1993’s Sliver had a bizarre ending planned – and in trying to shoot it, three people were left stranded on an active volcano.
There wasn’t an awful lot of enthusiasm back in 1993 when the erotic thriller Sliver was released in cinemas.
On paper, it had looked a surefire hit for Paramount Pictures. Sharon Stone had rocketed up the list of Hollywood stars off the back of 1992’s Basic Instinct and its enormous success. Furthermore, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas was back from that film as well (this time adapting Ira Levin’s book), and legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans had made the project his comeback movie.
With a budget of around $40m – pretty big by 1990s standards, certainly for a thriller – and with Dead Calm and Patriot Games director Phillip Noyce at the helm, the movie got the greenlight. Stone was to be at the top of the poster for the first time, with her co-stars this time William Baldwin, Tom Berenger and a pre-Oscar Martin Landau.
Not for nothing was the movie regarded as one of the potential big hits of the year.
Yet it wasn’t a happy ship. Stories soon emerged from the production about the disharmony on set, and Noyce, Evans and Eszterhas have had their say across various books. Sharon Stone’s own memoir is due soon, that should also add to the discourse.
However, spare a thought for a trio amongst the crew who risked their life for what was to be a key shot in the film. In fact, they nearly lost their lives altogether getting it in the can.
The sequence in question – and this is a light spoiler only, for reasons I’ll come to, was for the end of the movie. In spite of the fact that most of the film takes place in and around an apartment block in which William Baldwin’s Zeke Hawkins spies on Sharon Stone’s Carly Norris, a final act scene had been planned that involved, er, a volcano.
Feel free to take a minute.
As written, the idea was that Carly and Zeke are in a helicopter flying over a Hawaiian volcano. But the plan was that Zeke would then suddenly try and steer said helicopter into the volcano, the screen would go black, and things would be left ambiguous.
Would an erotic thriller end with its two leads crashing down into molten lava? Well, no it wouldn’t. There’s your spoiler.
However, incredibly, the sequence got quite far down the line, to the point where footage for it was shot.
Location scouts identified Kilauea in Hawaii, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, for this dramatic denouement. As such, a helicopter pilot was hired, to take second unit director of photography Michael A Benson and photography Chris Duddy up in the air to capture the necessary material.
The pilot of the helicopter, Craig Hosking, hit trouble though.
On November 23rd 1992, the news broke that the helicopter had hit the lip of the volcano’s molten crater and crashed. At first, it was feared that all three would have been instantly killed. However, that wasn’t the case. They survived the initial impact, and it didn’t take too long for Hosking to be rescued. The other two? They were nowhere to be seen.
As Paramount’s then boss Sherry Lansing recalled in her biography – and she was just three weeks into the job at the time – “that was the beginning of a 48 hour nightmare”.
Hosking had been found because he stayed with the helicopter “which was sheered in half”. Benson and Duddy however decided to try and climb out, but the cloud of smoke and sulphur closed in around them, and they found themselves barely able to see. They were in deep trouble.
Another helicopter was sent up to the site, and a search ensued. The active volcano was still smouldering, and a net was being trawled just inside its crater in the hope that the two men would still be alive. Miraculously, they were.
They had been trapped in the crater, with the sound of lava beneath them and no obvious prospect of escape.
“At night it was a light show”, Benson would tell the New York Times. “There were several times when I just gave in to the fact that I was going to die”, added Duddy.
But they weren’t. They saw the net and clung to it. It had been sent down when a rescue helicopter pilot caught a brief glimpse of them through the oppressive steam. The net was lowered, even though visibility was compromised. They saw it, the helicopter lifted them away, meaning all three had thankfully managed to walk away from what looked at the outset like a fatal crash.
What’s more, they’d got the footage as well. The final film was cut together with the darker, ambiguous ending in place – and the test audience for the film promptly rejected it.
The trio had nearly died to get the necessary footage, and then it was cut in the aftermath of a bad screening.
They weren’t best impressed either. As Chris Duddy would tell Premiere magazine back in February 1994, “it pissed me off because we went through all that”, adding “and I thought it was a better ending with that in the movie anyway”.
A more audience-palatable ending was used for the movie instead, but it couldn’t do much to turn the fortunes of the film itself around. Opening to hostile reviews, it’d be remiss to call Sliver a flop, but critics didn’t need a second invitation to stick the knife in. Its global gross of just shy of $130m would be regarded as a disappointment.
Still, another film nearly came out of it. The NBC network in the US quickly optioned the story of the crew’s ordeal for a television movie. It never came to pass, although as Duddy noted at the time, “I always wanted to be famous, but I wanted to be famous for my work, not for an accident”.
Keep working he has, on films such as True Lies, Mystery Men and Thirteen Days. Benson, meanwhile, ironically would go on to work on the film Volcano a few years later.
And the story did ultimately come back to the screen, just not in feature form. A documentary episode of their story would air on NatGeo – and you can see it in full right here…
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