Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Girl With the Remake Tattoo

Americans love to think we can do anything better than our foreign counterparts.  The world has soccer, which culminates in the World Cup where teams from around the world compete.  America has baseball and the World Series, in which two teams square off (both are usually American, though they could be Canadian).  Then there's Americanized sushi (pathetic).  War (Hitler invades, we drop the BOMB).  And movies.  The lastest round of remakes targets The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was originally a Swedish film based off a Swedish book and which currently has two sequels.

The film is fairly well-liked.  I reviewed it for Film Threat and was immediately a fan.  I even made note in my review that it was being remade.  So that begs the question: If the film is well-received (even in America), why remake it in the first place? 

The first and foremost answer is: subtitles.  The vast majority of American movie audiences don't like "reading" their movies.  Fine.  I understand these people must be appeased, though I am of the mind that if they don't want to read subtitles they can just miss out.  That answer is too simple, however.  I think the real answer is: Because we think we can do it better.

The movie did amazingly well at the box office.  (The book is a bestseller, too.)  I believe some vulture in Hollywood saw that and said, "If a foreign movie can do this well, imagine how much money I'd make if I did a domestic version of it!"  Boom.  The idea was born.

There is, of course, some truth to that notion.  We do movies well.  I can't think of any situation where an American film was remade overseas and outdid the box office of the original picture.  I don't think it has happened (though I haven't conducted a thorough study).  I still don't like the idea, though, and there are two reasons for that.

One, on a plainly personal level, I find the idea disrespectful.  In my view it sends the idea that the original version is not good enough on its own.  It makes it somewhat flawed, and needs to be fixed.  I know not everyone thinks that way (and I have enjoyed remakes -- some more than the originals), but it still feels that way.

Then there is the fact that Americans make films for a dumber audience, and it makes films differently.  Foreign films have subtleties there that are far different from American films, but are universal nonetheless.  When an American remake is done, these often sublime moments are erased and we are often hit over the head with symbolism and message, as if we couldn't get there on our own with the original.  In many (not all) foreign films made for a serious film audience, you take from the movie what you bring to it.  In American films, you take what you are given.  That's not entirely the filmmaker's fault.  It's often what the audience demands.

I know plenty of you reading this have seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  I ask you to think back to that unpleasant scene where Lisbeth was raped.  Now remember her stiffly walking home.  All I could think about during that scene, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, is that if this was shown in to your average American audience, there would be people laughing.  There is the difference.

I don't plan on seeing the remake unless I'm reviewing it for some publication or site.  The people I've talked to who have seen the original version don't plan on it, either.  Some of you will call me a film snob or an elitist.  (I've been called worse.)  That's okay.  I don't believe I'm a film snob (hell, I like some crap), but I'll wear the elite title any day.  I'm passionate about the things I like.  I study them.  I defend them.   The rest of you can enjoy Me, Myself and Irene or some other such nonsense.


  1. I completely agree with you! I watched the trilogy, thought about the movie constantly and how much I fell in love with Lisbeth Salander's strength, and then watched them again. I have the urge to watch them a third time. I even checked out the books at the library so I could read them (once I have time). SUCH good movies! I want to see the remake not to enjoy it (I'm not expecting much from it) but to just compare it to the original movie. The original will always be the best despite the movie's quality and actors because, well, it's the original! I feel like we must stick true to its origin. I'd imagine the Swedish producers who produced the film were offended or/and humiliated when Hollywood asked them if they could make a remake of their film. I mean, what the hell, their film is already excellent! Hollywood just wants to battle those who come near their popularity ranks.

    And as for people not liking the subtitles, they can go home sobbing to mommy. I have the original movie on my ipod with English DUBS (I would've gotten the movie with subs but (1)I couldn't find it at the time and (2)the subs would have been too small to read on my ipod). Yeah, it's out there. And reading subs isn't bad at all. The lines are short per shot for the purpose of someone not missing out on something while they were reading. Plus, you may learn some of a new language with subtitles. Who knows? Maybe I'm just used to reading subtitles all the time. I love me some foreign movies C:

    1. The American audience's disdain for subtitles guarantees it is missing out on some great films. I never understood why this is a sticking point. I would always much rather see subtitles than a dub.