Tony Scott Reveals the Method to His Madness: 'I've Got ADD'
To hear Tony Scott tell it today, the director doesn't regard his The Taking of Pelham 123 as a retelling, remake, or a reinvention of the 1974 original. He perceives it more as a metamorphosis of an old idea, reborn from the kinetic cocoon of modern Manhattan. As in the original, hostages are taken and money is demanded, but the world's gone cynical and wireless in the meantime. "My memory of the original was Walter Matthau with his laconic New York sense of humor, pants at half mast," Scott recalled to Movieline. "He was brilliant. But really the story, it was a very simplistic story -- it was a million dollars for hostages in a subway. And they had a sort of hip location. It was a hip location for a million bucks."
But is his big-budget updating any more hip, or just chaotic? Scott responds [with minor spoilers] after the jump.
While Scott claimed today to have maintained the story's core - "In a simplistic form it's still got that same journey" - Scott takes pains with frantic, swooping camera work and insistent close-ups on the two main leads to visually modernize and energize his version. "The way I'm interpreting it, it's a very different movie."
The end result of Scott's quadruple camera method is a sort of spliced together dizzying visual collage, with demonstrative visual gestures (e.g. countdown timer graphics, Doppler Radar-like maps of money en route to drop-off) edited in to counteract any disorientation. It's a punchy, fuzzy visual ordeal -- and Scott knows it.
"I've got ADD," he confessed. "It's about energy, it's about momentum, and I think the movie's very exciting, and it's not one individual thing. The true excitement comes from the actors, whatever they give, and however, not how antsy they are, but whatever they give, that gives you the true drama. And whatever I do with my camera is icing on the cake."
Despite giving his actors piles of research and real people after whom they could model the look and technical vernacular (if not the personality) of their portrayals, Scott's filmmaking style provides little actual room for that kind of realism. Instead it gives just enough of a visual window -- with close-ups emphasizing the dichotomy of the film's leads -- for the interplay of exaggerated types, the Everyman and the Tragic Villain with a skewed sense of justice.
Still, Scott argued, that doesn't make it any less real.
"We got John, we got Denzel, and I had real trains six feet behind them going 40 miles an hour," he said. "It's not that it's hip to do that. ... [You] can CG a train in, but you watch the performances change. They go in a whole different direction when you put actors in a real environment.
"For instance," he continued, "on the end bridge sequence, we have the helicopters running behind, we have the train in front. The performance just comes from a whole different place. We're having to fight the noise, fight the environment, and they're focusing on what the two guys are engaged in at that moment in time. It gives you a whole different level of story and performance, and I think a strength of my movies is that's what I always do, I always drop my actors right in the middle, and I will not peel away the sound [or other distracting] things to give a more cosmetic [setting], give them an easier time."
Check back tomorrow for Movieline's review of The Taking of Pelham 123