Weekend Roundtable: Coming to America

The Hollywood studios love remaking popular foreign movies almost as much as they love remaking their own old movies. Sometimes this works out well, but often it doesn’t. In this week’s Roundtable, we look at examples of each.

M. Enois Duarte

Best: One of the most surprising American remakes of recent memory, for me, was Matt Reeves’ ‘Let Me In‘, which was based on Tomas Alfredson’s ‘Let the Right One In‘ and a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. As a big fan of the original Swedish film, I had my doubts that Reeves could come close to making something as effective, but I was pleasantly surprised that his translation turned out equally good. Some have argued that the production is little more than a shot-for-shot remake, but I disagree with that notion. Granted, the filmmakers take a great deal of inspiration from the original, but they also introduce several new ideas while also commenting on the political climate of the 1980s. I love it as much as Alfredson’s film.

Worst: For a really bad remake of a great foreign film, please take a gander at 1996’s ‘Diabolique’ with Sharon Stone and Chazz Palminteri, based on a much superior 1955 film by Henri-Georges Clouzot. When people complain that Reeves’ remake is a terrible choice, I refer them to Jeremiah Chechik’s soulless and scareless mess.

Luke Hickman

Best: My philosophy is that foreign films generally shouldn’t be remade into English. Hhowever, when done right, they can actually enhance the viewing experience and differentiate themselves from the originals. Unfortunately, that’s the exception, not the rule. Most are terribly unnecessary and few are worthwhile.

Of the few that I approve of, I place ‘Vanilla Sky‘ among the best. I can see you rolling your eyes through the screen, so hear me out before you skip ahead to the next writer’s picks.

Cameron Crowe took ‘Abre los Ojos’ (which is also fantastic) and made it his own. He took the great concept and story, threw in his quotably poetic dialog, and made it ooze an aesthetic. As he does, he tossed in tons of Americana and pop culture, including loads of mood-enhancing music. While some of the scenes may be shot-for-shot copies of the original film, it still features an undeniably Crowe-y feel, and it works. For me, the final scenes of his version are even more emotionally impactful than those in ‘Abre los Ojos’.

Worst: On the flipside, Neil LaBute’s atrocious remake of ‘Death at a Funeral‘ is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen. First off, there was absolutely no need to take a British film already in English and remake into an American film. That’s ridiculous and wasteful. It would be like remaking ‘Love Actually’ with an all-American cast. What a stupid idea. LaBute, an acclaimed playwright, took one of Britain’s best contemporary farces, changed the characters to fit black stereotypes, and attempted to keep the same exact same style. While Crowe made his English-language adaptation of ‘Abre los Ojos’ his own by injecting his own style into it, LaBute merely changed the color of the characters’ skin. The forced comedy lost the magic and charm of the original. Even if the original didn’t exist, his version would still be a throwaway.

On the bright side, as Jason Lee’s character in ‘Vanilla Sky’ says, “Without the bitter … the sweet ain’t as sweet.”

Shannon Nutt

Worst: In 1988, Dutch director George Sluizer made a taut thriller called ‘The Vanishing‘, in which a young couple in love stop at a gas station and the woman is abducted. The man searches for her for years. When he finally tracks the perpetrator down, his obsession with finding the truth leads to a very dark and disturbing ending (which I won’t spoil here).

The original version was close to brilliant, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood wanted its own version of the film, which came out in 1993. Starring Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock as the couple and Jeff Bridges as the evil, twisted abductor, it seemed like a sure-fire thing. Sluizer even returned to direct it. Unfortunately, the remake is horrible, trading the original’s unsettling ending for one designed to appease American audiences, and completely changing the impact of the story.

It’s a perfect example of why you don’t try to remake movies that are perfectly fine to begin with, even if they’re in another language.

Brian Hoss

Worst: The original version of ‘The Vanishing’ is an extremely chilling movie, but when the film was remade stateside, the haunting plot was expanded poorly into a very Hollywood package.

Best: I’m a big fan of ‘Infernal Affairs‘, but I respect that ‘The Departed‘ manages some excellent performances along with several tasty sequences. It’s the rare case where I enjoy both movies enough to have watched them back-to-back more than once.

Josh Zyber

Best: My top picks were already taken above. My inclination is to go with James Cameron’s ‘True Lies’ next, even though I’ve never seen ‘La Totale!’, the French comedy it’s based on. (By the way, where the hell is ‘True Lies’ on Blu-ray, Jim?!)

Although the word “remake” gets thrown around a lot, I don’t really consider Terry Gilliam’s ‘12 Monkeys‘ to be a remake of the Chris Marker short film ‘La Jetée‘ so much as just loosely inspired by it.

I feel that Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris‘ is quite underrated. It was trashed by critics and ignored by audiences in 2002 (and there’s no sign of it on Blu-ray), but it deserves some reconsideration.

Personally, I enjoyed the American remakes of both ‘The Ring‘ and ‘Dark Water‘ more than the Japanese originals, but I wouldn’t say that I actually love either film.

