The Taking Of JetBlue 1-7-6

Finally back home after a solid week of traveling, beginning with Fran and Leigh’s lovely wedding in Florida and continuing with a week of work meetings in Seattle, which was colder than Florida but warmer than here. One of my colleagues who’d lived there for years took me over to the Olympic Sculpture Park, a miniature Storm King Mountain right on the waterfront, and I took a walk over the unimpressive Experience Music Project / SF Museum. The most impressive thing at the museum was the handwritten manuscript of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. Yes, that’s right. He wrote all three of those murder-weapon-sized novels with a fountain pen.

On the flight home, I lucked into a remake of The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3 (first time I’ve ever taken JetBlue and clearly I have been missing something). As I’ve written before, the original is one of the great NYC films of all time and far outclasses its many later imitations, including every film Quentin Tarantino has ever made.

So I was not necessarily optmistic about the remake but it was quite enjoyable. Denzel Washington and John Travolta have great chemistry together, maybe even better than Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau in the original. Combining the characters of the cop (Matthau) and the original dispatcher (played by Tom Pedi) was a bit unrealistic, and avoided the shock of Caz Dolowicz’s death. But it also focused on the magnificent dynamic between Washington and Travolta. And James Gandolfini (“I left my Rudy Giuliani suit at home”) was superb as Mayor Bloomberg.

As a lifelong New Yorker and transit buff, however, I couldn’t help but notice the vast numbers of completely unnecessary factual errors in the film. The original was fiction, but based rather firmly in reality. The remake is almost complete nonsense, starting with the very opening scene, where train dispatcher Garber switches an R train to the Q tracks at 34th so he can send it to Queens on the F line. A minor point? Yes. But why put that level of detail into the film if you’re just going to get ridiculously wrong? Anyone who’s ever even been in that station knows those tracks aren’t even on the same level.

It gets better, of course, with the entire city rearranged geographically for dramatic effect:

  • MTA headquarters moves from Brooklyn to South Ferry
  • On the way it passes the Federal Reserve, as it moves from downtown Manhattan to what looks like the Williamsburg Bank Building in Brooklyn.
  • The 6 train goes to Coney Island.
  • The Waldorf Hotel is at 34th Street, on top of the “Roosevelt Spur.” The latter is actually not a subway tunnel at all, and the Waldorf is at 50th Street.
  • From the Waldorf’s new location at 34th Street, one apparently takes the FDR north to the Manhattan Bridge, where one is able to use convenient exit ramps that lead directly to the bridge.

But it was great fun. I think my favorite line was this exchange between Travolta and Washington:

“We all owe god a death. We’re all going to the same place.”

“Where’s that? Jersey?”

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