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Doing Things the American Way: Foreign Films & Their Remakes

By Crystal Harrell

If this past summer's blockbuster line-up is any indication of how lacking in originality the film industry has been as of lately, audiences can only hope we aren’t in for another decade of re-hashed classics, unnecessary sequels, and animated spin-offs. Most likely, a majority of readers have seen movies that fall under those categories in the theatre, but the question worth asking is: When will we realize enough is enough? This upsurge in lackluster films has not only made a buffet out of American classics from the 20th Century; no, foreign releases have also been victim to U.S. profit margins.

A recent case was the announcement of Spike Lee’s “re-imagining” of the 2003 Korean cult-classic Oldboy. Upon hearing of the project, the film’s loyal fan-base created an uproar—upset at the fact that a remake was even in the works and fearing this new version would abandon the spirit and quality of the original Oldboy. The argument of whether or not American remakes of foreign films are of lesser quality than their source material could be considered double-sided: a new film can possibly retain the same style of the original and stay true to (or even enhance) the storyline, but a remake may be devoid of any quality and massacre everything to be loved about the original work.

“As someone whose favorite movies consist of several foreign titles, the Americanization of such incredible films always takes away the brilliance and quality put into their stories and replaces them with movies that miss the point of the story and focus on pandering to a casual viewer audience,” expressed film student Cruz Moore. Moore cites the 2008 Swedish horror film Let the Right One In and its American counterpart Let Me In (2010) as examples.

“When comparing the movie Let Me In to its foreign original, Let the Right One In, the original’s subtlety, subtext, and despairingly somber color palette is replaced with the remake’s focus on indulgent gore, loud soundtrack and effects, and warm colors.” In other words, remakes often have the tendency of over-exaggerating certain cinematic effects and ignore the saying of “less is more” when it comes to production—going against the minimalist style that drives the heart of the film.

Contrary to this idea, there have been worldwide successes well-received by critics and audiences that were American remakes. The sudden spike in Japanese horror adaptations in the early 2000’s spawned The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004), both of which were praised for their reincarnations on movie screens across the U.S. In some rare cases with the bridge in the generation gap, younger audiences may not realize that a certain film is a remake of another foreign movie, if the time lapse between films is great enough.

Self-proclaimed Godzilla aficionado Johnie Harrell states that his first exposure to the iconic Japanese sea monster was the poorly-received 1998 American version. “When I was younger, I always thought that Godzilla was supposed to look like a giant mutated iguana because [the American reimagining] was the first Godzilla movie I saw. It wasn’t until later that I became aware of the original franchise and gained a greater preference for it. The American Godzilla will always hold a place in my heart, though.”

American studios remaking foreign films may not be anything new, but it remains as a classic debate among movie buffs and critics alike: whether they can hold a candle to their original inspirations.

Crystal HarrellComment