The Long Ships

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: