Remakes: The good, the bad and the unnecessary

Art & Lit Screen

Even before David Fincher’s The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo came out, there were cries of outrage from cinemagoers everywhere. The Swedish version had already been made, what was the point of ruining it with an American version? It was going to have none of the original feel or the flair, and by the fact that it was American, Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth was going to be a shadow of Noomi Rapace’s. Obviously. When the film did eventually come out, the cries died down, but not entirely. And this is not an isolated case; the fact is that for some reason, remakes of foreign films simply do not sit well with a lot of people.

Remaking a film, foreign or otherwise, is a lot like adapting a book for the big screen. The plot and the characters are all there, the vision and the inspiration have already been created by somebody else. It then falls to the director to create it as a work of art; to visualize it and turn it into a film. When this is done with something like Lord Of The Rings, everybody is happy; they can’t wait to see Aragorn fighting the Nazgul, or Frodo crawling through Shelob’s lair. You could argue that the excitement stems from the fact that the original material is brilliant, and you would be absolutely correct, but then why on Earth are we allowing four Twilight films? The opposite is in fact usually true of remakes. The greater the original, the stronger the objection to anyone even thinking about touching it. The talk is always of ruining a masterpiece, but people never seem to imagine an attempt that would be better, or different or fresh. That would surely be inconceivable.

While not being able to read the subtitles is never a valid excuse for not liking a film, there are certainly disadvantages of having to constantly read them. Often, the best of the acting, the moments that define a film can come from the way that a certain character speaks or says things: sarcasm for example depends entirely on the tone of voice. When you watch foreign films in languages that are completely alien to you, following these vocal cues is difficult, and can detract from great viewing. The same can be said for the culture difference. For an audience to connect entirely with a film, they may need to understand a culture to realise why characters are driven the way they are. If you fail on this front, you can leave an audience confused and uninterested. And there are times where a film, its material and its story is simply too good to pass up: Scorsese won an Oscar with good reason for The Departed.

There is nobody who can say that they have never watched a film and come out with the words ‘I would have done that bit differently’. Everybody reads a book in a unique way, they imagine a scene to play out with a tone that only they understand, and they want that to be translated onto the big screen. Directors are no different, except for the fact that they have the power to make those changes. We shouldn’t begrudge them their desire to do just that.

By Prithu Banerjee