Friday, July 31, 2015
The Remake Comparison Project - Curiosity Killed the Cat
Cody and Priscilla get lost with The Vanishing in 1988 and 1993.
Although she was a fan of the 1993 version of The Vanishing, Priscilla never knew the movie was a remake until I brought the movies up as a possibility for our Remake Comparison Project. I couldn't just let her go on watching a remake without being familiar with the original, so when I visited her in Brazil a while back I brought The Vanishing 1988 with me. Months later, I'm back in Brazil, and this time we have watched both versions of the story back-to-back. This is how it went:
THE VANISHING (1988)
The Vanishing, known in its native Dutch as Spoorloos, began as a novella called The Golden Egg, written by Tim Krabbé and first published in the Netherlands in 1984. Krabbé was inspired to write the story after reading a newspaper article about something that really happened in France. Thankfully, that real life incident had a happy ending, but also thankfully, Krabbé didn't find out about that happy ending until ten years later, otherwise he might not have written The Golden Egg in the first place.
After the novella was published, Krabbé teamed with French filmmaker George Sluizer to adapt the story into a screenplay that Sluizer then brought to the screen. The Vanishing reached theatres in the Netherlands on October 27, 1988, and was met with some very high praise, most notably from Stanley Kubrick, who called it the most terrifying film he had ever seen.
The movie begins with Dutch couple Rex Hofman and Saskia Wagter (Gene Bervoets and Johanna ter Steege) on a road trip in France.
The score by Henny Vrienten sets a dreamy tone. It's very '80s/early '90s, and I like it a lot.
Saskia urges Rex to get off the highway and take side roads so they can experience the "local color", and this decision eventually leads to them running out of gas in the middle of a long, dark tunnel. Tired and grumpy from all the driving, Rex abandons Saskia in the car as he goes for help.
How fast they go from being all lovey to arguing with each other actually feels realistic. But Rex acts like the biggest jerk here, for sure.
This a typical horror movie beginning, but it doesn't play out how you might expect. I think it might be in here partially to subvert expectations.
I only saw the original movie years after I had seen the remake, so I knew nothing was going to happen then, but still, the way those scenes are shot make you think for a second that something bad might happen to Rex or to Saskia. Saskia especially.
Rex manages to get gasoline for the vehicle and the couple continues on, eventually stopping at large, crowded gas station in the middle of the day. Rex stays at the car while Saskia goes inside to buy some drinks... and she never returns. Despite the fact that they're surrounded by people, Saskia has vanished without a trace.
It's a nice twist that this happens in a brightly lit, public area, rather than when they were in the dark in the middle of nowhere.
I really like how the movie tricks you not once, but twice. First when nothing bad happens after Rex leaves Saskia alone in the dark tunnel, and second when Saskia actually comes back from her first trip to the store. You almost think everything's going to be fine, if you don't know better.
The only information Rex is able to gather is that Saskia was with a man when she left the building.
Rex is having one of those truly awful days where nothing goes right. He runs out of gasoline, argues with Saskia, his bikes are stolen, he accidentally breaks his car window, and then Saskia goes missing.
The introduction of Rex and Saskia and then her disappearance takes up 25 minutes of the film, which is a bit much. There is important information here, we have to get acquainted with Saskia so we can care about Rex's search for her, but things could have definitely been trimmed down.
I feel like this part of the movie is actually the one that goes by faster. I like that time is taken to make sure you get to know the two leads not too well, but just well enough to get invested.
The film then moves away from Rex to a different character, a middle-aged teacher and family man named Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), who has recently bought an old, secluded house in the country, eight miles from the home he shares with his wife and two daughters. Every day, Raymond goes out to the country home to do renovations. Or at least what he tells his wife.
Raymond is a very strange man, and Sluizer shows every step he takes in putting together a very evil plot. He holds a screaming competition with his family at the country home, and later confirms with a neighbor that the screams couldn't be heard beyond the property. He douses a rag in chloroform, tests it on himself, then practices putting it over the face of an imaginary passenger in his car. He even takes notes of his heart rate after trying to talk women into getting into his car.
The meticulous timing, planning and practicing is one of the creepiest parts of the movie to me. We get to know Raymond better as The Vanishing goes on, so it makes sense that in his mind, if he's going to do it, he needs to do it right. It's all very cold and methodical.
