Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, June 15, 2009

The Taking of Pelham 123's original wild ride

One of the major movie releases this past weekend was the remake of the 1974 cult classic Taking of the Pelham 123,with Denzel Washington and John Travolta reprising the roles of transit cop and ruthless leader of a quartet of hijackers originally played by Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw.

The new version(which is actually the second remake of this story,an earlier attempt became a made for TV film)received mixed reviews,several of them good ones from major newspapers and magazines,and reached third place in the box office Top Ten. While it may very well be a decent popcorn thriller,I have no instant desire to check this out,mainly because I can tell that the folks who did this updated edition completely miss the point of the piece.

Judging from the trailer,the new Pelham 123 is a rock'em,sock'em thriller that shines it's spotlight squarely at Washington and Travolta's characters,leaving everyone else involved as props for their performances:

The original film is really an ensemble piece,with each actor adding some bit of business to the slowly simmering stewpot of suspense created by the daring heist and mass confusion of how to handle the situation through out the many bureaucratic levels of authority in New York City. While Matthau and Shaw's characters were pivotal players in the plot,they were not the be-all and the end-all of the story.

I was too young at the time to see Pelham 123 in theaters but during my childhood,it was a frequent Afternoon Movie feature on several of my local syndicated TV stations(Channel 5,before Fox took over)and it was a great leisurely suspense thriller to indulge in.

One of the big strengths of the first film was the time it took to present the premise and the realistic tone that was taken with the character's reactions to what was happening. There are plenty of darkly humorous moments that make New Yorkers shake their heads and say"Yep,only in NYC!":

There was no sugarcoating of how transit workers,police and politicians talked or reacted when things went way off course,which made the hostage situation all that the more terrifying. Those spoonfuls of realism made the fear factor go up,big time:

The original did have action,don't get me wrong. It just wasn't the standard Michael Bay pumped up fare many of us have become used to. The moments of static violence came about in appropriate moments that were essential to the plot and built up in tension due to the long standoff made by the bad guys and waited out by the forces of justice,making those shoot-em-ups well earned indeed:

While I have no doubt that the current remake of Pelham 123 did it's best to emulate the original film and managed to entertain audiences,those who went back to watch the 1974 version either on DVD or regular TV(it did air last night on WPIX in New York)had a much better bang for their buck.

If you haven't seen either one,go for the earlier movie. You won't be sorry. In fact,you might discover a true treasure that's been kept on the back shelf for far too long. Perhaps one day,Hollywood will chose not to go for the remake and simply try to create a quality film that's just as good as those back in the day instead of
just tinkering around with something that didn't need to be updated in the first place. As the saying goes,if it ain't broke,why fix it?:

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