Why Americanize Foreign Films?
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?