The audience is first introduced to Isabel Bigelow when she arrives in Los Angeles by swooping down on a broom that telescopes down to a compact size, which she puts into her carpet bag while taking out her black cat. This scene is more Mary Poppins than Bewitched, but I like that. She's attractive, blonde, has a snub nose, but she makes magic by pulling on her earlobe. Not exactly an original manifestation of her powers, considering it's been done by Ophelia (Julie Newmar) on Bewitched, and has become too closely associated with Carol Burnett, but it sets the tone that this pretty witch is not Samantha.
The audience is then introduced to Jack Wyatt, a Hollywood player just coming off of box office dud and a failed relationship. He agrees to star in a remake of Bewitched, , but only if he is the star of the show and they cast an unknown in the part of Samantha. He's arrogant and pompous, and exactly what a nice little witch like Isabel Bigelow doesn't need to help her get acclimated to life on Earth.
Much debate has been made about the TV show within the movie plotline. Originally billed on one web site as an alien coming to Earth to play a witch on TV, many Bewitched fans were instantly turned off on the making of a Bewitched movie. However, having read the script, I now feel that it was a clever parallel between the lives of Isabel and Samantha and their adjustment to life on Earth. The story of Isabel and Jack starts out on a separate path, but turns into Bewitched in its purest form.
Since Isabel is not an actress, she comes across as unbelievably naive on the set of the new Bewitched TV show. Whereas, Jack is a seasoned professional. He's taken this role of Darrin Stephens in the hopes of resurrecting his failing movie career. Iris Smythson, a famous and distinguished actress instantly recognized by the audience and reporters, reprises the role of Endora in all her fabulous, flame-throwing glory. She takes a maternal interest in coaching Isabel on the set, and becomes bewitched by Isabel's father off the set.
While the Samantha, Endora, and Darrin that we know and love from Bewitched are relegated to the TV show, this movie is chock full of the characters Bewitched fans know and love. Look for appearances by Uncle Arthur, Dr. Bombay, and Aunt Clara. These "characters" come to Isabel in her desperate hours, to give her support. Think of them more as her guardian angels than her actual relatives. Sheila appears in the film as Jack's wife. The Kravitzs make an appearance at the end with Gladys just as aghast as ever at the events going on across the street. The only true witches in the movie are Isabel and her father, Nigel. Nigel takes on the disapproving role we've come to expect from Endora and Maurice. He tries to talk his daughter out of love and the mortal way of life, but she holds her own against the powerful warlock. We see him as a playboy--divorced and loving every minute of it. In fact, he's too busy chasing the ladies to even drop a few lines from Shakespeare. This is not Maurice.
This script works, but only after the reader disengages the idea that it is a "remake" of the TV show, because it holds the fundamental beliefs of the original show. Isabel looks to Samantha as the ideal Earthbound witch, and asks herself "What would Samantha do?" in times of turmoil. Yet, she's not Samantha. She's got her flaws--she's incredibly naive and trusting, and she doesn't have the inner-strength that Samantha had on the TV show. Viewers could always count on Samantha to have a strong sense of self and do the right thing, but with Isabel, you do not know what she will do.
The scenes from the pilot episode of the TV show within the movie are hilarious. Jack has the entire crew wrapped around his finger, to the point where Darrin is the star of the show and Samantha is just a background figure. The writing is such that all Isabel has to do is nod "yes" to his marriage proposal and say, "You are so wonderful." It's actually quite sickening to think of this beautiful, naive witch being treated like this, but that's where Shirley MacLaine will pop in as Iris, with the regal dissatisfied air of Agnes Moorehead, and put Jack in his place and let Isabel know that she doesn't have to stand for being railroaded on the set. Jack has some truly awful script ideas for this "refocused" version of the script. I like this romantic comedy, and I think it would have been just as good without the TV show-within-the movie subplot. Isabel could have learned about her role model Samantha from watching TV, and much of the story could have remained the same. We'd lose some of Iris's great lines to Jack on the set, but I think she could have been reworked into Isabel's mother/Nigel's ex-wife.
Something that I always felt was missing from the original Bewitched was a friend for Samantha. Isabel has two mortal girlfriends in this movie. Nina is a writer on the TV show and Marie is a neighbor. Neither one of these characters is developed enough in my opinion. They are around for some hocus-pocus, and they just accept it without ever really reacting to it.
In an attempt to help Isabel keep her job, Aunt Clara puts a respect spell on Jack. However, Jack doesn't just respect Isabel once the spell takes hold of him, he's bewitched by her. While she loves the attention that he lavishes on her, she knows that the spell has gone too far and that she must take it off of him. She thinks that once she does this, she may lose him forever. But she reverses time and decides to quit her job. But even without the respect spell, Jack realizes that he loves Isabel. And just like on Bewitched, "love conquers all."
Through the help of Dr. Bombay and Uncle Arthur, Isabel and Jack are reunited--as Darrin and Samantha and in real life (sans any magic spells). The dialogue throughout the script is lacking except when it comes to the characters from Bewitched. This writing team nails the Dr. Bombay and Uncle Arthur scenes, just as they do the Aunt Clara scene. The dialogue for Jack (Will Ferrell) is excellent, which leaves me feeling that this is his movie. While Isabel and Jack probably have the same amount of lines, his dominate hers. This was never the case in the original Bewitched. It will be interesting to see who gets top billing in this feature film. My guess would be that Will Ferrell will. This is probably due in large part to Adam McKay joining the writing team with this draft.
Things I'd Like to See in the Movie:
This review is for comparison purposes with the actual feature film version of Bewitched, slated for release in Summer 2005. This review is only for use on www.harpiesbizarre.com.