Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Wicker Man

You little liars!

Here's the thing about the original Wicker Man: It is not as if there aren't elements that will make you laugh - there definitely are. You can't expect to watch Christopher Lee cavorting about an island in tights, singing, and NOT laugh. But for all its blantant sexuality, bright costumes, and musical numbers, you're still left with a sense of dread, and by the end of the film you've figured out why. To sum up: it's uncomfortable to watch, the ending is a bit a shocker, and you identify with it and feel the creepiness acutely. Not so in the remake.

In the original, Detective Neil Howie (played with perfection by straight-faced Edward Woodward) was absolutely faithful to his Christian beliefs. Thus, there is a clash of his religion and the paganism rampant on the island of Summerisle, where he's been called to investigate the disappearance of a child. In the remake, the character of Edward Malus (played with not-so-much perfection by Nicolas Cage) has no such beliefs. In fact, they never address his religion at all. Removing the main character's spirituality made it so he didn't have that much to fear (except the bees which covered the island).
Cage's character is drawn to investigate a girl's disappearance by an ex-girlfriend who apparently dumped him mysteriously by disappearing as well. His motivation: guilt from not being able to save another little girl in a highway accident months earlier. He spends most of the movie shouting in his trademark over-the-top style (and though that style works well in other movies, it sure doesn't here), sneaking around with a flashlight, and riding an antique bike around angrily. Yes, you read that right. He rides ANGRY - to the point where he forcefully throws the bike down when he has to stop riding. I'm sorry, but there's no way to do that without making me laugh.
Another change Labute makes it to switch the island's inhabitants to a matriarchal society. Ellen Burstyn takes the place of Christoper Lee, but in a much less captivating manner. I believe she is supposed to look menacing (especially to the men on the island who appear to be nothing more than mute sex-slaves/handymen), but instead she just looks bored. I would even go so far as to say that Kate Beahan's overly plump lips did more acting than Ms. Burstyn, which is a real shame considering how great she usually is. As for Beahan herself, she was beautiful, but her doe-eyed speeches got old quickly.
Frances Conroy and Molly Parker proved to be adequately menacing, and Lelee Sobieski's smoldering and pouting was interesting in a come-hither way (although I'm pretty sure she only had a few lines of limp dialogue), but none of them really added anything to the film. It was like watching a whole cast of prettily-costumed characters who didn't really DO anything. Cage was just running around in-between them, shouting, glaring, riding his bike angrily, and getting more and more pissed off.
You could argue in this situation that the director was likely going for deliberate camp, but what was up there wasn't even good enough to be labeled that. In my opinion, Labute's changes to the screenplay deflated the heart of the film and made the final scene much less powerful. AND, you can see the unnecessary epilogue coming a mile away.
My advice to you is to skip this one and rent Robin Hardy's 1973 film instead. You'll still get to laugh, you'll save about $5, and you'll be satisfied that you saw a good movie. And if you're looking for a Labute fix, try In the Company of Men or Your Friends and Nieghbors - you definitely won't find what you're looking for here.

1 comment:

  1. When I first read about this film, I feared the worst. What a shame. Seems like you've got to seek out the Japanese for a good scare these days. There is a genuinely terrifying American film coming back for a local screening in a few weeks, and the Devil is in it (hint, hint). More on that show soon. Thanks for the heads up. Did you notice Hard Candy was released on video Tuesday?