Anyone have the misfortune to see Neil LaBute’s remake of Wicker Man? I expected it to be bad, but I guess I was mostly disappointed that LaBute didn’t seem to appreciate – much less understand – anything about the original.
The original Wicker Man is a really cool weird funky departure for Hammer films. It’s an awesome script that’s ultimately about religion, about the tension between the Church of England and paganism. That’s the backdrop and ultimately the dramatic tension as Edward Woodward plays a strait-laced married man bumbling around a strange village. There are even musical numbers, including a great bit with Christopher Lee prancing around in a wig, and a scene in which Edward Woodward has sex with Britt Eckland through a wall. Talk about contraceptives!
It’s obvious about half way through that LaBute has no idea what to do. He dallies with his typical ‘war of the sexes’ stuff, but doesn’t follow through. There’s nothing, really, about religion or sexuality here. Instead, there are a few stupid horror tropes, including a rip-off of John Landis’ “waking up from a nightmare into another nightmare!” gotcha. There’s even a cat scare, but with a crow. And he throws in some stuff about bees. Yeah, bees. Nicolas Cage’s character is conveniently allergic to bees.
Wicker Man reaches its nadir when Cage draws his gun on a school teacher to take her bike. He actually says, “Step away from the bike”. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be funny, which made it even funnier.
Ick. Man, I remember when I thought Nurse Betty was LaBute’s worst movie…
After being totally unimpressed by the original, I can’t imagine redoing it with Cage would be any better - but I knew it could be worse.
I can see what some who love the original mean, but I don’t think it holds up. I’m sure it was cool when it came out, but the ‘musical’ through-the-wall scene was annoying to me - not even frolicking naked Britt could save that horrid song.
Oh, the original movie is definitely dated, and I don’t think the songs are supposed to be pleasant so much as they convey how weird the place is. I can’t imagine, for instance, buying the soundtrack.
But I still think the 1973 Wicker Man is utterly fascinating. And I do think it’s a great script about religion. But you can’t very well divorce it from it’s setting. And without Christopher Lee’s prancing and Edward Woodward’s proper Britishnicity, well, yeah…this remake was pretty much doomed.
I enjoy Edward Woodward in pretty much everything he does (Breaker Morant, Equalizer–heck, I even like his singing), but I just found Wicker Man so boring. I’m sure it could keep a class of college students in rapt discussion for hours, but count me out. So when I heard about a remake with Nicholas Cage set in Puget Sound, I was brimming over with indifference.
And in case anyone misunderstood Tom, there are no glory holes in the original movie.
All this talk about bees is making me think of Eddie Izzard.
I couldn’t find Chris Lee, which is what I was looking for.
I do like the original, which does manage to stand up. The last scene (which is also up on youtube) hasn’t lost any of its power, especially the point at which the policman loses his faith at the very end.
The songs are as gay as you like but, as you pointed out, give a sense to the weirdness of the place and also help to make us think that really these people aren’t so bad, just naive and unnecessarily persecuted for being different. How can you find the seed song sinister? The result is that Woodward becomes an unsympathetic character that is trying to force people to his way of thinking, and only the end shows that his way may be unpopular, but he may be right.
I haven’t seen the remake but from what I’ve heard they miss the point a bit.
Actually, I don’t find Woodward’s character unsympathetic at all. He’s a poor befuddled dupe.
In fact, I’d say the movie takes a pretty neutral stance in terms of who’s most deluded by religion. Woodward rightly points out that his sacrifice won’t restore the crops. He even tells Lee that his own people will continue to demand greater sacrifices until they come after him. If I’m not mistaken, that even seems to rattle Lee a little.
Also, I missed that Woodward’s faith was shaken. I rewatched the last scene on YouTube, but didn’t see that. As near as I could tell, he clung to his Christianity until the very end. Although I couldn’t make out his final screams. Is that what you were talking about?
Oh, and as for the remake missing the point, here’s a great example.
When Nicholas Cage first sees the wicker man, he screams the same thing as Woodward’s character in the original: “Oh god! Oh god!” But because the remake has virtually nothing to do with religion and because Cage’s character isn’t religious, it has absolutely none of the significance of Woodward saying it.
I was going to ask John the same thing. It’s been some time since I saw this movie on video, but I didn’t twig on Sgt. Howie losing his faith. If his yelling “OH MY GOD!!!” sounded less than firm, it might have had more to do with him becoming a hunka hunka burnin’ love.
I imagine Nic Cage wasn’t screaming Psalms in the remake?
I don’t think the film ultimately places one side above the other, and in fact ends up coming down harshly on both. Woodward’s unbending christianity makes him into a character that I think is hard to identify with and like, not because of his religion, but because of his attitude towards that of others. Note, this doesn’t mean he’s not a dupe, but he’s a wanker and a dupe.
In my opinion, the film works by setting up the pagans as relatively unthreatening and then subverting that at the very end. I think you are quite right about Lee being somewhat shaken when Woodward tells him that next year he will be next, I get the feeling that he knows it is all bollocks and is using the ritual to get rid of a problem, as well as to control the people on the island and the implications hit home for him at that point.
Maybe my interpretation of the final moments in the cage are well off target, but I always had the impression that Woodward stops praying as he thinks it is futile and then the screams begin. There is something unconvincing in his prayers as well. Like I said, I could be well off beam on this one and I can’t find anything that supports it.
Here’s a wikipedia quote that shows what a disaster the end could have been:
The DVD commentary track states that studio executives suggested a more “upbeat” ending to the film, in which a sudden rain puts the flames of the wicker man out and spares Howie’s life.
The end of the Neil LaBute version is kind of funny for how it tries to be brutal. Before they put him into the wicker man, they break his legs with a sledgehammer, Misery-style. Then they put a cage around his face and pour angry bees into it. Then they close him up in the wicker man and have his own daughter – it turns out the missing girl was his own daughter! doh! – they have his own daughter run up and light it. Ohh, zing!
Hoo boy, I wish they’d filmed that scene and given DVD viewers a “Choose your own adventure” moment right at the end: “Honey, that movie really bummed me out. Let’s watch the ending where Howie converts and baptizes Lord Summerisle!”
Yeah, the more I watch it, the more I start to come round to your point of view. I still think he is a basically unsympathetic character though, until that point. Maybe what I thought was a loss of faith is more the emotion of him realizing what is in store for him making him trail off. What a horrible way to die though.
I love the cuts between him in the cage and the singers. The film doesn’t treat either of them particularly well but you know what side you’d rather be on!
Yeah, those cuts are sort of the movie’s point in a microcosm, aren’t they? Edward Woodward shouting booming ineffectual psalms and the villagers blithely chanting some cheerful ditty while Christopher Lee looks on.
It is a superb end to the film, from Lee in a wig, to presiding over a burning.
Just like you did me with Session 9, I’m going to have to go and rent it again. At least I can sleep after this one, unlike Session bloody 9.
Here’s a Chris Lee quote about the new one (which I know I will end up watching)
That’s an awesome quote! And, yeah, you gotta watch the remake just for the trainwreck aspect. Poor LaBute duplicated so many particulars of the original for no good reason, while completely missing the overall point. In the commentary track, he says he wanted to replace the religious theme with a gender theme. Hoo boy, yeah, like that’s going to work out.
BTW, on the DVD featurette with the original movie, they mentioned that early on, it was intended that Peter Cushing was going to play Edward Woodward’s role. What a very different movie that would have been.