The moment when he practices the "lock the door and put a hand to the passenger's face" move on his young daughter creeps me out. The thought that he's raising two girls and is still planning to do something horrible to a woman is highly unnerving. And there are people like Raymond out there in the world.
Indeed. That's sad and terrifying at the same time.
Raymond's quest for a victim eventually led him to that gas station where Rex and Saskia stopped, where we saw him earlier, wearing a fake cast on one hand. At the gas station, he set his sights on Saskia.
Jump ahead three years. Saskia is still missing, and Rex has made it his mission in life to find out what happened to her. He has a new girlfriend, Gwen Eckhaus as Lieneke, but he is obsessed with the memory and mystery of Saskia. He tells Lieneke that he would choose her over Saskia, but if he could be anywhere, he would be at that gas station three years earlier.
It makes me feel bad for Lieneke, because she had to obviously be very into him to be in a relationship with a guy who clearly can't move on from what happened. I'm sure she knew she'd never have him completely, but being a woman, part of her probably thought she could change it, change him. Never happened.
It doesn't help that Raymond torments Rex by sending him postcards that say "I want to see you" and tell him to go to some public place, always within an hour of the gas station. The latest time, the fifth time, Raymond has Rex and Lieneke come to an outdoor cafe, where Raymond just sits at a nearby table and watches them.
Raymond also watches a television interview Rex gives, in which Rex looks in the camera to appeal to Saskia's abductor, telling him that he needs to know what happened to her and is prepared to do anything to gain this information.
After eight months with Rex, the Saskia situation has become too much for Lieneke to bear any longer. She breaks up with him.
The next time Rex leaves his apartment alone, Raymond approaches him and tells him he's the man he's been looking for. He offers Rex a "unique chance": leave for France with him within the next five minutes and he'll know everything about what happened to Saskia. Raymond knows Rex could take revenge on him at any time, but is banking on his curiosity being the strongest emotion. He's right. Rex leaves the Netherlands with him, and together they drive to that gas station in France.
Along the way, Raymond takes his time getting around to telling Rex what he did to Saskia. First, he gives Rex background on himself, starting at age 16 when he got the urge to jump off a high balcony onto a stone street and carried through with the urge, even though it meant he suffered some bad injuries. Raymond describes himself as a sociopath.
It is in a sociopath's nature to be overly concerned with themselves. Gene Bervoets makes it clear with his facial expressions that Rex has no interest in hearing Raymond's life story.
I have to say I wasn't that interested either, though I understand what was trying to be accomplished by letting us in on Raymond's past.
The idea to do something evil formed in Raymond's mind when he was in a family outing and saw a little girl drowning in a river. After he jumped into the water and saved the girl, one of Raymond's daughters called him a hero. His reaction was to think to himself that he would only be worthy of his daughter's praise if, now that he had done something purely good, he were then unable to go through with doing the most evil thing he could imagine.
This is one of the nuttiest motivations I've ever heard.
Raymond drops the hint that simply killing someone was not the most evil thing that came to mind. He then gives Rex, and Sluizer gives the viewer, more details about his plans. He bought a small trailer to pretend he needed help with and eventually worked the fake cast into the set-up so he could convince a woman he couldn't handle the trailer on his own.
And all this time, Raymond's wife and his younger daughter thought he might be having an affair. If only that was all he was up to. Would be bad, but not half as bad as the real reason why he was acting shady.
It's a chilling scene when he assures his wife that he's only working on the country home, but is secretly talking about his murder plans, saying he keeps at it because of the pleasure it might eventually bring him.
The stretches of the film showing Raymond's plans are obviously what Sluizer was most interested in, he spends so much time showing everything the guy did. We saw a lot of this sort of stuff earlier, so this is another segment that feels to me like it could have been cut down.
The only person who's more into Raymond than Raymond himself is Sluizer. This part of the movie drags a bit, I find it to be too much information and I catch myself losing interest for quite a bit of it.
The trailer and cast weren't involved with Saskia's abduction. Rather, it was happenstance. A conversation she and Rex had about his keychain, then her seeing that Raymond has a fancy keychain, a gift from his daughter. He tells Saskia that he's a salesman for that type of keychain, and that's how he got her out to his car.
