May 4 2010

The American Foreign Film Industry: Sweden Goes Hollywood

In 2009, Swedish film Let The Right One In opened in the U.S. and achieved a considerable amount of success critically, as well as commercially (as far as foreign films are concerned).  This year, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo conquered the literary world and made quite an impact on the big screen.  Needless to say, it’s been a very good few years for the Swedish film industry.

Soon after the success of Let The Right One In, it was announced that Hollywood would remake the film with Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) helming the project, an idea that fans of the film, both here and in Sweden, found to be in bad taste.  Now that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has garnered some attention, it has been announced that it too will be remade in America.  Outrage may be too strong a word to convey people’s opinion of these rushed remakes, but the general consensus regarding this news tends to be vehemently negative.

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has remade a foreign film; its been going on since other countries started making films really, and the interesting thing is the remakes aren’t always bad.  Whether they are as good as the original or live up to their predecessors is up for debate, as that opinion is hardly ever objective, but many remakes themselves have been pretty good.  Akira Kurosawa’s “Eastern”, The Seven Samurai jumpstarted the man-on-a-mission film, and was remade by John Sturges as The Magnificent Seven, which turned out to be a great Western.  Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia was remade from Swedish filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s film of the same name, and both were incredible neo-noir films.

If remakes were an all-around terrible idea, than no remake would turn out good, but if films like The Magnificent Seven and True Lies (yes, it’s a remake) can turn out well, it’s fair to assume that the quality of remakes are circumstantial.

Several films have been based on novels or plays; there is never to much hub-hub made when The Importance of Being Earnest is remade for film for the umpteenth time, unless it turns out to be a terrible adaptation.  Akira Kurosawa has adapted several Shakespeare plays into film; King Lear turned into Ran, and Macbeth became High and Low, to name a few.  Furthermore, Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was his take on the classic “stranger comes to town” Western formula previously used in many films.  Yojimbo was then remade by Sergio Leone as, A Fistful of Dollars, which jumpstarted Clint Eastwood’s career and lead to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, one of the greatest Westerns ever made, if not even the greatest.

Film is the most common medium for entertainment in the Twentieth century, just as plays and novels were in the past.  Film, at its core, is just storytelling, and many novelists, playwrights and screenwriters have all borrowed, taken or stolen something from some story somewhere.  Just as novels are adapted to film, remakes of other films aren’t inherently bad; it’s just the reinterpretation of someone else’s story.  Ultimately, it comes down to what the filmmakers do with the source material, what creative differences those filmmakers apply to it, and, most importantly, whether or not the film is any good.

There is, however, something else going on concerning the upcoming remakes of Let The Right One In and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Two successful foreign films being remade almost immediately after their U.S. releases resembles an agenda, or worse, a trend.  Whereas remakes like The Birdcage were made long after the original debuted, remakes made for the sake of remaking them isn’t filmmaking; it’s cheap, repetitive crap being peddled for easy profit.  Look at Chris Rock’s remake of Death at a Funeral; what was once a witty, masterfully executed farce from Great Britain has now become a comedy that relies on stereotypes, bad slapstick, and Tracy Morgan.

What’s most offensive about this approach is that the sole motive is profit.  The studios don’t respect the original as a great film, nor do they give a damn about adding something unique to it.  They’re just trying to latch on to the swelling reputation of the film and ride that wave of success for all its worth.  It’s insulting to the film, the cast and crew, and the foreign film industry.

What sets these two films apart from other remake endeavors is the space of time between the projects.  Let The Right One In came out last year, and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo is out right now. Why are ideas of remakes already in the works?  The very thought shouldn’t even occur in any filmmaker’s mind.  Let the films run their course, enjoy the success that its due, then settle a bit in the ether before throwing the “remake” card on the table.  Too soon guys, too soon.

Dragon Tattoo is still being discussed, so it will be a while before people get really mad.  So far, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp’s names are being dropped for the role of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist.  Talented as they may be, Clooney and Pitt are too polished for the role, and the character isn’t a whimsical goth nymph, so Depp is out.  David Fincher, director of Se7en, Zodiac and Fight Club, is the favorite to direct the project, which could prove interesting if the project wasn’t such a disgrace to begin with.  The worst rumor is that Kristen Stewart is apparently in the running for the titular tattooed heroine, presumably so she can continue pretending to be Joan Jett for another year or so.

NOT the next Lisbeth Salander

Let Me In, the American version of Let The Right One In, is slated for this fall.  Aside from Reeves directing, the two young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), are two fine child actors and just might give strong performances.  Set in the Midwest to achieve America’s own winter pastoral wasteland, the film takes place amidst the Reagan era, which could provide a unique, regional spin on the story.  Or it could turn out to be the big, Americana cow pie everyone expects it to be.  Only time will tell.

Let Me In producer Simon Oakes discussed the film, saying, “This is making an [already] astonishing story… more accessible to a much larger audience.”  That statement in and of itself contains the conundrum of foreign film remakes: shouldn’t people overcome their fear of reading and watch foreign films anyway?  Then again, if people are initially wary, or even unaware, of the release of foreign films, what’s wrong with introducing them to the mainstream public via an American remake?  Hopefully, they will seek out the original soon thereafter.

Naysayers will say nay, but one cannot casually dismiss all foreign remakes, foolish as they sound.  On the one hand, those who remake a film, foreign or otherwise, for the sake of a guaranteed increase in projected profits are nothing more than cinematic plagiarizers.  On the other hand, some of these filmmakers may be doing it out of earnest; maybe doing the wrong thing, but for all the right reasons.  Fortunately, you can always tell a good film from a bad one, one made to tell a story and one put together for easy money.  Those capitalizing on a trend should stay behind borders and try something else. As for those who claim to have noble, artistic intentions?  I hope you’re up for the challenge, because we’re all watching.

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