A Comparison of 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
The 2007 Remake
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Year: 2007 Director: James Mangold Cast: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk, Vinessa Shaw Length: 117 min. Color/Surround
The question on everyone's mind when they watch a movie remake would be, "Is this as good as--?" No, wait. They wouldn't ask the question I was thinking of unless they had already seen the original film. Still, no doubt they wonder which is a better
film. But what if the films are so alike that comparisons are inevitable? What if they are in effect different genres?
As I wrote in the 1957 3:10 to Yuma
review, I read the short story, then watched the first film, then moved on to this one. So I saw them in the order in which they were created. That made it extremely easy to see the accessorization from story to story, as baubles were added to put the desired marks of the new creators on the latest version. Taking in these three items in the order of creation also made it very easy to notice stylistic differences. It made it easy to tell when entire scenes of dialogue were lifted from the 1957 script and used without significant changes in 2007.
There is More to the Remake Than I Thought at First!
The 2007 film affected me quite differently on the first viewing, when it was all new to me, and on the second viewing when I was watching very closely in order to get frame grabs for graphics. I saw it the first time, and noticed that the young character William is in the film, but I was still trying to reconcile it to my memories of Film One. So, I missed a lot. One thing I didn't comprehend until second viewing: the second film is about William. The 1957 film is about his father.
There is far too much gunplay in this movie. It just gets...well, silly. I think intentionally so, though. I think the producers intended for it to be silly in that regard, yet they keep it from becoming comic. That's pretty nifty, right there.
I am about to type something I thought I never would about this film: it is the equal of or perhaps superior to its predecessor, which is in itself an outstanding motion picture. Keep in mind that I didn't realize that until I had seen each of them three times. This is not the impression I had on first viewing. But the Mangold 3:10 to Yuma
is a very heavily-layered film, exactly like an onion, with more to see the more layers you peel back, revealing smaller and smaller things, all of which add to the overall size and shape of the whole.
With each viewing my regard for the points that I like have become stronger
Carlo Beltrami's music. Wow. It's just superb. It never intrudes. It is as natural a part of the story as the sound effects track with chuffing trains, lowing cattle, and clacking spurs. (Please note that you will actually hear all of these sounds in the film!)
The way the film becomes a modern Spaghetti Western without the marinara. It's a bit gratifying, to those of us for whom it isn't grating, that what was intended to be hyper-violent parodies of Hollywood Westerns became a sub-genre of their own over the years. I'm not too surprised, though, to see such a strong influence from that cinematic region, on this film. More kids have probably seen Sergio Leone Westerns than have seen John Wayne at this point.
(wagon wheel during exchange)
The re-writers didn't bother to totally rewrite scenes that played quite well in the 1957 version. In fact, for those scenes, the only placement of a stamp by the 2007 cast and crew is in where and how these scenes are played. That shows intentional reserve, I think.
The expanded role of William Evans in this film. He plays the archetype of "The Boy Who Has Seen Too Much." At first I didn't like it. I admired the cleverness in the written part of a foul-mouthed fourteen year old boy, but as a person, a character, I didn't think he needed to be there. He reminded me of Birn in the 2002 Planet of the Apes
, generally useless, but an obvious hook for other boys of that age to get them into the film via identification (I fancy that the ego of most teenage boys would have them comparing themselves quite favorably with the handsome, charismatic young actor who plays William, by the way). This worried me because William lives in a different time, and does things that modern boys have no business doing. But after a second pass, I realize that this is William's
film. He has become the main focus in the 2007 remake. Nothing actually revolves around him, but this incident changes him into a different kind of man than he would have been otherwise. He becomes a man, but not because he is like Ben Wade...he becomes a man because he is like his father. He attempts to act, and at least once has a profound effect by his actions. The things that happen swirl around him, and through him over two short days. And, by the end, these things teach him that many abstract ideas that he held to be "true" a couple days before, clearly were and are not true. Remember the match-lit Western dime novels he has on his nightstand in the beginning scene of the film? Well, by the end of the film the boy is no longer measuring his father against those trumped up fictions, but he is measuring himself against his father's character.
