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August 16, 2004

SIBL featured in 'Manchurian Candidate'

Saw the update of The Manchurian Candidate over the weekend. The most notable aspect for me was the use of NYPL's Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL) as a location. Quite appropriate for the film's aesthetic, as that library is quite sleek and high-tech. At one point Denzel Washington, who plays Major Ben Marco, needs a place to hide out and do research. He gets a visitor's pass made (his photo taken and everything) - in order to borrow a micro-tape recorder to listen to some tapes he's found. He also looks up news items using microfilm and Google. We don't see him consulting a librarian for assistance (beyond getting his visitor's pass, which probably wasn't done by a librarian anyway). He does get criticized later for producing material that's supposed to prove the existence of sinister big business/government conspiracy - because he got it from the Internet. So that's at least a nod in the right direction of rigorous evaluation of one's sources, especially online material.

[Note - potential spoilers follow.]

If I'm devoting my response to the film to the brief scenes set in the library, it's because the film itself is otherwise quite disappointing. I'm not categorically against remakes; changes had to be made in order to make it work in the present day. But there's nothing new about ties between big business and politicians; what's terrifying are the power players who are behind the scenes, who aren't the elected officials, who aren't accountable to constituents. This was at the heart of Angela Lansbury's character in the original. Meryl Streep's version of the character, as a senator in her own right, who's already in the pocket of Manchurian Global (now "Manchuria" is the multinational company, the stand-in for Halliburton, as opposed to the threat of Communist control by China), seems more fantastically monstrous, which just doesn't work. Also, the change of the mental trigger, applicable now to both Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), is both silly and visually less compelling. We go from the visual impact of the game of solitaire as the trigger device, the connection between the image of the Queen of Diamonds and terrifying mother-figure Angela Lansbury, to a particular recitation of the brainwashed victim's name - the mental change for the Shaw or Marco is shown by the world sudden seemingly overbright to them. The use of the card game as the device had to change, had to be updated, but the new solution seems obvious and clumsy for what's supposed to be the latest developments in brainwashing. These aren't the only problems, just some of the big ones. It's a shame - I really wanted to like this.

Yours, &c., LC | 09:41 AM | Film/TV , Librariana | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

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Yes I too saw the Manchurian Canidate this weekend and felt that it had the potential to be quite good, but was not able to actualize that potential (I also thought the same thing about "The Village" the other movie I saw this weekend).

I personally felt very diffent about Streep. I thought she was perhaps the best part of the movie. She did a supurb bit of acting and made the role believable to me. In action movies you so rarely get good acting. I felt it would have been better without the incest bit, but as far as her being domineering, controlling, wanting her son as a surogate to attain what she couldn't, and telling herself that she just wanted the best for her son ... well I can completely understand these motivations and have met people like this, if not quite to that extent.

I agree that the tie between big business and politicians in these movies is getting old. I agree with you that something better could be done as far as the mental trigger. I did not see the original, but what you described about the card game sounds quite interesting.

Posted by: Stephen at August 16, 2004 11:41 AM

[More spoilers ahead for anyone who needs the warning.]

Oh, you've got to see the original! I myself have only seen it recently, but it's amazing - it really stands the test of time. It's the kind of film I would see again; I'm not sure the same can be said for the new one.

It's not that I don't think Streep was very good; my feeling is that the character becomes too over the top. She becomes too monstrous to be believable, which I think throws off the balance the movie is trying to achieve in getting you to believe that something like this could actually happen. Because the character goes overboard, the film is less effective, because you think "oh, this is just a movie." Because it's less grounded in plausible reality, the story is less chilling, because you don't have to take it as seriously, IMO.

As for the "incest bit," that scene makes much more sense in the original. Part of that has to do with a significant change in the plot. The kiss is supposed to be disturbing, unnerving - but it's also supposed to signify, to punctuate the promise Eleanor makes to her son, to avenge what's been done to him. But that meaning is lost in the new version, so the scene comes off more creepy and gratuitous.

Again, you've got to see the original. Angela Lansbury is just absolutely stunning.

I saw The Village too over the weekend. Still not a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan (sp?) but I liked it. I think this one held together better than, say, Unbreakable, which I thought was pointless and silly.

Posted by: Lady Crumpet at August 16, 2004 12:25 PM