Very Lost In Translation: the 5 US remakes we didn’t need
There’s a tired truism that English-speaking audiences are lazy; they hate subtitles because they don’t like having to do two things at once (namely, watching AND reading). This has led to an appalling trend in cinema, where a successful foreign language film will, rather than being dubbed, be completely remade with an air-brushed American cast speaking crystal clear English. There are some films you just shouldn’t touch, and frankly it’s important that we stem the flow now, rather than waiting for John Goodman to lead the cast in a re-imagining of The Godfather, or casting Charlie Sheen in an all-new Apocalypse Now…
#5.Breathless (1983) – remake of A Bout de Souffle (1959)
Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal À Bout De Soufflé, was one of the most important films of the sixties. The story of Michel, a petty crook who kills a policeman while driving a stolen car, it covers everything from love (his affair with an American student) to crime and punishment and existential angst. Godard used his camera in a way few had before, matching the free jazz soundtrack with scatty jump cuts. The 1983 US version swaps the French criminal/American girl storyline for a American criminal/French girl one (how clever), and transfers the action from Paris to Las Vegas, but took none of the style or cool with it.
Richard Gere in any lead role could be considered an problem, but in this lead role he is an unmitigated disaster. Whereas the original protagonist, Michel, was aloof, cool and full of existential angst (as well as jovial, casual misogyny), Jesse comes across completely hollow with a lack of any decent dialogue. There’s only so much laid-back pre-grey foxing you can do Richard. We know your games.
#4.Let Me In (2010) – remake of Let the Right One In (2008)
I admit that I didn’t hate this American remake; it looks fantastic, it’s suitably creepy, and the performances are great. Despite this, the film still makes my list for one simple reason; Let Me In is a straight horror film – a good one I admit, but a horror film none the less. Let The Right One In (the Swedish original) was so much more. More a fairytale than a horror film, Let The Right One In sets the beautiful and unsettling relationship between Oscar and Eli against a dreamlike backdrop which sucks you and refuses to let you go. Let Me In , on the other hand, sticks to the tried and tested Stephen King formula of claustrophobic small town America, with the standard “something evil lurking in the suburbs” approach. This generic approach means that it will always be a footnote when compared to the original.
#3.Wicker Park (2004) – remake of the L’Appartement (1996)
There are a lot of stereotypes about French cinema. It’s sophisticated, sexy, intelligent, sexy and “arty”. And sexy. L’Appartement, in this sense, is the ultimate French flick. It’s also rather sexy. The stylish love triangle drama showcases Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci giving confident and layered performances, shot through a slightly surreal sense of mystery as the complex plot is revealed through flashbacks. In Wicker Park you get Josh Hartnett (who undoubtedly launched his acting career purely thanks to some equal opportunities scheme) and Diane Kruger looking worriedly at each-other for two hours. How is that a fair trade off?
#2.Vanilla Sky (2001) – remake of Abre Los Ojos (1997)
If I’m honest this one was screwed from the start; if there’s one thing worse than a bad Hollywood remake, it’s a bad Hollywood remake starring Tom Cruise. We’ve finally come to accept that being an all-american action hero doesn’t come with a minimum height requirement, but attempting any other role is career suicide for el Cruise. Jerry Maguire aside, obviously.
Abre Los Ojos is the kind of psychological thriller that really messes with your head; complex and skittish, it’s a little like David Lynch with a sci-fi twist. Cameron Crowe makes a decent stab at recreating the feel of the movie, but sadly Cruise just isn’t believable. Cameron Diaz is equally banal as the homicidal ex-girlfriend, although Penelope Cruz puts in a decent performance (unsurprising, as she was directly transplanted from the original). The Spanish version allowed the audience to work out the intricacies of the plot themselves, meaning they could keep the pacing tight and the story constantly moving. The Hollywood version insists on spelling everything out, killing any tension stone dead.
#1. The Magnificent Seven (1960) – remake of Seven Samurai (1954)
I know The Magnificent Seven is considered a classic movie by just about everyone and their mum (apart from my mum, due to her irrational hatred of Yul Brynner) but the star-studded Western was a very pale imitation of its inspiration, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Samurai had a lot on The Magnificent Seven. The first genuine “team” movie, the plot – with seven “ronins” coming together to protect some peasants from bandits – is one of the greatest and most copied stories of all time. Couple that with the fact that Kurosawa was, at the time, probably the greatest director in the world, both technically and emotionally, and what you have is a film that did not need to be remade. Ever.
Audiences at the time didn’t think so either, it was the first Japanese film to get big distribution in the West, and audiences lapped it up. So sure, The Magnificent Seven itself isn’t a bad film (how could it be with source material like that?) but the very fact that Hollywood thought a remake was necessary is an insult to us all.
By Dan Cadwallader