The BBC murder mystery Broadchurch just ended its run on BBC America, earning rave reviews for its depiction of the ripple effects of murder on a small town. It was a great show with some truly standout performances, especially from Doctor Who’s David Tennant as a tortured police detective and Olivia Colman as his competent and put-upon partner.
Now FOX is taking Broadchurch and bringing it to America, again, with a remake also starring David Tennant. And the burning question is: why?
Broadchurch was (and maybe still will be, since it was renewed for a second season in the UK) a great show. It took a hard look at the repercussions of a young boy’s murder on the small town in which he lived, spending time with his family as well as with the media, police, and handful of sketchy suspects.
What Broadchurch is not, however, is remarkably original. Looking at the above description of the show a host of other “murder in a small town” movies and TV shows come to mind. The weird Twin Peaks, for example. Or the moody but imperfect AMC drama The Killing.
What made Broadchurch work was the economy of the storytelling and the deeply felt performances by the main cast. Remade for American audiences and probably expanded to more than the original run’s eight episodes, I can’t imagine Broadchurch will seem like anything remarkable to those who aren’t familiar with the UK original.
“Oh, another season-long murder mystery in a small town? Great.” You can already hear audiences hitting the snooze button. What made Broadchurch a great show didn’t lie in its premise, but in its execution.
The American remakes of British originals that work, however, usually work because the American version can spin something new and interesting from a unique premise. Like a documentary about a paper company (The Office) or a vampire, ghost, and werewolf living together (Being Human).
The first season of Broadchurch was a perfectly paced, self-contained story with a far from unique premise. Replanting the story to America and giving it more episodes to fill isn’t likely to make the show any better. For every successful American remake, there are at least five British to American disasters. Let’s hope Broadchurch isn’t one of those disaster adaptations, but even if the FOX version turns out to be good, it certainly doesn’t feel like a remake that needed to happen.
What do you think? Are you excited about the American remake of Broadchurch or scratching your head about why FOX is remaking it at all? Share in the comments!
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A certain doctor will be popping up on American television sets in a familiar role. David Tennant, who played a tortured British detective in Broadchruch, will now play a tortured American detective in Fox's remake of the show. Because foreign accents are different and scary, Tennant will leave his British accent behind, and adopt an American one for the new series that hopes to premiere on Fox in the 2014-2015 television season.
The original Broadchurch follows the lives of Alec Hardy (Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), two detectives investigating the death of a young boy in small town Britain. The first season of the ITV series just wrapped up its first season on BBC America.
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Much as I enjoyed X-Men: First Class Fox’s exuberant prequel/reboot (preboot?) of the fabled Marvel Comics series I was a bit disoriented by its opening sequence in which a Mengele-esque Nazi scientist played by Kevin Bacon attempts to coax a terrified young Erik Lensherr a death camp inmate into demonstrating his newly discovered mutant powers. As the interaction transpires the camera does something odd: It remains static holding its gaze on the characters’ faces affording us the rare treat of being able to scrutinize their expressions without the distraction of rapid-fire cuts or circling dollies or palsy-cams or any of the other myriad tools preferred by Hollywood’s increasingly ADD-addled action directors.
Restraint? In a comic book film? Strange but true. Even stranger is that it comes courtesy of director Matthew Vaughn whose previous comic book adaptation Kick-Ass was so over-adrenalized it should have come with a complimentary shot of insulin. Here Vaughn shows greater confidence in his material his actors and most admirably his audience letting the story hold sway unhindered by gimmicky enhancements. First Class is hardly a throwback mind you – it features all of CGI accoutrements one expects from a proper summer blockbuster – but it has a stylish retro sensibility to it that is as refreshing as it is unexpected.
In fact were it not for all of its superhuman characters one might not be able to tell that it’s based on a comic book. Whilst devising an approach suitable for his film’s early ‘60s Cold War setting Vaughn a Brit clearly found inspiration in his country’s most enduring film franchise. First Class bears far more in common with The Spy Who Loved Me than with any of the previous X-Men installments or any other comic book flicks for that matter and is all the better because of it.
