experience unsatisfying. This means that Elliott will become a man who cannot consummate his relationship with Alison.
Bedazzled director Harold Ramis worked on some of the most beloved American comedies of all time. He co-wrote and starred in both Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984). He also co-wrote and directed Caddyshack (1980) and Groundhog Day (1993). The only movie where he is just credited as a director is National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), which launched a franchise. He also left directing Galaxy Quest (1999) because he felt Tim Allen was wrong for the lead.
In an interview, Ramis called himself a “benevolent hack,” meaning that he did not mind selling out as long as he sold out to something he believed in. When given the chance to direct a comedy remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), Ramis turned it down. The film would become Guess Who (2005) with Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac.
With Bedazzled, he decided to remake Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled (1967) because he felt that it could have a stronger story. Although not a strong member of any religion (Ramis calls himself “Buddish” in the DVD commentary), Ramis also felt he could take a stronger dive into the theology of the situation.
Differences from the Original
The original Bedazzled focused on the same plot, but with a male devil (Peter Cook) helping out lovelorn cook Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore). It also included embodiments of the seven deadly sins (the most famous being Raquel Welch as lust).
It also focused less philosophy and less of a character arc for its hero. This comes from the fact that the film primarily serves to make fun of the church of England than be the light romantic comedy that Ramis creates.
Along with a new story, the new Bedazzled also got a serious upgrade in the effects department. While Dudley Moore’s transformed in less conspicuous ways, the new film has the character of Elliott changing into every figure from a Colombian drug lord to a NBA star to Abraham Lincoln. Each transformation allows Brendan Fraser to play a variety of different roles.
A modest Box office hit (due to foreign box office), Bedazzled received mixed to negative reviews. A fan of the original film, film critic Roger Ebert wanted Elizabeth Hurley as the woman of Elliott’s dreams and Courtney Love as the devil (“Forget girl, I’m thinking. Seduce Satan”).
The Butterfly Effect
A college student with a troubled past, Evan Treborn (Executive Producer Ashton Kutcher) finds that he can travel back in time and change events by reading past journals. He uses his new powers to help Kayleigh (Amy Smart), his troubled childhood friend. Both of them (and her brother) suffered at the hands of her father (Eric Stoltz). However, each time he changes the past, it leads to unintended consequences in the future.
A lower budget passion project, The Butterfly Effect came from the minds of J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress. Gruber and Bress decided to make a film that would examine their own experiences. This included examining the sensitive subjects of child molestation and incest, which many of their friends had experienced. They refused to sell the project, as they wanted to direct it themselves. The spec script got them a writing job on Final Destination 2 (2003) for New Line Cinema, the studio who would finance and distribute Butterfly Effect.
The film finally got greenlit when Kutcher came on as star and executive producer. Known for comedy at the time, Kutcher decided to do the project after reading the script. To prepare for the role, he spent two months preparing by studying various subjects. His involvement also helped secure Amy Smart, an actress primarily known for comedy as well.
As directors, Gruber would control the technical and visual style, while Bress would control the storytelling elements and actors. After Butterfly Effect, they would use their partnership to produce the TV show Kyle XY (2006-2009).
The Butterfly Effect had a theatrical cut that differed greatly from the directorial cut. Gruber and Bress ended up cutting certain scenes with the younger versions of the leads, so they could bring in Kutcher sooner. This included scenes that would explain the science fiction elements of the film more.
The one thing that changed substantially from script to final film was the ending. In the film, Evan learns that he was the reason she decided to live with her abusive father and everything turned out badly. The original ending (and the one included in the director’s cut) has Evan strangling himself in the womb. This sets off a chain reaction which leads to everybody around him leading a better life. It’s not a wonderful life and everybody is better off without the hero of the story.
The filmmakers and New Line shot three additional endings. Each begins the same way: Evan goes back to childhood and tells Kayleigh to avoid him. He destroys his past memories of her in the present. Years later, he runs into her again on the street. The theatrical version has Evan and Kayleigh seeing each other, but Evan does not approach her. He sacrifices his happiness, but not in the same way. In a happy ending, Evan reintroduces himself. In an ambiguous ending, Evan sees Kayleigh walk by him and walks down the street after her.
When initially released, it received negative reviews from critics. Many criticized a melodramatic story and Kutcher’s performance. However, on review, the film received a cult following over the years.
A highly successful film financially, it led to two direct to video sequels that have little to do with the original film. New Line cinema released the first sequel, but the second.
A Difference in Tone
Both films focus on a selfless man rewriting history to save the woman he loves. Each new reality the hero creates has unintended consequences until the hero has to finally make a selfless decision. However, both films feature radically different executions.
Bedazzled is as light and as fluffy as The Butterfly Effect is disturbing. While The Butterfly Effect includes some of the darkest subject imaginable, Harold Ramis took out many scenes in Bedazzled that disturbed the audience. One scene involved Elliott becoming a punk rock musician. The other focused the devil switched babies in a hospital.
In contrast, The Butterfly Effect pushes the envelope further than it would normally go. The central villain is literally Kayleigh’s abusive father, who begins the film as a child pornographer. Every future problem in the story flows from the father’s actions in the past. While evil is a very real thing in Butterfly Effect, the devil in Bedazzled is more naughty than wicked.
While the tones are so disparate, both focus on a hero’s mission to help the love of his life.
How Filmmaker Affects Medium
The skill set and world view of the filmmakers affect both films substantially.
Throughout his career, Ramis’s involvement in a project involved taming a wild idea into a more palatable story. Before Ramis and Ivan Reitman came on, the original Ghostbusters (1984) was set pieces Dan Aykroyd thought up. Groundhog Day screenwriter Danny Rubin wrote the spec script as “an experiment.” Rubin would ask how the lead would react based on this set of circumstances and come up with the script.
Essentially, Ramis does to Bedazzled what he did with Groundhog Day: he molds a fantastic premise into a Romantic comedy script. Like that film, Bedazzled’s Elliott starts off as an over the top character who needs taming. The hero also decides to change for the love of nice (if somewhat boring) woman.
With Gruber and Bress, the film stays more experimental. According to them, it was always on the edge of being considered non-commercial. It includes many situations and iterations that a more conventional filmmaker might cut out. This includes having three events that affect the leads of the films. The theatrical ending comes from them having to decide between their artistic vision and a mainstream audience’s expectations.
Both films have the hero making the same choice: sacrificing his own happiness for his love interest’s. Bedazzled has Elliott keeping his soul by wishing “Alison would lead a happy life.” The Butterfly Effect has Evan giving up his love for Kayleigh to fulfill her happiness. In the director’s cut, he gives up his life for her. In each story, saving the day requires the hero to relinquish his love for a woman.