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Blogathon 2009 – The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, past and present

Blogathon 2009 Vancouver for Vancouver Public Space NetworkThis blog post is part of Blogathon 2009, in which I am blogging for 24 hours straight in order to raise money for the Vancouver Public Space Network, an entirely volunteer-run organization who do advocacy and education on the public realm in my home of Vancouver, British Columbia. Please consider supporting by sponsoring me with a pledge, leaving a comment or contacting me to contribute a guest post.

Richard and I, in full transit-geekery, decided to watch the updated remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, shortly followed after by a viewing of the 70’s original. Watching the two, it was striking to see the differences, which I saw as arising as interpretations of what the pressing issues of the time were. For instance…

    The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 videocassette box cover
  • Pelham 1 2 3 in the ’70s was obviously dealing with issues related both to the civil rights movement, as well as that of the growing role of women in the workforce. Those tensions are played up for cheap laughs a lot, with the secretary and the staff, for example. There’s also the novelty of working with foreign cultures, as signified by the initial B-plot involving the Japanese subway executives.

  • The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 movie poster for 2009

  • Pelham 1 2 3 in 2009 makes pointed references to terrorism, invoking, of course, the discourse of fear around foreign threats to Americans. There’s also significant reference to the role played by new communication technologies, the Internet, video phone, cell phones. Finally, I found the preoccupation with the stock market to be quite timely, given the recent economic downturn. Race also seems to play less an explicit, overt factor than in the earlier film.

The most apparent difference, however, is the restructuring of the plot and tone to give much higher precedence and facetime, in the 2009 movie, to the personal one-on-one interaction between Garber and Ryder. I can think of this as a shift from thinking of the large organization (the MTA) or small team dynamics of the hijackers, to a more individual-focused idea of a singular hero and singular villain, though the tensions with the other hijackers were in the 70s. It does seem to show an anticipation, on the filmmaker’s part, that the audience will want to be in on Garber and Ryder’s motivations as individuals for the actions and stances they choose. It’s a dynamic missing from the ’70s film that gives it a much cooler, almost mechanical air. What were the motivations of the hijackers in the previous movie? Did it matter to anyone, if they decided not to give any time to it? Did hijackers even have emotions back then? I also noticed that the 2009 film transposed the stresses between Garber and his co-worker that was mad at the hijackers – an internal tension caused by the hijacking situation itself, in the ’70s film – into the tension between Garber and his superior due to the reassignment and controversy.

Curiously, (and perhaps further related to the talk of recession) class struggle appears to figure more in the later film than in the earlier film, with Ryder seeming championing justice for those who work hard when they get “screwed” by those higher up. Issues of class where the hijackers are involved seem moot in the earlier film, since the mastermind was a military mercenary, and therefore beyond questions of class?

Finally, of course, the endings in the two films are similar but different. One of the subplots is eliminated entirely, rending the earlier film’s final ending from the scope of the latter film entirely. The instinct in the villain to not spend time incarcerated or in custody is transposed into the later film as a sort of fatalism.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed both films for different reasons, and they both capture different elements of the social realm in the earas in which they are based. There is certainly a distance in the earlier film that seems passé compared to modern films, but I can see how it might have been marketed as a “thinker’s” film, the same way the 2009 film has an edge of being a psychological action-thriller in its trailers.

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