October 17, 2011

Teen Angst, Revisited

There are very few movies that I will ever see twice. This is not because I’m so terribly disappointed in my cinematic selections; rather, for me, a good movie is like a good book: Upon a second reading, or a third, I see new things in them and learn new lessons. Yet most movies, it seems, don’t possess such layers of meaning; they just tell a story and they’re done. Which doesn't make them bad, but nor does it make them exceptional

But I will never pass up an opportunity for yet another viewing of A Few Good Men. The Lion King. Or It’s a Wonderful Life. Sneakers. Or even Wayne’s World (it’s deeper than you think).

But remakes? They don’t often seem to offer anything new. Did we really need a third King Kong? Or two new versions of The Hulk, just a few years back? This reviewer votes no.

This past weekend, I took a chance on a remake of one of my favorite films of all time: Footlose. I can’t recall how many times I’ve seen the original version with Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer. Surely it had its share of violence and foul language, not quite wholesome family fare. But it’s rich with spiritual lessons, and astute observations of human nature and adolescent growing pains.

For the uninitiated: Big-city kid Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) moves to a small town where dancing and rock music have been banned. He takes up with the preacher’s daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) and conspires to put on a senior prom for the town high school. I won’t spoil the rest for you.

Like Ren, I grew up a misfit in a world of religious hypocrisy, often misunderstood, begging to be heard. At times I did stupid things for the sake of noble causes. And for a time I dated a preacher’s daughter who grew up in a fishbowl in a small town. Like Ariel in the fictional burg of Bomont, she yearned to break free of her father’s oppressive rules and impossible expectations.

I was fully prepared to be profoundly disappointed in this remake, as usual. For me Bomont is sacred ground, so I felt apprehensive from the moment the house lights went down. Don’t miss with it. But much to my surprise, I actually observed a handful of improvements.  This time around, the film opens by showing us the backstory of why the city fathers freaked out and forbade everything their kids called fun. A few scenes were added, or changed, to better explain the story.

Conspicuously absent, though, are two scenes that serve to explain Rev. Shaw Moore’s eventual change of heart: In a conversation with church elder Roger Dunbar, Moore shows that he wasn’t the most puritanical guy in town in the first place. And in the book-burning scene, he calls a halt to the madness and orders the remaining offending volumes returned to the library; Ariel sees that her dad is actually more open-minded than she ever imagined. Without these crucial five minutes, Moore’s turnaround seems strangely and unnaturally abrupt.

Kevin Bacon’s Walkman became an iPod, and they choose new music from current artists. Dennis Quaid has his own quiet preaching style, a far cry from John Lithgow’s fire-and-brimstone theatrics. Some of these changes were inevitable, I suppose.  

As before, the story turns on a handful of false arguments. Ren makes his case before the Town Council by quoting from the Bible, but none of it is truly relevant to the matter at hand. The local ordinance technically forbids only unsupervised dancing by minors,  but no one suggests that a crisis could be averted by simply inviting a few adult chaperones.

Still, it's a wonderful story with a good moral. Altogether, my wife and I enjoyed this new take on an old classic.

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