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Why & How 'The Long Ships' w/ Sidney Poitier Should Be Remade. What Old Films Would You Remake?

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by Sergio
August 22, 2013 11:26 AM
38 Comments
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I asked this question before, over two years ago, and I thought once more unto the breach (to quote Shakespeare's Henry V), and ask it again, to see what kind of responses we get from our readers this time around.

So let’s say you’re a filmmaker who has gotten the funding to make a film, along with final cut and total control, except you have to remake a previous film - what film would you remake? I’ve asked that question myself, to friends and now to you readers out there.

There are so many films I could name, but I assume, like me, you would want to try your hand at redoing some guilty pleasure that just missed the mark. Not a great film by any means, but one with a great premise that you enjoy and in your heart just know you could have done a better job.

My first choice back then, and now, STILL would be the 1964 chintzy, not-quite-epic adventure movie The Long Ships with Sidney Poitier and Richard Widmark.

Perhaps some of you have seen it before. Not even remotely within 50 miles of being a great film as you will agree, but a terrific premise full of possibilities (which are never fulfilled) nonetheless.

For those who have never seen it, it’s about a band of renegade Vikings, led by Widmark, and a Moor (Poitier), both of whom are after this giant golden bell for... well, we are not really sure why. Maybe because it‘s there and it’s made of a gold.

The film was made to cash in on the success of The Vikings (in fact, the cinematographer for The Vikings, Jack Cardiff was the director of The Long Ships), and the Charleston-Heston-defeats-the-evil-Moors-out-of-Spain 1961 epic El Cid, but on a fraction of the budget.

While El Cid and Vikings were shot in breathtakingly beautiful and exotic locations like Spain, Norway, Germany and France, The Long Ships was mainly shot in what was then the much cheaper and grungier Yugoslavia - and it looks it.

The story is full of holes you can drive a Mack truck through, like, in one scene, where Widmark escapes being tortured by Poitier by jumping out a window into the ocean, and is later found washed up on the shore of his Viking village, with no explanation of how he got there. So he swam all the way from North Africa to Norway???

The action is pretty thin (basically, one limp battle scene), the plot is stupid, it looks really cheap, and there’s Lionel Jeffries, who was a very funny British comic actor of the period, playing a flaming gay mute eunuch in blackface.

But it’s got Poitier wearing a magnificent “process” and is bare-chested for half of the film, playing the villain, and looking like he’s having a fun time doing it too. But I just wish I could remake that film and make it better. 

So, in light of that, here are some of the things I would do:

1) I wouldn’t do something so predictable like reversing the roles and making the white guy the villain and the Moor the good guy or vice versa. That’s too obvious and boring. I would instead make them both duplicitous bastards who wouldn’t hesitate to slit the other’s throat to get what they want. Add some tension to the mix.

2) No 3D bullshit, nor would I shoot it on digital video. Film all the way; and I would go one step further and shoot it in 65MM, like the original was, and like they did for large-scale epic films back then. Go for the overwhelming, highly detailed, huge screen image. It’s time for 65MM to make a comeback, following the lead of Paul Thomas Anderson who shot his film The Master in 65MM.

3) Add a lot more action, like more battles and fights. And not that lame, family friendly, PG-13 kid’s stuff, but hard “R” rated, bloody, graphic battle scenes. Beheadings, dismemberments, impalings. Go for that Braveheart tip.

4) CGI effects ONLY when absolutely necessary. All effects will be practical, on camera, as much as possible, like they used to do. People can tell the difference between the real stuff and cartoon B.S.

4) Put in more infomation about the clash of cultures between the white Europeans and black Africans. Add some tension and edginess to the film.

5) Do a worldwide search to find the next Pam Grier for a major role in the film (and I’ve got a feeling I won’t find her in the U.S.), and not for some lame, doting wife role; but a vicious, kick ass fighter who’s lethal with a scimitar.

And that's how I'd begin my retake on The Long Ships.

So what would YOU remake, and what changes or improvements would you include? 

Here’s the trailer for The Long Ships:

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38 Comments

  • Donja | November 24, 2013 5:39 PMReply

    Um... Or they could just make the movie of the book on which the original movie was based... "The long ships" by Franz bengtsson... Currently being ripped off by the vikings series... It's a great book... But Sidney would not have as much to do...