It's a messed up "had to be" situation. Even the initial on the keychain is "R", which is what had Saskia so drawn to it.
Although we know she's walking into a trap, it's very cute to watch Saskia try to communicate with Raymond, since she speaks Dutch and he speaks French. I have no idea what either of them are saying or how correctly they're saying it, but she has some funny struggles with words.
As a Brazilian who often interacts with Americans, I can relate. Though I'd like to think - and hope - that my English is a little better than her French.
Once they've reached the gas station, which has closed for the night, Raymond reveals to Rex that the only way to find out what happened to Saskia is for him to have the exact same experience. Saskia has been gone for three years, this is obviously an experience that Rex isn't going to survive. But it's the only way, the only option Raymond offers, and Rex is so driven to know the whole truth that he drinks the drugged coffee Raymond gives to him.
When Rex awakes, he experiences exactly what Saskia experienced. It's not only the most evil thing Raymond could imagine, inspired by his own claustrophobia (he can't even wear a seatbelt), but it was also Saskia's greatest fear. The novella's title The Golden Egg comes from a recurring nightmare Saskia had, a nightmare that gave her such a strong fear that she totally freaked out when Rex left her in the car in the dark tunnel at the beginning of the film. Raymond made her golden egg nightmare come true.
Her golden egg nightmare came true two times. It was almost like a premonition.
I would have to disagree with Stanley Kubrick on a couple points. The Vanishing isn't the most terrifying movie I've ever seen, nor would I have enthusiastically called up Sluizer to discuss the film's editing, as Kubrick did, since there are sequences I felt could have been pared down. But then, I feel the same way about some Kubrick movies, forgive my blasphemy. I would agree that The Vanishing is a very emotionally effective, troubling movie.
I feel like its emotionally charged aspect is the best thing about The Vanishing. That and the suspense, even though that doesn't linger for long. If you try to put yourself in Rex's place, you'll realize why he couldn't let go. It's one of those situations you can't find answers to, there's no closure. Not to mention the guilt part. What happened to Saskia wasn't Rex's fault, but he did leave her alone in the dark tunnel and he did swear never to abandon her again, right before she was taken. Those things can weigh heavily in someone's mind, forever. He was living a nightmare.
For most of the film it's a mystery, not of who killed Saskia - Sluizer enjoyed the stuff with Raymond too much to hold back on that - but of what exactly happened to her. When we realize what happened, in the film's final moments, it is horrible to think of what she went through, and what Rex is following her through.
It is horrible, but I think that it might've been the only suitable ending for Rex. Simply finding out what happened to Saskia would've possibly made it even worse for him to cope. And was Saskia his wife or his friend/girlfriend? I'm never sure.
The film was very well cast, with Gene Bervoets doing a great job playing the tormented Rex. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu is fantastic as Raymond, a man who appears to be a regular, nice guy on the surface, but is secretly one of the biggest scumbags you could ever (hope not to) meet.
If the cast wasn't so solid, the movie wouldn't be as good as it is. The cast is a huge part of why the movie works. And Donnadieu has something off about him, he looks like a regular guy, but you can tell he's hiding something, but you're never sure what. That's exactly what Raymond should look like.
The Vanishing could have been cut down, but even as it is, it's a great movie that's definitely worth checking out. Take Kubrick's advice, see The Vanishing.
I wouldn't say it's a problem specifically, but the movie does drag a bit after the first 30 minutes. The one thing that is a problem is exploring Raymond's character too much. A little less would've worked better. Still, The Vanishing is a very interesting and unique movie that I'd definitely recommend.
THE VANISHING (1993)
As often happens when a foreign film is well received, especially when it's a genre movie, Hollywood took note of the critical success Spoorloos enjoyed and was soon seeking to produce a remake of it. The remake rights were acquired by 20th Century Fox, and they hired actor/screenwriter/playwright Todd Graff to write the Americanization of Tim Krabbé's source material. For their director, Fox chose a man they knew could bring the story to the screen. George Sluizer.
This is a first for The Remake Comparison Project, we've never covered a remake that was directed by the original director before. Personally, I've never understood why someone would want to spend their time telling the same story twice.
