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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123

By D.E.Levine

Director: Tony Scott
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch
Associate Producers: Don Ferrarone, John Wildermuth and Richard Baratta
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Original Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Music Editors: Stephanie Lowry and Richard Whitfield
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Brian Haley, Ramon Rodriguez, Alex Kaluzhsky, Paul Thorton, Jason Butler Harner, Luis Guzman, John Turturro, Michael Rispoli, John Benjamin Hickey, Katherine Sigismund, Gary Basaraba, Tonye Patano, Aunjanue Ellis
Country of Origin: U.S.A
Language: English
Genre: Action/Adventure, Thriller, Crime/Gangster, Remake
Running Time: 95 Minutes

This is a remake of the 1974 original. Does the story hold up after 35 years? Is it as exciting with the new cast?

Walter Garber is a New York City subway dispatcher. Recently demoted to that post because of an alleged bribe taking scandal, his day starts out as ordinary in the massive electronically computerized central subway Command Center.

When a subway train is hijacked and nineteen crew and passengers are held for a ransom of $10 million, Walter tries to negotiate with the hijackers to save the hostages. With time running out, the tension mounts as Walter draws upon his extensive knowledge of the subway system in an effort to outsmart the criminal mastermind behind the hijacking.

The master thief, Ryder, is played by John Travolta, assisted by a crew of hijackers including a former NYC subway motorman who knows the system and assists in seamlessly carrying out the hijacking.

Ryder starts off as an evil gunman threatening to execute everyone on board if authorities fail to deliver the ransom on time, but somewhere in the middle, without meaning to, Travolta loses his character and becomes another person. That change in character has a negative effect on the movie and the tension is somewhat dissipated.

It's almost as though the movie were cut in half. The first half is believable and intense, even for those people who have seen the original and know the outcome. However, the film loses steam when Ryder's character changes.

The premise is clever and the initial 1974 version was hugely successful. The film was actually made down in the bowels of the New York City subway. Viewers see the dark tunnels, the real rats, and the outposts set up and flying to pieces as trains barrel through the stations.

The difference between this and the original, other than the extensive cast, is that in 35 years technology has changed radically. The result is that David Koepp, who first adapted the novel for this version of the film had to update it and Incorporated laptops, cellphones, GPS and thermo-imaging.

Also important was the consideration of a terrorist situation in post-9/11 New York. Finally, although the NYC subway Command Center looks spectacularly large in the film, the mock up is only a fraction of what the original actually is in size. The final screenplay, after all of the updating of technology, was written by Brian Helgeland.

Actual filming took place on the lower level of the Manhattan Bridge, Tudor City, Times Square and Turtle Bay. There's also a scene where the hostage negotiator and Garber are in a helicopter flying over the city that is visually spectacular.

There's no doubt that the film is exciting and visually stimulating. Interviewee Washington tells the story of how he "had to take the subway as a youngster and vowed once he had some money never to take it again." He finds it ironic therefore that he was cast in a part that kept him underground in the subway tunnels for months and didn't care for the environment at all.

It's interesting to note that Tony Scott undertook a really difficult film as a revival. In addition to updating the technological aspects, the mere local presented numerous problems. The resulting film involved a huge cast and crew and is obviously a large money product.

With the ensemble cast and the visual effects, despite the lack of mystery and tension in places, the film is bound to do well with the audiences, especially since this is only the beginning of summer and we haven't had many films in this genre available.