Monday, March 1, 2010

The Crazies

"In the back of my mind, I was always saying: 'Better them then me'."

A small town is rocked by a police shooting, which reveals itself to be only the beginning of strange, and escalating occurrences of seemingly pointless violence. But even those are only the tip of the iceberg.

George A. Romero made The Crazies in 1973 as a commentary on the Vietnam war. In it he painted the military as heartless brutes, obsessed with dealing out violence as a solution to a problem that they themselves set in motion. His images of a priest setting himself ablaze, old women attacking soldiers who've come into their homes, and father's raping their own daughters -all set against a backdrop of inhumanity- are meant to reflect the images and memories of the conflict itself (though not Romero's personal memories as he did not fight in the war). So going into Breck Eisner's remake, I knew generally what to expect. The only conceivable point of remaking a movie like this (other than money of course) would be to re-tune it to another set of current events.

So did he succeed? Whether or not you agree with the politics (which I'm not going to get into as this is not the place or time... though even if it was I still wouldn't) the point is- for the most part- well mapped onto the frame work of Romero's original. As one might expect, in doing so writers Scott Kosar (a man who seemingly makes a living remaking old horror movies) and Ray Wright have removed most of the images mentioned above. Also gone is the military history of David and Russell Clank. In this newest incarnation they are sheriff and deputy, citizens and civilians caught in the ever escalating chaos engulfing their town.

Missing from Eisner's Crazies (again for the most part more, on that later) are the broad strokes used to paint every last soldier. In one scene David unmasks a soldier only to realize that he's a young man from their town who'd gone off to boot camp long before the events of the movie. "We didn't even know what state we were in until we saw the license plates," he tells him. Admitting also that he was disgusted with what they'd been sent there to do. Gone too are the characters Colonel Peckem and the constantly threatened Dr. Watts. I'm sure many fans of the original will find these subtractions upsetting, but I think in the end it's done to uphold the metaphor. As with the addition of the characters I'll call the Hunters, it's clear that the goal is to flush out and maintain this take on the subject matter. Something I feel they shouldn't necessarily be faulted for.

I say all this with a grain of salt however, as it seems that the creative minds behind the film ran out inspiration (or time or money) before they could wrap up their product. So a movie that seemed as though it was purposefully turned slightly away from such, quickly leans on the old "Evil government, soulless military" standby to wrap itself up. The entire finale struck me as a bit off kilter. Though the final scene is a reference to the original and I accept it as such, the rest of the ending struck me as simply lazy, though I must give it points for refusing to let the audience off the hook in terms of intensity.

So does it work? Well, I would say at the basic level it does. The picture being painted is a clear, though only moderately affecting, one. While the scares are straight and true, the horror angle is not well served by the many alterations to the story, which may end up leaving a great many members of The Crazies audiences disappointed.

As for the performances, I would preface any comments with the thought that dialogue is most obviously not a prevalent concern of The Crazies. Though in the ongoing time of terror they pass through it makes sense that the characters aren't yacking, at times it seems like more of an afterthought. Like they storyboarded the entire piece, then set about pounding out a script to support their set pieces. Still, under written though they may be, Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell carry their roles, David and Judy, as best they can- rendering the few moments of pure and true drama palatable, if not enjoyable. Joe Anderson offers the same treatment to Clank, managing to build a tenuously believable buddy-buddy relationship with David. All of the leads sing for their supper however when it comes time to be scared- and as that's a great deal of the point, I'd say they eat well.

I foresee nothing but mixed reviews for the exit poles on this one. It's identities seem to clash audibly throughout, which keeps it from every really being able to say what it is. As a horror movie, The Crazies is a by the numbers and underdeveloped run through of all the old creepy standbys. As a political commentary, it's a respectable effort that losses it's footing before the finish line and goes down for the count. But as just a movie, who's only goal is entertainment, The Crazies is a formidably made good time. I think the truest view of this movie lays somewhere between the two- something that perfectly aligns it with it's predecessor.

Watcher X says:"It's like a zombie movie- but with less of the eating."

Reel Deal Recomends:
Dream Catcher: The leads in this sci-fi horror are beautifully acted, Olyphant included.
Man On Fire: Tony Scott's thriller with Mitchell as a distraught mother.
Across the Universe: The critically acclaimed musical, with Anderson as Max.

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