Thursday, June 14, 2012

Footloose (1984) vs. Footloose (2011)


Ok, here's the thing. I admit to having a strong emotional attachment to the original movie "Footloose." Even though I wasn't allowed to watch it as a kid, I managed to catch parts of it, and it helped shape my love of dancing and movies featuring dancing as a major plotline, so it's near and dear to my heart. I'd managed to see parts of it over the years but never got around to watching the whole thing all the way through, so I was excited to get a chance to sit down and watch it today from beginning to end.

I'll admit, the movie is a bit dated, with the hairstyles and clothing sometimes getting a bit on the ridiculous side, and it's funny seeing the cast so young (hello John had a lot more hair once upon a time!) but the core of the movie, teenagers who want to dance and live their lives and have fun versus adults who want to keep their kids safe by sheltering them from the world, holding too tightly until the kids rebel and push back. The movie also has a lot to say about grief, how each of us handles grief differently, how it can manifest in our daily lives, how ignoring our grief and trying to hide it and calling that "moving on" doesn't really work, how families can fall apart if they won't communicate with each other. It's surprisingly deep for a movie about kids who just want to dance and have fun, and I admit that it had me in tears at more than one point, finally getting to see how those parts I'd seen over the years fit together into a complete story of different people trying to do their best to do what they think is right.

So then after watching the first movie, I immediately started the second one, and even as I did so, I knew it was kind of unfair. I would be comparing the two right from the very start, pointing out all the ways in which the remake falls short of interpreting the story I knew and loved. I admit to coming into the remake with a huge chip on my shoulder and expecting to hate it. I was irritated, rolling my eyes and making fun of the movie right from the start, until somewhere about halfway through when I got distracted enough to sit and actually pay attention to the movie, and that's when I realized I wasn't really being fair to the movie. It was going to have its flaws (and it DOES have them) and it was going to screw some things up, but it seemed to actually be trying to do a good job telling a story, so I decided to give it a chance, and I'm glad I did. While I still think the original is the better of the two films, I'm shocked as shit to say that I actually enjoyed the remake, too, and to find that there are some aspects of the remake that I like even better than those in the original (never thought I'd ever type THOSE words, believe me).

I think that the original movie handles the backstory better than the remake. In the original, a teenage boy moves into a small town where there is a city ordinance against dancing in public, and the town seems to be under the control of the local reverend, and we're not really sure why the whole town is so opposed to dancing in the first place. As the movie progresses, we learn the reasons behind the reverend's hatred of dancing, and his actions start to make a bit more sense in context (or at least become more sympathetic). In the remake, the filmmakers thought we were too stupid to pick up on the subtlety of the message, so they show us the backstory right away, and while it's shocking and impacting, it's weaker from a narrative standpoint because it shows us the motives before we get to see the resulting actions. I have to say, though, that in the remake, the characters are a bit more likable. The teenage rebel from out of town is given a stronger reason for his rebellious attitude, and the family he stays with in town actually seem to like him and want him to succeed (in the original movie they snipe at him and put him down at every turn, and we wonder why the hell they took him in if that was their plan all along...doing the "right thing" doesn't seem so right if you piss and moan and only do it because you think God will be pissed if you don't). The reverend's daughter is initially more unlikable in the remake, but she is given a strong motive for being so, and she has a clearer transformation for me in the remake than in the original. I still love the original and Lori Singer did a great job, but Julianne Hough kicked major ass in this role, especially considering that she wasn't a seasoned actress and I initially doubted that she'd be able to do the part justice. I was glad to be proven wrong.

The remake makes the lasting affects of the tragedy more significant by giving us a better picture of how the events of the past have damaged the townspeople and the reverend's family in particular. Aside from the clumsiness of having the backstory shoved in our faces right from the start, the scenes showing how a shadow of grief hangs over the high school were well played in the remake, while the original handled several key scenes (the tractor "let's play chicken" scene in particular) that the remake kind of mucks up. Something we didn't notice in the first movie was also made more evident when the remake had been on for about ten minutes and my friend turned to me and said "...did you notice there were no black people in the original?" It's sad that my privilege was such that I didn't even notice this when I saw the original, but it's kind of embarrassing to note, and it's heartening to say that the remake has a much more diverse cast (and I don't mean there's one token black guy, or the "sassy black girl" trope or whatever, several key roles are played by people of color who just happen to be regular characters in the movie just doing their thing and helping tell the story, and the movie is better for it). The remake is also more diverse in its soundtrack. The original had a bit too much synthesizer going on, and the remake has rock, metal, country, hip-hop, blues, and other musical genres mixed throughout its soundtrack, making the movie stronger musically as well, because there's something for everyone to listen to here, which I really appreciated.

The speech at the climax of the film is handled well in both movies, but here I think the point goes to the original, because the remake is a bit clumsy and awkward, while Kevin Bacon just owns his monologue in the original film. That said, the dance at the very end is better in the remake than in the original, I think, though the final fight scene is somewhat better in the original (I have to give credit to the remake, though, for making the women more than arm candy damsels in distress...they get to kick some ass, too). Overall, I'd say that while I give props to the original and like I said, I consider it to be the better of the two films, the remake ends up being well worth checking out, and I will be proud to buy both and display them on my shelves, and every time I see them, I'll remember that nothing can replace the classics, but that there's also power in retelling a familiar story in some new and exciting ways.

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