American remakes of international films: good or bad?


Hollywood is no longer the sole source of blockbusters. The international film industries generate hits with the same frequency, on local and sometimes even global scales, often exceeding films from American studios. But such is the imperial dominance of Hollywood, whenever a major hit emerges from outside the English-speaking world, the conversation immediately gravitates towards a potential American remake. Hollywood just can’t avoid an idea that could make money. But while this process is widely vilified, for several good reasons, it contains subtleties – and the films themselves don’t deserve any prejudice.

The United States is not alone in remaking films from other cultures. there is an italian groundhog day, a korean unforgiven, a Russian 12 angry men, a Japanese Ghost, and a Chinese Simple Blood. The beat that my heart skipped, a French remake of an American crime drama Fingers, won eight Caesar and one BAFTA. American films are remade in India all the time. And that’s without even mentioning the legions of unlicensed remakes that emerged from the Middle East and Southeast Asia in the ’70s and’ 80s, or the adaptations between different non-English speaking cultures that English speakers will likely never hear. speak.

American remakes of non-American films, however, are downright despised by the generally unseen film community. Much of the hatred stems from the perceived erasure of international cinema by Americans, whose history of cultural appropriation is bad enough. That’s a fair review: not many people know the Korean film that inspired The lake house (It Mare, released just before the New Korean Cinema hit American art theaters head-on), for example. Granted, many English-speaking audiences will never know certain stories except through English-language remakes. Even assuming equivalent impact and success, Google search results also typically default to US films rather than international films of the same title.

Another fear is that the English-language remakes will steal the income from the original productions. It is less justifiable. By the time the remakes are produced, the originals have done most of their business already, and frankly, they’re not competing in the same markets in the first place, as audiences who hate subtitles will never be looking for any. way of “foreign” films. If anything the remakes raise the profile of their ancestors slightly, either directly through credits or marketing or indirectly through a critical response, it’s almost a guarantee that a remake will inspire at least one person to. search for the original which would not normally have done so. Between that, the rights sales payments and the occasional direct involvement of the original creators, it’s hard to argue that the remakes hurt the original filmmakers.

Artistically, the biggest worry is about simplifying the stories to fit a lower common denominator audience. City of Angels has been widely derided for transforming Wim Wenders Wings of desire in a sentimental soap opera, for example; Cameron Crowe was criticized as pretentious during the adaptation Abre Los Ojos in Vanilla Sky. Japanese horror remakes have had a poor remake track record, even with their original directors attached. Other films just don’t add anything new to the translation, like Let me enter Where Quarantine, and feel like lead retreads or, at best, skilled retreads. These remakes don’t give the originals a bad name, exactly. However, they will forever mar any discussion about them.

But while many remakes are shorthand or unimaginative, almost all of them are unfairly maligned from the start, simply by dint of being remakes. The decision to remake international films is usually a studio decision and can be fairly criticized, but actual films are generally made by filmmakers with the best of intentions and are worth watching on their own terms.

Some of the more interesting English remakes see international directors rewind their previous films and take the opportunity to say something new. Redo In order of disappearance like Continued cold, Hans Petter Moland elevated an ordinary subplot of gang warfare to a commentary on Native American exploitation. The American remake of Michael Haneke Funny games followed its original almost blow for blow, but took on new meaning simply by being made within the American cultural context that the original commented on, in part. Sometimes instead of directors reprise their roles, it’s actors, like Penelope Cruz in Vanilla Sky or Don Lee in the upcoming remake of The cop, the gangster, the devil. Either way, filmmakers who approach their earlier work from a new perspective are fascinating to watch.

When writers do remakes, they often spawn classics in their own right. Insomnia (originally from Norway) helped cement Christopher Nolan as a director to watch. that of James Cameron True lies (originally French The total !) is beloved in action movie circles, like Terry Gilliam 12 monkeys (inspired by the French experimental film The Pier) is by science fiction fans. that of William Friedkin Wizard is just as famous as its French predecessor The wages of fear. Billy Wilder’s all-time classic Some like it hot is the second remake of a french film Fanfare of Love, also redone in German. And of course, Martin Scorsese ultimately won his Oscar with The dead, a well-received remake of the Hong Kong thriller Hellish affairs.

Some of the hatred towards these films undoubtedly represents a fetishization of international cinema based exclusively on its best examples. While promoting international films, moviegoers often fail to recognize that the international film industries also produce a lot of basic and even bad entertainment. Many French comedies adapted to the standard American comedy rate – rate as Dinner for Schmucks, Three men and a baby, Fathers Day, Jungle 2 Jungle – are also considered standard comedy fares where they come from. The same goes for Japanese horror movies, Hong Kong action movies, etc. Such films are often put on pedestals by an English-speaking audience, for whom they represent something foreign and unusual. That only the best and / or most successful international films are even shown in American theaters can distort the view of these film industries. Not all Korean movies are Parasite; not all French films are Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Every country makes waste.

Downhill – the most recent remake of its kind, released this month – is a mix of all of that. His source film Force majeure is essentially a masterpiece, which caused some cringe when an American remake was announced starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Downhill loses part of Force majeurethe feel of the European Commonwealth, and there’s a more comedy touch out of the water. It’s more family-oriented than relationship-oriented, and the shoot isn’t as elegant or confident. But it’s not a disaster: the main story is rightly uncomfortable, Louis-Dreyfuss is great, and even Ferrell is remarkably restrained. Incredibly, only Miranda Otto’s cartoonish Austrian sex demon feels transplanted into the kind of crass American comedy we all feared. Yes Downhill were an original American film – or an adaptation of a novel or a play – it would be hailed as bold and refreshing. Instead, almost all of the overwhelmingly negative reviews cite Force majeure as a better option. And that’s a better option. But that doesn’t Downhill worse.

It’s interesting which remakes get a pass and which don’t. We often call remakes “unnecessary”, and that’s generally correct, but comparing films to their pre-loved (also “unnecessary”, ultimately) predecessors will never be fair. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the films themselves; only, perhaps, the operating practices of the studios that make them. Even more curious, there are exceptions that hardly anyone complains about: the many rehashes of formulas while driving Seven Samurai Where a handful of dollars, for example, are accepted as adaptations of stories as timeless as fairy tales.

Originality is not necessary to create a good job. The theaters still put on Shakespeare. We continue to see acclaimed new versions of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes. Mad Max: Fury Road, the most critically-rated film of the past decade, is the fourth film in a franchise. In the end, very good remakes (Fly, The thing, True courage, others in this article) are only as rare in the remakes arena as great movies are in the movie arena. We certainly need to be mindful of America’s dominance over world culture, but when it comes to individual films, maybe we should put more effort into appreciating what they bring in their own right, remake or not. And if that doesn’t interest you, well, the originals are still there.


Darcy J. Skinner