It is a little strange, but kind of like with singers/bands and their most loved and famous songs, sometimes you have to repeat. It's not exactly the same, but I guess it's bound to happen in some cases.
Sluizer's second version of The Vanishing begins by introducing Jeff Bridges as Barney Cousins, a teacher and family man who has been spending a lot of time renovating the remote lakeside cabin he recently purchased outside of Seattle, Washington. He spends so much time out there that his wife and young daughter both suspect he's having an affair, but he's actually formulating an evil scheme.
His daughter seems to love the idea of her dad having an affair, and his wife seems very upset about it, though the fact that Barney never truly gave her an answer when asked directly if he was cheating doesn't seem to bother her much. The wife really isn't a very expressive character in The Vanishing 1993.
When discussing working on the cabin with his wife, Barney is truly talking about the plan he's putting together. Talking about questioning if each step he takes is crazy, but then deciding that there's still time to turn back, approaching the point when there's no turning back... At least he considers turning back. Raymond never did.
I love the location. The cabin, the waterfall, and I wish they'd have explored the lake better. It's amazing.
Like Raymond Lemorne, Barney tests chloroform on himself, practices using it on an invisible passenger in his car, checks his heart rate after trying to talk women into his car, and even uses his daughter to test things - playing "got your nose" when she gets into the car, making her scream at the cabin by having her open a picnic basket he has filled with spiders and then confirming with the nearest neighbor that her scream couldn't be heard by him.
Those first few scenes showing Barney running his tests almost turn comedic for a while. Just the way it's done and the score, but then, when he gets inside the car, there's this evil look in his eyes. Disturbing. Right then you know it's no joke, it's as serious as it gets.
After 12 minutes of Barney, the film moves on to Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock as Jeff Harriman and Diane Shaver, a couple on a road trip who are visiting Mount St. Helens to see the destruction left behind by its 1980 eruption.
Even before they get into an argument, Jeff and Diane don't seem to be as close as Rex and Saskia were. Or maybe it's just the cultural thing, portraying American couples. But for a few minutes, they just don't seem that into each other.
The couple's car runs out of gas in the middle of a long, dark tunnel, and Jeff is so bothered by how scared Diane gets that he abandons her and walks off to get gas. He returns to find her gone, but she hasn't been abducted yet: she's waiting for him at the other end of the tunnel.
The tunnel here isn't half as dark as the one in the original, so it isn't as effective. But the truck scene definitely works better in the remake, it's way more scary.
When they stop at a gas station later -
That gas station always looks so familiar to me. Makes me wonder if it's the same one they used in another movie starring Jeff Bridges, Starman.
I hope they were planning on getting something from that Dairy Queen next door.
- Jeff and Diane make up, with him promising to never leave her again, 'til death do they part, and her giving him a Zippo lighter that says, "Forever, Diane". She then goes inside the gas station to get some drinks, and never returns.
They finally act like they care about one another, and it's a sweet moment.
Jeff frantically searches around the gas station, questions the cashier, talks to a police officer, but Diane has vanished without a trace.
Sluzier cast actors who stand out for the gas station cashier in both films, each standing out in their own way.
There's more desperation in the afterwards scenes in the remake, you can feel the panic taking over Jeff. Not that those scenes are bland in the original, I definitely wouldn't say that, but the ones here are more intense, and I think the score works better during those moments in the remake. It increases the tension.
As with the original, we're 25 minutes into the movie when it cuts away from the gas station post-disappearance, but half of that time was already spent with Barney. This one moves more quickly.
Three years pass. Jeff has dedicated his life to searching for Diane, doing interviews, putting up fresh Missing posters every thirty days, but she's gone and all he's accomplished is spending all his money and losing his job. He goes to a diner one night and is recognized by one of the waitresses, Rita Baker, who says went to school with him, although he doesn't recognize her and she doesn't know his name.
During those three years, Jeff went from preppy to bum, or to "Rambo in First Blood", as Cody would say. But Rita doesn't seem to mind.
