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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Until The End Of The World” (1991)

Although I was aware of German filmmaker Wim Wenders film, “Until The End Of The World”. I had never seen either of the films theatrical (two and half hour version) or the five hour directors cut until now (although there are four cuts in total including a twenty and eight hour cut). Thanks to the recommendation by my Hawai’i Film Critics Society founder and famed movie critic of Maui Time Barry Wurst and the newly released Criterion Collection Blu-Ray. I was able to indulge in Wenders five hour sci-fi masterpiece. “Until The End Of The World” is more than a journey, it’s a visual odyssey on an epic scale. It’s a lustrous epic masterpiece of effortless science fiction, road movie, love story and thriller with all of the best film genre borrowings and a futuristic prediction turned period piece. Wenders marriages both vast visuals and a stellar soundtrack unlike I’ve ever seen before with music of the future by legendary artists. It’s the kind of glorious, poetic and cinematic masterpiece that only comes from a great filmmaker. I had no problem with it’s five hour length, so much so I was willing to watch it again as soon as it was over. It earns the right to be called masterpiece and is one of the most fascinating films to come out of the 90s or in my case 2020. 

When filmmakers and financiers (films studio) fight over the contents and final cut of a film, we tend to see it as a battle between art and commerce. It’s not uncommon for a film studio to interfere with a directors intended vision, where studios step in and chop up what a director had set out to release. The director’s intention is to make a piece of art, while still making a profit and satisfying their longtime fans. While studio executives want a picture that will maximise box office takings. Film length is often a major concern as are the complexity of plot and whether or not the film has a ‘feel good’ ending that sits well with test audiences.

Known as the ‘directors cut’ or ‘final cut’, it is the cherished right of a filmmaker to control the content of their film so that their approved edit is the one that the public gets to see. Although there are exceptions, with industry heavyweights such as: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron who can expect to get their final cut released. In some instances even the films stars will have the power to the films final cut.

I will always be one to defend and argue that the best studio pictures and the best version of any film, will be the cut where a director’s personal vision has prevailed. German filmmaker Wim Wenders 1991 film “Until The End Of The World”, is a prime example of the fight for final cut and studio interference that caused the film to perform poorly in theaters. 

Filmed in five months, in 15 cities, in eight countries on four continents, following two lovers played by actors who were reportedly not on speaking terms with one another. “Until The End Of The World” featured four different cuts of the film: a twenty hour rough cut, an eight hour original cut, the now preferred five hour cut and the studios two and half hour theatrical release. 

Wim Wenders “Until The End Of The World” was a project 14 years in the making, as he began working on the film as early as late 1977. It was an idea conceived by Wenders, based off his first visit to Australia and thought it will be the perfect setting for a science fiction film. In addition to fleshing out the complex and meticulously plotted story that co-star and then girlfriend of Wenders, Solveig Dommartin had co-authored with Wenders. Wenders had pitched his story idea to Australian author Peter Carey, hoping that Carey would write the films screenplay. Before Carey accepted the offer it took Wenders six hours to explain the story to Carey.

It was not until Wenders found commercial success with “Wings of Desire” (which Nicolas Cage “City Of Angels” was based on) and “Paris, Texas” that he was able to secure funding for the project. With around 22 million dollars in budget it was the most expensive auteur film ever attempted. The $22 million budget is more than he had spent on all of his previous films combined, Wenders was about to set off on an ambitious production. 

Although ambitious might be too gentle of a word as Wenders filmed everywhere from France to Italy to Portugal to Germany to Russia to China to Japan, the U.S. and finally Australia. When filming ended, Wenders confessed that his producers had to literally pull the plug on him for his own good because he wanted to keep filming and take the film to a conclusion in the African Congo. He had hit every continent in the film except Africa and South America.

While shooting in China, the production money had ran out so actress and co-star Solveig Dommartin and one camera person shot the Chinese scenes in the film completely on their own. The filming was done as Wenders had picked up new crews and production personnel in each new location as they traveled around the world and filmed at. 

Originally released theatrically in 1991 as a severally edited, 158-minute cut that was derided by Wenders and as he describes it, as the “Reader’s Digest” version. This butchered cut was made to appease the studio, while Wenders ruminative adventure was far more expansive and epic in scale than in the studios two and half hour cut. Wenders stayed: “The movie was to be a grand, globe-hopping summation of Wenders images and themes. It was about everything from travel, memory, seeing, image making, love, faith, the future”. 

A “road movie” is defined as a genre in which the main characters leave home on a road trip, that typically alters the perspective of their everyday lives. Wenders “Until the end of the World” has been described to be the “ultimate road movie”. Although it has more in common with a hyper-interconnected, post-modern world where Wenders introduces us to  a “future” set in 1999. Wenders predicts with striking accuracy such turn of the millennium devices and a world filled with digital assistants, search engines, GPS navigation, picture phones, cars that call their owners by name and technology that allows machines to visualize human dreams. 

