The Other White…Detour: Carrie Comes to Television


2002

Director:  David Carson

Cast:  Angela Bettis, Patricia Clarkson, Rena Sofer, Kandyse McClure, Emilie de Ravin, Tobias Mehler, Katharine Isabelle, David Keith

Introduction     Plot     Impressions     Wrap-Up

My Rating:  Class A (hot white star).  I’m not generally fond of remakes, particularly when the original is as good as the first Carrie, but this movie does bring some new things to the table and it has a certain style all its own.  Plus the update from the seventies looks pretty good…

Introduction

Some people say that comparisons are odious.  I majored in English in college, though, and like most of us, I can’t resist a comparison—so when I caught the 2002 made-for-TV version of Carrie, I had to watch it, and I had to write a review comparing it to the fantastic 1976 Brian DePalma film, which I reviewed here.

Here’s how the thing came to be:  NBC executives were pleased with the success of The Dead Zone, a television series which ran from 2002 to 2007 starring Anthony Michael Hall about a man who awakens from a coma with psychic powers.  It began on UPN and moved to USA.  The series was loosely based on a 1979 Steven King novel which was made into a 1983 David Cronenberg film starring Christopher Walken.  Still with me?  Good.  Apparently someone thought that other Steven King properties involving psychic phenomena would also make a good series, and that someone thought of Carrie.

Thus did Carrie come to television, as a made-for-television movie intended as a pilot.  There was no real way that this could work out, was there?  I mean, if you know the original story at all, you know it’s a tragedy which ends with a whole lot of dead people, including Carrie.  So, as you can imagine, there had to be some changes, which at least makes for a very different kind of ride, and as it turns out, the film is worth watching in its own right.

Plot

I’ve already given the plot for this movie in my previous review, and this movie sticks fairly close to the plotline laid out in that film.  The differences are subtle, and primarily come from either this movie’s being slightly more faithful to the King novel or the use of a series of present-day interviews in a police station.

Carrie White is a high school outcast—a loner who doesn’t fit in and is mistreated by everyone at school.  To make matters worse, her mother is a religious fanatic.  And on top of that, Carrie is telekinetic, with the ability to move things with her mind.  When she gets her first period in the shower after P.E., she believes she’s dying and the other girls laugh at her.  One of the girls, Chris Hargenson, continues to torment Carrie, while another, Sue Snell, decides to try to help Carrie have a more normal life.  Carrie winds up going to the prom with Sue’s boyfriend, where Chris orchestrates a prank in which Carrie winds up drenched in pig’s blood.

Because Carrie is telekinetic and crazy, bad things wind up happening…

Impressions

This movie uses CGI instead of the split-screen technique of the 1976 film, and so it looks pretty good.  And since the movie was filmed in 2002, it doesn’t have the full-on seventies look of the first film.  Naturally, the music was updated as well.  In short, this doesn’t feel like a dated exercise, but instead as a contemporary movie.

By itself, of course, that’s little reason to remake a movie—though this movie was never intended as a simple remake, and I’ll get to that in a bit—and this movie does bring some new things to the table.  Narratively, the movie is a little closer to the novel, and the fact that it was filmed for TV means that some of the language, nudity and violence common in movies didn’t make it into this movie.

One of the things that struck me forcefully was that this movie is more nuanced in terms of characterizations than the DePalma film.  That’s not necessarily a good thing, since the archetypal nature of DePalma’s characters gives emotional power to the movie.  DePalma’s Sue is good, and Chris is evil; this Chris, in particular, is less evil and more real.  I think it’s because the focus in DePalma’s Carrie never wavers from Carrie herself; everything and everyone in the film moves around her, either acting on her or reacting to her.  In this movie, characters have their own motivations and actions independant of Carrie’s situation.

