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Why Americanize Foreign Films?

Updated on May 18, 2013

Let Me In (American)

Let the Right One In (Swedish)

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish)

Why Remake Perfection?

Lina Leandersson, in the 2008 Swedish Film Let the Right One in as Eli,below right, and Chloe Moretz in the 2010 American Remake Let Me In (renamed Abby), right.

Not to diss Chloe Moretz, who is a decent young actress, but Lina Leandersson really embodied Eli with an effortless creepiness that is far more contrived in Let Me In. Check out Chloe (Abby's KISS t-shirt) versus Eli's haphazardly logo-less attire.

Are Subtitles Really That Bad?

At first glance, this may look like a review of Swedish films. Let's be clear though, these recent Swedish films are merely a convenient example to highlight an important feeling that is dear to the hearts of foreign film lovers.

When I go to my Netflix, usually the first place I check out is the foreign film section. I am of German origin, so I like German movies, Scandinavian, Eastern European and any other films that look interesting. The rewards are tremendous if you are looking for something different and more understated, with storylines instead of special effects.

There have been many stellar foreign films that have come out in the last decade or so that stand firmly on their own merit and are based on the works of well-respected authors like Stieg Larsson (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and Tomas Alfredson, (Let the Right One In), just to name two. True, they are both Swedish, but that is not the point.

Yet, both of these films have been remade to appeal to American audiences, and the question is, why? So let us look at some of these original films, and their weaker American cousins.

1. Let the Right One In

Vampire movies are very popular, and Let the Right One In burst immediately into the echelon of 'top vampire movies' in 2008, which was well-deserved. There was a lonely, creepy boy, and a strange-smelling, equally creepy girl who turned out to be a vampire, but the two formed a close bond, with devastating consequences. There was everything a horror/foreign film aficionado could want. Atmosphere, amazing soundtrack, evocative set design, a cold winter to create mood, distracted, insignificant adults juxtaposed with a children experiencing incompehensible violence and horror , but not in-your-face horror. In all, a very satisfying film. Something you could watch, and not even notice that there were subtitles. And there is something great about discovering heretofore unknown actors that blow you away. The last images of a severed head floating in the water and then the little boy traveling on a train with the vampire girl in an airtight box as his luggage only amplified the horror in a way that foreshadowed the tragic role that the boy would now have as the vampire's minion.

Then, lo, someone thought it would be a great idea to remake it. So the story was retold, recast, and of course Americanized. Gone was the great Swedish soundtrack. Gone was the eerie, Communist-era feel of the first film. The actors, although decent enough, were not the same Oskar and Eli I had come to know and love. They were renamed Owen and Abby and the actress chosen to play Abby was Village of the Damned-looking blondie Chloe Moretz, who could never hold a candle to Leandersson's big-eyed, bleeding, androgynous Eli of the Swedish version. But for some reason, it had to be remade. What an outrage! Some of the pieces of the storyline were altered to more closely mirror events that took place in the book. But the American version is entirely forgettable, whereas months and years after watching the Swedish version the soundtrack still plays through my head and then I have to re-watch it. Bottom line. This movie did not have to be remade.

2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series became so popular that I didn't read it, because I have spent my life avoiding fads. Then I discovered the Swedish Film on Netflix, and was blown away by it. The Swedes could not have cast a more perfect Lisbeth Salander. Seriously, Noomi Rapace was Lisbeth Salander in all of her broken, but tough and beautiful glory. Mikael Blomqvist, was equally well-cast by Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist. There was great chemistry between them and if you like Scandinavian films, there was something typically dark in the atmosphere and pacing of the film. Perhaps this was because it was a European film and not a Hollywood film. Secondary characters, such as Erika Berger, Blomqvist's editor and lover was played to perfection by wonderful Swedish actress Lena Endre, and if you are in the know about Swedish actors was rounded out by a cast consisting of some of the best Swedish actors in the business.The Vanger clan as depicted was cold and mysterious and the way the story of the family reached its climax was riveting and a total shock.

Not only that, but the film showed some of the goriest details without much flinching, and the reunion between the bereaved uncle and presumed-dead Harriet Vanger was a tearjerker. And I came away in love with Lisbeth and was hopeful that somehow she and Micke would end up together, but this was not possible with Erika in the picture. Anyway, great subtitiled film in no need of revampment.

