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Long Weekend, The (2008)

Review by: 
Nature's Grave
Release Date: 
Showbox Home Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Jamie Blanks
Jim Caviezel
Claudia Karvan
Bottom Line: 
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Peter (Jim Caviezel) and Carla (Claudia Karvan) are a well-to-do Melbournite couple whose marriage is in crisis. Ostensibly hoping to try and patch things up (but really, using it as just another way of hiding from their issues), they take their pet Border Collie, Cricket, and head out for a camping holiday in a secluded bay somewhere along the North Coast of Australia, where they've arranged to meet up with another couple of friends. The customers at a roadside bar seem unaware of their destination when Peter stops for directions; and the same tree with a yellow arrow painted on it keeps appearing again and again as their car makes its way through the warren of indistinguishable winding tree-lined roadways. Eventually giving up on the task, and having run over a kangaroo during the attempt, the bickering couple eventually decide to spend the night in the car. But when they awake the next morning, they find they've unaccountably ended up right in the very spot they were trying to find all along, although their friends are nowhere in sight. If this weekend break was intended to solve their unspoken problems though, it soon becomes apparent that that is not going to happen.
As Jim sets about hacking down trees for no reason, leaving broken glass on the beach and destroying innocent sea creatures, Carla is left bored out of her mind sunbathing. The differences between the two only seem to be exacerbated by their diametrically opposed attitudes to their surroundings: Peter is obsessed with trying to mould the environment to his recreational concerns (shooting, surfing and harpooning) while Carla hates the ants, the sand and the uncomfortable inconvenience of having to live outdoors, even for a few hours. As their relationship disintegrates, it's almost as if the surrounding natural landscape becomes a metaphor for their increasing mutual hatred; and their disregard for it is going to bite back in strange unfathomable ways before long!  
Remakes. Re-imaginings. Re-bootings ... there's no getting away from them, nor the increasingly pretentious neologisms people keep inventing for what basically amounts to having no new ideas and so copying someone else's instead. If it were merely the films that didn't quite work out the first time round that were being remade in this fashion, then fine — why not have another crack at them? But of course it's never the misfires or the could-have-been-betters that get this inevitable working over. It's always the classic. The perfectly formed paradigm of perfection. The one off original.
The thinking seems to be that because movies are inevitably a product of their time, and because the styles and conventions in acting, directing, production, editing, etc. are constantly changing with fashion and with new technological developments which inevitably date everything that came before them; therefore, much that was thought good in its day is consequently inaccessible to anyone brought up outside of that era. Thus, the preponderance of remakes that think its cool to strip away everything that was actually unique about a particular film in the first place — everything about it that constituted the whole reason anyone ever wanted to watch the darn thing in the first place — and replace it all with a whole bunch of 'modern stuff' (flashy special effects, faster-paced plot dynamics, etc.) and then wonder why everyone thinks the results are, at best, fairly uninspired, or at worst, complete and utter donkey-do. Maybe the people responsible for this state of affairs somehow believe that great films have some kind of ineradicable core of excellence; that there is an essence that hangs about the title and remains, no matter how much you monkey with it, thus ensuring that the original's artistic success will also accrue to the remake. It's hard to see why else there would be so many of the bloomin' things, although you'd think someone would have realised by now that they're hardly ever successful.
Which brings us to this curious remake of Colin Eggleston's 1978 supernatural ecological thriller "Long Weekend". Director Jamie Blanks, in stark contrast to the normal state of affairs as described above, here treats the source material with an awed reverence that's almost crippling, barely changing a line of dialogue from the original script and even employing the original screenwriter, Everette De Roche, to rewrite it (it doesn't look like he had to slave too hard on the job). The cinematographer on the 1978 film is also the head of the second unit on this remake, and Blanks drops in a wink to Eggleston himself, naming the pub — at which the leads are seen to stop near the start of the film — after the original's director. This may not be a deliberate shot-for-shot experiment in the same way Gus van Sant's remake of "Psycho" was, but it gets damn close. Which raises the question, why? The original movie is still widely available on DVD, so the only possible reason for remaking it seems to be to pander to people who have a peculiar aversion to anything made in the 1970s. I would have thought this would have been quite a small market to attempt to cater for. The closest analogue to this state of affairs seems to be Michael Haneke’s American remake of his own "Funny Games", which, again, was a shot-for-shot recapitulation of the director's original film, made exclusively for what must be a vanishingly small subsection of the English speaking audience who love art-house horror movies yet can't be arsed with subtitles!
