Open Your Eyes
(Abre Los Ojos)

Why Vanilla Sky was not just another dumb*** re-imagining...

To call Vanilla Sky a remake of Abre Los Ojos misuses a verb that has fallen out of vogue in the wake of the recent "classics" Planet of the Apes and Rollerball. The English version simply reupholsters the Spanish thriller with some of the autobiographical rawness that has made each of director Cameron Crowe's films honest.

Abre Los Ojos tells the exact same story as Vanilla Sky, but without the same depth of character and place. Womanizer Cesar meets the girl of his dreams and shortly thereafter suffers a disfiguring car crash at the hands of his latest screw-toy, or at least this is the story he tells the police psychiatrist from behind a creepy mask. To explain any more of the plot would prevent those who haven't yet seen Vanilla Sky from enjoying one of the best pictures of 2001.

As far as the remake/original question, for the most part the two films are identical, shot-for-shot and translated line-for-line -at times disturbingly so. Eduardo Noriega plays Cesar as if he has lived his entire life being told he is a "Tom Cruise-Type" and has finally embraced it. Cruise bought the remake rights for this picture and in some ways it should have been a free trade; Noriega could have been sued for copyright infringement on about every Cruisism except dancing in underwear.

Penelope Cruz plays the same role in both versions and even though my Spanish skills are just slightly south of "Nachos Bel Grande," she's much better when not fettered by her poor English proficiency. (Frankly, her greatest moment on screen to this day comes in the late Ted Demme's Blow, when she calls Johnny Depp a "Fey-Goat" with a delivery and accent that suggests she probably only knows it angers him rather that what it means.)

After Vanilla Sky, Abre Los Ojos feels stripped down. Not to say that Vanilla Sky is necessarily the better film, but it does have more detail. While Cameron Crowe is one of the best filmmakers working today, Alejandro Amenabar shows a great deal of promise, and he did all of the heavy lifting on this project. Crowe's filmography shows large spaces of time between projects; most of this time is for Crowe the screenwriter to put the proper amount of time into his script. Amenabar did all the hard script work on Abre Los Ojos so Crowe was able to turn it around quickly, adding more detail because he wasn't forced to spend all of his time plotting. Amenabar built a beautiful house, but Crowe painted and decorated it.

The small details that change in translation are partially from Crowe's quiver and partially obligatory cultural changes. Cesar's money is from a restaurant chain left to him by his parents instead of a magazine empire - Crowe's background before writing films was working for Rolling Stone. Sofia (Penelope Cruz in both films) is a Spanish mime, but an American dancer, as an American audience would rightfully giggle and mock the concept of a hot mime.

The romance in the Spanish version runs sweeter than the American one but the American characters play as more complex, at least for an American audience. One scene in the Spanish version that really stands out is when Sofia and Cesar lounge in bed and she freezes. Upon a second viewing this scene is even more poignant, but even on the first viewing it is sweet enough to make even a cynic like me smile.

As a bonus to those of you put off by subtitles, Cruz shows something special that can be found in the middle of that which turns you off (there's one for all you crossword puzzlers). Any thinking sci-fi fan (i.e. one who liked eXistenZ better than The Matrix) must check out at least one if not both versions of this solid story. Any guy who does that "we'll watch a foreign film and maybe I'll get some" trade off with a cultured girl should look at this rental as a chance to kill two birds with one disc.

Jordan Rosa

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