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Because they're so different. James Caan and Billy Dee Williams WERE
Pic & Gale. These two new guys, well, they just don't cut it. It'd be
like re-casting "Star Trek" with total unknowns as the Enterprise
bridge crew. Oh, wait. That already happened, and IT actually worked.
This remake, however, didn't.
The main reason the original "Brian's Song" was so good was the way that Billy Dee Williams (Sayers) & James Caan (Pic) interacted, with Pic bouncing racist remarks off Gale left & right. This new, PC version waters the racism down almost to the point of non-existence.
Also, scenes that made the original so funny were completely omitted; for example, early in the film, the Piccolos & Sayers were at a pizza parlor, & Brian described a play gone wrong, ending with, "So, anyway, all the linemen go this way, and it's like I am lookin' at a team portrait of the Los Angeles Rams....Hey, Deacon! Merlin? How's the family, Rosie?" Then Gale pipes up, "It's like, I'm roomin' with a colored player again!" Again, I'm sure this scene was omitted due to its racial undertones, but it took away from the humor of the film.
I found this new version to be much darker, focussing more on Brian's illness and the consequences than on the relationship between he & Gale Sayers, which was the main thing that made the original so special. If you can find the original on VHS or DVD, get it. But, stay away from the remake.
Pic was a senior at Wake Forest when I was a freshman there. His last
year at Wake was one for the ages. He led the nation in rushing &
scoring. (As it was put in the original movie: "I mean I led the ENTIRE
nation!") He even did the place-kicking.....scoring all 20 points in a
20-7 win over ACC Co-Champ Duke that year. Pic & QB John Mackovic (who
led the ACC in total offense that year) led the Deacs to a 5-5 record.
That may not seem like much to some people, but Wake Forest had gone
1-19 the previous two years.
Anyway, the original movie is one of the best movies I have ever watched. It is unbelievably heart-breaking at the end....particularly for all of us who knew Pic. And with less than 4,000 students, everyone knew everyone else at Wake Forest....at least a little bit. I have a DVD copy which I watch from time to time, and which still moves me to tears. I encourage anyone who wishes to see "Brian's Song"...and that should be everybody...to do whatever you have to do to find the original version, and skip this inferior remake. The original movie portrays Pic & Sayers the way they really were.
This remake and I have no idea why they remade it, is good but not as powerful and less sad as the original. If ABC wanted to open the story again to a new generation why didn't they just show the classic film. The new version missed too many opportunies to break the audience into tears as the original did and still does so well. Sorry to say to younger generation this version is no classic and if want to view finer acting and have more tears watch the original thou the style of filmmaking has changed...meaning the classic has the 70's look, the 1971 film it still one of the best tv films made... Sorry, it's true.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen both versions and the original is vastly superior. A lot of
it is in the details which can never be recaptured. First of all, the
original used many actual players, coaches, and team personnel from the
Bears. Secondly, they filmed the training camp sequences on location at
Rensselaer, IN's St. Joseph's College where the Bears used to train.
The office that George Halas uses is the actual office the real George
Halas used on campus! They used archival game film - none of this fake
announcer stuff and re-enactments. I've heard some give credit to the
new version for focusing more on the cancer element of the story. The
heart of the story is not the cancer but the friendship between Piccolo
and Sayers - a white rural man and a black man fighting for the same
job in the 1960's. Some complain about the "racism" in the original
version but to ignore that would be to ignore slavery in the Civil War
- it's the racial element that made their friendship and their story so
transcendental. Let me remind you that a racial comment is not
necessarily a racist comment. There's a powerful scene in the original
in which Gale Sayers is brought to tears from the laughter when Piccolo
tries to call him a "n****r". They both realize the foolishness of the
gesture and at that moment, their friendship takes an important step.
We can't do that today, because someone might get offended. But if
you're really honest with yourself, you can see where a word of such
unspeakable hatred actually got turned on its ear and two men saw each
other not for the color of their skin but for the content of their
character. The new version didn't accomplish anything new - it just
changed the movie to a story about cancer. The original is so much more
than a football movie as it speaks to some very sensitive racial issues
that Americans were grappling with in the 1960s - much of which was
still living in defacto segregation.
If you read Gale Sayers' book, I Am Third, which is the inspiration for this movie then you'll agree that the original version got it right.
Maher and Phifer do a terrific job of bringing Piccolo and Sayers to life. Brain's Song was in a way the grandaddy of them all, one of the first made for television movies; and in the eyes of many one of the best. I think it would take a person utterly without feelings not to be moved by the original and this one (surprise, surprise) is just as good. I thought it would be a word by word remake (like that ridiculous Psycho movie in 1998) but this one is different. I guess to be politically correct, it shows more of the relationship between the players wives as well. What makes it a little chilling is the makeup job on Maher as he is becoming sicker and sicker, they pointed out that you couldn't show death on tv that way in 1971. I think that they should have used the exact same music as in the original, it was just too perfect and it would not have mattered (didn't they use the same music in all of the Rocky films?). I hope that we see more of these two young actors as both did a terrific job and I hope they remember them at Emmy time. An added treat, that old raascal Ben Gazzara is on hand as grouchy Coach Halas and he does a wonderful job of theatrical larceny. A story of courage found and the power of friendship, but ultimately a tragedy. A an added footnote, today medical science has made great advances in treating the kind of cancer that killed Brian Piccolo.
