Friday, 5 March 2010

The Crazies...

George A. Romero's original 1973 viral infection action-shocker was a low budget affair ($270,000 at the time, which when adjusted is about $1.3 million today) and is a film that seems to mostly elicit specific responses - you either dig it or you don't. Personally I've always loved Romero's The Crazies, and when re-watching it (after getting back from seeing the 2010 remake) I noticed that I'd forgotten how good it looks. The editing is perhaps the strongest example of Romero's commercials-inspired cutting style, and in all aspects it stands above the usual grindhouse fare of the time. There's a black humour to the razor sharp social commentary, a bravado and detail to the visuals not seen elsewhere at the time, and it's really quite despairing in its examination of an infected town going to the dogs as ill-equipped and ill-informed soldiers wrestle with the populace, and clumsy government bureaucrats drop the ball.

Considering my hatred of the 2004 remake of Romero's seminal Dawn of the Dead, as well as the name-rape of the Creepshow franchise with an unofficial Part 3, and the horrendous Day of the Dead: Contagium and Day of the Dead remake, you'll be unsurprised to read that I was bemoaning this remake as soon as it was announced.

Then the initial trailers were released, and while the look and scale of the film appeared to be very impressive, it felt a tad too slick - but the bone that stuck in my throat most was the 'veiny infected'. Surely the strongest element of the original is that Trixie would leave no physical traces, so are the ones you're with acting crazy because of the situation or because of they're infected?

I then heard that Romero had been involved, at least somewhat, with the project and had given it the thumbs up. Indeed the initial reviews were favourable, including in Total Film (which I often find mirrors my own out-look on new releases and film in general). By now I was starting to get interested, and so we trotted off to the cinema to check it out ... and I'm pleased to say I enjoyed it.

While it's unfortunate that the remake doesn't contain the same level (nor strength) of social commentary as the original, it's far from devoid of it. The focus has been shifted to highlight a small band of survivors primarily, leaving the military occupation of Ogden Marsh by gas-masked soldiers (the most visceral and exciting part of Romero's original) as a secondary element after the initial 40 minutes or thereabouts which are, like the original, the most action-packed minutes of the whole film. Further to this, the involvement of the government is relegated to a few spook-like encounters with black SUVs and government representatives, and in the main to an unseen menace. Satelite imagery replaces Romero's bumbling bureaucrats (satire replaced by a sinister big brother), as the residents of Ogden Marsh gradually find themselves being cut-off from the outside world.

This shift in approach from the original movie works well however, with the sense of small town paranoia looming large throughout, and most potently in the first act. What doesn't work quite as well is a general reliance on "boo scares" - loud noises and jumps you know are coming and dread waiting for (who likes sudden, loud noises, after all) - rather than an all-consuming sense of hopelessness.

The remake is, naturally, flashier and bashier than the original, with a budget of somewhere between $12 and $20 million (the original was $1.3 million, adjusted for the present day). It looks and feels glossy, and there is perhaps a bit too much of a reliance as well on action set pieces - however for the most part these sequences should easily satisfy the majority of the action/horror audience. The characters range from cannon fodder, to the much more satisfying (if a bit underdeveloped) Sheriff played by Timothy Olyphant who successfully takes the role of small town hero and runs with it.

Hopefully there'll be an extended director's cut for the DVD release to flesh out the characterisation and further enhance the small town paranoia ... and some more gore for the horror crowd would be welcome too, of course.

Will it become a classic of the genre? That was never going to happen, not when Romero's original is still shining bright with a dedicated audience. However, Eisner's re-do does actually bring some new elements to the table (I found the cattle trucks especially creepy), and the bigger budget provides the premise with the sense of scale, and military might & menace, that Romero's original took a bloody good stab at. Even though the 1973 version could have never afforded a large scale military presence, helicopters, humvees, and a burning town in a pre-CGI age, it still portrayed a scale far, far beyond its budget.

Finally, circling back to the issue of the 'veiny infected', it wasn't as bad as I'd initially feared. Unfortunately there are a few moments of 'raptor roars' amongst the aural chaos (a hang over from Zack Snyder's risible Dawn of the Dead re-hash), and the 'veiny' angle does skirt too close to 28 Days Later for comfort (remember, The Crazies is NOT a zombie movie, although nor was 28 Days/Weeks Later to be specific) ... but over-the-piece I was able to let it slide in favour of the surprising amount of fun I got out of this remake.

The Crazies (2010) is one of the rare instances of a worthwhile remake, even though the original is still, naturally, the best.

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