The film compares well to the 1957 movie, as long as you recognize that the audience for the Delmer Daves production was very different from the audience for the Mangold remake. As a "classic" Western film, the 2007 3:10 to Yuma
doesn't run on time. But as an updated Spaghetti Western it manages to be admirable. What I don't know is whether films should be compared for what they are "expected" to have in common, rather than compared on their own, individual merits and flaws. Different ones of us probably have different opinions about that. My bold assertion above is based on using the second criterion.
The film is a repository of quotable lines. Of course, the best ones of them often are carried over from the 1957 script. But that's why they were re-used. They are clever. And the 2007 script adds a heap of its own. Expect a long Quotations post.
With each viewing my objections to some of the points that I don't like have become weaker.
Just thought I should point that out.
The ramping up of the "action" aspect in this version of the film, at least not to the beyond-Leone level that the remakers selected. It doesn't actually help any, story-wise or character-wise. They are telling the same story that Welles devised in 1957. But the writers add additional characters to be killed. That's about the only purpose they serve. And an extra day is added for the trip from Bisbee to Contention in order to allow all this killing off to take place. It doesn't keep the film from shining if you look past all that. But I really doubt the film would be harmed if 2/3 the gunfire and bloody-squibs were removed.
The general absence of women in the 2007 film. This changes its texture greatly from that of the 1957 film. Oh, yes, there is the barmaid, and there is Alice Evans. But they are props. The Alice in 1957 took some action to attempt to alter events that were unfolding. The 2007 Alice merely, well, does hardly anything besides stay home and tend to Mark. Shouldn't we expect the opposite based on what we're supposed to know about filmmaking and public attitudes in those two eras? Is this done because the film is more or less from William's perspective? I can't figure it out.
The cynical attitude that prevails when Charlie Prince offers $200 to anyone who kills one of the posse party on the way to the train. Okay, that existential idea is all right, but it strays into unnecessary body-count territory, because when Evans and Wade are on the way to the train station a score of greedy goons from Contention are gunning for Evans, "necessitating" their wounding or killing by Dan. Charlie Prince shoots three citizens because he thinks they are shooting at Wade instead of Evans, who is right beside him. My fear is that a lot of kids in the audience laughed at this as if it were a joke. (Was it meant as a joke?) What would seem more realistic to me is that Charlie Prince, after shooting the first townsman, would be cut down in a barrage of gunfire from irate fellow citizens. Now, that
I could have laughed at! What we forget is that in those days you couldn't be rushed to the emergency room and be pumped full of antibiotics and sutured back together. Calling for a doctor was probably a pointless ceremonial thing. If a bullet did the wrong kind of damage it was deadie bye-bye for you. And many bullets did just that kind of damage. Death by bullet in them thar days was not glamorous, nor is it today. In the West it was probably a lingering death in some cases from bacterial infections even after the bullet was removed. Maybe I'm just being crochety.
The additional needless conditions heaped upon poor Dan Evans in this remake. There are too many of them. Perhaps the writers take their cues from Greek tragedy. In the short story the only condition is that the deputy is doing his job. It is a dangerous job at the moment, but he is up to it. In 1957 the movie shows a Dan Evans besieged by draught, debt, and a neighbor who is selfish. By 2007 the writing team has hit him with 1) the loss of a foot in the Civil War, 2) a drought, 3) a mortgage held by a greedy man who could make more money if he sold the property to the railroad that wants to come through Bisbee, 4) the mortgage-holder's amoral choice to burn the Evans barn and threaten to burn their house in order to get Evans and family off the ranch. That's terribly unsubtle writing, if you ask me. Did I forget anything in my list? Shouldn't the scriptwriters at least have changed his name to Job Evans?
The line, "Ben Wade gunned down my kid brother. In front of me. Six years ago in Abilene." Come on. Gah.The moment when this is said seems like an inappropriate time to try interjecting humor by lampshading a cliché. Of all the things that were imported well from the 1957 film, this one...wasn't. Could be your favorite line, though.
DIDN'T LIKE but NOW FEEL OKAY WITH
The reduction of the film to mere myth, forcing stereotypical archetypes to exist within its framework, rather than real characters. But having said that, the writers do a good job of maintaining tension and emotional connection even with these flat characters. And that emotional connection grows from viewing to viewing.