  • J | February 10, 2014 10:59 PM

    Absolutely agree with Donja! Sounds like very few who posted here, other than Donja, have actually read the book. This book is an overlooked classic, at least outside of Sweden, where it is one of the most widely read. Scrap the re-make, it has virtually nothing to do with the book. Make a whole new movie to do justice to Red Orm Tostesson, his life-long friend Toke Grey-Gullsson, and the high adventure and sometimes comical exploits of these great literary figures.

  • omar | September 25, 2013 6:02 PMReply

    In keeping with the Poitier/Widmark vibe: my choice is No Way Out (1950). This time with Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, and Ruth Wilson. Shot with RED cameras on real London streets. Film is dead, Sergio. Just let it go to its well deserved rest.

  • SERGIO | September 25, 2013 6:08 PM

    "Film is dead, Sergio. Just let it go to its well deserved rest".

    NO NEVER!

  • sergio | September 25, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    Oh yeah one other important thing I should have added in my piece that I just remembered after seeing that trailer for About Last Night (or for any black rom-com) Any black actress in my remake MUST wear her own hair. NO EXCEPTIONS! ABSOLUTELY NO Caucasian yaki hair hats permitted on the set

  • Tony Regusters | September 21, 2013 4:36 PMReply

    I would remake "Creature from the Black Lagoon" with more authentic characters like Yanomami tribes people up the Amazon River in Brazil and an integrated cast of American and Brazilian paleontologists. I would also present a backstory about where the creature came from (never addressed in the original), and the civilization he may have been separated from because of a cave in of a tunnel connecting his secret world from ours. I would also give "the creature" some exceptional survival powers such as telepathy and shape0shifting. In addition, I would create conflict between the paleontologists with one group seeking rewards and glory, and the other doing their best to help the creature return to his lost underwater world.

  • Brian Chritopher | September 18, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Remake? I think one is enough. If the highlight's in the trailer then it must be a case of "so bad its just plain bad."

  • Fancysmancee | September 15, 2013 9:48 PMReply

    The Long Ships??? How old are you Sergio? Thanks for reminding me of that movie...I looked at the original trailer and laughed through the whole thing...a good '0le deep belly laugh...especially every time somebody asked ..."where's the bell." If you get involved with a remake, send me an email...I wanna work on the set...I've got mad skills! And a "Pam Grier like" foreigner (from Australia or England...everybody else comes from there)...well...that would be groovy!

  • Sergio | September 25, 2013 10:52 AM

    Yeah it's really terrible to be "old" Your life is over. I ought toi just stick my head in the oven, turn on the gas and put an end to it

  • JB | September 13, 2013 12:10 AMReply

    My top choices would be The Spook who sat by the Door or Brother From Another Planet. Just modernize the era and cast it right.

  • DA MAYOR | September 12, 2013 2:28 PMReply

    I would love to remake How To Kill A Chinese Bookie. Update the dialogue and fashion and make the lead a Black guy.

  • Eshowoman | September 10, 2013 1:20 PMReply

    I would love it if they remade For The Love of Ivy. Since West Indian women are still working in white homes it would still work. Mr. Poitier was very suave and sexy in that movie.

  • Winston | September 15, 2013 10:43 AM

    That would be a great remake.

  • Larry Crowe | September 10, 2013 12:09 AMReply

    The idea of Vikings sacking any Moorish city in the 1000's A.D. is historically absurd. However, The Long Ships was thrilling to me as a 13 year old because Poitier was shown as an intense and powerful Black man who threatened Europeans. In fact, he even ruled a Morrish state in which he was apparently one of the few actual Moors. Hollywood usually wrote us completely out of history - like Herbert Lom playing Yusuf Ben Tachfin in El Cid and Laurence Olivier playing the Mahdi in Khartoum. Both of these actors were in shoe polish. I thought the movie was well done for what it was. I liked the artistic telling of the origin of the bell before the titles, the music and the cinematography shot in scenic Montenegro (Black Mountain). The silent scene of the Sheik's minions losing control of the giant golden bell with their legs tied together to it as it hurtled down the mountain into the sea is a cautionary one for us all.

