I’m not going to lie to you. Not much is going on in Central Indiana this weekend that I haven’t already told you about. And you don’t need me to pretend to know anything about or care about “American Idol: Live!”
Trust me, though, the fall season is about to start and I’ll have plenty to write about.
In the meantime, on the movie front, I took a look at “Papillon,” the remake of the Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman film from 1973.
The original was important to me for two reasons.
1. It was the first grown-up film I remember seeing on my own in a movie theater. I was nine or ten at the time and was knocked out. Are movies really this big and this brutal? for the first time, too, I was aware of a movie music beyond songs in musicals and I can still hear Jerry Goldsmith’s theme in my head decades later.
2. “Papillon” was parodied in the first issue of Mad magazine that I owned (along with “The Exorcist,” which I didn’t dare try to go see). So not only was the movie super-serious, it was also something that could be parodied–a valuable lesson for later in life.
“Papillon,” then and now, tells the true story of Henri Charriere, a safecracker framed for murder and sent to French Guiana to serve his sentence. En route he meets Louis Dega, a forger, and offers to protect him in exchange for funds that will help escape efforts.
Both films pitch the tale as a triumph of the human spirit against seemingly impossible odds, with the first emphasizing the individual and the later trying to make a bigger statement about the thousands of other prisoners who endured–or didn’t–under these brutal conditions.
Now, before you complain about Hollywood not having original ideas, let’s take a trip back in time. There were only 16 years between the first and second “A Star is Born.” Spencer Tracy made “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” just ten years after Fredric March won an Oscar for the part. “Gaslight” was made in 1940 and 1944.
It’s been 45 years since the original “Papillon.”
I’m okay with that. Particularly when the film is done with this amount of care. And I’m glad I was unaware of the work of stars Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek. Even at ten, I knew that McQueen and Hoffman were superstars and that “Papillon” was a prestige picture. It was refreshing this time around to see the still-familiar story played out by actors who, for me, didn’t carry any history into the film with them. It felt in some ways like a foreign-language film in English with both actors carrying forward aspects of the originals without imitation. I can’t think of more familiar actors I’d rather see in the roles.
The remake is a bit shy on the epic quality of the first. I could have used a bit more of original director Franklin J. Schaffner’s willingness to let scenes linger. But new helmer Michael Noer brings a believable sloppiness to this world. A shower fight, a solitary confinement stretch, and treks through muddy jungles feel authentic and the sense of danger is captured in the eyes of just about every extra.
Best of all, the herculean efforts of Charriere never seem superhuman. Ultimately, that’s what makes “Papillon” a moving piece of moviemaking. True in the original. True here.