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The Italian Job: Original vs Remake (film essay)

Posted on March 15, 2009 at 9:45 AM

Remakes are often a vain endeavour at updating a classic movie, or even worse, a shameless Hollywood attempt to cash in on a successful storyline. Nine times out of ten they are a completely unnecessary reworking of a movie that was just fine the way it was… or simply a waste of money. The problem with this remake is that it’s actually quite impressive.


To properly establish which of the two films is superior, it is absolutely imperative that I analyse and consider every last detail. Throughout this report I will investigate their initial plotlines; the similarities and differences between the two; and most importantly the pros and cons of each version. After my examination is complete I should have narrowed my decision down to one absolute verdict.So let us begin the gruelling process of dissecting these two great films. Which one will come out on top? Will the timeless original prevail, or will its new and improved counterpart come out as top dog? It’s he old versus the new; tradition rivals progress. As the British classic locks shoulders with a Hollywood blockbuster, only one thing can be certain – the spaghetti will fly!


The Italian Job (1969)

The original Italian Job is a British comedy, adventure film, directed by Peter Collinson and written by Troy Kennedy Martin. It was released in 1969 and was very popular in Britain, partly due to the presence of Michael Caine. Subsequent television showings and outings on video have established it as something of a national institution in the UK, with a cult following elsewhere. In 2004 the magazine Total Film named The Italian Job the 27th greatest British film of all time.


Shortly after being released from prison, Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) hears about a ‘big job’ in Turin, Italy. The job is to steal 4 million dollars worth of gold arriving in Italy from China. With the help of Mr Bridger (Noel Coward), an incarcerated criminal mastermind who nonetheless runs a gangland empire from within jail, the plans for this high-risk operation are underway.


In the first half of the film Charlie assembles his gang – which includes computer expert Professor Peach (Benny Hill), and a very minor character played by Robert Powell – and begins training and planning out the heist. Charlie works out an ingenious strategy to steel the gold, by sabotaging the traffic-control computer and escaping, in spite of the resulting traffic jam, in nippy Mini getaway cars along a carefully planned route.


Things go don’t quite as smoothly as they had planned, especially with the mafia breathing down their necks. In the end, however, they somehow manage to pull it off. They steel the gold, jam up the traffic, and zoom off in three high-powered mini coopers. This leads to an excellent car chase sequence through Italian streets, buildings, rivers, sewers, highways and rooftops, which lasts for several minutes. The gang makes their final getaway on a six-wheeled Bedford coach.


Successfully on their way to Switzerland along a winding mountain road, the gang celebrates in the back of the bus. A mistake by the driver sends the coach into a skid, with the back end of the bus teetering over the edge of the cliff, the gold slipping towards the rear doors. As Croker attempts to reach the gold, it slips further, and the audience is left not knowing whether the coach, its contents, and its occupants survive – a literal cliffhanger ending. Croker's last line, “Hang on lads, I've got a great idea!” left the film open for a sequel, although none emerged.


Apart from the colourful vision of a certain time and place, the film is also notable for its inventive and exciting car chases and stunts, and its soundtrack, which opens with the song "On Days like These", by Matt Monro, and closes with Quincy Jones' "Getta Bloomin' Move-On" (usually referred to as "The Self Preservation Society", after its chorus). Kennedy Martin's screenplay is sharp and witty, with several memorable lines. After an over-exuberant explosives test obliterates an armoured vehicle, Croker's reaction is an exasperated "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" delivered to perfection by Caine.


The Italian Job (2003)

The remake of The Italian Job is a Hollywood action, crime flick, directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Donna and Wayne Powers. It was released in 2003, and although it is considered an intelligent and engaging film in its own right, it has never been fully recognized as anything to rival its classic predecessor.


After pulling off an amazing gold bullion heist from a heavily guarded palazzo in Venice, Italy, Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) and his gang – computer genius Lyle (Seth Green), wheelman Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), explosives expert Left-Ear (Mos Def) and veteran safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) – can't believe it when inside man Steve (Edward Norton) double-crosses them and keeps the gold for himself, killing John Bridger in the process.


It is now one year later, and Charlie and his team are back for revenge. With the help of John’s daughter, Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), a beautiful nerves-of-steel safecracker, they follow the backstabber to California, where they plan to re-steal the gold.


The plan is simple – when the gold is being transported to the airport the team will intercept the van by tapping into Los Angeles' traffic control system, manipulating the signals and creating one of the biggest traffic jams in LA history. They will then transport the van into the sewers, cut any opening with a train, steel the gold, and make their getaway in three high-powered mini coopers.


Things of course do not go as smoothly on the day, especially when they find out Steve has updated his safe to state-of-the-art, or when in a last act of desperation, he pursues them in an assault helicopter. But in the end they prevail. They hijack the van; steal the gold, and Stella gets revenge on her father’s killer. While the gang escapes in a train, Steve is kidnapped by some Ukrainian’s whose relative he killed.


So with 28 million dollars worth of gold spread between them, they all get to live out the rest of their days in luxury. Lyle gets his high-tech stereo system; Handsome Rob gets his dream car; Left-Ear gets his mansion; and of course Charlie gets the girl. And they all live happily ever after.


