Films From The Source

One of the most eagerly anticipated films of next year is, for myself at least, David Fincher’s English adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ starring Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist but with Fincher still looking for his perfect Lisbeth Salander it got me thinking about how many films these days are simply based on foreign sources.

Does this shine on the audiences themselves, are we not clever or comfortable enough to deal with subtitles? Or is this down to directors and writers, are there no new ideas around or is this is the studios who are just out to make the $$$? Whatever the reason, there have been some very good remakes, in which the story has gotten out to an English speaking audience because without these rehashes, they may never have been told or understood.

Below are just some recent examples of films which were based on foreign material -:

1. The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Oscar winning ‘The Departed’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson was actually based upon the 2002 Hong Kong film, ‘Infernal Affairs’. The film takes place in Boston where the Irish Mob places a mole within the state police, at the same time as this, the police have placed someone within the Mob. But before time runs out a game of cat and mouse ensues; who is going to outwit the other?

2. Wicker Park

Little known and little rated (although a valued member of my DVD collection), ‘Wicker Park’ starred Josh Hartnett as Matthew Simon, Diane Kruger as Lisa and Rose Byrne (who without giving too many spoilers away) lives in Lisa’s apartment and claims to be Lisa. The film which was directed by Paul McGuigan who is also known for ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ (also starring Hartnett) and two of the recent episodes in BBC’s modern day adaptation of ‘Sherlock’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on the 1996 French film, L’ Appartement starring none other than Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, the story is of Matthew who meets dancer Lisa (Kruger) but as the relationship starts to get serious, she disappears. The film depicts him telling the story of his search and how ones mental reality can be seriously affected by obsession.

3. Funny Games

This is one of my favourite examples of a remake as the 2008 English speaking remake starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt was directed by Michael Haneke, who made the 1997 Austrian original. What is interesting about this remake, is that Haneke made an almost shot for shot copy, just switch country and language and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. ‘Funny Games’ follows the Farber family, they are pretty typical to be honest, nothing to make them stand out from the crowd. They decide to go to a summer cabin for the holiday, where they meet Peter and Paul, who introduce themselves as their friends. What starts with creepy introductions turns into a full night of terror as the ‘brothers’ play a game with the family; if they survive the night then they will be set free but they are not going to make it easy. A film which very cleverly deals with violence by never showing any of screen, but instead is filled with tension and suspense was originally made as a statement. When Haneke decided to remake his film, he stated that it was originally made for a Western audience and that the film was meant to confront audiences about how immune they have become to violence on screen but when the original film was screened very little outside Austria, Haneke knew the only way to get his film watched throughout the United States and United Kingdom was to do an English version.

4. The Ring

2002 saw the release of psychological horror film, ‘The Ring’ starring Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson and was directed by Gore Verbinski who is best known for ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ trilogy. It is an American remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film, ‘Ringu’. Despite the original name of the film looking very similar to a certain cartoon penguin, the film is about a cursed videotape that, when watched, will cause the viewer to die a week after. The (original) film is the highest grossing horror film in Japan at 12 billion yen. Both films were based on Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel. The American remake was also a commercial success and was followed by a sequel in 2005, but was an original story which followed on from the first film as oppose to the Japanese sequels. The film is due for a 2012 reboot called ‘The Ring 3D’ and is set to star Kaley Cuoco.

5. Let The Right One In (otherwise known as ‘Let Me In’)

‘Let Me In’ is a 2010 American horror film directed by Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield’) and is based upon the novel ‘Let The Right One In’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist and the 2008 Swedish film adaptation of the same name directed by Tomas Alfredson. The story follows a 12 year old boy in the 1980’s who befriends a vampire child in New Mexico (one of the very few adjustments to the English remake). Alfredson has expressed unhappiness about the idea of a remake, saying that “Remakes should be made of movies that aren’t very good, that gives you the chance to fix whatever has gone wrong” and expressing concern that the end result would be too mainstream. Lindqvist, in contrast, says that Reeves “will make a new film based on the book, and not remake the Swedish film” and so “it’ll be something completely different, but it’s going to be really interesting to see.” The film is due for release in October this year, so we shall have to wait and see whether the story remains just as captivating and original in another language.

So there we have it, just some examples (and mostly successful) where the English speaking version of the film was not the original. The film may be based on a book, but in some cases it may have been an original film in another language. What do you believe, are films more interesting the way they were originally made, or would you rather just avoid the subtitles?

4 Responses

  1. Sam

    This is an interesting debate but one which I have to say that typically, I don’t understand the passionate negativism around. If someone (let’s say Fincher) wants to have a bash at making an adaptation of a novel (foreign or otherwise) then why should he be denied his vision just because someone else got there first? I’ve just watched THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and, as a fan of the book, I have to say I wasn’t impressed, particularly by Nyqvist who I thought was miles away from hitting the Blomqvist of Larsson’s book, all easy charm and clever intelligence. Of the above films, the ones that I’ve seen are THE DEPARTED and THE RING which I thought were brilliant and OK respectfully. Should we really be denied these films just because someone else got there first? Does being first make your version ‘definitive’? Personally I say give us both versions and let us decide – what harm can it do?

  2. robert

    I personally don’t see the point of making English language remakes. the movie already exists, you can read the subtitles or get the English dub.

  3. Oliver.Coleman

    It’s an interesting point Sam, I have to admit, I’ve never thought about whether the original does have to the ‘definitive’ edition but I do stand by my point about studios and audiences. There does sometimes, in some English speaking countries, among mainstream audiences lie a belief that if it’s got subtitles, it’s not worth watching.
    But much like Haneke with ‘Funny Games’, he originally made the film for the audience that the remake was aimed at but due to people’s disinterest in subtitles, the film was seen little outside Austria.
    For myself, I am extremely excited about Fincher’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ as he is one of my favourite directors and this is one of my favourite books, but I do wonder whether a remake had to be done so swiftly just to ensure that some quite closed minded audiences saw the film.
    Robert, I do understand where you are coming from as well. And I do agree that in some instances it is just not needed, I think people need to be able to appreciate the foreign film. What comes from this point is that, when you see a film from another country, the style of film, the direction and the cinematography can be so extremely different. What is to say that an audience member should be put off an experience just because of subtitles, there can be foreign charm in a film from somewhere else?

  4. snow-cookie

    I like the idea. I think it gives a chance for directors to flesh out a good story that foreign directors may not have the ability to do on the same budget, maybe even improving on it. Especially with movies based on books… every reader h…as thier own interpretation of the story, imagining it differently and seeing diferent aspects as being of lesser or greater interest. The more interpretations the better… leaves you less likely to complain that it wasn’t as you imagined or hoped it would be.

    Furthermore, more actors giving thier own twist to lines and actions, of benifit for the same reasons as above.

    Also there’s the fun of regional twists on a good story brining new life to a good plot.

    On the other hand i do feel it is important that people are made aware there was an ‘original’ version.

    Also i’ve seen the magic and intesting cultural points of interest dissapear in some films, which can be part of the intrigue and fun of international cinema for me.


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