  • MARK H | September 5, 2013 5:46 PMReply

    A remake of whatever happned to baby jane starring monique and angela bassett

  • Name Eric Cotten | August 31, 2013 10:30 PMReply

    Your CommentI think a far more interesting Richard Widmark/Sidney Poitier re-make would be The Bedford Incident(1963) produced by Mr. Widmark.

  • Roland S. Jefferson | August 30, 2013 5:15 PMReply

    Lets do a remake of 1961's film noire MALAGA. (the only noire film to star a black actress DOROTHY DANDRIDGE) Remember, Marcel Camus wanted Dorthy Dandridge for BLACK ORPHEUS, but Otto Preminger (her lover at the time) told her that no one would ever go to see a foreign black film. Even better, lets lobby 20th Century Fox to re-release 1957's ISLAND IN THE SUN, only with the added romantic scenes between Dorothy and Harry Belafonte that were deleted out of a fear that white audiences would be turned off by any sexual display between a black and and black woman. (remember, Dorothy was always paired with white male actors, even though they weren't allowed to kiss) Even today, Belafonte's political election-eve speech to the island's black plantation workers holds up magnificently, especially given today's ongoing racism. If for no order reason than to see eye-candy Dorothy Dandridge and hear Belafonte's speech, the film is worth seeing.

  • Patrice | September 14, 2013 12:48 PM

    Wait a minute."White audiences would be turned off by any sexual display between a Black [woman and a] Black man..." "Dorothy was always paired with White male actors..." What about "Carmen Jones" (Dorothy Dandridge + Harry Belafonte) or "Porgy and Bess" (Dorothy Dandridge + Sidney Poitier, Brock Peters, and Sammy Davis, Jr.)? She was paired up with Black men in those films. Still, the deleted scenes from "Island in the Sun" sound interesting.

  • Joseph Marshall Parnell | August 28, 2013 9:56 PMReply

    I would love to do a remake of the Steven King film, The Shining. In both the film and the TV mini-series re-make the lone black character, "Dick Hallorann", played by Scatman Crothers and Melvin Van Peebles respectfully, were not given the heroic task of "saving the day" as was grippingly and effectively shown in the original book. Author Steven King described him as "a tall black man with a modest afro that was beginning to powder white. I would find a Danny Glover-type as my Hallorann and give him the horrific obstacles he would have to overcome to save the little boy and his mother. In my opinion, this character is not so much a "magic negro" as he is a heroic one. That's what I loved so much about the book, (even though it scared me thoroughly), that a black man with a "shining" was able to use his gift in spite of impossible odds, both natural and supernatural, and win in the end. That's a movie I'd love to see.

  • Jeffrey Fearing | September 30, 2013 4:01 PM

    I second your comments on The Shining. Kubrick's inversion of the hero in his film from the strong Black man of King's novel to the waifish White woman played by Shelly Duvall made me question Kubrick's racial politics. Instead of saving the day, Scatman Crothers' character promptly gets an ax in the chest, having been rendered irrelevant and ineffectual in Kubrick's version. Kubrick's treatment of Dorian Harewood's character in Full Metal Jacket only re-affirmed my suspicions.

  • Walter Harris Gavin | August 24, 2013 9:31 PMReply

    1. Cleopatra with Paula Paton in the title role.
    2. Putney Swope
    3. Hannibal with Idris Elba
    4. Last Tango in Paris
    There are more, but can't think right now off the top of my head.

  • urbanauteur | August 28, 2013 8:42 PM

    How `bout Nicole Ari Parker as Cleopatra;-)? and maybe instead of Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris-leave that one alone!!, maybe his movie-1900 with Mos Def & Jeffrey Wright? i always thought that Spike Lee's -School Daze(in its original form, before columbia pictures got its hands on it, could've been an Afrocentric version of 1900;-)?

  • Walter Harris Gavin | August 24, 2013 9:46 PM

    Just thought of another one in light of the Trayvon Martin miscarriage of justice, an updated and reworked version of the Paul Newman starer, The Verdict.

