Remakes have a bad name in the movie world. They’re generally seen as unnecessary, inferior, or blatant cash grabs by lazy studios too scared to take a chance on anything original and untested. And for the most part, this reputation is earned. For every innovative remake that takes an old premise and makes something genuinely new, like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, there are dozens of pointless rehashes like White Chicks (a rip off of Some Like it Hot), Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and the Russel Brand vehicle Arthur. For every remake that culturally eclipses the original, like Brian De Palma’s Scarface, we get countless exercises in pointlessness, like Sly Stallone in Get Carter, the turn of the millennium Rollerball and the forgettable update of Straw Dogs. But every now and again, Hollywood stumbles across a great idea that was under utilised the first time around and turns it into something bigger and better, like Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Like the origina
l, the title character, this time played by Stiller, is a daydreamer who’s constant lapses into imagination have kept him from achieving much in the way of life and love. But that’s where the similarities end. I liked the 1947 version
when I watched it, but now, it seems like nothing more than a series of mostly unrelated sketches performed by star Danny Kay. This update piles on a really fun adventure story taking Mitty across the world and back again.
Working in the photo archives of Life magazine, Mitty lives a life that’s only remarkable feature is how unremarkable it is. When he’s not escaping into his own daydreams, the biggest highlight of his life is making doe eyes at the new girl in his office, Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig. Things are turned upside down though when Adam Scott arrives as Ted Hendricks, a corporate bloodsucker, tasked with gutting the magazines staff before shutting it down completely.
Mitty receives a roll of film from renowned photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), containing Negative 25, a photograph that O’Connell claims is his greatest yet, a photograph that will be perfect for the front cover of the last ever issue of Life. The only problem is, Negative 25 is nowhere to be found. Not in the package, not in Mitty’s office, not even in the United Sates. So he sets off on a search and finds adventures bigger, crazier and more amazing than any of his daydreams.
As sweet and touching as the reveal of the valuable photo is, the movie had become about so much more than that, that I had accepted Negative 25 to be nothing more than a McGuffin that I’d never get to actually see. And I was fine with that. I kind of think it may have been better to leave the image of Negative 25 to the imagination of every individual viewer.
I really like Ben Stiller as a director and thinks he’s under rated in that field. Reality Bites aside, he makes visually interesting choices and has a really creative eye. And in Walter Mitty, he gets to stretch his legs into a few genres. The more elaborate daydreams are almost standalone short films, where Stiller gets to stage action set pieces, super powered heroics and use pretty impressive special effects and CGI in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the story.
Sometimes old movies get to float by on age alone. But if you put the two version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty side by side, I’d say the newer version beats its predecessor in every way. Better told, more compelling story. More heart and character development. Better visual style and technical execution. And just a lot more fun and satisfying in every way.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Directed By – Ben Stiller
Written By – Steve Conrad