South Pacific (2001)
For a brief moment during Disney's remake of South Pacific, the Hollywood hills were once again alive with the sound of music. But, ironically, it took a made-for-TV production to bring back the grandeur of the big production musical--a genre once only found on the largest and widest of theater screens.
Complete with the now classic score of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, the familiar story outlines the mission of Lt. Joseph Cable (Harry Connick Jr.) who volunteers to hide on a Japanese occupied island in order to communicate the positioning of their ships to the Americans. Duty is job one for Cable until sidetracked by the beautiful Liat (Natalie Jackson Mendoza), daughter of the infamous Bloody Mary. An elderly Tonganese woman, Mary is willing to sell anything to the servicemen--but is especially sold on the idea of Cable taking her child to wife. Their initial meeting leaves a little less to the imagination than in the 1958 version, with Liat quickly responding to the lieutenant's overture by removing her blouse--an action we see from her back. In a later scene the topless couple is shown in silhouette.
Meanwhile, head nurse Nellie Forbush (Glenn Close) meets her special stranger at the local canteen. The charming Emile de Becque (Rade Serbedzija) appears to have somewhat of a hidden past that Forbush says she's willing to overlook--until presented with his two colored children.
The story of prejudice and pain that made the original musical adaptation of James Michener's novel Tales of the South Pacific into a legendary film are just as applicable today in this newer release. Yet parents who have grown up with the kitschy colored original may find the "realities" included here to be more than they were expecting.
Unlike its predecessor, this remake has military men singing like canaries one moment and then barking out profanities (albeit mild ones) the next. It also actually shows the activities of war, including Japanese soldiers perusing and shooting at Cable and de Becque, wounded servicemen, a plane crash, and a strategically placed landmine that result in an on-screen death. Another brief but disturbing scene shows some disembodied heads intended to scare off the Americans, which may have the same effect on young viewers.
The ugliness of bigotry is also more pronounced when a group of soldiers decide to show their disapproval of a comrade's relationship with a native woman by taking advantage of his intoxicated state and beating him.
Finally, there's Glenn Close. The 54-year-old actresses looks easily the same age as Serbedzija playing de Becque, and appears merely immature when trying to assume the role of a sweet young thing from Arkansas. Or maybe I've just seen her as the evil Cruella "two" many times in Disney's other franchise.