In this film, some aspects of the movie leave me ambivalent:
The film is too complicated, too full of action and people to be easily understood.
The film reveals itself to be better-made than you think at first, if you get a chance to see it a second or third time.
The film, in the end, as with all Spaghetti Westerns of note, becomes a deconstruction of the Western genre. It is an attempt to demonstrate the fallacies of that imagined time in American History as promulgated by Hollywood. William's Western novel collection kept bedside at the very start of the film is the bigest clue. While living in the West the boy is sucked into the romantic claptrap about the place where he lives, and "The Code of the West." Is that a parallel to urban youngsters today?
The attempt to make an anti-violence film by depicting violence, because it doesn't really work. Not in anti-war movies. Not here. Those who are opposed to violence are still prone to say, "Violence is sucky," while those who like ultra-violence (at least on screen) will still rise to their feet, hooting and shouting, "F*ck yeah!" No one's attitude is changed by such artistic tactics...merely intensified. But those who sell squibs and blanks are probably very happy.
The blatant nature of the badness of certain characters. Charlie Prince and Ben Wade are the most prominent members of the gang, and they are given lines and business to make it clear that they are creeps. The general actions taken by Prince and Wade in '57 are enough to signal their untrustworthy nature and mean-spiritedness. But in this 21st century era, when even "good-guys" are written as Dirty-Harry bad-asses, something else has to be added. The trouble is, once you go into badassness in a dramatic sense, you've got the character summed up. Even if he's Dan Evans, rancher-cum-deputy. I guess the only way to show that the robbers are "worse people" is to have them say and do things that are meant to be shocking. Prince is not allowed to be anything but a pathological-bad-badass, but Wade can sometimes act in ways that require him to say something mean-spirited in order to remind viewers that his seeming level-headedness and artistic bent only obscure that he is a piece of shit with legs. Why go to the trouble?
The almost literary way in which character traits are mixed up between the protagonists and antagonists in this script. Yet that creates a problem with clarity that the predecessor film doesn't suffer from. Thus, the Don't Like entry just above. Still, the exaggerated characters remind me of Trinity is my Name
and the parasol. The incongruities create interest, but incongruities also make parsing the story a bit more difficult. I don't mind the difficulty, but kids might have a struggle figuring out who's good and who's not good. Great for most High School literature class students, maybe not so great for some seventh graders. Well, the writers possibly didn't care about those distinctions.
That the revised ending doesn't wash. It's a great literary come-about, a marvelous deconstruction of the genre; but this is not presented as a thinking person's film. It is not structured on the surface as a thinking person's film. So to many viewers I'll bet this simply doesn't come off as plausible at all.
The ill-fitting semi-reformation of Ben Wade, who, on his own, climbs aboard the prison train. Twice. Wow, what a reversal of expectations. Not entirely successful, as I pointed out above. But it's so ballsy of the writers. But there are clues dropped throughout the film, not always with dialogue from Wade. And after the third trip through it, I think I've found all the clues:
The attempt to interject social commentary into the film is mostly
subtle. It is almost all visual. There is one nice trio of shots that shows William's silent identification with a nameless young Chinese boy who is pushing a wheelbarrow at a train tunnel construction site.
The attempt to interject social commentary into the film, overall. When it fails to be subtle it is way too obvious. For example, all the verbal interjection of this commentary is way over the top, lest you should miss it. Although, one comment made to denigrate the "laziness" of the Chinese immigrant workers at the same time compliments the ability of African people to work. Wut? And, non-verbally, in a totally stupid disregard for the humanity of the Chinese workers inside, people fire bullets into a tent where Ben Wade is attempting to get a Chinese woman to help him remove his handcuffs, as they attempt to injure or kill Ben Wade. Did people really think like that in those days, or do we simply hold ourselves in delusional higher esteem than we hold them?
On balance I think this film is very recommendable, and makes a dandy double feature with the original film. The script gives a viewer who likes to ponder construction and stagecraft plenty of fodder for that kind of contemplation. Plus, it has those literary layers that I talked about, that at least this viewer didn't notice until multiple viewings. But it can probably also function as a pure blood-and guns-fest for those who simply like to watch things and human beings blow up. Except for the ending, which would betray my second artificially-created group of viewers.
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