What we get here though, is a proficiently made film that recreates the original as closely as possible, but with the look and feel of the films of the noughties. The lead male character, played by Jim Caviezel, now has more of a gym toned torso than in '78 and the beautiful tourist board scenery looks different, although it is probably photographed even more lusciously than before — but otherwise, it would be hard to discern any real departure in approach to the subject matter.
All this being the case, this is still a good film. The original was a great film, so the remake couldn't go so far astray as to be unwatchabe, seeing as how it doesn't change anything significant. When the film was released on DVD in the US, the title was mysteriously changed to "Nature's Grave", but of course that fooled no one and this UK release changes the title back to that of the original. Looking at some of the reviews posted when that US DVD came out, you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who had a good word to say about it. This is a little unfair. There are individual details — like a particularly gory sequence at the end of the film — that work better than they do in the original, and Claudia Karvan's character, Carla, is much more subtly written here, so that she's not as irremediably annoying as the character played by Briony Behets in the original film. Thus, unlike in that version, there are moments where you feel these two characters are worth saving if only they could overcome the selfishness and insularity which, in the end, destroys them.
If you haven't seen the film in its original form and you're not averse to slow pacing and ambiguous, intelligent plotting, then there is no reason why you wouldn't enjoy this incarnation. Yet the overall atmosphere is strangely lacking, despite the technical improvements. The film doesn't recapture that unique feel inherent to the original, which partly lies in the charm of '70s style film-making itself I suspect; and while the main set-pieces still work (the dead dugong's bizarre advancement up the beach, and the great payoff to this idea at the film's climax), the subtle dislocating effects that spring from the rhythms of the editing and the sound effects inherent to the original, do not come through here — which means, for all it's beautiful scenery shots and technical accomplishment, it really isn't a patch on the original version. Sorry.
This 2-disc DVD edition from Showbox Entertainment delivers a pleasing anamorphic transfer on disc one, with both 2.0 and 5.1 audio options. Aside from a trailer and a selection of trailers for other Showbox titles, all the extra material can be found on disc 2. Here, It turns out we have quite a nice haul, headed up by a forty-minute director's production diary which consists of plentiful behind-the-scenes video with director Jamie Blanks providing commentary, explaining what is going on in the various pieces of footage. It's ironic, given the subject matter of the film, to see the crew spraying prodigious amounts of insecticide all over the beach to kill the swarms of flies that keep getting into the camera workings! There are interviews with female lead Claudia Karvan, script writer Everette De Roche and the son of Colin Eggleston, Toby, who talks about his father's career and the muted reception the original film had in Australia as opposed to the rest of the world, where it has since become a cult. There is a deleted scene which features Jim Caviezel threatening some ducks while impersonating Christopher Walkin, which is included here as more of an out-take than a scene that would ever have actually made it into the movie itself. A 35 minute documentary "The Making of Lost Weekend" consists of a further selection of behind the scenes footage including Claudia Karvan having a head cast made for her death sequence. All of it plays without narration. "Taming the Wild" features the work of the film's animal wrangler and shows us behind-the-scenes footage of many of the animal sequences, such as Jim Caviezel being attacked by an eagle, as they're rehearsed and shot. Finally, "Peter's Death - Behind the Scenes with Grant Page and Roger Ward" shows us the complicated shooting of Peter's death scene, with interviews from stunt man Grant Page and star of Australian cult movies such as "Turkey Shoot" and "Mad Max", Roger Ward, who has a cameo in the sequence as a truck driver.
 All in all, we have nearly two hours of material here, which gives us a fairly comprehensive look at the film's production, if no real answers as to why it was actually made in the first place!

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