Sorcerer (8/10/12)

SorcererMovie One Hundred Eighty Six

In Sorcerer, four men are coerced into transporting volatile sticks of dynamite across rugged terrain for a fair sum of money if they can make it.

In a politically tumultuous Nicaraguan town dependent on a big oil company, four separate criminals/outcasts, Jackie (Roy Scheider), Victor (Bruno Cremer), Nilo (Francisco Rabal), and Kassem (Amidou), are offered a substantial amount of money and citizenship to transport sticks of unstable dynamite. Having no real choice, the men take two separate trucks, named Sorcerer and Lazaro, to make the harrowing journey through the jungle with the dynamite sticks.

A remake of Wages of Fear, Sorcerer is fairly different from the original, in some good ways and other not so good. The tension and thrilling nature of the entire second half of the original heartily outpaces Sorcerer, but Sorcerer comes back with scenes of enormous tension and a fantastic sound design. Instead of having the tension snap taut early on and never relenting, Sorcerer‘s tension rises and falls a bit.

Personally, I had little interest in the setting or characters this time around. The film seems to be in no rush to set things up and even though I knew the gist of what would happen, having just watched Wages of Fear, I was not invested in learning the new differences. I could blame that on watching the remake too soon after the original, however. On a whole, William Friedkin’s Sorcerer feels like a vastly different film, largely due to the electronic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.

Perhaps the most interesting things about Sorcerer are about the movie’s history. Opening right around Star Wars, the film was received well by critics but absolutely ignored by movie-goers in favor of the sci-fi juggernaut. The budget of the film was over $20 million and the film was fraught with setbacks and delays, so it is widely regarded as a failure. Perhaps the nebulous title threw people off too, but the film differs enough from Wages of Fear to merit its own title. Steve McQueen was going to star in the film but dropped out, leading to Scheider’s casting. McQueen’s star power might have saved the film from relative obscurity at the time of Sorcerer’s release, hopefully a studio like Criterion will give the film new life on home video.

Sorcerer is a remake, but it’s a unique film in many ways, despite my weighing disappointment. When compared directly to Wages of Fear (which, unfortunately I was not able to get around the outright comparisons) it is mostly inferior, but it is not an entirely fair comparison. Sorcerer is a good movie that should have been great. I will need to revisit it again once the freshness of Wages of Fear has dulled and I can judge Sorcerer on its own merits.

I give it 4 spectacular bridge scenes out of 5.
(Possible spoiler warning)

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Jaws (5/14/12) and (8/23/12)

JawsMovie One Hundred Eighteen and Movie One Hundred Ninety Six

Out of those of you that have seen Jaws, how many are still ill at ease for swimming in the ocean?

It’s the beginning of July on popular beach town of Amity Island in New England and there is monster lurking in the water. The town is whipped into a frenzy as people become victims of shark attacks and the mayor demands that the beaches stay open. When the shark attacks continue and they realize the problem will only get worse, police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) calls in a shark expert, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), charter a boat and its captain, Quinn (Robert Shaw).

To me, Jaws is the perfect monster movie. It’s believable but terrifying. Some may contest the view and argue that it doesn’t even qualify as a horror movie, but consider the shark itself. It doesn’t care who it kills, it’s not killing for any purpose (you could say that it’s feeding, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case) other than territoriality, it’s nearly invincible, it’s enormous, it’s unrelenting, and most of all, it’s a real animal that we can all know of. Considering Jaws is based loosely on a string of shark attacks that happened in an inland creek in Matawan, New Jersey, I think Jaws hits even harder.

Some of you may notice that in addition to watching movies I also enjoy reading and the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley is one I heartily recommend. There are actually quite a few differences, mostly in the character developments, but the soul of the novel gushes from the screen in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation. Considering the age of the film and the technical difficulties presented in the animatronic shark (dubbed “Bruce” by the crew), Jaws is truly a marvel, even today.

When I was younger, two movies left their impressions on me so deep that I am still very weary of the ocean, even though I love it. The first was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – the giant squid literally scared the crap out of me as a kid. The second was Jaws and to this day it remains one of my favorites.

I give it 5 comparing scars out of 5.

[Update]

I had the pleasure of watching the newly restored version of Jaws on the big screen and it was, in one word, stunning. The restoration done is subtle but brilliant. The colors are bright and vibrant and the sound was thunderous. Jaws has never looked or sounded better and the restored version is available on blu-ray too. Over the years, I have seen Jaws numerous times and seeing it as it was meant to be seen was a truly new experience for me. Knowing what was going to happen and when, had no effect on me. Every scare was fresh and I even jumped several times. The tension of the film was like I had never experienced and it made this rewatch of Jaws something I will never forget.

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