THE WICKER MAN
** (out of 5)
September 1, 2006
Nicolas Cage as EDWARD MALUS
Ellen Burstyn as SISTER SUMMERSISLE
Kate Beahan as SISTER WILLOW
Frances Conroy as DR. MOSS
Molly Parker as SISTER ROSE/SISTER THORN
Leelee Sobieski as SISTER HONEY
Diane Delano as SISTER BEECH
Directed by: Neil LaBute
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Over the years, I have found it to be a good practice that when Hollywood remakes a classic film, it’s not a very good idea to see the original first. Inevitably, you’ll end up disappointed.
“The Wicker Man” isn’t a perfect movie by far, but I feel that if I hadn’t recently seen the original, I wouldn’t be as hard on it. Unfortunately, I did see the original recently, and I spent much of the film internally criticizing things that were changed – often not for the better.
This film is given a big-budget treatment with Nicolas Cage as a police officer tracking down a missing girl on the creepy and mysterious island isolated from the mainland.
There are some noticeable differences between this version and the classic 1973 film. The biggest difference is that this film takes place in the U.S. rather than Scotland. The mysterious island is in Puget Sound, although it has the same factors such as being privately owned and populated with a town of pagans.
Not to harp too much on the remake differences (although I feel that’s mostly what I’m doing), but Neil LaBute, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed the film, made some changes that actually made the story suffer. The biggest difference I saw was that Cage’s character of Edward Malus was just a traffic cop from California who mounted his own investigation. In the original film, the character was officially sent down there by the Scottish government. In short, he actually had authority whereas in this version, Cage’s threats carry no weight. He’s basically on his own there.
The other biggest difference was for LaBute to add a distinct feminist angle to the film. He makes the pagan society entirely matriarchal to the point of having the men as just sperm donors and work horses. I’m not sure why this choice was made, considering the original’s bad guy was played by Christopher Lee, and it followed a more traditional pagan structure.
However, LaBute has been known to have heavy feminist tones and anti-male messages in his films. In fact, his breakthrough movie, “In the Company of Men,” basically carries the message that men are pigs and women love it.
Part of what made the original so powerful was that it was extremely believable. The weird little town of Summerisle was very realistic. With the exception of having a couple characters break out into impromptu songs during the beginning of the movie, the town was rather mundane and normal. In this new version, it’s given an obvious Hollywood touch. There’s a lot of fancy editing, and the production design makes the island seem larger than life.
The character in the town are deliberately weird to the point of being unbelievable. In fact, there were several characters that just seemed to sit around most of the day acting strange. However, when it came time to actually show the pagan rituals, LaBute and company skimped on the show. Where there were naked fertility rituals throughout the original film, there was scant shows of this in the current film. No chop-chop, no strange dancing, no pagan orgies. LaBute delivered the coveted PG-13 rating for this film, and it suffered because of this.
When all is said and done with “The Wicker Man,” things were too orchestrated. Things were too planned out. Instead of being about a society that reacts to a situation, it turns them into pre-ordained hunters and enters the realm of silliness.
At times the film works, but too often it falters. With over-used flashback and dream sequences, the movie buckles under it’s own weight. There are also moments that are so unintentionally funny I wish they’d bring back “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to give this movie a good ribbing.