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Remake annoyance – a few words about why they bug me but how I eventually realized that I’m a hypocrite | The Velvet Café

letmeinWhenever a good Scandinavian movie comes out, the question will inevitably comes up: “How long will it be before they make an American remake”.

It’s not a question of “if” anymore, but “when”, and the answer to that question generally is “within two years”.

As a European I have mixed feelings about those remakes, but most of all negative. I try to be as open minded and forgiving as I can, I can’t rid myself of a gut reaction of frustration, jealousy and even a little bit of contempt.

Or as Pete from I Love That Film wrote in a comment on my wish list for Christmas:

“I would also ask that Hollywood stops the needless remakes of perfectly good foreign films (despite being excited about Dragon Tattoo). It’s utterly offensive, pointless and ridiculous.”

I totally get what he means. Hollywood’s habit of doing remakes either it’s warranted or not is annoying and even offensive from my European perspective.

I know that some of my fellow film bloggers in North America won’t agree with me and Peter in this. After all, some of those remakes are pretty good, if not better, at least as good as the original, although in a slightly different way. The more movies they make, the more is there to watch for everyone. Let’s face it – people in the United States aren’t used to watch foreign movies with subtitles. The remakes probably won’t take the market away from the original films, because there was none to begin with. So what’s the harm?

A sense of rejection
Yes, what’s the harm? I’ll try to explain a bit further in this post.

I think one issue is a vague sense of being of rejected by a culture which finds itself superior to ours and self serving. It’s as if the movies that are made outside of the US aren’t good enough for the American market, while we on the other hand watch movies produced in Hollywood all the time.

In fact most films I watch are in a foreign language and have subtitles. Do I complain about that? Do I reject the idea of watching for instance The Ides of March because it’s about the political system in US? Would I even suggest that they should make a version that is about an election campaign in Sweden, starring Alexander Skarsgård instead of Ryan Gosling? No! Of course not! The idea is ridiculous.

So if your movies are good enough for me to watch, why aren’t our movies good enough for you? If there is a cultural exchange here it seems to only go one way. Hollywood pushes out movies to markets all over the world, but we’re not allowed into yours. What is going on, really? Is it protectionism or fear of everything foreign? I don’t know, but it bugs me.

The difficulty of subtitles
Defenders of remakes sometimes argue that the American audience isn’t used to read subtitles. The lack of an American version wouldn’t make more people go and watch the original Swedish or French movie. They would rather not watch at all.

To this my answer is that for an European brought up with subtitled movies, it’s hard to understand the difficulty. Come on, it’s just a habit! Any child can do it as soon as their reading speed gets up to the level where they can follow it, which usually happens at the age of eight or nine years, at the latest. Isn’t it most of all a question of the willingness to market the European movies properly? You’ll get what you put into it.

And besides you can’t blame subtitles for all the remakes. Even a UK origin seems to bee too foreign for the American audience, especially when it comes to TV series. Hence they felt compelled to remake perfectly good original British series such as The Office and Good as Queer. Why?  I can’t imagine a British accent is any harder to understand than an accent from certain parts of the US.

I just don’t get it.

Promoting the original?
Another argument you hear sometimes is that remakes can help the marketing of the original movie. If it’s good enough, people might become curious and interested in watching the source. Without any scientific evidence to back it up with, I’m skeptical towards that idea. While a cinephile might want to compare different versions of the same story, I doubt that it’s something that would interest the mainstream audience, especially not when there’s as little time between the releases as too years. It’s not as if they’ve modernized a very old concept, making a new version of a classic from the 30s. The technique will be the same, the special effects will be similar. So why bother?

Like a theatre or a book?
Some people say that remakes of movies are no different to setting up Hamlet on many different scenes and that it doesn’t make sense to make fuzz about it. But I’d say there is a difference here, namely in the distribution.

For practical reasons all of the world can’t watch the same play since it’s located to a certain time and space and there are only so many seats in the salon. A film is more like a book in that regard. It can easily get worldwide distribution and it can easily be translated.

While we sometimes get pastiche versions, such as the take on Pride and Prejudice that includes zombies, it’s not common practice to take a two year old novel taking place in London, relocating it to New York to please an American audience. At least not that I know of.

But on the other hand…
So if I feel so negative about remakes, why didn’t I include the extinction of them in my wish list to Santa?

The answer to that is that in the end, thinking closer about it, I realized that my argumentation while fierce also was hollow and that I couldn’t defend it in any situation. There would always be exceptions.

I raged a lot about the American remakes, but what about the remakes we do in Scandinavia? They may not be that common, but there have been a couple, which I’ve given a lot of praise myself.

What was When the Raven Flies if not an Icelandic remake of A Fistful of Dollars, which in turn was a remake of Yojimbo?

And what was Oslo, 31st of August if not yet another adaptation of the novel Le feut follet (The fire within), which Louis Malle made into a movie as early as in the 60s?

There is a difference here compared to the American remakes of two year old films in the sense that there’s a huge difference to the original. But taking a look into the mirror I had to admit that I was a bit of a hypocrite.

Not all are of evil
The truth is that all remakes aren’t of evil. Some may feel unnecessary, some are OK, others are even better than the original, and the opinions on which category a certain remake belongs to will inevitably vary.

For my own part I usually won’t bother about the remake. I loved Let The Right One In; I’ve heard both good and bad stuff about Let Me In, but I don’t see any need to watch it. I watched and loved the French thriller Pour Elle (Anything for her), but there’s no way I’ll spend money to see The Next Three Days.

As comes to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’ll definitely watch it. Not only is David Fincher a director I respect; my home town also appears in it; I even heard the recordings of the orchestra as they shot it in the neighbourhood to where I work and I can’t wait to see that telephone boot where I thought I got a glimpse of Daniel Craig.

This has been a very wordy post and it’s time to put an end to it. Either you’re a fan or a fiend of remakes I hope you’ll join me in the Friday night toast.


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