Rita and her friend/fellow waitress Lynn are both played by actresses who seemed, in my perception, to be everywhere in the late '80s and early '90s. Nancy Travis plays Rita, and I knew her back then from the 3 Men and a... movies, Loose Cannons, Air America, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Greedy, etc. As Lynn is Park Overall, from the '88 - '95 sitcom Empty Nest, a favorite of mine in childhood.
Seeing how exhausted Jeff is, Rita lets him sleep on a mattress in the back room of the diner. She sleeps on a nearby chair.
In the morning, Jeff and Rita bond as friends, and some months later she's moving into his apartment as his girlfriend. Rita doesn't like it that her boyfriend obsesses over the search for his missing ex so much, so Jeff is soon living a double life, pretending to be moving on from Diane while he's actually continuing the search in secret. He even pretends to join the military reserves as an excuse for why he leaves one weekend every month.
Jeff buying a military uniform and pretending to be in the reserves is pretty goofy. I'm glad this section of the movie goes by quickly.
Rita eventually discovers Jeff's secrets and surprises him at the motel room he's using as the new search headquarters wearing a black wig so she'll look like Diane.
I find Rita to be too extreme. And she doesn't seem to even try and understand what Jeff's been through. She almost seems selfish sometimes, trying to force Jeff to let go just so she can be the "only one". I get why she wants Jeff to move on, she loves him, but still... she should've tried to be more understanding.
I understand she's hurt by the secrecy, but lashing out at him in Diane cosplay is a bit much. All signs point to the girl having been murdered, after all.
She definitely went too far with it. I was surprised Jeff even wanted anything to do with her after that.
The confrontation in the motel room ends with Rita deciding it's time for Jeff to face the past. For the first time since Diane disappeared, Jeff returns to the gas station. It's there that Jeff tells her that he would choose her over Diane, but more than anything wants to turn back the clock to the day Diane vanished. Rita gives him an ultimatum: her or the Diane search. Jeff chooses Rita. They move on with their lives.
Barney has previously seen Jeff give an interview where he implored Diane's abductor to get in contact with him, but it isn't until he notices that Jeff has given up the search - the Missing posters aren't being renewed - that he writes him a letter telling him to go to a certain yacht club.
As Jeff shows the letter to Rita at the yacht club's outdoor diner, Barney is spying on them from nearby. He lives right across the street.
Jeff knows he was invited here by a murderer, so it seems like a really bad idea for him to have invited Rita along. Now the killer of your ex knows what your current girlfriend looks like! The same goes for Rex and Lieneke in the original, now that I think about it.
That's true. I really question how real Jeff's feelings for Rita were. Sometimes it feels like he was just tired of being alone, I don't feel like he loved her, more like he needed someone to share this whole thing with. It never even crossed his mind that he could be putting her in danger. And the letter did say to come alone.
Rita reacts to Jeff's excitement over the letter by breaking up with him. She heads back to their apartment and Barney follows her. As Rita packs her stuff and leaves an angry out-going message on Jeff's answering machine, Barney enters the apartment and appears about to strike... But then he decides not to.
This is much more of a typical thriller movie type of scene than anything that was in the '88 movie.
I love that scene, I think it works really well.
Rita is gone when Jeff returns home. As he re-records his answering machine message, Barney steps up and introduces himself. Jeff proceeds to beat the hell out of him and throw him down a couple flights of stairs.
USA! This is a much more relatable reaction to coming face-to-face with a killer than Rex's weak, half-hearted hits.
I couldn't agree more. I never get over how lame Rex's reaction is, especially compared to Jeff's. I love the beating he gave Barney. Very fitting.
Once Jeff has gotten his hits in, Barney tells him that the only chance he'll ever get to find out what happened to Diane is to take a ride with him. Jeff joins him in his car.
Out drinking with Lynn, Rita tries to let her friend listen to the answering machine message she made, but instead Rita hears the one Jeff replaced it with, a recording which also caught Barney introducing himself.
Very sloppy, Barney.
During the drive out to the gas station, Barney tells Jeff his back story, which is the same as Raymond's was: jumping off a balcony as a teen, saving a girl from drowning, being called a hero by his daughter. Feeling that the only way he can deserve his daughter's love is if he proves to himself that he's just as capable of evil as heroism.
Jeff is even less interested than Rex was. He tries to stop Barney a few times, in vain.
