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\The Wicker Man 2006...and this time it's personal
Lord Summerisle burns the drone
 

Please note that this review assumes that you know the original film and contrains major spoilers for both that and this remake.

 

I, like most viewers of this site I would hope, am not a fan of remakes. That is not to say there aren't exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between in this age where 'post modernism' is an excuse to be unoriginal.

The original Wicker Man, made in 1973, is among my all time favourite films (hence my pseudonym on this site), as is detailed in the companion to this piece (which I greatly urge you to read before this one if you are unfamiliar with the original film). So the announcement of a remake was unsurprisingly not music to my ears.

First of all let's cover the basics...

The original film was a low budget British affair, showcasing the possibility of more subtle performances from the staples of UK horror. A labour of love for all involved, and noticeably so when viewed.

The remake is an American Hollywood feature, a pawn in their cynical money-making drive of modern times; that of filmically repackaging classic cinema for a contemporary consumer audience in order to make a quick buck. This is everything I hate about the dominant forces in the film industry, and therefore I must warn you that this review may stray from the objective, although I promise to rein myself in as much as possible, in the name of fair criticism.

When the first scene reveals the dashing Nicolas Cage as a Californian traffic cop gallantly trying to free a family of girls from a flaming car, one would be forgiven in assuming this to be another Cage action flick. But there appears to be something out of the ordinary about this car full. And as the vehicle blows up, Cage is thrown to the ground and the title appears...The Wicker Man.

Back at his house we are familiarized with the character. A fellow cop drops round to see how he's holding up after the stressful ordeal and reveals the car to be unregistered and the victims unknown. She leaves, and our protagonist opens a letter. Here we are introduced to a woman by the name of Willow (ring any bells?) whose daughter Rowan is missing in the domain of Summersisle. Aha, I thought, this is sounding decidedly more Wicker Man like. But this Willow knows our hero, named Edward Malus, not Howie, from a past romance and this is why she enlists his help.

© 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Warner Home Video

So off he goes to Summersisle encountering many strange things, the first of which being a distinct lack of men on the island. Malus also has a rather unfortunate allergy to bee stings, proving a problem as the island is practically a honey making factory, with bees all over the place. Things become progressively more bizarre and intriguing (that is if you are unfamiliar with the original) and Malus becomes increasingly angered and disturbed by Summersisle, the trauma of the family he was unable to save back in California still preying on his mind. After a bee accident Edward eventually meets with 'Sister Summersisle' (Ellen Burstyn) the leader of their sect, who explains the nature of their commune to him; an ancient Celtic feminist group of sorts, that moved to the New World to create a new life for themselves and settled on this island, not far from Washington.

For those unfamiliar with the original plot and thus the fate of our protagonist, what follows may (gasp) ruin the end for you. Nicolas Cage is indeed burnt to death in a wicker man. This is due to the whole thing being a set up to lure him onto the island and sacrifice him to their gods in the hope of a successful harvest.

There is one twist that appears in this that is not in the original however, the fact that Rowan turns out to be Edward's daughter. Okay, not that much of a shock!

Now the formalities of synopsis are done with I will endeavour to cross examine the film with the original.

From the very start there is a totally different feel to the remake. There is more back story concerning the hero, and his mental state is called into question with the added plot strand of the ambiguous roadside car accident, which crops up throughout the film in flashback. The reason for the inclusion of this eludes me. It lends little to the characterisation and serves only to confuse a perfectly adequate plotline (down to the fact that it is otherwise almost exactly the same as the original). When Cage enters the island the sense of other and palpable eeriness of the 1973 film is largely absent. This is the first scene where the remake practically plagiarizes the original right down to identical dialogue. Three fishermen (women actually) are quizzed about the whereabouts of Rowan in a wincable American impression of Edward Woodward's first scene. It made me feel uneasy and I awaited what was to come in a hope it would not recur. A vain attempt to mask this with something original was given in the guise of a large bleeding bag with mysterious wriggling contents.

The Green Man tavern has been replaced by a Swiss style wooden cabin that wouldn't look out of place in The Sound of Music, and the creepy landlord with a butch formidable looking Frau-American. The landlord's daughter is nowhere to be seen, but there is a Willow in the form of Kate Beahan. First of all, she is no Britt Eckland, and even with the dubbed voiceover Eckland's performance in the original surpasses Beahan's. Willow's presence in the new film is actually of a character that does not really exist in the original. She is the amalgamation of Rowan's mother, May Morrison, the original Willow and a new character that reaches into the past of the protagonist. I understand that this is to give the audience of today an emotional hook to invest in, but, like the making of the film at all, I feel this is a great insult to the intelligence of the general public.

This s a film struggling with trying to breath fresh air into a script that is in general still as potent today as it was on the year of its release. A good example of this is the Mayday celebration. Malus, exactly like Howie, embarks on a frantic search around the island for the child. There is the same down to his opening of a wardrobe from which a child falls, presumably dead, yet she gets up laughing and runs off - another stolen and uncomfortable moment, with more to come, alas. Substituting the Punch costume of the first film for a bear outfit, the landlady of the tavern prepares for the celebration when she is knocked out by Malus, who dons the suit as a disguise before entering the Mayday procession. The final scene is the worst for fans of the original. It details the same fate as Woodward's character but in a much less convincing and harrowing way.

The film ends with a ridiculous 'Six months later' scene, the icing on the cake of a poor remake.

This is not helped by the performances, in particular the character of Malus. In order to bring the Howie character up to date he is not a Christian and not a virgin, the two things that attracted him to the people of Summerisle in the first film. Because of this and the fact that Cage cannot get a foothold on this character, it fails.

I'm afraid this is Johnny Depp and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory all over again. For a second time I see an actor I greatly admire slaughter his reputation in a shocking remake. It braeks my heart to see a classy actor and a classic film shat all over in one fell swoop.

Regarding the supporting cast, they all disappear in the shadows of the original, which is saying something as much of the supporting cast in the 1973 film were non-actors. My Nicolas Cage sentiments are echoed with regards to Ellen Burstyn and the Sister Summersisle role. I admit that on paper if there is a female American to contend with the legendary Christopher Lee character, she has the credentials, but the script and direction put pay to any redemption she could have created for the film.

On these less than solid foundations there is little to redeem The Wicker Man 2006. The direction is uninspired and any original dialogue serves to do extremely little in furthering plot or character. The score is nothing to write home about either, unlike the classic folk soundtrack in the original. To be honest this film is so bland I can't even rouse enough emotion to hate it.

For someone who knows the first film as well as I do, the whole thing smacks of someone doing an accurate but ultimately cringe-worthy impersonation of a well loved personality. I don't usually say this but I really recommend avoidance of this film. If you have seen the original it lends nothing to it, and if not I strongly urge you to do so instead of this weak experience of a movie.

As Cage is burning in the wicker man the islanders chant 'kill the drone'. I advise you to do the same.

The Wicker Man

USA/Germany 2006
102 mins
director
Neil LaBute
producers
Nicolas Cage
Randall Emmett
Norman Golightly
Avi Lerner
Joanne Sellar
screenplay
Neil laBute
from the original screenplay by
Anthony Schaffer
cinematography
Paul Sarossy
editor
Joel Plotch
music
Angelo Badalamenti
production design
Phillip Barker
starring
Nicolas Cage
Ellen Burstyn
Kate Beahan
Frances Conroy
Molly Parker
Leelee Sobieski
Diane Delano
Michael Wiseman
Erika-Shaye Gair
review posted
12 October 2006

related review
The Wicker Man (1973) DVD review