“This dynamite thriller shivers with suspense. So if you ignore The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (from the global bestseller by the late Stieg Larsson) because it's in Swedish with English subtitles, you probably deserve the remake Hollywood will surely screw up.” - Peter Travers on the 2009 version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Sure we groan every time we hear it, I admit I do too. Every time we hear that a well done foreign film is going to be remade by Hollywood, people often echo the sentiment of Mr. Travers, that it will be garbage, not even worthy of the original. Of course we have plenty examples of such, recent ones too. Look at these films: Psycho 1998, Arthur 2011, The Stepford Wives 2004, The Pink Panther 2006, Planet of the Apes 2001, The Women 2009, The Day the Earth Stood Still 2008, Clash of the Titans 2010, The Longest Yard 2005, and Conan the Barbarian 2011. I could go on forever of course. These films have given a bad name to American remakes. Last Spring I was taking a Horror Films course at Temple University. My professor always dismissed American remakes despite the fact that he hadn't seen most of them. Granted, horror films have had the worst of it, especially American remakes of Asian horror films. However there have also been some very good remakes in the past two decades and I intend to highlight those and bring a more even approach to the concept of American remakes gone bad.
Let's begin with the caliber of talent that has been behind the camera of some great recent American remakes. These are A list filmmakers who are even admired and inspired by the makers of the original film, something most foreigners aren't quick to point out when it comes to American influence on foreign cinema. To name a few: Steven Soderbourgh (Ocean’s Eleven), (The Truth About Charlie, The Manchurian Candidate), (Cape Fear, The Departed), (Insomnia), (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), (King Kong), (Scarface, Passion), (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), (The Birdcage), (Dawn of the Dead), (War of the Worlds), (Let Me In), (Ransom), (3:10 to Yuma), (The Thing), (The Fly), (Funny Games), (True Lies), and and (True Grit).
Alright, I know I'm cheating a little bit with some of the selections, but how can you be mad at an American studio that decides to remake a film with these talents behind the camera? Let's see what these brilliant directors can bring to the table! The goal of these filmmakers is not to simply copy what the original film was ( proved that was a failure) but to bring their own spin and auteur qualities to the project to make something that is truly 'now' and American. Take for instance Scorsese’s remake of Infernal Affairs, a great Asian film that is well made and well acted. Scorsese and his screenwriter William Monahan (both won Oscars for this film) made a film that was truly American and played to the best sensibilities of an American audience. Watching The Departed for the first time I remember thinking that they probably didn't even have to cite the original Asian film as a source. It is a completely different endeavor, minus the same premise.
Major outrage was levied against two remakes that I consider brilliant. One was Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate. This film pays a tribute to the original while at the same time adapting and making it it's own monster. In some ways this remake is better then the great 1962 version by John Frankenheimer. It's tighter, more suspenseful, scarier, and has some brilliant plot changes like making Ben Marco the shooter at the end, and making Raymond Shaw the man who runs for Vice President instead of some McCarthy-esque stooge. Also, the choice of not making the villains of the film communists, which are outdated and were relevant in the Cold War but not in a Multinational Corporation, Manchurian Global. These updates make the film work totally in a different way then the original worked back in the early 60’s. Demme brought his signature style to it and Meryl Streep was every bit the equal to Angela Lansbury, perhaps the only actress who could pull that off. It's a masterpiece.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The second film is ’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Coming right off the heals of the popular 2009 Swedish version, the idea that Hollywood would remake it was taboo in most circles. I'll admit I was skeptical about it as well, until I heard that Steven Zaillian would be writing the script and that the great David Fincher would be directing. The result is a better film than the original. Instead of making a trailer that gives away most of the plot like most American trailers do (although admittedly that did come in later trailers), the first trailer for the 2011 version was brilliant. A bunch of quick cuts with Trent Reznor’s cover of the "Immigrant Song" producers, and Fincher knew that this film already had a strong fan base from the International best sellers and the Swedish original. To rehash the plot would be boring to most. So instead they went radically different and the result was the best motion picture trailer I have ever seen. Right off the bat, Fincher announces that this film will in no way be just another remake. With an opening credit sequence reminiscent of a James Bond film, Fincher brilliantly sets the tone for what is to come with foreshadowing everywhere (again using "Immigrant Song" effectively). I was already hooked two minutes into the film and memories of the books or the Swedish version immediately left my head.
Rooney Mara does a fantastic job of making Lisbeth her own: "The most significant of many subtle changes Fincher and Zaillian make to their tale, is eloquently fleshed out into a three-dimensional human being, rather than the super-goth-badass caricature that Noomi Rapace brought to grating life in Niels Arden Oplev's substandard original film." - Nick Schager, Lessons of Darkness. Also Fincher's version doesn't drag like the original Swedish version does when we find out who the killer is. Instead Zaillian and Fincher leave a more ambiguous ending that feels like more is at stake for the characters emotions. The result is a film that works better on a visceral and an emotional level.
The latest to enter into the remake game is remake of the 2003 Korean classic Oldboy, which was a very popular film in America and is currently on the IMDb Top 100. The trailer for the film recently came out as well as the brilliant teaser poster.
Now while Lee has a challenge in front of him due to the twisty plot (it's going to be hard for the twist to have the same impact as the original did, if thats indeed where they intend to go), Fincher also had the same problem in front of him and pulled it off just as brilliantly. While Spike Lee arguably isn't as great as_ David Fincher_ is (at least right now), Lee has given us some great work. I can't wait to see what he brings to the table for this story and I think more people should be excited about what A list talent can bring to an already great film.
So, would I rather see original projects than remakes? Of course. Then again, what is truly original these days? And what is in store for the future of American cinema? Here's an argument that remakes, while not the best option out there, can serve as equally great cinema than that of its original counterpart.