  • Darren Colston | August 23, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    I'm a film fanatic and starting a career in film production. A dream come true would be to see The Spook Who Sat By the Door remade. Can't really say out loud or type out all the reasons why or how I would do it, but exposure of interlocking systems of oppression could get the water boiling. Give me another ten years and I'll be ready to cook ;)

  • Richard Wesley | August 23, 2013 12:47 PMReply

    My memory of the plot of the Long Ships is that Richard Widmark's character wanted the golden bell to melt it down for plunder; Sidney Poitier's character wanted to melt the bell down to use the gold to erect a mosque in dedication to Allah. Looking at it objectively, and perhaps through a moral or religious lens, an observer might have concluded that the Moor had the higher aspiration. The solution to the problem was to turn The Moor into a villain by torturing a few hapless Vikings, and even forcing his wife to select one of his soldiers to be sacrificed on a torture device in order to demonstrate the strength of his faith and resolve to Widmark. I didn't buy it in 1964 and I damn suredon't buy it, today. Of course the European actress who played the wife had her character killed off by the end of the movie. In those days, that was the fate of any movie white woman, who slept with a black man, married to him, or not. Your idea for a remake might make sense to me if The Moor has some of the flair of Anthony Quinn's Bedouin in Lawrence of Arabia, Sean Connery's bravado in The Wind and the Lion, and the wisdom and authority of Ian Keith's Saladdin in Cecil B. DeMille's 1933 film, The Crusades. Without those qualities, and the opportunity to display them to their fullest effect the Moor's character will make no sense, and in that case I doubt if a contemporary black leading actor with even a modicum of self respect would accept the part.

  • Syrich | August 23, 2013 12:19 PMReply

    Its interesting to see Sydney and Richard in this trailer, especially since I recently saw them in "No Way Out" (1950) black and white film noir. From what I saw in The Long Ships trailer the dynamics between these two seem to be very different. Maybe that's why Sidney appears to be having so much fun 14 years later. "No Way Out" is another good candidate for remake.

  • CareyCarey | August 23, 2013 11:58 AMReply

    First Sergio, you were walking right down my street this morning. I mean, in your describtion/take on The Long Ships I could just about complete everyone one of your thoughts.

    For instance, if someone asked me what I remembered about that flick I'd probably start with the image of Sidney Poitier's bare chest and that James Brown hairdo. Then I'd mention the film's corniness, chintzy-ness and cheap production value. And those fight scenes -- lord have mercy, I've seen better in The Housewives of Atlanta.

    But man, when you mentioned Richard Widmark jumping out of that tower window, I just about lost it. I remember watching the movie with my lady (about 4 months ago) and telling her something just wasn't right about Widmark's meraculous appearance on the shore of his homeland. Damn, if my memory serves well, wasn't his first voyage to North Africa fraught with unimaginable danger, not to mention the loooong distance -- this film was called The Loooong Ships, wasn't it? Matter of fact, his first ship was destroy in the journey, but he was able to swim back home? Yeeaaaah, riiiiiight.

    Anyway, in my fantasy remake I think I'll go with an all black cast version of Heaven Can Wait (1978, Warren Beaty, James Mason).

    Minimal CGI, only a little puff and smoke during the "transformation" scenes, but this will be straight ahead drama with a few twists and of course a few laughs.

    Joe Pentleton (Samuel Jackson) an aging golf pro on the PGA circuit, is having a come back year after falling out of the top 100 money list for the last 5 years. He's looking forward to competing in this years U.S. Open, however, while riding his bicycle thorough the Mulhuland drive tunnel he collides with a Mack truck. An over anxious guardian angel ( Charles Dutton) on his first assignment plucks Joe out of his body early in the mistaken belief that his death is imminent, and Pendleton arrives in the afterlife

    Once there, he's furious becuase aside from having a great money year, he was on his way to let his black snake moan. His new-found fame was opening many doors. But all goodbye was not gone. Upon investigation, the mysterious Mr. Jordan (Morgan Freeman) discovers that he is right; he was not destined to die until much later. Unfortunately, his body has already been cremated, so a new body must be found. They agree on the body of millioniare industrilist Leo Farnsworth. Farnsworth has just been drugged and drowned in his bathtub by his wife Julia (Beyounce) and her lover, Farnsworth's personal secretary, Tony Abbott (T.D. Jakes). Julia and Tony are naturally confused when Farnsworth reappears, alive and well. And, the first twist, which the audience is not aware of, is that Tony is in the closet. He's using Julia for his own personal gain.

