I Just Saw That Movie Last Year. . . It Had Subtitles

By Tim Lucia

Imagine the boardroom at a major Hollywood studio.  Ideas for potential films are being pitched.   The executive indicates they would like to see a dark thriller in the mix.  A beat of silence.  The room then bursts out into a loud, overlapping conversation about Insomnia, Open Your Eyes, Let The Right One In, La Femme Nikita, The Ring, Brothers, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Tell No One, and Oldboy.  The executive has to whistle loudly to get the chatter to stop.  He tells them to pitch one at a time.

Those are just some of the foreign films Hollywood has remade in recent years.  All but Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (released in 1990, remade as Point of No Return in 1993) have come in the last ten years.  Though Dragon Tattoo, Tell No One, and Oldboy have yet to be released they all have very successful directors at the helm:  David Fincher, Ben Affleck, and Spike Lee respectively.  With this formula of remaking successful, original foreign thrillers, Hollywood is riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels.  

Some of these American remakes have been good, such as Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia.  Others like Vanilla Sky and Diabolique — not so much.  One understands why Hollywood does it — it’s only about making money if you’re a studio executive.  But it’s still frustrating as a cinephile, even one who loves Hollywood films just as much as foreign and independent films.  Why can’t people watch a movie with subtitles?  And the turnaround is so quick — Dragon Tattoo just came out last year and Fincher’s remake is already in post-production and is coming out this Christmas.  One barely has a chance to forget aspects of the first film before the remake is already released.

The success of The Ring prompted Hollywood to immediately remake numerous Asian horror films with moderate success,The Grudge and Dark Water among them.  That trend has tapered off, thankfully.  Modern crime thrillers have been the flavor-of-the-month lately, which is even worse (in my opinon) simply because the original films are even better.  And what prompts these foreign directors to let Hollywood remake their films?  The money offered must be too much to pass up.  They feel — and hope — that people will judge their film on its own merits, which is a fair point.

Though Tell No One and Oldboy are still in the early stages of development, it’s safe to say they will get made in the next few years.  There is a formula for success here that is undeniable.  Along with Fincher, Affleck and Lee are talented directors who are more than capable of making a great film.  For all intents and purposes, their remakes could be very good; but it’s way too soon.  Leave the foreign thrillers be and develop your own ideas, directors.


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