Director: Gus Van Sant

Stars: Julianne Moore, Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, Viggo Mortensen, William Macy

Release Company: Universal

MPAA Rating: R

Van Sant: Psycho 98

When I first heard of the Psycho remake project, I was disgusted with the idea--after all, why re-make perfection? Besides, Psycho was one movie I had studied numerous times and had used for teaching in some upper level classes at the high school level over the years, so I knew the original film does work (if this age group takes the time to view it).

Then I heard that Van Sant was the director, which gave me pause ... perhaps there was something to the project after all. You have to give Van Sant credit for taking risks--bravely going where most filmmakers would avoid at all costs and crafting one of the most diverse filmmaking resumes in the business.

I read up on his idea of making an actual tribute to Hitchcock by attempting for the first time to actually duplicate his original movie, so I was hooked and destined to go ahead and see it.

I went for an opening midnight showing.

From the audience, it appeared that Universal was accomplishing its goal--most of the audience were teenagers, and I know that the ones who sat immediately behind me had never seen the original.

It was a weird experience knowing the film so well and now seeing a different version--kind of like seeing another stage adaptation of Hamlet or King Lear -- except this version is no masterpiece.

The music was great -- the original score was there, just enhanced to match the new technology and the same style for credits was there. The opening has a very cool shot over my fair city of Phoenix, as Van Sant was able to accomplish what Hitchcock wanted to do but couldn't due to technological limitations.

Few of the actors seemed comfortable imitating their predecessors though Anne Heche was adequate in mimicking Janet Leigh. Van Sant actually granted permission to the major actors to put something of their own into the roles, but Heche decided to attempt to replicate Leigh.

William Macy actually seemed to grasp detective Arbogast's role the best of any of the "major" characters but he doesn't have many scenes. Other minor characters performed about as well as the originals, and Van Sant's cameo at the same spot as Hitch's is amusing.

The other main characters far less effective. While John Gavin was a rather stiff Sam Loomis in the original classic, he at least had an intensity--there was no chemistry between Viggo Mortensen and Anne Heche even though Van Sant has him play the opening scene in the buff. Later Mortensen flirts with Marion's sister and only comes off like a country bumpkin--hardly heroic at the end (He'll later get that aspect right in the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

Julianne Moore disappoints greatly--coming across as an uncaring, stiff Lila Crane more concerned about her walkman than about her sister. The initial encounter at the check-in desk destroys two characters with a single gesture. Moore actually winks at Norman at the check in. And then Norman winks back!!!

I can now appreciate what Anthony Perkins did for the Norman Bates role. It's not really fair to compare Vince Vaughn to a movie icon...but Vaughn took on the role and decided to make it his own... What Vaughn does to Norman, Hitchcock would have slashed out with his own butcher knife and left on the cutting floor.

The original Norman appears to be an overprotected, shy, retiring young man who in turn protects his beloved crazy mother. The flashes of anger that Perkins demonstrates are very controlled and internal...

Not so with Vaughn. From the start he lets us know that he's a goofball, with a stupid laugh and sinister look. His violent mood swings give away far too much too early and in what has to be one of the worst ever choices for making the character masturbate off-screen (complete with sound effects so the teens won't mistake what he's up to) during the classic voyeurism scene.

Van Sant sincerely attempts to work on Hitchcock's flawless timing, yet timing the scenes via the DVD doesn't work. The pace feels disjointed for most of the movie--perhaps due to the color, so our focus is not as narrow as it is in black and white.

Van Sant's added visual touches outside the opening shot aren't effective either. The added birds and bugs and lights to the cellar doesn't increase the shock when you meet Mrs. Bates.

This movie never grabs like Hitchcock's original. Of course this is not fair. Perhaps the true judge for its success depends on whether today's teens are affected by it...I suspect they won't be. It'd be far better to check out the original masterpiece!

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