    Comfortable in Farnsworth's recovered body, Joe (Samuel Jackson) sets out to win the coveted U.S. Open Championship. To succeed, he must first convince, and then secure the aid of, long-time friend and trainer Max Corkle (Jamie Foxx) to get his new body into shape. At the same time, he falls in love with an environmental activist, Betty Logan (Kerry Washington) who disapproves of Farnsworth's hairstyles and past love affairs with white chicks.

    As the film's plotline heads for its coup de gras, the characters all face a crisis. Julie finds out about Abbott's "hiding place", leading her to confront him in Farnsworth's office. Both men are present, she pulls out a pistol, fires one shot, both men fall to the ground - dead! The bullet went through Abbott's neck, finding it's final resting place in Farnsworth's heart. The golf tournament goes on as scheduled. Through a special chain of events Farnsworth is replaced by the cool walking and handsome Thomas Jarrett (Denzel Washington) in the climactic golf outing. After an errant golf ball finds Jarrett's head, he is himself killed. With Mr. Jordan's (Morgan Freeman) help, Joe then occupies his final body, that of Jarrett. Joe is shown snapping to life in Jarrett's body, then going on the win the prized trophy.

    During the awards presentation, Mr. Jordan removes Joe's memory of his past life and departs. Joe becomes Thomas Jarrett and the cosmic balance is restored; the victorious black champion, Jarrett, is shown meeting Betty (fine Kerry Washington) after the celebrations have ended, and as the film ends it is strongly implied that they are falling in love due to a mutual sense of deja vu.

  • CareyCarey | September 25, 2013 1:25 PM

    Thanks Griff,

    Those movies are two of my favorites, consequently I wanted to do them justice. In fact, that little "treatment" required 4 hours of my not-so-pressing time.

    More importantly, as you probably know, both films received numerous Oscar nods and wins, so, again, I was compelled to give them my utmost attention.

    In reference to the awards (best actor, best picture, best director, best screenplay and more) I have to mention Warren Beatty and my choice of Samuel Jackson to play Joe Pendleton/Farnsworth. First, although Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait" is one of my favorites, his films and acting in Dick Tracy, Reds and Bonnie & Clyde puts him in my top 3 men who wear several hats (i.e., actor/producer/director). Consequently, to replace him with a black actor was sort of a no-brainer - for me. I mean, without question Mr. Jackson brings "it" to every role he plays.

    Reference my other choices, again, they had to walk in large footsteps (i.e., Claude Rains, James Mason, Charles Grodin, Robert Montgomery, Julie Christie, Diane Cannon). To fill those shoes was - again - a no-brainer. Not just stars but Oscar winners have to play those parts. And, although Kerry Washington hasn't won, nor been nominated for an Oscar, she has been nominated for an Emmy, so she's in there with the best of best.

    On the other hand, speaking of not-so-bests, the seldom mentioned re-make "Down To Earth" starring Chris Rock and Louis C.K. was... ah... not-so-good. In simple terms, I believe mine would trump that non-creative, non-amusing and poorly acted rip-off.

  • Griff | September 25, 2013 10:43 AM

    That was a brilliantly concise re-imagining of HEAVEN CAN WAIT/HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. It was practically a screen treatment -- the whole movie played out in my mind as I read your adapted synopsis. Jackson would be excellent as Joe Pendleton; in fact, all of your casting choices were inspired.

  • Syrich | August 23, 2013 11:08 AMReply

    Great post, I love your suggestions for the remake. I am not into making films, but I enjoy the movies, especially vintage and foreign films. I can't believe I had missed the Long Ships, talk about vintage. Thanks for the trailer.