The beating Barney received messed up his mouth, causing Jeff Bridges to have to alter his speech as he tells his story. An odd choice. At first I thought he was trying to do some kind of accent.
I've always thought that it was the result of what happened earlier. It makes sense, because Jeff really did a number on him.
Meanwhile, Rita is frantically trying to save Jeff's life. With the police being no help (there's no evidence of a crime on the message, Jeff has to be missing for 24 hours before they can do anything), she takes matters into her own hands.
It's right then that we're introduced to an amazing character, Ms. Carmichael. One of my favorite things about the remake, she's awesome.
Eventually Barney gets to the point Jeff wants to hear: how he lured Diane out to his car with the promise of selling her a bracelet with the infinity symbol on it. A gift that would be a perfect follow-up to the "Forever" lighter she gave Jeff. A gift Barney was given by his daughter in reference to a talk they had about the stars.
It's that daughter who tells Rita how to get to the cabin, thinking she's her father's mistress.
The daughter is very strange, so infatuated with the concept of romance that she loves the idea that her dad might have a mistress. The way she acts, I suspect she might have inherited some mental issues from him.
Definitely. And it's weird to me that Barney didn't seem to do a great job teaching her about the dangers of getting into cars with strangers.
So while Barney is showing Jeff exactly what happened to Diane by giving the exact same experience at the lakeside property, there's a character involved who was no longer involved at this point in the original. With Rita at the cabin, things play out very differently than they did in the 1988 film, with an extra twenty minutes occurring after the moment the original ended with, which comes twenty minutes earlier here.
Under the guidance of the studio system, Sluzier turned his unique thriller into a very typical one. The climactic sequence is as Hollywood as it gets, at times reminiscent of a backwoods slasher as Barney chases Rita around the muddy woods.
I see nothing wrong with that, and I feel like it's a nice change from the original ending, which is kind of disheartening. I also enjoy seeing Barney's reaction when Rita turns the tables on him. And the pace works much better in the remake, it never feels like the movie is too long or that they're spending too much time with one character.
The remake of The Vanishing is almost as poorly regarded as its predecessor is highly regarded, but I don't think it deserves the level of hate it gets. It's Americanized and less artsy than Sluzier's original film, but it's still a solid movie with some strong performances from a great cast.
I don't get the disliking either, I think it's a very good movie. I like the score better in the '93 version, and I also like Bridges' performance better than Donnadieu's. He was great as Raymond, but I really like Jeff Bridges as Barney. He's dead in the eyes, and when he's in monster mode, he's truly scary.
There are many scenes that are almost exactly the same as in the original. So much, I don't know how Sluzier was able to stand doing it all again. It's a different style, but they still work and get the same story across.
I guess there were a few things Sluzier might've wanted to change the second time around, like Barney only having one daughter, since there wasn't a lot of use for the second daughter in the original movie. Also the reception Jeff gives Barney when he introduces himself. Those things work just fine in the remake, I really have no complaints.
The differences mainly come from the expansion of the "three years later" girlfriend character. Rita is... interesting. She's a tough, incredibly smart heroine, but she can also be annoying. She does wrong things - dressing up as Diane, cracking Jeff's password - but also saves the day. I guess that's depth.
Rita is very insecure, and is trying as hard as she can to hold on to Jeff. She goes overboard with it, but she redeems herself at the end. It is thanks to her that we have somewhat of a happy ending this time around.
There were some silly changes and additions made, but overall The Vanishing '93 keeps the essentials intact. I find the original to be a much better and much more effective film, but the remake has its merits as a piece of thrilling entertainment.
Even though they're basically telling the same story, the movies have different elements, different tones. The original one is more about the emotional aspect, and getting to know the characters inside out, the remake is more dynamic, more "alive", and it relies on the action/suspense aspect more than the emotional one. Although it has some pretty intense moments as well.
It's hard for me to pick a favorite. I've seen the remake a bunch of times, and the first time I saw it, I had no idea it was a remake to begin with. I've only seen the original twice, but I liked it right away as well. I suppose it comes down to what mood I'm in. If I feel like watching a more serious The Vanishing, I'll go with the '88 version, and if I want the more entertaining version, I'll go with the remake. They're both worth watching though, no doubt about it.