Home Subway Movies The reinventing of ‘Pelham 1 2 3’

The reinventing of ‘Pelham 1 2 3’

by Benjamin Kabak

pelham123 In 1974, Joseph Sargent made a movie out of a John Godey book about a trainjacking in New York City. The movie — The Taking of Pelham One Two Three — is so quintessentially an element of 1970s New York City that a remake, while inevitable, is simply unnecessary.

In just over five weeks, though, Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 — now with numbers instead of words — will hit theaters, and buzz over the film is building. Instead of the witty banter between Walter Malthau and Robert Shaw, viewers will get the intensity of Denzel Washington and the mania of John Travolta. I fear for the charm of this movie.

This weekend, two major papers on both sides of the country chatted with Scott about the movie. We start in Los Angeles with the L.A. Times’ profile of a reinvented movie. As part of the paper’s summer movie preview, Chris Lee chatted with the director about his concept of a story from another era. The new film, seemingly a product of the technology-driven post-9/11 world in which we live, will feature some live-blogging, some webcams and some online work in the hunt for the criminals behind the train takeover. It is, says Scott, a very different movie from its predecessor.

“Even though it’s the same basic story, the films have very different sensibilities,” the director noted. “Brian Helgeland, the writer, came to me two years ago and said he was going to reinvent it, put a spin on it. He always comes up with something that inspires me.”

Meanwhile, in our own Times’ summer movie preview, one-time Subwayland columnist Randy Kennedy delved into the retelling of Pelham 1 2 3. Kennedy looks at how Tony Scott earned the cooperation of New York City Transit and was allowed to film most of the movie in the system. He used the outer abandoned platforms at Hoyt-Schermerhorn for some scenes and the 7 platform at Grand Central for others.

“We thought, ‘This is our movie — it’s about New York City Transit — and we really wanted it look great,’” Alberteen Anderson, director of film and special events for the MTA, said to The Times.

It wasn’t all fun and games though for Scott and the MTA. While film crews had to combat a live third rail and soot-filled tunnels, the rest of New York wasn’t so keen on adjusting their schedules for the filming. “The general public late at night is not all that cooperative,” Scott said. “Not that I blame them. It’s late. They just want to get home.”

The MTA was less diplomatic. “We will never shoot at that station again,” Anderson said of Grand Central Terminal.

In the end, Kenendy profiles a director who, despite having never really ridden the subway prior to preparing for this film, remains committed to deliver a product that even the most astute of railfans can appreciate. The film may not have the novelty and allure of the original. It won’t feel, as the old one does, like a movie from a time during which story and character counted more than explosions and action. But it will star our subway system, and come June 12, I’ll go see it.

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digamma May 4, 2009 - 3:22 pm

Top grossing movies of 1974.

1. Blazing Saddles
2. The Towering Inferno
3. Young Frankenstein
4. Earthquake
5. Godfather II
6. The Longest Yard
7. Benji
8. Herbie Rides Again
9. Murder on the Orient Express
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I’d say “story and character counted more than explosions and action” requires some defense. The characters in The Taking of Pelham 123, in particular, are colorful and amusing but they’re not particularly developed.

Rhywun May 4, 2009 - 4:28 pm

The original was funny, tense and scary all at once. This one looks like they’re going for straight action/drama. It’s nice that they’re going for realism; the version from a few years ago was notable for being pretty clearly not NYC, in addition to being completely forgettable.

Skip Skipson May 4, 2009 - 7:35 pm

I saw you on TV a few weeks ago talking about the high prices of Yankee tickets (on channel 4 I think) and now you are a movie reviewer/critic? How many other talents do you have? LOL Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing Pelham 1-2-3; if anything I can nitpick at how “New York” it isn’t just like the other 1-2-3 movie filmed in Toronto.

Todd May 4, 2009 - 11:41 pm

I just saw the original a few weeks ago (after your recommendation) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll definitely see the remake, but really I’m glad I saw the original first.

Marc E. May 5, 2009 - 4:46 am

I, too saw the original when you Twittered about it a while back and subsequently wrote a blog post about the glaring issues with continuity that I know I won’t be able to get over as a railfan.
In any case, I’m not sure how I feel about these re-makes, reboots, and reimaginings that have been happening in entertainment media as of late. I’m wondering if any of it has anything to do with the outstanding success of the 2003/04 reimagining of the Battlestar Galactica series, which I must say is the best human epic since Gilgamesh.
I look forward to seeing what comes of it, but I seriously wonder how they’ve updated the story to keep it reasonably plausible in a post 9/11 world…I just don’t think it can be done. I’m gonna have to watch this movie by myself so I don’t disturb anyone with my nitpicking – it’s going to be so hard to suspend disbelief…may be even worse than those damn fantasy movies…

Alon Levy May 6, 2009 - 5:45 pm

I’m wondering if any of it has anything to do with the outstanding success of the 2003/04 reimagining of the Battlestar Galactica series, which I must say is the best human epic since Gilgamesh.

If you think BSG is that good, you really need to watch better TV – I would start with Firefly, which is like BSG but without a captain who’s always right or a captain’s son who has no flaws whatsoever, and with a society that’s actually interesting.

Think twice May 5, 2009 - 9:34 am

For a night out at the movies, anything with Travolta or Nicholas Cage is a deal-breaker.

sink or swim May 15, 2009 - 10:27 pm

battle field earth….wild hogs

talia June 14, 2009 - 11:39 pm

Just saw the remake…not a big John Travolta fan normally but he was superb! LOVED the movie from start to finish and I’m recommending it to all my friends.


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