Similarities & Differences

The similarities between the two films are few and far between, but there are certainly enough connections for the latter title to be considered a remake. Besides the title, both movies share the same protagonist – Charlie Croker, and both are about a group of thieves who have banded together in hope of pulling off the ultimate heist. They also both incorporate many of the same plot features, such as the use of a traffic jam to carry out the heist; the mini coopers; the stylishly choreographed car chases; and the robbery performed in Italy.


There are many differences between the remake and the original, which in a way is good if you plan on getting your money’s worth out of a film and gives it a much more lasting appeal. Although I am sure the remake has suffered much criticism from die hard fans, for straying so much from the primary formula. Other than the few similarities I mentioned in the section above, virtually everything has been altered in some way. The setting; the period; the characters (except Charlie); and even the basic plotline have all distinguished themselves from the original. The film is set in the present (as opposed to the 1960’s); and although the initial robbery takes place in Venice, Italy, the majority of the film is played out in L.A. The biggest distinction between the two films is the conversion of plot. The original film was based around the robbery of some four million dollars worth of gold from an Italian shipment from China. While the remake begins with a heist set in Italy, everything afterwards is new territory – someone betrays them and takes the money for himself. A year later they assemble a team to seek revenge on their crooked comrade, and take back what is rightly (although illegally) theirs.

Pros & Cons

In this final section I will be examining the pro’s and con’s of each film, respectively. I have also implemented a scoring system. Each films starts on a total of zero – one point will be added for every pro, and one point will be subtracted for every con (i.e. Pros – Cons = Total). This will also help me come to a decision for the final verdict.

Pros ('69 Original):

  • Is the original Italian Job
  • Is considered a classic; even a cult-film by some
  • Is entirely set in Italy
  • Good mix of action and comedy
  • Very funny at times
  • Has some classic cinema moments (e.g. parking the minis to hide from the police; driving up the ramp of the bus)
  • Has some great and memorable quotes (“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”;)
  • Fun and enjoyable soundtrack (“We’re the Self-preservation Society”;)
  • Some great stunts and action sequences, considering the time it was set
  • Came up with the concept of creating a traffic jam to make a safe getaway
  • Better minis
  • Has the mafia in it
  • By far, one of the greatest car chases committed to film
  • Closes with a cliffhanger ending (literally)
  • Cons ('69 Original):
  • Doesn’t introduce any of the characters very well (except perhaps Charlie and Lorna)
  • Poor character development
  • Most of the characters were not very likeable or interesting
  • Lacks any real villain
  • Medium to low acting standard (even Michael Caine wasn’t up to his usually high standard)
  • At times, very confusing for the audience
  • Boring and slow-paced at times
  • Unrealistic and often absurd
  • A little over patriotic (English)

[14 - 9 = 5]


Pros ('03 Original):

  • Caters to a much wider, mainstream audience
  • Much more exciting and engaging storyline
  • Better and more frequent action sequences to keep the story moving
  • Much more stylish (opening credits, camera work, soundtrack, etc.)
  • More complex and interesting characters
  • Better character development
  • Much more likeable characters
  • Has a better villain
  • The characters in this version are much more involved
  • Also has some nice quotes
  • Better acting
  • Better editing (e.g. pacing)
  • Is much more superior in the technology department
  • Cooler gadgets and technical devices
  • The structure of the heist is planned out with much more detail
  • Better traffic jam sequence
  • Great car chase
  • Has a much more satisfying ending
  • Cons ('03 Original):
  • Strays too far from the original plot
  • The main heist of the movie is not set in Italy, but L.A
  • The end car chase is overshadowed by that in the original
  • Contains some cheesy dialogue
  • At time a little too Hollywood

[18 - 5 = 13]

The Final Verdict

So we’ve compared the two films – their similarities and differences; their good points and bad. We’ve analysed every aspect of the two films and now it is time to decide which is the best. A comparison of the two storylines proved that, despite their differences, the defining element of The Italian Job plot is shared between the two.


The significance of the original lies in key scenes and memorable quotes, and although none of the quotes can be redone, the traffic jam, the mini coopers, the car chase, and the heist have all been successfully translated into the remake, along with a much better plotline to boot. Other than these ingredients, and of course the presence of Michael Caine, the original really wasn’t that good at all. Furthermore, when the two movies were contrasted against each other in the Pro’s & Con’s section, we established that not only did the remake have more good aspects and less bad aspects, it also finished with a much higher score.


Finally, I have come to a decision on the basis of my own opinion, in the interest of the mainstream audience; the quality of each film; and most importantly out of respect of the better portrayal of the story itself. So--as you may have already guessed--my decision has to be… the 2003 remake. Not only is it simply a better movie, but it also has better and more definitive characters; improved directing, acting and editing; superior technologically; and incorporates a much more satisfying ending. Plus it appeals to a much wider, mainstream audience, and in addition it includes all of the key scenes and elements that made the original so popular in the first place.


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4:13 PM on May 28, 2015 
Ah, nice analyzing. I was curious whether to watch the movie with the famous cliff-hanger ending and higher rating on rotten tomatoes, or the modern version of a heist-car-chase movie. This helped me to decide a lot. :D