I've been a big fan of this movie since my first viewing (on the IMAX screen eight blocks from my house -- yes, it's good to live in NYC) and I've defended it endlessly against the strangely lukewarm reaction it got from geeks (despite its overwhelming box-office success). People say things like, "Well, it was a lame movie but the empty city was cool," and I'm like, "But the empty city WAS the movie!" Then people complain about the ending (and refer to the novel and the other versions) and I say, "Who cares," because I liked the movie so much and I didn't read the book, and I'm not about to see a Charlton Heston movie if I can possibly avoid it. Anyway my point is that I wasn't really aware of the story's original ethos, so I wasn't really equipped to understand everybody's judgments.
But it turns out there was supposed to be a different ending, and it's on the Blu-ray that I got last week. (And you don't have to fuck around with your remote or anything; you can just watch the whole movie either way, seamlessly.) I didn't get around to watching it until last night (because there's one sequence I just didn't have the emotional stamina for, and I'll bet you can figure out which one I mean). Now I've finally seen it and the difference it makes is overwhelming. It's a completely different movie this other way, and my admiration for it is vastly increased. I won't give anything away but I strongly recommend what I consider to be a true horror/sci-fi masterpiece; maybe my favorite in the apocalyptic genre. (This all may be old news to everybody here, but I'd never seen this before and it's just terrific.) It's just so great when sci-fi and horror gets the royal big-budget A-list treatment like this...it happens all too rarely as we know.