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February 27, 2010

The Crazies (2010) - A Small Town Iowan Perspective

Overture Films' remake of The Crazies, out this weekend in theaters and starring two of my favorite people working (Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell), is set in a fictional small Iowa town called Ogden Marsh. The town used for much of the film, Lenox, has a recorded population of 1401 people, though the fictional town is listed in the film as having 1360 people. Somewhere, 41 God-fearing Iowans are pissed off. (As a random aside, there is actually an Ogden, Iowa - which is located about 120 miles from where the fictional Ogden Marsh would be and about 110 miles in a different direction from Lenox.)

Though I don't often pimp it, I was born and raised in a similarly sized Iowa town, whose last recorded population was 1349 people - a few less than The Crazies' Ogden Marsh. Thus, it was incredibly difficult for me to watch Breck Eisner's film without considering how realistic the setting was, and if the population could be as easily controlled. Don't worry, no major spoilers here.

For starters, I want to look at the image of the town that's presented. The images of main street Iowa are very well-captured, which is good when you consider that it was filmed on an Iowa town's main street. However, the rest of the film shows only homes that are in secluded rural settings. That's fine to an extent, I lived most of my youth in two rural homes that were about 7 miles outside of the "city limits", but it seems to me there would be someone involved with the plot who lives within the town itself. A town of that population would be somewhere around 1-2 square miles in size, and it would have made more sense to me if we had seen more of the town and the impact on it outside of the main street setting.

In line with that thought I'm not sure how, even in that small of a town, the military could quietly sneak in the middle of the night, round up everyone, and put together a containment zone at the local school and NOT have anyone notice. The containment area is shown to be near the school's football field and overhead shots again make it seem to be a rural area, which isn't unlikely. But even if we're able to get past them getting everything set up without anyone noticing, how on Earth could they get everyone together so easily? Sure, we aren't party animals, but 1360 people spread between the town and rural areas would take a bit of effort and the film's jumping to this neatly wrapped up point seems a bit silly.

The safe haven available to the folks of Ogden Marsh is Cedar Rapids, Iowa's second largest city, and the movie makes it seem that the city is within 30-40 miles of town. If this were the case, like was the case with my small town and the neighboring "cities" a large portion of Ogden Marsh's population would work in Cedar Rapids or whatever towns are in the area. The area around Cedar Rapids is full of small towns, each ranging from 5-10 miles from another. So the film's view of Iowa's distance between cities is also a little off.

Lastly, there's the marsh portion of the film, which was obviously NOT filmed in Iowa (according to Wikipedia, that and other portions of the film were made in Georgia). That kind of marsh existing in this state would be akin to a film about Australia that shows off the polar ice caps. Obviously, this is necessary for the film's plot to happen, but it's just really ridiculous.

Oh, the film you ask? It's watchable. Suspension of disbelief took care of most of the above issues for me, even though I was hyper focused on the details, but it was more difficult to deal with some of the plot's moves. The final act is particularly full of gimmicky twists and turns and action set pieces that seem (and probably were, considering the reshoots the film underwent) tacked on. Olyphant and Mitchell are fine leads, and relative unknown Joe Anderson gives a marvelous supporting performance as the deputy to Olyphant's sheriff. The film's got beautiful visuals and some excellent gore, but never seems to overcome how contrived it really is.

George Romero's original The Crazies is one of my least favorite films of his (it's definitely not as bad as the likes of Bruiser, but it's far below the first two Dead films and Martin), so I wasn't going into this one with malicious intent. And on the whole, I think I liked what this bunch of Crazies had to offer as popcorn entertainment. Just don't go into it looking for a deep psychological terror - or for an entirely accurate portrayal of small town Iowa. (I mean, more of us than just the sheriff have cell phones and internet. We'd notice when you shut us down.)

Oh, the end credits sequence from Cedar Rapids news station KCRG - features Cedar Rapids actual news broadcast. Congrats to them on making the big screen!

(P.S. - It's interesting to note that the act of setting the infected area in eastern Iowa allows the film to make reference to fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes' football team - as crazies! GO STATE!)

3 comments:

Hey! Look Behind You! said...

I'm big on supporting movies that were made o based on places I've lived.

I really dug the movie, it was definitely entertaining but one thing slightly annoyed me...

*possible spoiler to anyone reading this who has not seen it*

Just about all of the "tense" moment was relieved by someone else saving said person in trouble. By like the 5th time, I literally waiting for the crazie(s) to be shot from behind by someone and it kept happening. Maybe it's something I'm just being picky about but come on, save yourself for once!

FeFeMartini said...

quick thought: Your football image is Iowa State's Cyclones, not University of Iowa's Hawkeyes. Wrong team, but great article! (Being from CR I really enjoyed reading this!)

Also, as I know.. the image of CR in the end was upsetting. With all the fuss they made over it, to not show the actual city was kind of annoying to me.

Ashley said...

I thought this was a fun film, but I too was amused by the image of Cedar Rapids.. I was born here.. and I had no idea that we looked like Emerald City in the middle of a cornfield 8) There's no place like home.