The problem with remaking "Carrie" is two-fold. First off, the original Brian DePalma film is such a defining classic. Any additional version will be compared unflatteringly to that original. Secondly, the story follows a clear, well-known formula. Every version of "Carrie" has to end with the main character wreaking telekinetic havoc at the prom. The question of remaking "Carrie" becomes whether or not the performances justify telling a story everyone knows the ending to. This was the question facing the 2002 television version of "Carrie" and is the question currently facing the brand new, Chloe Moretz-starring remake.
So, do the performances justify the film? Kind of. A screening of "May" is what convinced the producers that Angela Bettis was the perfect choice for the role of Carrie. No doubt, the two characters are similar, disenfranchised loners who strike back violently against their tormentors. However, Angela Bettis makes Carrie not only very different from May but different from Sissy Spacek's Carrie. Spacek played the character as a wounded animal. Bettis' Carrie, meanwhile, plays like a PTSD victim. She keeps her head down, taking abuse silently. She's more spastic, seemingly going into seizure like trances. Bettis' naturally nervous qualities are played up, her eyes and forehead twitching. However, this Carrie has a secret rage burning inside of her. She bottles up her anger at the world. A more bitter or even sarcastic side shows through during her interactions with mother or schoolmates. Spacek's Carrie was a poor girl who snaps suddenly, unexpectedly. Bettis' Carrie is a ticking time bomb. The differing interpretation allows Angela to make the part her own. It's a very good performance from a great actress.
Patricia Clarkson also goes in a very different direction from what Piper Laurie did in the original. Laurie played the role as over-the-top, high opera. Clarkson goes in the opposite direction. Her Margaret White rarely raises her voice. Her threats are quiet and subtle. She doesn't have to yell and scream to make her point. She plays her religious fanaticism as a frightening truth, someone who believes unerringly. Clarkson is excellent, far more believable then Laurie's campy theatrics. It's the only true advantage the 2002 version has over the 1976 version.
The 133-minute long film, originally aired in two halves over two nights, hews more closely to Stephen King's original novel. It reinstates the epistolary format, a police detective interviewing the surviving high school students about what happened that night, the events recalled in flashback. The narrative reshuffling does little to change the flow of the story. Carrie still gets her period in the girl's changing room, freaks out, discovers her powers, faces her religious fanatic mother, gets invited to the prom by Tommy Ross, has pig's blood dumped on her, goes nuts and kills a lot of people. Several missing scenes from the book are reinserted. Small meteorites fall from the sky when Carrie is born. When she's six years old, after an encounter with the neighbor's daughter, the same thing happens. After the massacre at the prom, Carrie walks through Chamberlain, Maine, destroying most of the town.
I'm not sure how to feel about the extended run time. In some ways, it allows the material to breathe more. A few of the additional scenes add nice character development. Chris Hargensen has a scene where she interacts with Carrie alone, that shows Chris to have some depth as a character. When Kandyse McClure's Sue Snell talks to Carrie about make-up, it's humorous, expands on the two's relationship, and provides more insight in Carrie's opinions. The pre-massacre prom scenes are surprisingly good. Carrie and Tommy Ross talking in the car is unusually sweet. Miss Desjarden's monologue to Carrie about post-high school life is wonderful as well, especially Carrie's reaction to it. As Carrie and Tommy dance, Angela gets a great moment, expressing gratitude to the young man. The detective subplot doesn't add much but the cop looking through Carrie's completely empty, unsigned year book is rather heartbreaking. Then again, several scenes are unnecessarily extended. The pig bleeding scene goes on far too long. A moment of Carrie freaking out in class, shattering her desk, adds nothing. The principal talking with a lawyer has no effect on the rest of the film. Though Emilie de Raven's Chris is less blatantly psychotic then Nancy Allen's, her boyfriend Billy becomes a cold sociopath for no particular reasons.
The biggest problem with 2002's "Carrie" is that it can't compete with the 1976's version thrills. The CGI-filled prom massacre lacks the visceral punch of the original. DePalma's unique style ramped up the intensity. David Carson's comparatively flat direction adds little. The rampage through town is well executed but seems superfluous. Carrie's powers are often overdone, with her cracking desk, throwing bikes through the air, or wrapping a truck around a tree. Considering Carrie's obvious anger, her not having any memory of the rampage is a cheat. Laura Karpman's score isn't bad, blatantly recalls Pino Dinaggio's work at times, but isn't as impressive.
Of course, the ending is different. For some reason, producer Bryan Fuller decided "Carrie" would make a great set-up for a series. Carrie White survives and goes on the road with Sue Snell. The series would have been "The Fugitive," with a telekinetic teenage girl as the protagonist. This, of course, was a terrible idea. If 2002's "Carrie" maintained the book's ending, it perhaps would have been a stronger film. As it is, it's not a bad effort. It can't compare to DePalma's version and is frequently mediocre. Still, the two lead actresses lend what otherwise would have been a forgettable product some elegance.