Worst: Few remakes are more atrocious than ‘City of Angels‘, the American adaptation of Wim Wenders’ masterpiece ‘Wings of Desire‘ as made by ‘Casper’ director Brad Silberling. That’s a total piece of shit that completely misses everything that was good about the original.

With this topic, I wouldn’t be surprised if one person’s “Best” is another’s “Worst” or vice versa. Tell us your picks in the Comments.

If it helps, here’s a Wikpedia page with a list of English-language remakes based on foreign films.

12 comments

  1. eric

    Did anyone here know that LAKE HOUSE was a remake of a Korean film?

    I personally loved the original OLD BOY, and I still like the remake. The remake didn’t stick with me like the original but it might have if I had never seen the original. The remake still kept the primary story twisted and disgusting but had a different impact than the original.

    DANGEROUS LIAISONS must be the most remade or updated one.

    I really want to get my hands on the Japanese remake of Clint Eastwoods UNFORGIVEN.

    RING was a great remake of RINGU. Korea took a really bad attempt at this Japanese original.
    THE GRUDGE was equally as good as JUON.
    THE DEPARTED while very different than the first two INFERNAL AFFAIRS, was still great in my book. INFERNAL AFFAIRS 3 was a total bust.

    THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE WEIRD is a hilarious take on THE GOOD BAD AND THE UGLY.
    A remake of the Korean MY SASSY GIRL might work well in the U.S.

    I would like to see a remake of A BETTER TOMORROW, Korea already has made a version of it. Time for us to do one, as long as Nick Cage isn’t in it.

    In the which one came first category – LAST MAN STANDING was based on YOJIMBO and A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was based on LAST MAN STANDING? Or… I can think a half dozen dusty town westerns based on the original Japanese YOJIMBO.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      My Sassy Girl was already remake in America in 2008. It starred Elisha Cuthbert and Jesse Bradford, and went direct-to-DVD. You’d be forgiven for not noticing it.

      • eric

        Maybe it is better that I don’t see it. Of course that is one that would get green lit for a tv show and have nothing to do with the original and be horrible.

  2. Csm101

    I’ve never seen Les Diner de Cons, but I really disliked Dinner for Schmucks, aside from a few amusing scenes.
    I agree that Let Me In is a solid remake, but still think Let the Right One In is better.
    I know a lot of people don’t like Quarantine, but I dig the shit out of it and also the original Rec. I saw Quarantine first, so I like it better probably just because it had the advantage of being viewed by me first and I like Jennifer Carpenter as well.

  3. Friedkin’s Sorcerer is a pretty good remake of Wages Of Fear.
    The Coen Brothers remake of The Ladykillers is ultra super mega terrible.

  4. This topic is hard, because there are so few foreign films I have seen, unless they are big named stuff. Every time I go to Europe, though, I always make a point to drop in at a media outlet (Saturn, Media Market, or a mom and pop store) and browse through the movies.

    One of the BEST remakes ever of a foreign film is The Sound of Music, which is a remake of a German film called Die Familie Trapp. This also predates the Broadway musical by a couple of years. Most of the changes people complain about between the real story of the Von Trapps and the Sound of Music can be traced back to Die Familie Trapp. Here is the entire movie:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeKhf5eaOBk&list=PLjW2MPHoO4PQapaTT4Q8AsNJ6EwfmZFGi

    A great German remake of an English film is Hilfe Ich Bin Ein Junge (Help! I’m a Boy) which is kind of a remake of Freaky Friday with an interesting Twist. Here is the body swap scene

    https://youtu.be/8c-sgyosxNo

    Heidi has been made by Swiss, German, Austrian, Canadian and American companies.

  5. Darkmonk

    The American Remake of LA FEMME NIKITA, POINT OF NO RETURN with Bridget Fonda, was an abomination. It was completely tone-deaf to what made the original so good.
    The best remake I can think is Christopher Nolan’s reworking of the Dutch film INSOMNIA. It is equal to (if not better) than the already fantastic original.

    • AddictedToStories

      The La Femme Nikita comment made me think. I agree completely that “Point of No Return” was an awful remake.

      BUT that comment made me think – and maybe this would be a different topic – best TV series based on the original movie:

      – La Femme Nikita (the Canadian produced version that ran from 97 through 2001) – it was incredible, ages well (since the tech was all “tablets” and “consoles” – no paper in the office, and no brand names), and very true to the spirit of the first film. (A few of the first season episodes may not age as well – but overall – the series is still very good and very watchable. Much better than many other dramas/actions/spy-thrillers on the air today.)

      – also – surprisingly – Highlander – the TV Series (the live-action Canadian/French co-production). It’s set as an extension of the first movie (with a great guest-star from the movie in the first episode of the series to help ensure/add to continuity. You only have to accept that the first movie ending was not a real “ending” – the story goes on with more immortals…) – This series is also incredibly good, exploring and expanding the original Highlander movie. At its best, the series was as good or better than the original movie (and even at its worst, the series was still better than all the movies that came after the original).

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