This characterization-rich script does take away some of the movie’s power, but it also gives the actors a chance to shine in ways that the DePalma film only gave to Sissy Spacek (as Carrie) and Piper Laurie (as Margaret, Carrie’s mother).  And on the whole, the actors rise to the challenge and do a fine job.  Emilie de Raven’s Chris is still a selfish, self-centered teenager, but she’s not as unremittingly evil.  Chris’ friend Norma is transformed into the bitchy-but-popular Tina, who is excellently portrayed by Katharine Isabelle as something more than Chris’ henchwoman.  Chelan Sommers’ Helen and Meghan Black’s Norma are wonderful as well, the former a slightly ditzy, but friendly ally for Carrie in her transformation, and the latter as an over-energetic, over-hyped student body president.  Tobias Mehler, who plays Tommy, has more to work with than Bill Katt, and this Tommy is a more active participant—and a more likeable person, with real and genuine emotions—in Carrie’s transformation.  Rena Sofer—one of those actresses who I always enjoy watching—also does a solid job with Miss Desjardins, the teacher who takes an interest in, and attempts to help, Carrie.

Angela Bettis’ Carrie is so very different from Sissy Spacek’s that it’s almost impossible to compare them.  For example, this Carrie understands exactly what is going on, and refuses to accept help past a certain point.  She’s still sweet, but she’s much less naive.  She’s also—and this is important—crazy.  Her telekinetic gifts may well spring from her unconscious mind, as she exercises them and doesn’t always realize what she’s done or remember it.  Patricia Clarkson plays Margaret White, and while the DePalma Margaret is a steely-eyed fanatic with a hard edge, this Margaret seems softer and less brutal.  Kandyse McClure brings a wonderfully human aspect to Sue Snell, and I really enjoyed her performance.

As I mentioned, this movie was intended to be a pilot for an ongoing series, and as a result there were substantial changes to the script.  One of those is the framing story, in which a detective (David Keith) interrogates the survivors of the Black Prom about Carrie White’s disappearance.  Naturally, you get a good idea about who does and doesn’t live, with one or two major surprises…

I’m going to reveal the biggest surprise of all:  Carrie survives the entire experience, but has no memory of anything.  Sue, who saw enough of the destruction to know exactly what happened, hides Carrie from the police and, at the end of the movie, drives her to Florida.  Given where the series probably intended to go, there was no other way to end the movie, and to my surprise, it didn’t feel like a cheat.  It actually worked, though not brilliantly, and that’s at least in part because all of the destruction took place while Carrie was in some kind of fugue state.  She simply didn’t remember the prom—or the destruction and death she wreaked on her way home—at all.

Was a series based on Carrie a good idea?  I’m of two minds on that point.  One description of the potential series described it as Carrie helping other people who have telekinetic powers—presumably learning to control and live with them.  That idea is, on its surface, laughable, especially given what Carrie herself does.  But the movie managed to sow some seeds of a fairly interesting potential series.  There’s Carrie herself, of course, with her out-of-control powers and the question of her moral responsibility.  There’s the potential for further havoc in her little episodes, a sort of ever-present danger.  But more importantly, I suspect that Sue Snell, Rita Desjardin, and a certain too-clever detective might very well have figured in the series as it progressed.

I won’t say that it’s a shame that the series never took place, but it at least had potential to be interesting.

Wrap-up

Given that there was no television series, of course, the only way to look at the movie is as a stand-alone entity.  And on that front, Carrie succeeds, though not as powerfully as the 1976 film.  Everything seems a little more muted, a little duller, a little less.  It’s still a good movie, mind you, but it can’t really stand alone against the DePalma version.

At least one commentator has said that if you read the novel first, you’ll like the TV movie better, while if you see the 1976 film first, you’ll prefer it.  I think I understand that, in that the TV movie is closer to the novel.  But as a piece of film-making, the 1976 DePalma film is simply stronger, more emotional and more hard-hitting.

That said, if you like any of the performers, or just love the story, this one is worth a look.

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2 Responses to “The Other White…Detour: Carrie Comes to Television”

  1. Great review! This is one remake that people write off too quickly…

  2. Mark from the Wretched Excess crew here. I didn’t realize that Angela Bettis had starred in this. She’s pretty great; I loved her in “May” in particular. Damn. I might actually have to see this now.

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