Abre Los Ojos (1997) was beautifully constructed. Imaginative and new and what good films are made of. It made you think and the best films always do. So when they decided to remake it in english as Vanilla Sky (2001) it made all the sense in the world. Most of the american audience would have never seen the spanish marvel. It tapped into the specific market. More so it used some of the greatest A list talent out there paired with an impeccable budget, to recreate perhaps what would have originally been the case if the budget was right.
Someone watching Vanilla Sky might think that is was well made with all the bells and whistles of the original. It leaves a mark on you. It conveys the concept of Abre Los Ojos very well. Though it's only when you watch the Vanilla Sky without the original. Because once you see the original you would have to think a few more times before accepting the reinvention.
First and foremost. Tom Cruise to replace Eduardo Noriega. Tom cruise with well, frankly, obnoxious quirks that scream crazy put in a role where he is supposed to be crazy. Doesn't work as well. He seems like he is insane and not someone who is suffering an intense loss of reality. Eduardo in his character is fighting to regain reality while Tom is merely creating the psychosis that his character is. It's the difference between believing you're crazy and actually being it. Because when someone has a real loss of reality, they believe themselves to be perfectly sane. Eduardo conveys that feeling that the world around him is crazy very well. While Tom suffers more self doubt of sanity.
The choice of Cameron Diaz was actually a good one. Since from the start there is something insane about her. It seems like there is something wrong and when the audience realizes that she is insane it all comes together quite well. She has the quirked laughs that Tom has but for her it makes sense. She is not the main character and her insanity should be foreshadowed. She does an amazing job at the character, perhaps even a bit more so than the original.
The other choice is not really a choice at all. Penelope Cruz plays the same role. In a serious film with such depth it wasn't the right choice. She is an amazing actress but mostly when she is speaking spanish. Her accent and uneasiness with english make her a sub par actress, and in a film this intense that doesn't work as well. She was breath taking in Abre Los Ojos but in Vanilla Sky there is a dis-genuiness to her character. There is a certain subtle nuance that she loses when she tries to talk in english.
Then there are the many character explanations and studies added that may make this a big budget film but don't make it better. Sofia was a million times better as a mime and an actress that pretends, then as a dancer. Doesn't fit the character quite as well. The extra lines added into scenes just fill up empty silences that were so much more powerful when Abre Los Ojos played. The character of the friend was ill adapted in this version. There seems to be too much glamour like the appearance of Steven Spilberg which is extremely unnecessary.
The original captured a certain truth, reality that the re make lost in its pursuit for glamour and blockbuster status. However it is hard to say that Vanilla Sky wasn't a great film. It's only in comparison that one can realize its shortcoming. The original idea was perfect enough that it you don't completely lose the beauty unless its horribly reenacting. They both play out well but the originality and the reality of the first one doesn't transfer. To most this might be a negligible difference but to those of us gearing to understand film better, it might be the difference between hitting the bullseye or coming kinda close.