9 September 2002 | mfisher452
Looks like an episode of the new Outer Limits but there's no awe or mystery here
Like many others, I was very interested in this remake of "The Lathe of Heaven," for several reasons. The book by Ursula K. LeGuin is widely regarded as a science-fiction classic, although I have never thought it was among her best work. I read it after I saw the first "Lathe of Heaven" on PBS in 1980 and realized that considerable liberties had been taken with the story, although it was much closer to the book than this latest endeavor.
Back then, "Lathe" was a bold experiment for PBS and the producers: To make an original full-length science-fiction TV movie on a limited budget that would appeal to an audience used to flashier entertainment. Remember, it was only three years since "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" had revitalized screen science fiction, until then very much in the doldrums. The producers of LOH wanted to make a more intimate story than those blockbuster movies, one based more on human relationships. With their low budget, they looked for places and expedients that would transmit their vision. Although the story was set in Portland, Oregon, they filmed a lot of it in Dallas because of that city's more futuristic architecture. I liked it very much and videotaped it, and have the tape to this day. (Unfortunately but inevitably, the tape had deteriorated significantly when I transferred it to DVD at the end of 2006. Never fear, it appears that it's now available on commercial DVD.)
It says a great deal about inflation in the movie business that the remake had a "small" budget of "only" $5 million. That would have been a lot of money for the original filmmakers. I also wonder why here in the States we had to wait until September of 2002 to see it when the first comments about it, from a viewer in Turkey, are from February!
But whenever it aired, my reaction would be the same: Why did they bother to make it at all? There is so little of the original here that it is essentially a different work. They have taken the story and drained it of its blood. And what does happen goes beyond problems with temporal discontinuities and paradoxes; these people behave without logic or motivation. It looks like a long episode of the "new" Outer Limits or a similar show, one of those low-budget syndicated series that they film in Canada because it's cheaper there, where there is money only for a few sets, a couple of computer graphics, and a lot of talk in closeup (to hide the spareness of the sets). All of the acting and dialogue takes place in murmurs. I usually like James Caan, but it looks like he's been watching Bruce Willis's recent film work and decided to try the minimalist, non-acting approach.
Now that I've brought up The Outer Limits, remember how the opening credits used to talk about "awe and mystery"? Well, if you want awe and mystery, forget about this remake and go back to the 1980 version; it had much more of those qualities.