What exactly is “Until The End Of The World” about? Along with being a road movie, there is a nuclear satellite at risk of crashing into Earth, there are the recorded dreams of Australian aborigines and there is a camera that can convert dreams and photo images into digital imagery so blind people see. But really the moral of the story is clear that we humans should remain centered in our traditional storytelling skills and not allow technology to dictate the way we communicate and dream. It is a wise lesson that the film profits from.

It begins with the story of Claire (Solveig Dommartin), a French woman searching for purpose, running from a cheating boyfriend, Eugene (Sam Neill). She dallies with excess in Venice, suffers a car wreck with two friendly bank robbers with a bag of money and eventually crosses paths with Sam Farber (William Hurt), a man on the run from bounty hunters, the CIA and others who want to reclaim the aforementioned camera.

She follows Sam across the world as he records images to take home to his  blind mother (Jeanne Moreau) and inventor father (Max Von Sydow) who wait in an underground techno bunker in the middle of the Outback. Spurned Eugene, along with a private investigator and a series of other side characters equally enthralled by Claire, follow her above and below the equator, where she and Sam begin a relationship and become addicted to watching videos of their own recorded dreams like it were television.

Instead of star William Hurt, Wim Wenders originally wanted Willem Dafoe and instead wanted Robert Mitchum to play William Hurt’s father. He had also approached Richard Widmark and Gregory Peck. Co-star and films narrator Sam Neill has said of making the movie: “Six months on the road with Wim Wenders. Quite a trip”. 

For the films soundtrack Wenders wanted music that sounded like it would come from a future of 1999. So Wenders sent out a call to his favorite musicians for original compositions for the film and received so much good music he decided not to choose just one but to use them all. Wenders beautifully shoots the films environments and mixes the scenery with an expansive soundtrack featuring songs by the Talking Heads, R.E.M., Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson and U2. Wenders creates a beautiful montage to close out the film over Robbie Robertson’s “Breakin’ The Rules” from his album “Storyville”. It’s the most perfect marriage of film and music I’ve ever been blessed with in a motion picture. 

All of the other songs other than U2’s “Until the End of the World” were original contributions, although some appeared on subsequent albums or greatest hits albums of the artists. The U2 song, had been previously released on their album “Achtung Baby” album also released in 1991), but appeared as a a different version. The films soundtrack would become more successful than the film itself upon it’s release. Finally having being able to see “Until the End of the World” it comes off as the world’s longest music video and is very ‘90s with a visual style of the MTV generation. 

Though the 1991 film features no shortage of contemplative shots of futuristic vistas, both real and virtual and exhibits an aversion to the genre of a sci-fi, action thriller. The narrative has all the intricacy one would expect of a cyberpunkian tale about the chase for stolen, mind-altering technology. Despite the story’s novelistic girth, most scenes wind up being more fitting to be a good novel. A comparison that Wenders would likely appreciate, given that his film is so meticulously plotted. But if done today it would work best as the currently popular visual medium of a limited or mini series. 

The films chopped up theatrical cut proved to be a box office failure and critical non-starter. The film earned $752,000 on a $22 million budget. Even famed movie critic Roger Ebert remarked that “a documentary about the production would have likely been more entertaining than the film itself”. In ‘94, Wenders had presented his nearly five hour long director’s cut, which he feels is the films definitive version of the movie. Aside from film festivals and art house theaters, it was largely unavailable in the U.S. until December of 2019 when the prestigious Criterion Collection released a new two disc Blu-Ray edition of Wenders five hour cut. 

While I was aware of Wim Wenders film, I had never seen either of the films theatrical or directors cut until now. Thanks to the recommendation by my Hawai’i Film Critics Society founder and movie critic Barry Wurst and the newly released Criterion Blu-Ray I was able to indulge in Wenders sci-fi masterpiece. “Until The End Of The World” is more than a journey, it’s a visual epic odyssey. It’s a lustrous epic masterpiece of effortless science fiction, with all of the best film genre borrowings and a futuristic prediction turned period piece. 

“Until the End of the World” is a film that is hip, quirky and serious-minded. It remains a hypnotic yet foreboding look at how the media technology affects the mind and raises interesting questions about the role of modern technology and its impact on identity and interpersonal communication. It’s the kind of glorious, poetic and cinematic masterpiece that only comes from a great filmmaker. With it’s length aside, which I had no problem with so much so I was willing to watch it again as soon as it was over. It’s one of the most fascinating films to come out of the 90s or in my case 2020. 

GRADE: ★★★★★ (5/5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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