*. The obvious question to ask about any remake of a successful film is Why? Usually the answer has to do with the need to update the original in some way to make it more contemporary. What I find odd about this version, placed next to the 1974 original, is that it changes so little. Outside of Moscow, if you’ve seen one subway line you’ve seen them all. They filmed this one in Toronto, not NYC, but you’d have to really be up on such things to notice that, or notice any differences between a 1974 subway car and a 1998 one.
*. About the only nod to changing times I noticed were the laser-sights and the motion detector hooked up to a laptop computer that the hijackers use as a high-tech trip wire. I think the latter looks silly, and It has no role to play here at all except to introduce some shots of cheesy-looking computer screens. Of course they didn’t have laptops in 1974, but even if they had I doubt those old school gangsters would have used a device like this. They wouldn’t have seen the need.
*. Most of the original script is kept, though all of the comic bits have been taken out (including all of the stuff involving the mayor, which is no great loss). The biggest new addition is Lorrain Bracco as Edward James Olmos’s partner. Bracco and Olmos were married at the time, which I guess explains her appearance since otherwise she’s of about as much use as the motion detector.
*. Because this was a made-for-TV movie there’s no graphic violence or bad language, but I didn’t feel the lack of either. Only the fade to commercial breaks reminded me of its network source.
*. Another minor addition is the television crew that goes into the tunnel and incites the firefight. In the novel the lone cop hiding behind the wall is the one who fires the shot that kicks things off. In the ’74 movie the shot comes from the tactical team. Here we get to blame the media (again), which makes everyone happy.
*. Vincent D’Onofrio is no Robert Shaw, but then who is? I think he plays Mr. Blue too quiet here, without having the same cool authority. But again, few other actors could have hoped to equal Shaw in this regard.
*. Why don’t the hijackers wear disguises in this version? Even the bad fake moustaches in the original served some purpose.
*. Also: Why don’t the hijackers group all the hostages together in one part of the car? Wouldn’t that make them easier to watch over?
*. I don’t like the character of Stonehouse in any version of the story. It doesn’t make sense for him to be so outraged at the police talking to the hijackers, just because the only thing he’s worried about is keeping his trains running on time.
*. They didn’t do enough of a job setting up the ending, which is taken straight from the original. Don’t they only hear Mr. Green sneezing once over the radio? So how can his sneeze at the end be such a big tip off? Especially given how suspiciously he’d been acting already.
*. Another odd thing about the final shot is that Olmos and Bracco are weirdly looking in different directions. What happened there?
*. Of course the obvious thing to do with all the money when the police came knocking would be to just wrap it all up in the sheet it’s already laid out on. Why doesnt Mr. Green do this? He’s not stupid.
*. It’s not a bad little movie. The cast is actually quite good. Donnie Wahlberg is believable as a punk Mr. Grey. Olmos is fine. I think the decision to make Mr. Brown a more sympathetic female hijacker (though she’s still called “Mister”) was a mistake, as the character is meant to be disposable. But Tara Rosling is tough enough for the part.
*. You can tell they had a very limited budget but I think they got the most out of what they had to work with. It’s just that after twenty-five years it’s no advance at all on the original, and indeed for the most part it looks like it might have been made around the same time. In the twenty-first century there would be yet another kick at the can, authentic to a new cinema zeitgeist.