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Jonathan Demme
Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Kimberly Elise, Jon Voight, Ted Levine, Miguel Ferrer
Writing Credits:
Richard Condon (novel), George Axelrod (1962 screenplay), Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris

This summer everything is under control.

Director Jonathan Demme remakes the 1962 thriller in which two soldiers returning from war (then in Korea; in this version, from Iraq) have been brainwashed to kill the president. Capt. Marco (Denzel Washington), reprising Frank Sinatra's performance, wakes up to the plot and tries to stop his Army buddy, now entrenched in politics. Meryl Streep reprises Angela Lansbury's Oscar-nominated 1962 role.

Box Office:
$80 million.
Opening Weekend
$20.018 million on 2867 screens.
Domestic Gross
$65.948 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/21/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Demme and Co-Writer Daniel Pyne
• “The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate” Featurette
• “The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate” Featurette
• Five Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Outtakes with Optional Commentary
• Liev Schreiber Screen Test
• “Political Pundits” with Optional Commentary


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2004)

Remakes tend to work best when they come from spotty source material. How wrong can you go when you redo a movie that wasn’t very good anyway? Take something with a good premise and erratic execution and you have prime territory for a remake.

On the other hand, a filmmaker who reworks an acknowledged classic runs into little more than trouble. Gus Van Sant certainly learned that with his much-maligned Psycho remake. At least that flick made a name for itself via its odd choice to recreate the original as an exact duplicate. For Jonathan Demme’s 2004 reworking of The Manchurian Candidate, the director takes a less daring path, as his version mixes elements from the 1962 original and a few changes.

The story looks at Gulf War veterans who have recurring nightmares about their involvement in that conflict. More specifically, they imagine that they’ve experienced some sort of bizarre events that leave them permanently scarred.

As the film progresses, we find out more about the nature of what happened to these men. All of the men operate under false memories about their actions in the war, and one of them has been programmed to be an assassin.

Our main protagonist, Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington), struggles to come to grips with his demons and find out the truth about his indoctrination. The film’s other main character is Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), a sergeant in Marco’s group. Though the movie’s opening scenes show the platoon’s general dislike for Shaw, their cumulative memory of him is that of a hero and a virtual saint. Marco works to expose the facts and regain his own sanity.

Shaw’s position is made additionally intriguing because of his heritage. His mother Eleanor (Meryl Streep) is a senator, and Raymond himself is a congressman with a rising political star. Eleanor pushes to get Raymond on the ticket as the vice presidential candidate, and she succeeds. All of this ties together with the brainwashing and the film explores the emergence of the truth.

Comparisons between the 2004 Candidate and the original seem virtually inevitable. I’d like to be able to take the new flick on its own terms, but that’s almost impossible to do. Admittedly, a remake of a good film is a difficult task. A literal reworking loses points for a lack of imagination, while one with liberties can seem like it tries too hard to distance itself form the original.

This would seem to make a reworking of a strong movie like Candidate a losing proposition, but I think Demme could have put up a better fight. The 2004 version offers an unsatisfying take on the subject. The changes it makes tend to come across as gratuitous and they don’t improve the tale. For example, the original made Raymond’s college-age relationship with Jocelyn Jordan (Vera Farmiga) - the daughter of Senator Thomas Jordan (Jon Voight), a political foe of Raymond’s mother - an important facet of the story. The film depicts Raymond as a bitter, distant man who lost his one shot at happiness due to his mother’s intervention.

The 2004 Candidate hints at Raymond’s loneliness but fails to explore the issue well. The Jocelyn story evolved in a way to give the overall tale a great emotional impact at the end, and the remake includes some of the same elements. Unfortunately, it skimps on the feelings, so that this moment presents little force. A crushing scene from the first flick turns into little more than a footnote here.

Almost across the board, the characters lack the depth shown in the first movie. One could argue that Marco presents greater development in the remake, but I wouldn’t agree. The film portrays him as little more than a nutbag as he delves into the conspiracy. It also makes little sense that the distant and cold Raymond would become a politician. Yes, that’s crucial for the story, but it doesn’t seem logical. How could such a chilly and brittle dude succeed in such a people-oriented profession? Marco’s love interest Rosie (Kimberly Elise) is the only participant who comes across as better depicted here than in the original. The role played by Janet Leigh in the prior movie was little more than a generic romantic convention, whereas the remake expands the part substantially.

One major problem with the 2004 Candidate comes from its tone. While the original was a taut thriller, this one turns into more of a horror flick, really. At times it felt like Demme was more interested in a remake of his own Silence of the Lambs, as Candidate portrays an ominous and dark tone from start to finish. This doesn’t work for the story, as it telegraphs all its points. It doesn’t allow any room for interpretation. A more intriguing movie would let us question Marco’s sanity, but this one never leaves any doubt that he’s correct.

The film’s visuals also beat us over the head with its concepts. Whereas the original depicted its brainwashing sequences with elegant simplicity, this one tends toward a more graphic and visceral feel. It doesn’t work. Instead, it makes the movie more forced and without the deftness seen in the original.

