John Carpenter’s movies typically aren’t mainstream films, surviving off a cult following for both the director and the general low-budget eerie feeling of the movies themselves. With only a cult following they aren’t typically targeted for remakes, but when Hollywood runs out of ideas who knows how far they’ll dig to come up with something. In this case they came across Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and made a rather decent, larger budget remake.
Assault on Precinct 13 features *surprise* an assault on police precinct number thirteen, a dilapidated precinct slated to be decommissioned shortly after the beginning of 2005. The movie finds the building on New Years Eve with only a skeleton crew made up of an old-timer (Brian Dennehy), a secretary (Drea De Matteo), and Jake Roenick, a burned out cop who relies on alcohol and pills to get him through the day (Ethan Hawke). Thanks to a raging snowstorm, a busload of criminals is forced to unload at the nearly-abandoned precinct. Well, not really a busload of criminals. More like... well, four, but of those only one is important - Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburn), a hitman who was caught killing a cop.
It turns out the cop Bishop killed was a crooked one, and he wasn’t alone. Apparently a large quantity of well equipped, elite cops were on the take, recieving a cut from Bishop in return for a blind eye. Afraid Bishop will rat them out if he has to testify, the crooked police decide to silence Bishop for good and begin a siege of the building. Well, not really a siege, more like an assault. Quickly Roenick realizes his few men won’t be much against the forces assaulting the station and frees the criminals to lend a helping hand.
While Assault on Precinct 13 certainly has its share of gunplay and explosions, it is not a straightforward action flick. Much like Carpenter’s The Thing or Prince of Darkness, the movie is more of a suspense film. As the forces become overwhelming against the protectors of the precinct, the suspense grows as more questions form: When will the enemy strike? Will the convicts turn against their former incarcerators? Will Maria Bello take her top off? (she doesn’t by the way). Despite not having Carpenter’s hand at the helm, the movie keeps the flavor and feel of a Carpenter film, at the same time making itself a little more accessible to larger audiences by putting big names and talent in the picture.
If I had any complaint about the film, it’s that at first Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburn seemed grossly miscast. Fishburn, better known for playing the wise Morpheus in the Matrix films, seems oddly peaceful and wise for a criminal. At first glance the role of a maniac killer like Bishop seems better suited to a darker presence like Tony Todd. Hawke seems too young for a police sergeant, still carrying the baby face that made him a perfect trainee in Training Day. As the movie continues though, and you realize this is more about the characters than the explosions, it becomes very obvious why both actors were good choices for their roles. To say more would spoil the film, but if you feel awkward with the characters at first give them a chance to develop a little more. I think you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Director Jean-François Richet made the wise decision to treat this as a character based story instead of focusing on big bangs, and to make the bangs as realistic as possible. With those decisions he managed to create a surprisingly compelling story that manages to draw you in and make you wonder what’s coming next. It’s a remake that pays respect to it’s original source material without exploiting it, keeping the same feeling of suspense for a new audience to appreciate.
This disc review is based on material provided by Universal, but not on the actual DVD release. Items we usually consider in our rating like sound and picture quality, menus, and advertisements on the disc were not provided, and therefore not taken into consideration for this review. At the same time, some of the material may not make it into the final release (although since all of the press material has it listed, that’s probably unlikely).
The general focus of the extras for Assault on Precinct 13 are the special effects of the film, which is odd considering it’s really focused on the characters instead of the effects. Still, the combat effects the movie has are impressive, so I could think of worse things to focus on.
Two of the disc’s featurettes, “Armed & Dangerous” and “Plan of Attack”, focus on combat, stunts, and weapons. The other two featurettes focus more on the production side, with “Behind Precinct Walls” focusing on the precinct set itself and “The Assault Team” looking at the people in the production staff. Rounding out the featurettes is an “HBO: First Look” which, unfortunately, always seem to be more like an extended commercial for the film than an actual look at the movie.
There are about half a dozen deleted scenes rounding out the bonus material I saw. The scenes are extra little bits for the characters, but nothing that really stands out as something that should have been put back in the movie. This is one of those cases where the deleted footage was best left deleted.
There is no commentary track planned for the DVD release, and I have to say I think they’re missing an opportunity here. I can easily recognize that an hour and a half of listening to Jean-François Richet would wear thin (English is his second language, which he speaks with a heavy French accent). Why not take the opportunity to get the thoughts from the person who originally created the film - John Carpenter. DVD releases have become so focused on being mainstream they are far too often passing up ideas and opportunities like this.