On American Remakes of International Films

I’ve decided one of the best ways to decide what movie to watch is to find out what international movies are being remade by Hollywood, and then watch the international version instead. Denisa and I watched La Chevre the other night (IMDB rating: 7.1), a very fun French film that was later remade as Pure Luck, with Martin Short and Danny Glover (IMDB rating: 5.1. See a difference?).

I had seen the remake years ago, and I remembered enjoying it as a light piece of fluff. So when I saw La Chevre pop up on Netflix Instant, I decided to give it a whirl, and I’m very glad I did. The premise is simple: a very unlucky girl goes missing, and so a very unlucky man is sent after her to find her. They’re both unlucky in the extreme. If one chair is broken among fifty, they’ll inevitably choose that chair to sit in. Accidents happen wherever they go. All the time.

The French original has a lot of really creative bits in it. Not quite a family film (Pure Luck was, as I recall)–it’s got some risque elements, but nothing that pushes the PG-13 boundaries. Definitely a fun three stars, where the remake was maybe 2 or 2.5.

So many people complain that film adaptations are never as good as the books they’re based on. That’s debatable in my book–comparing oranges to apples. A fair fight is American remakes to their international counterparts. I’ve watched a fair number in my time, and they’re always worse. 13 Tzameti, La Femme Nikita, Seven Samurai, Let the Right One In, The Orphanage–all great movies. All remade for America, because apparently American audiences don’t like to read subtitles.


What’s so bad about subtitles? They’re tons better than dubbing, which just ruins a movie for me. You can still get a sense of the original acting, the emotion, the mood, through subtitles. A sense you lose when you dub. And when you remake the entire film . . .

Look at it this way. The original was made by people who felt passionate about the material, typically. They created the idea from infancy on. The remakers? They took the idea fully formed, then xeroxed it into a different language. A copy is never as good as the original. Sure, you have cases where the remake is done with care and effort. Sometimes you end up a with a really good end result, but more often than not? Dreck. Take a 4 star movie and turn it into a 3 star. It’s a travesty.

Or am I just a film snob?

Such is my lot in life.

Anybody out there got any remakes they really loved? Or ones they just hated once they were remade? Please share–what to watch, and what to avoid.

4 thoughts on “On American Remakes of International Films”

  1. Your claim that a remake is just a xeroxed copy of the original is only true insofar as the people doing the remake treat is as a xeroxed copy. If the film makers treat the remake as an opportunity to do something interesting, the remake can be just as good or better than the original–being the first person to tell a story does not automatically make you the best at it. It’s the same principle as a stage play: every production of a given play is essentially a remake of the original, but we don’t complain about that because we expect it: we love Hamlet, for example, so we’ll watch a dozen versions of it because we already know person A’s interpretation, but we’re interested to see how person B or C or Z interprets the same material. A good movie remake is the same way, and as my example I’ll happily contradict one of yours: The Magnificent Seven is a remake of The Seven Samurai, and while it is incredibly different, it’s still a great movie. They took the seeds of the original, reimagined it from top to bottom, found an amazing cast and crew, and showed us an entirely new vision of the story. If you saw a version of Hamlet half as clever as the Magnificent Seven’s version of Seven Samurai, we’d hail it as one of the landmarks of modern theater. This isn’t really a post about how you don’t like remakes, it’s a post about how you don’t like bad movies, using remakes as your examples.

  2. Okay, it’s not exactly remake, but I think the English-versions of the Miyazaki films sound great: they get really good voice actors. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite films.

  3. Magegirl–Great one. I agree.

    Dan–Yes, I’m overstating my case. I guess it was more just a response to people always clamoring that the book is better than the movie. Basically saying, “You think that’s bad? Look at remakes of international films.” As always, if the remake or adaptation is done with flair, skill, and taste, the result can be fantastic. I really like Magnificent Seven.

    That said, productions of Hamlet are really worthwhile because the format is designed to be adapted. Designed to be produced in multiple ways. Plays are essentially half of an art form. It’s only once they’re produced that they become the final thing. They’re incomplete until then, just like screen plays. Yes, you can still appreciate them for what they are, but they aren’t written to be read. They’re written to be performed, and that’s a vital difference.

    If someone were to adapt a production of Hamlet–not the play, but a specific production–then I think you’d start raising the risk of having a crappy end result.

    So yes, I don’t like bad movies. But I’d say the ration of bad movies to good movies is greater with remakes than with possibly any other approach to creating “new” material, so long as the name M. Night Shyamalan isn’t involved.

    MK–Another good one.

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