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Dir. Alejandro Amenábar; writ. Amenábar, Mateo Gil; feat. Eduardo Noriega, Penélope Cruz, Chete Lera (R)

From the opening shots of Abre Los Ojos, the Spanish film on which the Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky is based, it's amazing to see how faithful Cameron Crowe was to the original. You would have to look a long time to find another remake that uses so much of its source's dialogue and scene construction, even if Crowe added nice flourishes to the screenplay, such as Penélope Cruz' observation that Cameron Diaz is the "saddest girl ever to hold a martini." Both take a privileged man and deface him, then watch him try (through methods that shouldn't be revealed here) to regain his grip on life.

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But for all the similarities, the two films also demonstrate what a difference a director and cast (and a few million bucks of Hollywood cash) can make to a film's tone. Abre director Alejandro Amenábar made a film that, despite its sci-fi component, is naturalistically acted and shot, and peopled with actual people instead of icons. Crowe, on the other hand, starts with that big-toothed matinee idol Tom Cruise, and encourages him to be as unrealistic as possible. He is a caricature (as an early scene with Cruz points out) of the glory boy who is hollow inside. And Cruz, who ostensibly plays the same role in both movies, is a Banana Republic stick figure doll of herself in the American version; it's as if her off-screen association with Cruise hardened her luscious face into a ceramic mask.

All of which, despite what it may seem, is a good thing, considering the kind of film Crowe was making. Sky is not meant to take place in the real world, but in an off-kilter, slightly futuristic one designed to create a dreamlike mood that complements the narrative puzzle already built by Amenábar.

So while it would be too much to watch them in the same week, this is one time when both a Hollywood remake and its source material are worth watching. And since Amenábar has moved from The Others to Spain for his next film, it's a good chance to see his spooky worldview stripped of Hollywood's Kidman-Cruise polish, and wait for the next installment.
- John DeFore

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