The Remake Manifesto: Part 2 – On foreign lands and fading memories
Welcome to part two of my needlessly lengthy attempt to tell you why you shouldn’t be so angry about the remakes.
“Well what about foreign films?” I hear you demanding like the voices in my mind that scream in the night. People always get very angry about remakes of foreign films, especially recent foreign films (and by foreign I’m referring to foreign language for the purposes of this article). During the release of Matt Reeves’ Let Me In I mounted a defence of remaking foreign films on my, sadly defunct, podcast and it prompted someone to leave the following scathing review on iTunes…
“Since the podcast where they defended Hollywood movie remakes I’ve lost respect for them. There is no reason to remake a film ever!! Learn to read and watch the original in it’s own language. Retards.”
Evidently what we have here is failure to communicate. I’ll not justify the comment by addressing this fool specifically but there are issues he raises that are common to the debate and he serves quite well as an example of the anonymous idiocy of the internet (the punctuation error is his own).
There are many reasons to remake foreign films, most of which I’ve detailed in my previous post but we’re coming to the delicate matter of nationalities and foreign properties. English speaking audiences (the only ones I’m broadly qualified to comment on) don’t really take to subtitled films. It is initially jarring watching a subtitled film and for people who don’t read particularly quickly it can be annoying.
Unfortunately there is a sort of popular snobbery about subtitles though – they are the ‘best’ way to watch foreign cinema. I don’t mind them, I honestly prefer them to the possibility of a distracting dub track. But for some they are too much of a turn off, I happen to work with some people with learning difficulties and subtitles are often a complete no-no. So who am I to tell those people that watching the film any other way is some form of cinematic heresy, that’s right, I’m very well qualified to do so – but I won’t, because I’m really nice like that. Anyway, anyone that says you shouldn’t remake foreign films should be forced to watch The Magnificent Seven (remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai) on a loop until they repent from their ill-thought statement. Because I’ll take a hundred shit films that I’m under no obligation to watch if I can have that classic Western on the telly on a Sunday.
So if you are presented with an audience who won’t watch a subtitled film (bar very occasional exceptions like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) for whatever reason why not remake the film? Well I think there might be two reasons for that, one is that people think a remake somehow invalidates an original, or besmirches it. I’ll get to why that is a load of nonsense in a moment. The other can be dealt with relatively swiftly but with a painful message, like ripping off a plaster, so brace yourself.
Unless you are a fabulously rich individual the likelihood is that you don’t own a film. Now, I don’t mean that I’ve been round with a lighter and burned all your DVDs, I mean you don’t own the rights, the intellectual property or the original celluloid strips on which a film was made. You don’t have any ownership over that film other than the emotional connection you’ve made with it. It doesn’t matter how many Star Wars bedspreads you buy, George Lucas is still going to be the one making the cash from humping the fetid corpse of the original time and time again. So please, pretty please with a cherry on top – stop being so damn precious about their future. The original will exist, don’t worry. Although, ironically, in George Lucas’ case he will probably retcon it and then refuse to release it in its original form so maybe the analogy doesn’t work for Star Wars. But you get the point.
Now, I cannot fathom the idea that remaking a film somehow destroys the integrity of the original property. I’ve seen both versions of The Thing (Carpenter and Hawks) and will probably give the upcoming version a watch too. I’m quietly confident that regardless of the outcome of the new version, be it Kubrickian high art or Paul WS Anderson levels of piss-poor, I’ll still really enjoy watching Kurt Russell get his beard all icy.
I’ve seen both versions of Scarface, Dawn of the Dead, The Fly, Ocean’s 11 and any other number of decent properties and I’ve managed to parse them in my brain. I’ve managed to keep them separate and not mind meshed them into one super-film of varying quality. Equally I’ve watched both versions of Rollerball (see my review of the atrocious remake here) and managed in no uncertain terms to retain two very different opinions on them. The argument that a remake devalues an original is bunkum, poor films are forgotten and good films are remembered.
It’s time to wrap up this crazily overwrought blogpost with the reasons that remakes are actually quite good. You see, instead of being a precious arsehole who looks like you are about to take a wisdom shit on someone when they mention the latest remake with your classic ‘Well actually I think you’ll find that was originally made in…’ you can watch the remake and perhaps even discuss why it’s better/worse than the original. That way less people will think you’re a know-it-all prick. Trust me on this, I learnt the hard way. That’s perhaps the most interesting thing about remakes, they often serve to highlight what was negative or positive about the originals. As far as I’m concerned a dreadful remake only serves to reinforce how good the original was and, additionally, draws attention to the original – often introducing it to a completely new audience.
So when you look at the listings and see a flood of remakes don’t get too upset. Just try to remember that there’s a difference between the likes of David Fincher remaking The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Sly Stallone’s involvement in Get Carter. And try to remember that the Hollywood machine will always be remaking stuff, all that changes is how angry you are about it – and why bother being angry. I find it much more fun to be calculatingly mean about the bad ones and sing the praises of the good.