Welcome to a very special Manic Movie Magic! Instead of reviewing a film today, I’m going to talk about a topic that bugged me even when I was young: terrible remakes, specifically international ones.
Now, soon there’s going to be an American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, originally a Swedish film based on the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. But why? This movie was made only two years ago, and it has really good reviews. And yet, it’s an example of an unavoidable truth – most Americans hate subtitles. I don’t care if it’s David Fincher, I still think it’s kind of pointless. Why can’t we just watch the original?
As a first-generation American, with strong ties to my family abroad, I never understood this rampant subtitle-phobia. You read when you get emails, and when you text for hours at a time. Even when you look up reviews like mine, you have to sit and read, but you’re opposed to watching a great film, because it requires a little extra processing? Hell, even if they have to dub the film, it would make more sense; almost all the other countries in the world dub films from America and yet we can’t be bothered to do the same?
A movie is a piece of art, there’s really no way around this fact. You’ve read how I go on and on about cinematography, but that’s because a well crafted film takes a lot of time and planning. Alfred Hitchcock’s movies are essentially flawless cinematography wise because of the sheer amount of planning and attention to detail in every shot.
Imagine someone making a remake, even a shot-by-shot one of a Hitchcock movie…OH WAIT THEY DID! Psycho (1998), which I touched on in an earlier review, is an insult to a great film if I ever saw one. It’s awkward, poorly cast, and despite using the same shots and sets, is hard to even look at. It was just plain terrible. The magic of a movie is not just in the lines of dialogue, or in the story you use, but it’s about the actors, the director, the crew, the seen and unseen. You can’t always replicate a good movie – sometimes what makes a movie perfect isn’t something you can learn in film school, or by throwing money at a project.
They can also take the movie and butcher it to death. This happened with sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. They took this beautiful 1951 movie about peace and prejudice and turned it into an action thriller with Keanu Reeves. Reeves even had to insist that the iconic line of the film, “Klaatu barada nikto,” be added. It wasn’t originally there as a tribute to the original, he had to fight to get it in. And this guy who played the world’s stupidest on-screen teenager in the Bill and Ted series convincingly.
And then we get to the foreign film remakes. Now, as I have always said, I am the average viewer. I know very little technical stuff on filmmaking, I am not a film major, and while I do love films very much, I feel like in-depth knowledge isn’t necessary to fully enjoy a great film. That being said, the average viewer doesn’t watch foreign films, unless they are animated. Films like The Ring, Shutter, The Grudge, and The Uninvited are all American remakes of amazing Asian horror movies. I have seen (almost) all of these original versions and they are fantastic. Sure, the ghosts are very culturally tied to their Asian origins, but not so much as to confuse someone. Honestly, they are terrifyingly good, which is a hell of a lot more than you can see for their remakes. Often times, the remakes lose the power and fear because they’re trying to adapt it to the audience, or put a new spin on it. But why? Does the movie need to portray characters of the same racial background as the audience? Is it easier to sympathize with whites than Asians, with stories set in America rather than China?
There is no easy answer to these questions, but a big factor in why these films are made over and re-presented is this: familiarity sells.
Remakes are often made for corporate profit, so while they might look big budget, a lot of times there is no love put in. But the problem is not always with the movie companies; they provide what they know people will pay to see. They are in the business of making money, and sometimes in a bad year, they know a remake of well-loved movie will fill the seats, even if it’s terrible. The problem is that people will go to watch remakes, rather than the originals because of their age or their subtitles. Until the viewership decides they’re not going to watch half-assed, culturally confused remakes, they’re going to keep being released. And as far as I can tell, this principle won’t be changing anytime soon.
Next week on Manic Movie Magic, I’ll be reviewing the blockbuster-flop Sucker Punch.