a zoo in hell

9.23.2010

Mnemonic: The Crazies

Defenders of remakes inevitably mention that creating a new film doesn't erase or remove the previous film from existence. The newer film can be an update, an interpretation or an expansion of the mythology. Of course, it also means a chance to repeat the box office of the previous film. Or, it can also be a chance to do it right, or somehow adapt it to the contemporary. This is fair, playwrights do it all the time, no reason filmmakers can't have the same artistic opportunity. Unfortunately, unlike plays, a film can be watched anytime and even the most obscure out-of-print films can somehow linger on. You can always refresh your memory of the original by simply watching it again. 

Let's imagine for a moment that we don't have these artifacts, the easy reminders of what a film was. We only have access to a few items; the original screenplay, a poster or two, a cast list. Look at these items and use them to jar your memory of what the film was like, how it played out, what it looked and sounded like. Now, imagine you have to recreate the film with just your impressions of the film and these few facts. Remember, memory is notoriously subjective and impressionistic

Then, you make a movie like The Crazies (2010), which is, unknown by many, a remake of George Romero's The Crazies (1973). The third film he directed after Night of the Living Dead was a not completely successful return to the same territory of murderous horde. The original spends too much time trying to be science fiction, like Andromeda Strain(1971), and not enough time with the murderous horde. The film gets trapped in the mistake that many similar films in the 1950's made; assuming we want to listen to fake scientists prattle on about something that is supposed to frighten us, when all it really does is kill all momentum. But it saves money, too, as its easier to stand there and talk about how crazy the water is making everybody then it is to show it. 

The remake wisely avoids this angle. The film is solidly loyal to the people of the town and a point of view which keeps the military and science as far away as possible. By following the unlikely band of David (Timothy Olyphant) and Judy Dutten (Radha Mitchell), and Russel Clank (Joe Anderson), the film multiplies the tension and suspense. They have no one they can trust, and are 
seemingly surrounded by enemies on all sides. They have no idea what is really happening around them, 
and neither do we.
As far as remakes go, the new Crazies is far superior. The story is more immediate, more effective and the production certainly benefits from a larger budget. There is a visual style to this film, and while it borrows a bit too much from other recent zombie films (The Dawn of the Dead remake, for one), it does create a mood, one the original lacked, for this oppressive story. You could say the first film teetered too heavily on the brainy side, and now this version teetered too far over into the brainless side. This isn't a smart film,  or even a very good one, but it gets more things right than the first pass. However, as interesting as it is to focus on the regular folks in crisis, it also does so in a way that is overdone and predictable. Which is unfortunate, because as we all know, the worst part of a memory is when you realize you had it all wrong.


NEXT: Mnemonic: Clash of the Titans

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