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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.