Although this remake falls a little bit short of the original in several departments (that others have brought up, such as the casting and the watering down of the racially charged dialogue between Sayers and Piccolo), it stays fairly true to the core story, with some new parts about their families and a more extensive portrayal of Piccolo's illness. "Brian's Song" has often been described as a "Love Story" style tearjerker for guys, and the new version managed to pull this off with me, in the night scene where the two are talking alone on the field, and we hear just a few notes of the Michael Legrand theme from the original. This brings me to my main point. . .why not more of that music? That theme (called "the Hands of Time") is, in my opinion, one of the most poignant and emotionally touching bits of music I know. If one listens carefully, you can hear some examples of derivative composing in movies such as "Lilo & Stitch" where other composers try to cash in on the Brian's Song theme.
When I saw the original Brian's Song film from 1971 with Billy Dee
Williams and James Caan, I was entertained and very moved. I didn't see
how they could have done a better job with a story like this. As it
turns out, I was right, but I never thought it would be a portent of
things to come. Remaking a masterpiece like the original begs the
question, as Roger Ebert once said "Why are they remaking the good
movies? Why not remake the bad ones?" This film is definitely a case in
This version is, in a word, terrible. The writing is extremely bad, the acting is awful, and the scenes are dramatically shapeless. Most notably, the film was overtly miscast. The 1971 film was honest, but appropriate about the racial issues at the time, the remake is much too delicate and only seems worried about being politically correct and inoffensive. Sorry, but that doesn't make a realistic portrayal of the time period that this film is trying to illustrate.
In the original, James Caan played Brian Piccolo as a likable, fun-loving, nice, loose guy with a good sense of humor and who loved life. Sean Maher's performance is a disgrace. In his performance, he makes Piccolo look like an annoying, ill-mannered, judgmental jerk. Mekhi Phifer is almost as bad as Gale Sayers, who makes him look like an on screen version of Deion Sanders. As the players in the movie put it, he does indeed come across as "uppity," flashy, and seemingly avoiding contact with others because he thinks he's better than they are, not because he's shy. Billy Dee Williams played Gale Sayers as the man he truly was: a quiet, unprepossessing, gentlemanly, shy type who simply felt awkward around people because he had trouble relating to them. I would've liked to have seen actors with personalities more similar to the characters portray these two players: like Rob Brown as Gale Sayers, and James Vanderbeek as Brian Piccolo.
The coaches are portrayed as stiff, businesslike men with no affability, personality, or compassion for the players. Ben Gazzara is totally unconvincing as George Halas, and looks and speaks more like a priest than a pro football coach. The dialogue is truly insulting because it spells out what we already know about the players. Most of the time, the characters sound like actors reciting their lines and forcing information on the audience, instead of people who are speaking conversationally and expressing their true feelings.
When Joy Piccolo says to Brian, after seeing Gale's acceptance speech for his rookie of the year award, "He's not arrogant, he's shy," it's useless information we already know. Another example: when Brian and Gale are running together to help rehabilitate Gale's injured knee, they're both expressing their worries, strengths, and weaknesses, most notably Gale's anxiety about life after football, and Brian's aspirations about when he'll actually be able to make his contribution to the team. These things were wisely never expressed in conversation in the original because the writing was intelligent enough to allow the audience to figure it out for themselves, without unnecessary discussion. Good films never use dialogue when they don't need to.
Finally, the beautiful instrumental musical version of the song "The Hands of Time" elevated the mood and poignancy of the first movie, which the remake could've used more often. Why didn't they use the music again in more of this movie? This is an example of how music can magnify the illustration of a scene and ultimately enhance a story.
This movie left a lot to be desired for, but a story as good as the first one needn't have been remade in the first place. I would recommend the 1971 film as a true timeless classic and one of the best sports movies of all time. The remake was just a bad idea that should have never happened.
This is one of the very few films that has made my eyes water with tears. The actors are great and deliver their lines with precision and all the emotion they have. Phifer and Maher may not really play football in life, but you wouldn't know it just by watching this movie. The film is also educational, as it teaches about the race boundaries of the time period and also about the medical world at that time. If you enjoyed Friday Night Lights, you'll also love Brian's Song! Anyone who loves a good sports movie should watch Brian's Song...as well as anyone who loves a tear-jerker. I rate Brian's Song with a 10 out of 10!
There was absolutely no reason for Disney to remake this movie. They
should just re-air the original every year. I am sure the actors in the
latter version were good, but the '71 version is classic.
It's unfortunate that Disney did not want to air a film that had some racial overtones, but guess what?? There was a lot of that in the '60s. Brian's Song will always be James Caan and Billy D.
I wish filmmakers would stop re-making classics and just stay with the originals.
People should know that this is not a sports movie. It is a movie with sports as a backdrop.
The original was the best football movie ever. It also was the one movie that made it all right for guys to get weepy (just TRY not to sniffle during the "I love Brian Piccolo" speech) and it featured actual game footage of Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. The new version adds nothing.
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