“On The Beach” (2000)

“One the Beach” is a made-for-television remake of the 1959 version I reviewed some time ago.  Surprisingly, for having been made for T.V., it actually surpasses the original in many ways, something rare among modern remakes of classic films.

The story and characters remain pretty much the same from the original, so I won’t bother explaining it again, except to say that the time period in which the story takes place was modernized, so much of the details of the story have been updated to match – this includes one or two unnecessary “wow, look at that!” sequences that have nothing whatsoever to do with the story – i.e. Towers being a trained helicopter pilot and taking Moira on a joy-flight.

In another attempt at modernization, the “coke bottle and window shade” plot device was updated to a solar-powered laptop spinning up and auto-playing a CD that was apparently pre-programmed to broadcast a recorded video…. hmm.  Aside from the fact that a tiny solar power cell (it’s literally calculator sized) can’t power a laptop like that in real time, who would’ve prepared a program like that in the last moments of a nuclear apocalypse?  Under what circumstances would it come in handy to have your laptop auto-broadcast a video feed upon booting up with absolutely no human oversight or interaction?  Not only that, but the solar cell was completely unnecessary.  I realize they needed it to explain the timing of the broadcast, but since the laptop couldn’t inherently broadcast the information over the distances required for it to be picked up by the protagonists, the laptop had to be feeding the data to something else.  Therefore, if that “something else” were getting power from something (such as from a hydroelectric plant, as in the original) why couldn’t the laptop ALSO have been powered by that source?

The greatest success of this film, in my opinion, was the choice of actors to reprise the roles.  With only two exceptions, every new actor does a BETTER job than their 50s counterparts.  Rachel Ward gives Moira a charm and a strength that Ava Gardner didn’t possess.  Grant Bowler, as Peter, becomes the most charismatic and identifiable character int he film, completely devoid of Anthony Perkins’ creepy naivete.  Jacqueline McKenzie as Peter’s wife Mary actually has three dimensions, and is given her own motivations and coping strategies, and she explains what’s going on in her head such that we better understand, and identify with, her unwillingness to accept her fate.

While they did give Towers’ more depth and substance, and do an infinitely better job explaining his delusions about his family and his relationship with Moira, the credit goes to the writing… not the acting.  While Gregory Peck played Towers with dignified subtlety, Armand Assante plays him like a pro-wrestler.  He spends pretty much the entire movie speaking unnaturally and holding his mouth in very odd, uncomfortable positions.  He slips into a forced southern accent when he’s angry and comes off more like a football coach than a high ranking Naval officer.

The other exception is Dr. Julian Osborne. In the original, Fred Astaire played Dr. Osborne as a very intelligent, very sad and lonely man who’d lost the love of his life twice, and yet pushed through his depression for the good of humanity.  He was sincere, deep, tragic, and most importantly, real.  When Astaire kills himself in the end… it’s quiet and poetic, just like his character.  In the 2000 remake, they try to make Dr. Osborne the comic relief, casting Bryan Brown, the only man more stereotypically Australian than Paul Hogan.  Brown plays Osborne as a man who relishes and prefer his solitude.  He is arrogant, rude, obnoxious, loud, and aggressive.  He wears Hawaiian shirts, for God’s sake!  He is easily the least likable character in the film.  On the other hand, with this characterization, it makes perfect sense why Moira despises him as much as she does.  His end, at least, is just as ridiculous and over-the-top as his character, as he chooses to ramp his race car at full speed into a billboard, resulting in a cartoonish explosion and, presumable, his violent death… good riddance.

As with the last one, don’t go into this film expecting anything remotely action oriented or classically post apocalyptic.  This is a film about relationships and coping in the face of an inevitable end.  This end could be due to an impending planetary disaster, a fatal epidemic, or any number of apocalyptic scenarios, and the film would play out pretty much the same way.  The only thing that classifies it as post-apocalyptic is that it technically takes place after one apocalypse and just before another.



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