But guess what? Hollywood needed to cash in. So what did they do? They cast Daniel Craig as Blomqvist, which is as lame and obvious as casting Tom Hanks in the Da Vinci Code or Leo DiCaprio in just about everything. I don't dislike Craig, but I hate lazy casting. All for money. Then they searched high and low and found Rooney Mara (why?) to play Lisbeth Salander. They shaved her head, pierced her face, dressed her up as a punk rocker and put her image on posters everywhere as Lisbeth Salander. This was just silly. Comparing Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth is likening an artisan-crafted IPA beer to a hipster's Pabst Blue Ribbon. Not having it. Certain actors lent gravitas to the Vanger industrial Clan of incestuous sociopaths, including Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard and Joely Richardson, but the question again is why? Are people too lazy to read subtitles and hearing people speak in foreign languages? And why is a venerable Swedish actor like Skarsgaard in an American movie playing a Swede but speaking in English?

Part of the fun of watching foreign films is to unplug from Hollywood and experience how film depicts life in other countries. French movies are French movies - and you either love or hate them. Foreign films are often more character-driven, and many Americans are impatient because they are not used to human stories unfolding slowly, because they are blasted with the non-stop action and pacing of Hollywood movies. And just by watching the two above-mentioned films, you sort of get a glimpse of the Scandinavian view of the world, which you would never get if you only watched the American version.

So what do you think? In the scope of the universe, do these wonderful foreign films really need to be remade? Is Hollywood really so incapable of creating original story lines? And does Tinseltown really need to make money THAT badly?




Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (American)

Remake of "Let the Right One In"

Which one was better?

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Was It Necessary?

Was is necessary for Hollywood to remake the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in order to appeal to American Audiences?

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    • Daena B. profile image

      Daena B. 4 years ago from Wenatchee, WA

      I never noticed the shirt! I watched both versions of "Let the Right one In", first the Scandinavian. I was skeptical of the american one but I went to see it, and my impression was: They did a better job than I thought they would. It had some elements that made the foreign film so good. I liked the setting. But it lacked. It was like they sawed the corners off of the furniture. I personally missed three things the most.(spoilers) I missed how the woman who had been bitten, CHOSE to kill herself. I missed how truly dangerous the bullies were, and the way the Germanic language sounded so much harsher and back-of-the-throat than English. One more thing. While I do feel like "why" when it comes to remaking great movies, I guess I can see the point of trying to share a great story with people who hate reading their movies.

    • Kris Oller profile image

      Kris Oller 4 years ago from Modesto, Ca

      OMG! The American version of "Girl With a Dragon Tattoo" was horrible!! I would have boycotted it completely except that I love Stellan Skarsgård. But by the end of it, I couldn't figure out why it had been made (other than for American studios to try to cash in on some money). The original was SO much better. Subtitles kids ... they're good for you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      The Italian movie Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August stars Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangelo Melato while the 2002 remake stars Madonna and Adriano Giannini. The 2002 remake with Madonna is more American while the original 1974 version is purely Italian. The original movie is in Italian with English subtitles. Recently an English dubbed version has been made which changes the dialogue and which deletes alot of the curse words. In the 2002 remake with Madonna the movie is spoken in English. The original movie is darker and more serious while the remake is lighter. The character of Gennarino in the original movie is more of a bully and more of a brute and he also kills and eats a rabbit in the original movie. In the 2002 remake the male character is a bit kinder. I got angry at Gennarino for killing the rabbit and for physically slapping the woman he is stuck with. A man and woman on a yacht go out on a small motorboat. The battery dies and they are adrift at sea and eventually wind up on a deserted island. The woman is a capitalist while the man is a communist. On the island the man turns against the woman and turns her into his slave whereas before he was the slave. Gennarino's character is both sympathetic and cruel. So is the woman. They fight and fall in love. Its a seesaw type of relationship. They are rescued by a ship. Gennarino wants to go back to the island with the woman. The woman doesnt want this and she flees by helicopter abandoning him. Gennarino is crushed. His wife discovers he has a crush with this woman and decides to divorce him. Gennarino slaps his wife and so ends a mostly depressing unpleasant movie. Swept Away is well acted and directed. Its unforgettable. The 2002 remake with Madonna is inferior but has a nice song sung by Madonna in it. Swept Away is awesome.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 11 months ago from Singapore

      For both Let the Right One In and Dragon Tattoo Girl, I enjoyed the "Americanized" version more. In the case of LTROI, I thought the original was a bit too sedated.

      But you have a good point. For most remade foreign movies, the English one sucks. I think it's usually due to the whole context being wrong. Some things just have to stay in that other culture and language to be frightening.

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