Playing Vaughn’s Stromberg is Bacon whose character has graduated from death camp atrocitier to swaggering supervillain in the intervening years since the war’s end. Ensconced in his underwater lair aboard a well-appointed submarine Sebastian Shaw as he has re-christened himself (only in the comic book world does a fugitive Nazi war criminal choose an alias with the initials “S.S.”) is secretly conspiring to ignite a fatal MAD-provoking nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
No Bond-inspired film would be complete without a dose of benign sexism embodied ably by Mad Men’s January Jones in the role of Shaw’s right-hand woman Emma Frost. A mutant who can read minds and manifest diamond-plated armor Emma’s greatest gift the filmmakers make abundantly clear is her superhuman rack which when activated turns her into a walking honey trap no soldier or government official can resist. (It’s also the movie's most potent marketing weapon.)
Even our hero Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has got a bit of 007’s DNA in him. Cheeky rakish given to funneling beers and hitting on Oxford co-eds McAvoy’s Xavier is a far cry from Patrick Stewart’s stuffy avuncular version of the character. Though his mutant telepathic abilities are highly developed his human intuition isn’t as he scarcely notices the insecurity metastasizing in his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) a blue-skinned shape-shifter in desperate need of validation.
She eventually finds that validation in Lensherr (played as an adult by Michael Fassbender) whose cynical view of humanity bred by prolonged exposure to its more sinister aspects places him at odds with Xavier’s vision of peaceful co-existence between mutants and their unenhanced counterparts. Nevertheless Xavier and Lensherr become fast friends and they agree to collaborate in the recruitment and training of a clandestine force of superhumans capable of stopping Shaw. Shortly thereafter the first-ever mutant all-star team is born.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the comic book knows how this relationship turns out. But Vaughn’s fresh approach to the characters and their underlying motivations helps ameliorate some of the predictability of film’s plot and its inevitable resolution. Like Batman Begins First Class is bound to pursue a pre-determined outcome but it makes brief detours here and there that refresh the franchise without jeopardizing its sacred canon. Vaughn takes great care to appease the film's fanboy base without alienating the broader audience. Though I couldn’t care a whit about Torso-Beam Boy Winged Stripper Girl or a handful of other extraneous characters devotees of the comics will no doubt rejoice in the screen time allotted to their respective backstories.
There are a handful of moments when Vaughn’s ambitions exceed his effects budget but for the most part he proves a dexterous purveyor of popcorn theatrics. Some of the best bits including a spectacular sequence in which an anchor tears through the deck of a luxury yacht have been spoiled by the film’s trailers but they still impress when writ large on the big screen. And there are a few surprises in First Class that remain thankfully unspoiled. Better see it quick before the next ad campaign debuts.
In the summer of 1977 disgraced former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) sat down with British TV talk show host and interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen) for a series of interviews that Nixon hoped would resuscitate his Watergate-tarnished image and Frost hoped would lift his own career to another level. While it made for good TV at the time it certainly didn’t seem likely fodder for a hit Broadway play and now a major motion picture. Peter Morgan (The Queen) wrote the play and adapted it for the screen turning it into a riveting cat-and-mouse game between these two made-for-television adversaries. Director Ron Howard emphasizes the behind the scenes machinations and all the negotiations between both camps. The off-camera material is priceless based in large part on speculative research. Whatever the final truth of the story the film gains its real power from it’s the telling. Ron Howard turns to the two original stage stars of Frost/Nixon -- a wise casting decision that almost never happens in Hollywood. It’s true everyone including Warren Beatty reportedly wanted to play Nixon but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Langella in recreating his Tony-winning interpretation of the infamous Tricky Dick. He has all of Nixon’s mannerisms vulnerabilities and caginess down pat. Sheen certainly captures the confident nature of Frost but also his insecurities and the realization that this whole enterprise is one big roll of the dice. And two actors work in perfect concert with one another. Supporting roles are well played including standouts Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s trusted Chief of Staff Jack Brennan and a hilarious Toby Jones aping the inimitable book agent Swifty Lazar. As key Frost aides and researchers Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell do a nice job as kind of the Greek chorus to the situation. On the surface Ron Howard -- better known for his large scale Hollywood productions like The Da Vinci Code and Apollo 13 -- doesn’t seem the right fit for this smaller scale drama but his approach transfers what could have been a flat Broadway screen into a highly cinematic and stimulating two hours. He captures the rhythms of this chess match perfectly and chooses camera angles that catch the sweat behind the cool facades of his two principals. Special mention should go to the beautiful nuanced work of his cinematographer Salvatore Totino. Howard is such a gifted filmmaker he makes it all seem effortless easily coaxing two equally superb performances from Langella and Sheen. Frost/Nixon is a first class achievement.