Warner Bros. // 2006 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // December 19th, 2006
Edward Malus: [Pointing gun at Rose] Step away from the bike!
I'd heard the remake of The Wicker Man was bad, and I had a hard time believing it when I looked at who was involved. I am a big fan of Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men), can watch Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) in anything, have an unholy obsession with Leelee Sobieski (Joy Ride), and find Nicolas Cage (World Trade Center) an interesting actor who makes dangerous choices. I also loved the original, and have one of those limited edition Anchor Bay sets that came in the pine box. Could The Wicker Man (2006) be that bad? Well, after watching it all I can mutter is "It can! Oh sweet goddess of honey...yes, it can!"
Edward Malus (Cage) is a motorcycle cop who witnesses a terrible accident where a girl dies right in front of him, and he falls into a personal abyss. Shortly after, he gets a letter from his ex-fiancee (Kate Beahan, Flightplan) begging him to come find her daughter on a mysterious island in Puget Sound. Malus heads out to Summersisle where he finds a matriarchal society where women rule, and men are seen and not heard. He searches for answers and the missing girl, but finds a world he doesn't understand. Even a confrontation with the leader of the island, Sister Summersisle (Burstyn), clears nothing for him. Is the girl still alive? Or has she been sacrificed because of the bad honey harvest? By the end of the film Malus will end up in a bear suit running through the woods (yes, I said bear suit) trying to solve the mystery of "the Wicker Man."
There was a lot of passion placed into this project, but ultimately the reimagining fails on every level. LaBute took on writing and directing this 2006 revamp of the 1973 original, and Nic Cage produced it. LaBute falters by translating the pagan versus Christian debate from the source material into his own personal obsession of man versus woman. The director screenwriter forces a bee-colony hierarchy to Summersisle where the women are queens and the men are drones. It's silly and nowhere near as threatening as the pagans of the original story. Cage overacts to hell and back, even using the rule of threes (where he often tries to say something three times to appear intense and it comes off as laughable). The structure remains essentially the same, but tension is sucked right out of the proceedings by an overly obvious climax you'll see a mile coming. And getting to the end? It's sheer torture. Hell, even the score by Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks) is forgettable.
Fans of the original might be intrigued with the casting of Ellen Burstyn in the Christopher Lee role. She definitely has the right presence, but her part is severely reduced. She becomes merely a cameo in a movie where her name appears above the title. I found myself wishing we had spent more time with the cop and the queen discussing the differences between men and women. Alas, there's not enough of anything to make her character the center of the film. Her exchanges are poor watered down versions of Lee's monologues from the first film which make little sense in the update. Even worse, she doesn't come off as smart thanks to some logic holes created by the revisions. The whole bee colony thing with Burstyn as the queen makes little sense from the word go. How can there be a bad harvest when you make honey? Did the bees leave and come back? Let's face it, pagans farming apples has a Biblical scariness that chicks gathering honey doesn't have. Burstyn isn't the same type of actor as Lee, and she's not given the lively intelligence Lord Summerisle had.
There's a hatred for women that bubbles up noticeably. You would think with the "feminist hell" setting perhaps sex would be more prominent in the narrative. The original film had a dangerous kink that permeated every corner, culminating with a fully nude Britt Ekland singing and beating on a thin wall to drive the protagonist crazy. There's nothing remotely like that in the 2006 model, and I was thankful for that given the cast. The ladies are wholly unattractive save for a handful of them, and you're grateful LaBute forgoes the sexuality in most cases. There is extreme violence against the women from Cage's character, and it feels misogynistic and unforgivable despite the dire circumstances. Wtaching his character fight Leelee Sobieski is patently offensive and simultaneously laughable.
Key to the marketing of this DVD edition is the promise of a "shocking alternate ending not seen in theaters" and an unrated cut of a film that was merely PG-13 in the cinemas. Don't get too excited. The "new" ending merely adds small violent bits such as more attacks on the women, and a lot more pain inflicted on Cage in the climax. The final parting shots were seen theatrically; the only difference is that they skip a coda which sets up the next victims of the nefarious plot of the bee women. It doesn't live up to "shocking" or even "alternate," and certainly adds little value for a DVD rental or purchase. The original cut is available on the B side of the flipper disc, so you can compare and contrast directly.
The transfer is passable, although nothing remarkable. Colors are fine, while black levels seem slightly off in crucial sequences. The surround sound mix performs well in lively sequences, but has little to do as the plot plods along without much direction or action. There is a well done commentary as the sole extra which explains what LaBute was thinking, and he's joined by key cast and crew members with one notable exception: Nicolas Cage is missing. Apparently the actor had sense enough to abandon his project, and had nothing to say. The commentary is the same on both versions of the movie, but on the coda of the theatrical version there are additional explanations but only on that scene. The track with everyone talking about the project is the best part of the DVD, and more entertaining than having to suffer through the movie's dialogue.
The Wicker Man (2006) is easily one of the most inept remakes ever attempted, and hands down the worst movie of 2006. It taints the original, and I advise fans of the source material to skip this one at all costs. It's a hideously bad movie without the "so bad it's good" qualities I was searching for in my viewing. Nobody can save this one, and I can't even begin to run down a laundry list of why it doesn't work. It's unfathomable who came away thinking this was a good idea, or how a studio could even release it hoping to make any return on its investment. It does have camp moments like when Cage acquires a bicycle at gunpoint, but these are few and far between. The biggest problem is that The Wicker Man (2006) is boring.
LaBute's final insult to injury? He dedicates the film to the memory of Joey Ramone. Joey would have at least had the good sense to make this remake fast, loud, and two minutes long. LaBute tries to meditate on a man trapped in a woman's world, and comes up with nothing more impressive than sadistic beekeepers. LaBute, Nic Cage, Burstyn are better than this. Worse still, the audience and fans of the original deserve more. Skip this one, and track down the original.
Guilty, and they picked the wrong sacrifice. Burn the negative next time. Save yourself the pain, and just hunker down with the original 1973 version. You will thank your god that you did.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary by Director/Writer Neil LaBute, Actress Leelee Sobieski, Actress Kate Beahan, Editor Joel Plotich, and Costumer Lynette Meyer