A seemingly-minor electronic error sets the world on the verge of nuclear annihilation in this made-for-TV adaptation of the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Due to the burn-out of a piece of circuitry, a computer orders a U.S. Air Force jet on a strategic bombing raid, destroying targets in Russia with nuclear weapons. As Generals Bogan and Black desperately search for a way to recall the planes once the mistake has been discovered, the bomber's commander, Col. Grady sets out on his mission with grim determination, while the President and his translator stay in contact with the Soviet premier, trying to convince him that this was all a terrible mistake.
Directed by: Stephen Frears
. Starring: Walter Cronkite
, Richard Dreyfuss
, Noah Wyle
, Brian Dennehy
, Sam Elliott
, James Cromwell
, John Diehl
, Hank Azaria
, Norman Lloyd
, Bill Smitrovich
, Don Cheadle
, George Clooney
, Harvey Keitel
. Music by: Howard Shore
I have always thought the process of remaking good films to be one of Hollywood's most ridiculous and ignoble vanities. If the film was good enough to be remade in the first place, the original version must logically be compelling. But more importantly, the original version is just that...original. This is not live theater. Modern audiences are--through the glory of video--able to see the original versions of practically every even moderately significant film of the last 80 years. This assures that the original will exist in the public domain in spite of any remakes. Thus, a remake can do only two things if it closely follows the outline of the original: fail miserably in comparison, or damage the original by surpassing it in some way. Neither outcome seems beneficial to the second version.
Take, for instance, Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" project. We all understand that he loved the original film, but that film was so individual and brand new--both in concept and execution--that his copy was bound to fail. Now, I have seen the original, but not the remake, so I can't comment on it directly. The concept just seems horribly wrong, not to mention self-indulgent and creatively bankrupt.
This brings me to the "Fail-Safe" remake, produced live and in black and white for CBS television. In this case, I have seen both versions. The original is a wonderful film, and would most likely be a respected classic had it not been for its direct competition with "Dr. Strangelove." Regardless, "Fail-Safe" deserves just as much praise as "Strangelove," if not more. So I understand completely why George Clooney loved the original. And I have nothing against live television, either. That said, I found the "Fail-Safe" remake to be a horrible, pretentious disservice to the original film.
First, there is no reason to do this story in black and white, live, or on network TV. It depends so greatly on its buildup, on the tension and sense of inevitable failure, that it has to be commercial-free. All credibility is lost in between "Acts." Also, the live filming is an unnecessary gimmick. The remake just wasn't tight. It wasn't claustrophobic, and it wasn't clear. (Much of this depends on the acting, which I'll get to.) Let it be known that I love black and white. And when the original was made in black and white, color was available, but b&w was still common. It no longer is, which means that for the remake b&w was a specific choice of the filmmakers, and that is a serious pretension. They were trying to show off. It wasn't even particularly well-shot.
But the main flaw of this remake was that this new script (by the same screenwriter) is very similar to the original script, but not as good...not to mention inappropriate for live television. And the acting suffers for this, especially in comparison to the original. There is not a single performance that even matches the original performances, let alone surpasses them. And some of the new actors came off as either unprepared, miscast, or both. The role of Blackie is vital to this story. And any resemblance between the way Harvey Keitel (usually a good actor) read the part and the way actual human beings speak is strictly coincidental. The pacing of lines for everyone was never better than average, often horrible, and occasionally so unintentionally funny that the group of people I was with laughed uncontrollably. Dreyfuss was decent, but miscast, and could never hope to match Henry Fonda. Wyle was also decent, but his is the easiest role. Also, the Congressman went from being a reserved, conscientious doubter of the military to a laid-back, Southern light-comedy character lost in the wrong movie. Brian Dennehy was similarly miscast...not serious enough. Clooney played Clooney rather well, but the script ruined his character......which gets me to the script. (SPOILER-lite...) The MLK, Jr. scene was a silly addition, too self-consciously topical. Replacing Clooney's wife with a kid is, on the other hand, much too modern and manipulative. Not to mention the fact that the bomber's conversation with his wife in the original was never specific enough to make him certain of her identity, but the catch phrase in the remake damages the credibility of the climactic decision. Also, the Professor's big early scene is taken out in the remake, and his philosophical speeches, essential to the film, are almost used as background noise...that is, when they aren't just cut entirely. This was very disappointing, since I really liked the function of Matthau's character in the original. Similarly, the Colonel Cascio in the remake was (in addition to being a bad actor in terms of line delivery) robbed of the scene with his parents AND his breakdown scene...which was such a great, scary moment in the original. The remake just isn't as deep and the characters aren't as developed or interesting. And as a final injustice, the Matador dreams were removed, and with them went the wonderful final line...which Keitel probably would have read poorly anyway.
I really wish that when decent Hollywood professionals wanted to pay homage, they did so with applause or by actively promoting the original work. And when they want to make remakes, I wish they remade movies that had good ideas but were horribly executed. For instance, leave "Fail-Safe" alone...and remake "The Blair Witch Project"...leave the concept alone, add a budget, a script, a few payoffs, and a point. Actually, don't bother. They'd just end up casting Harvey Keitel as Heather.
On the other hand...they might cast Harvey Keitel as Heather.
Review by HugBoy from the Internet Movie Database.