Wicker or rattan?

The original Wicker Man told the story of a police detective who travels to a remote Scottish island (Summerisle) to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The detective (Edward Woodward), a deeply committed Christian, is shocked to discover that the isle’s inhabitants are pagans who worship a variety of natural forces (some of which are explicitly sexual) to increase the potency of their crops and lives; he is unable to reconcile the rigid strictures of his own beliefs with the exotic freedom of the locals, led by Lord Summerisle, a never better Christopher Lee. Emphatically convinced of his own righteousness, he attempts to bludgeon his way clear to finding the lost girl, and the more he discovers, the more sinister the society seems. But is this just wishful thinking on his part? Or could things be far darker than even he is willing to accept…

Anyway, I bring this all up because they’re remaking it. Or rather, they’ve remade it, directed by Neil LaBute and starring Nicolas Cage. Here’s the first trailer.

I like Nic Cage- he’s made some crummy choices, but when he works with good directors, he’s a talented, quirky leading man. (And c’mon, how can you hate the guy who starred in Raising Arizona?) I’m less a fan of LaBute’s; I enjoyed Nurse Betty, flaws and all, but In the Company of Men made me want to gouge my eyes out. Still, while I’m as skeptical of remakes as the next guy, LaBute at least seems like an intelligent enough director to put his own distinctive stamp on the original.

The trailer was- well, it was a trailer, as we’ve often discussed, you can’t get that much from 2 minutes of clips. Clearly, there are some changes. In the original, the policeman outsider is a mildly unlikeable, close-minded ass. The character is well enough drawn (and acted) that you don’t despise him, but he’s certainly not a traditional hero. Cage, in the remake, appears more conventional, the lead with the troubled past in need of redemption. Also different is the attitude towards the pagans. One of the more fascinating aspects of the seventies version is that it maintains a largely positive attitude towards paganism, only to veer sharply at the climax; this new version, in addition to having a more matriarchal leadership (Ellen Burnstyn plays “Sister Summerisle”), is making the pagans out to be more overtly sinister. There are six or seven distinctly creepy shots in that trailer, maybe more, so either LaBute has chosen to go a less ambiguous route, or whoever makes the trailers believes the only way to sell the movie is as a horror picture.

Who knows, really. I liked the first movie, and I willing to think that there’s a lot more going on in the remake than initially appears. My only problem in seeing it will be having to watch the whole thing wondering if they kept original ending. The climax of the seventies version is one of the big reasons it’s so well known, so it would be odd if they junked it in the remake; but it’s such a dark ending, I’m not sure I want to sit through a two hour film just to reach the same conclusions. We’ll see, I guess.

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