    I dont know if this qualifies as a remake, but I think it is time to add some black flavor to the 007 franchise. I feel our british boy, Idris Elba would make a great James Bond. Refer to Toyota commercial. Although I am not one of his fans, his charm and good looks have not been missed by me. It is because of these strengths and his british roots that makes him a perfect candidate for being the next James Bond. And there are many black actresses who would make great Bond girls. Two that comes to mind, Jill Marie Jones and Nadine Ellis (she is in that Toyota commercial with Idris). Elba and Ellis have already proven they have great chemistry. I am a long time fan of the James Bond movies and I would like to see it continue. Having a Black Bond for a several movies would be a great boost to the franchise.

  • DA MAYOR | September 12, 2013 2:33 PM

    I have been saying the same thing for years! The only thing is that the current James Blonde is doing a good job so maybe teh timing won't be right for Idris. But then again, Sean Conner cmae back as a more matured Bond after his inital run so who knows. Either way, I think Brother Bond is an idea whose time is soon to come.

  • Frank Lee | August 23, 2013 10:09 AMReply

    I am your average movie fan with not much film knowledge.
    Not as serious about film as you all are but love reading your emotional posts and provacative comments.
    No particular order: Quilombo (the new land is shangri-la-esque), Zulu (futuristic or sci-fi) and the Wiz (surprised a movie remake of a remake hasnt been done already with the wealth of current young talented musical performers? Post-Oz sequel retelling similar to the recent Oz the Great and Powerful)

    Thanks for this morning's thought exercise. Enjoyed.

  • Jeffrey Fearing | September 30, 2013 4:18 PM

    Yes, somebody please remake The Wiz. Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Richard Pryor ruined it and Sidney Lumet was out of his depth directing it. Stephanie Mills is too old now (so was Diana) so they'd need to find an age-appropriate Dorothy with amazing vocal chops, a Scarecrow who can dance as good as Hinton Battle in the play, and a Wiz who can actually sing, the way Andre Deshields did in the play. I love Lena Horne but Dee Dee Bridgewater defined the role of Glinda the good witch in the play.

  • Lee Shargel | August 22, 2013 10:48 PMReply

    Excellent food for thought. If I could, I would definitely remake "The Maltese Falcon." Only it would be shot in today's wikkileaks, middle east gone crazy, world in turmoil as a backdrop to New York, locations. I would get Martin Scorsese to direct and Jeremy Renner to play the Hard-Boiled, Humphrey Bogart - cop turned private detective role.

  • HarveyDent322 | August 22, 2013 8:52 PMReply

    Nice little thought exercise because a few movies come to mind for me like BINGO LONG'S TRAVELING ALL-STARS AND MOTOR KINGS (keep the comedy like the original but a little more dark) and MEET JOHN DOE (when I first saw it I thought a remake with Denzel and Jenifer Lopez would work) but the one I'd really remake would be OTHELLO with a white actor (Michael Fassbender) in the lead with Idris Elba or Chiwetele Ejiofor as Iago and Nichole Beharie as Desdemona. Transport the story to Moorish North Africa and rejigger the dialogue to play up Othello's now whiteness and make it a film instead of a filmed play with more involved battles and sword fights.

  • VC | August 22, 2013 1:16 PMReply

    I saw this movie on TV as a child, loved it, granted looking back not a great film but very entertaining. For a studio to remake it right would cost 200mil or more and with a black director, which studio is that?

  • sergio | August 22, 2013 2:52 PM

    I think it's pretty obvious to everybody (except you) that I'm talking from a fantasy point of view. Nor do I subscribe to your "We'se po' black fo' never get nuttin " attitide

  • savagedarky | August 22, 2013 12:46 PMReply

    Whoo boy! Those performances were definitely stilted. Poitier was unbelievable to me when he asks Widmark, "Where is the bell?" Ditto for Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun when he says the line, "Not with that moneeeey!" Is Poitier over rated? Could be, what do I know? I just know he takes me out of the fictional dream with his dialogue delivery at times. Makes me aware that I'm watching an "actor".

    If you remake this turkey you will have to use CGI because you can't miniaturize water. Those shots of that toy ship bouncing around in a tub were laughable, especially for a movie titled, "The Long Ships"!

    Why remake this turd anyway? I'm sick of remakes! Take the essence and do something fresh like Tarantino does or the Wachowski siblings. The way they "remake" a film by stealing scenes and ideas wholesale from other films and presenting them as new in a fresh way is the way to go.

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