Why Vanilla Sky was not
just another dumb*** re-imagining...
To call Vanilla
Sky a remake of Abre Los Ojos misuses a verb that has fallen
out of vogue in the wake of the recent "classics" Planet of the Apes
and Rollerball. The English version simply reupholsters the
Spanish thriller with some of the autobiographical rawness that has
made each of director Cameron Crowe's films honest.
Abre Los Ojos
tells the exact same story as Vanilla Sky, but without the same
depth of character and place. Womanizer Cesar meets the girl of his
dreams and shortly thereafter suffers a disfiguring car crash at the
hands of his latest screw-toy, or at least this is the story he tells
the police psychiatrist from behind a creepy mask. To explain any more
of the plot would prevent those who haven't yet seen Vanilla Sky
from enjoying one of the best pictures of 2001.
As far as the remake/original
question, for the most part the two films are identical, shot-for-shot
and translated line-for-line -at times disturbingly so. Eduardo Noriega
plays Cesar as if he has lived his entire life being told he is a "Tom
Cruise-Type" and has finally embraced it. Cruise bought the remake rights
for this picture and in some ways it should have been a free trade;
Noriega could have been sued for copyright infringement on about every
Cruisism except dancing in underwear.
Penelope Cruz plays
the same role in both versions and even though my Spanish skills are just
slightly south of "Nachos Bel Grande," she's much better when not fettered
by her poor English proficiency. (Frankly, her greatest moment on screen
to this day comes in the late Ted Demme's Blow, when she calls
Johnny Depp a "Fey-Goat" with a delivery and accent that suggests she
probably only knows it angers him rather that what it means.)
Sky, Abre Los Ojos feels stripped down. Not to say that Vanilla
Sky is necessarily the better film, but it does have more detail.
While Cameron Crowe is one of the best filmmakers working today, Alejandro
Amenabar shows a great deal of promise, and he did all of the heavy
lifting on this project. Crowe's filmography shows large spaces of time
between projects; most of this time is for Crowe the screenwriter to
put the proper amount of time into his script. Amenabar did all the
hard script work on Abre Los Ojos so Crowe was able to turn it
around quickly, adding more detail because he wasn't forced to spend
all of his time plotting. Amenabar built a beautiful house, but Crowe
painted and decorated it.
The small details
that change in translation are partially from Crowe's quiver and partially
obligatory cultural changes. Cesar's money is from a restaurant chain
left to him by his parents instead of a magazine empire - Crowe's background
before writing films was working for Rolling Stone. Sofia (Penelope
Cruz in both films) is a Spanish mime, but an American dancer, as an
American audience would rightfully giggle and mock the concept of a
The romance in
the Spanish version runs sweeter than the American one but the American
characters play as more complex, at least for an American audience.
One scene in the Spanish version that really stands out is when Sofia
and Cesar lounge in bed and she freezes. Upon a second viewing this
scene is even more poignant, but even on the first viewing it is sweet
enough to make even a cynic like me smile.
As a bonus to those
of you put off by subtitles, Cruz shows something special that can be
found in the middle of that which turns you off (there's one
for all you crossword puzzlers). Any thinking sci-fi fan (i.e. one who
liked eXistenZ better than The Matrix) must check out
at least one if not both versions of this solid story. Any guy who does
that "we'll watch a foreign film and maybe I'll get some" trade off
with a cultured girl should look at this rental as a chance to kill
two birds with one disc.