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14 Movie Characters Who Were Supposed To Die, But Didn't

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Some of your favorite film characters were, at one point, on the chopping block. 

1. Han Solo // Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

During development, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan seriously considered killing off Han Solo in the middle of Return of the Jedi to raise its stakes. But George Lucas wasn't a fan of the idea: Han Solo's death would have cut into toy sales, so the character remained alive.

In an interview with ABC, Harrison Ford admitted, “I thought he should have died in the last one to give it some bottom … George didn’t think there was any future in dead Han toys.” 

2. Dr. Ian Malcolm // Jurassic Park

While Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum, survived the dinosaur attack in Jurassic Park, he actually dies at the end of the novel on which it's based. Since Steven Spielberg cast the very charismatic and likeable Jeff Goldblum to play Malcolm, co-screenwriter Michael Crichton let the character survive. Malcolm is also the central character in the sequel novel, The Lost World. Crichton wrote that the character survived the Tyrannosaur attack because of skillful Costa Rican surgeons; Malcolm even boasts reports of his death were "greatly exaggerated." As a result of the attack, the character had a permanent leg injury that required him to walk with a cane. 

3. Deputy Dewey // Scream

In the original Scream screenplay, Deputy Sheriff Dewey Riley dies after being stabbed. But after director Wes Craven cast David Arquette in the role, the character became younger and more likeable. Craven felt that the audience wouldn't like seeing the character die in a horrific way, so he shot two versions of the ending—one with Dewey's death and another without it. Test audiences didn't react favorably to Dewey's death, so Craven let him live—and Deputy Dewey returned for the three Scream sequels.

4. Rambo // First Blood

In the novel First Blood, Rambo commits suicide at the end of a long battle with Sheriff Teasle. Rambo's death scene was filmed, but Sylvester Stallone saw the potential for a new franchise, so Rambo lived to fight another day in the final version.

5. Rocky Balboa // Rocky V

Rocky V was supposed to be the last movie in the franchise, and Stallone ended its screenplay accordingly, with Rocky Balboa dying at the hands of rival Tommy Gunn during a street fight. But during production, director John Avildsen got a call from executives telling him, "'Oh by the way, Rocky’s not going to die,'" he recalled in 2014. "'Batman doesn’t die, Superman, James Bond, these people don’t die." Stallone wrote a new ending featuring Rocky and his son Robert Balboa jogging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and looking over the city's skyline.

6. Katie // Paranormal Activity

Before Paramount Pictures acquired the film rights to Paranormal Activity, its original ending featured the police discovering Micah's dead body in the house, while a catatonic (and possessed) Katie sat with the knife she used to kill her boyfriend. The police tried to get her to drop the knife, but sudden movements provoked the cops to shoot her dead instead.

Paramount didn't like the original ending, so two endings were developed and filmed. The first featured Katie surviving the night, while her whereabouts remained unknown, and a second ending featured Katie slitting her throat with the knife that killed Micah. Paramount Pictures eventually used the former for the final version of Paranormal Activity.   

7. Dante Hicks // Clerks

In the original ending of Kevin Smith's debut film Clerks, the convenience store gets robbed, and clerk Dante Hicks is murdered. But after the movie screened for the first time at the Independent Feature Film Market, Smith's colleagues Bob Hawk and John Pierson advised him to end the film happily instead. Smith agreed, and now Clerks ends with Randall taking down Dante's "I Assure You We're Open" sign and telling him, "You're closed!" as the movie fades to black.

8. Dr. Will Rodman // Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes screenplay, Dr. Will Rodman (played by James Franco) was supposed to die in Caesar's arms just before the ape heads into Muir Woods at the end of the movie. Director Rupert Wyatt even shot the death scene, but it was scrapped for a new ending that was more bittersweet.

Despite the changes, Franco didn't return to the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes—but his character makes a very brief cameo and is presumed to have died of the Simian Flu.  

9. Sergeant James T. "Joker" Davis // Full Metal Jacket

Actor Matthew Modine, who plays Sergeant James T. "Joker" Davis in Full Metal Jacket, revealed that Stanley Kubrick originally planned to kill off his character (who also dies in the book). According to Modine [PDF], "We never filmed it, but that was always the intention in the script, in the story: it was that Joker would die."

10. Happy Hogan // Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 storyboards revealed that Stark Industries' Head of Security, Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), was supposed to die during a hand-to-hand fistfight with one of the villain's henchmen at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. In the final version, Happy slips into a coma and awakens at the end of the movie.

11. Clarence Worley // True Romance

Although Reservoir Dogs was Quentin Tarantino's first film, True Romance was his first major motion picture screenplay. Tarantino gave Tony Scott the scripts for both Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, and when Scott expressed interest in directing both of them, Tarantino said, “You can only do one.” Scott picked True Romance.

According to Tarantino's audio commentary, the final version of True Romance is pretty much the same as what's in the script—except its happy ending. In the movie, Clarence and Alabama (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) get away together with the money, but in the script, Clarence dies, and only Alabama gets away with the money. Scott changed the ending because he fell in love with the young couple and wanted to see them live happily ever after instead of separated.

If Tarantino had directed True Romance, he would have kept to his screenplay and given the film a darker tone. He admitted to Maxim, "When I watched the movie, I realized that Tony was right. He always saw it as a fairy tale love story, and in that capacity it works magnificently. But in my world Clarence is dead and Alabama is on her own. If she ever shows up in another one of my scripts, Clarence will still be dead."

12. Matt Hooper // Jaws

Although Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, lives at the end of Jaws, the character had a different outcome in the novel of the same name from author Peter Benchley. When Hooper is lowered into the open waters in a shark cage, the giant great white eats him. The book character was very unlikeable, so the movie character was rewritten to suit Dreyfuss (who, initially, turned the part down).

13. Martin Riggs // Lethal Weapon 2

During the final shootout in Lethal Weapon 2, Arjen Rudd, the Minister of Affairs for the South African Consulate, is armed with diplomatic immunity, so he shoots LAPD Sergeant Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson, in the back. Screenwriter Shane Black originally planned to kill off the character, having him die in Sergeant Roger Murtaugh's (Danny Glover) arms. But the producers wanted to make more Lethal Weapon movies, so Riggs survived at the end. As a result, Black left the film series because of the changes to his screenplay.

14. Ellen Ripley // Alien

Science fiction historian David A. McIntee revealed in his book Beautiful Monsters that director Ridley Scott originally planned to kill off Ellen Ripley at the very end of Alien—by having the Xenomorph bite off Ripley's head. The alien would then have mimicked her voice to record one last entry in the Nostromo's log before the movie faded to black. The producers thought this ending was too dark for an already bleak movie, so they insisted that Ripley survive the ordeal and have the Xenomorph die at the end instead.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]