Would I have liked the 2004 Manchurian Candidate more had I never seen the first flick? Perhaps, but that wouldn’t alleviate its various flaws. There’s a lot of talent behind this movie - too bad little of it comes to the surface in this heavy-handed tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

The Manchurian Candidate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For a major motion picture from 2004, the picture looked surprisingly bland.

Sharpness was erratic. For the most part, the movie remained appropriately distinctive and well-defined. However, a few too many exceptions occurred that rendered scenes somewhat soft. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some mild edge enhancement cropped up through the movie. The flick seemed a bit grainier than expected, and sporadic instances of specks and grit appeared during the film. It wasn’t a terribly dirty print, but it showed more defects than usual.

Candidate featured a subdued palette with occasional examples of stylized hues. For instance, the early shots in Kuwait looked heavily reddish-tan. Mostly the colors stayed on the drab side of natural. I thought the tones lacked much life, but I felt this largely resulted from cinematographic choices. A weird jump in color timing occurred around 12:43, though, as the image went with a slightly different shading for two quick moments. Blacks were appropriately dense and firm, and shadows looked reasonably visible and clear. The picture did enough right to merit a “B-“, but it came as a lackluster image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Manchurian Candidate was also a bit inconsistent, but it achieved most of its goals. For the most part, the soundscape didn’t attempt a lot of action. The main exceptions came during the Kuwait battle sequence and the nightmares. Those opened up the surrounds well to become involving and active. Otherwise, the track mostly stayed with general ambience. Music presented good stereo imaging, and the other elements came across as accurately placed and reasonably well-integrated.

Audio quality was fine. Speech consistently appeared natural and crisp, with no signs of edginess or problems with intelligibility. Music was concise and distinctive, as the score sounded clear and bright. Effects also came across as accurate and firm. Low-end response wasn’t anything special, though the bass seemed adequate. Most of the mix was pretty average, but the occasional showy sequences were good enough to bring my grade up to a “B+”.

When we look at the DVD’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Jonathan Demme and co-writer Daniel Pyne. Both of them sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. The pair mostly stick with story issues. They chat about pacing and development, cuts and changes from the original script, and comparisons with the source material. We also get notes about casting and a few subjects like visual choices, but the focus stays on story. This makes the commentary fairly engaging. We get a good examination of the choices made to tell the tale and find out the changes made along the way.

Next we find a featurette entitled The Enemy Within: Inside The Manchurian Candidate. This 14-minute and five-second piece includes the standard assortment of movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and interviews. We get notes from Demme, Pyne, producer Tina Sinatra, and actors Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber. They discuss the decision to make a new version of the story, updating it for the 21st century, changes from the old flick, research, Demme’s approach to the tale, its visual presentation, and elements of the climax. Some of the information repeats from the commentary, but a lot of new material pops up here. I worried this would be little more than fluff, but we actually get a nicely detailed program – or at least as detailed as one can expect for its length.

After this comes The Cast of The Manchurian Candidate. This featurette runs 11 minutes and 54 seconds as it presents notes from Demme, Sinatra, Washington, Pyne, Streep, Schreiber, and actors Jon Voight and Roger Corman. They discuss the characters and choices made for the roles. Occasionally some interesting insights appear, but I think the show lacks a lot of distinctiveness. Though a few tidbits prove illuminating, largely we just get praise for the participants.

When we look at the five Deleted/Extended Scenes, we see they fill nine minutes, 34 seconds. Most of these seem fairly ordinary, though I think the first one – in which we see interactions between Marco and Raymond in Kuwait – should have stayed in the film. We can watch these with or without commentary from Demme and Pyne. As usual, they cover a few production basics and let us know why they cut the sequences.

We also see two minutes and 34 seconds of Outtakes. Both present snippets of interviews conducted with Eleanor. Neither seems particularly interesting. These come with optional commentary from Demme and Pyne. They toss out a few more notes and provide slight insights into why the bits didn’t make the movie, but they don’t make this a scintillating discussion.

A fun extra, we find Liev Schreiber’s Screen Test. It goes for two minutes, 49 seconds and shows a chat between Raymond and his mother from fairly late in the movie. Usually screen tests are crude affairs, but this one looks like it could have been used in the final film. Schreiber interacts with Streep in this alternate version of the scene in question. It’s a cool addition to the set.

At 10 minutes, Political Pundits offers a montage of opinions. We see portions of this in the film as a background element. It’s a discussion about politics that’s really fairly dull to watch on its own. We can check out this segment with or without commentary from Demme. It’s incorrect for Paramount to title this a commentary, actually, as it’s really just an introduction. At the start, Demme tells us who we’ll see and doesn’t speak again.

No trailer for Candidate appears, but the disc opens with some previews. This includes ads for The Stepford Wives, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Without a Paddle, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Team America: World Police. These also can be accessed via the Previews option in the “Special Features” menu. One other note: most of the extras provide English, Spanish and French subtitles.

Why would someone try to remake a classic like The Manchurian Candidate? I don’t know, but they did. The new version fails to bring much useful to the table and it pales in comparison with its predecessor. The DVD presents fairly mediocre picture with positive audio and a moderately useful set of supplements. I can’t recommend this pointless remake.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7368 Stars Number of Votes: 19
5 3:
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