Are Americans afraid of everything foreign?
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If it's good enough to remake, why is it not good enough to just watch...?
A few months ago, I was in a heated internet debate about the American film Let Me In. The film is a remake of the Swedish horror film Let The Right One In, based on the novel Låt Den Rätte Komma In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. While I haven’t yet had the chance to see the original film, I found it in very bad taste to remake a film that had only been recently made in another country. The other poster hit me with all of the usual remake supporter rhetoric, telling me that remakes don’t hurt the original movies, and that we can bring the story to a wider audience. And then they hit me with one of those comments that make me dive right out of a discussion. They said “America makes the best films”. I may be an American, but I’m also a lover of film of all genres, and a statement like that makes me more than a little a little angry, and pretty much thinking less of the person making a statement like that.
Don’t get me wrong, America makes some damned fine films. From indie cinema to blockbuster popcorn films, we’ve done pretty well. Star Wars, The Godfather, Clerks, Seven, just to name a few. The list could go on and on. But to say we make the absolute “best” films is sort of subjective. Sure, Hollywood has the most money to throw at the film industry, so to say we have the best looking films, or the best effects, or can hire some pretty good screenwriters would not be out of line. But throwing money at a movie doesn’t necessarily make it good, and there are so many great foreign films out there that could give most American-made films a run for their money: Fist of Fury (AKA The Chinese Connection), The Seventh Seal, The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, 28 Days Later, Ju-On, Ringu...and so many others that are fantastic movies.
But there are so many more that are never seen or even heard of by the American public because they are simply ignored by distributors who feel that foreign films won’t play outside of art houses and the Independent Film Channel. But if the story is good enough, they will remake it. The Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven, Ju-On as The Grudge and Ringu as The Ring (in fact, Hollywood spent quite a few years remaking Asian horror films).
Those who support remaking these films usually use the excuse that most Americans can’t relate to a film that’s foreign, and that in remaking them, maybe it will garner interest in the original works. I will admit, there have been a few of the J-horror remakes that opened my eyes to the much better original films. But is it really that hard for American audiences to relate to a film just because it takes place in another country, or is in another language? I can’t believe that. Although it had a built-in audience due to its religious nature, The Passion of the Christ did huge numbers at the box office, even though it was in another language altogether. I think it has to do more with our own xenophobia that anything else, or perhaps with a feeling of patriotic superiority. Maybe my fellow countrymen believe that if it isn’t American, it isn’t worth watching.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Movies from abroad have been re-cut for years, going back to films like Gojira (re-edited and released in the states as Godzilla, King of the Monsters). And it isn’t just movies. Television programs are remade just as often and usually with disastrous results. While the American version of The Office plays well overseas, the British version has only been a success on cable stations. Other series that have played for years on PBS stations have been remade for American stars. One Foot in the Grave was repackaged as Cosby, reuniting Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad, and adding comedy veteran Madeline Kahn. However, taking it out of the original setting took away most of the charm of the original program. Fawlty Towers was rewritten for John Larroquette as Payne, which while funny, was not quite as good as the Cleese classic. The Patrick Stewart vehicle The Eleventh Hour was redone well, but tried too hard to be another over-the-top American cop show. Red Dwarf didn’t even get past being a pilot, and for good reason. No American was ever going to be able to fill Rimmer and Lister’s shoes (if you haven’t seen the pilot, it’s posted at YouTube, but I really don’t recommend watching it unless you want to waste a half an hour of your life).
And I don’t think we even need to dwell on the terrible miscarriage of justice that was Life on Mars. Now it was just announced that MTV is premiering a new remake of the UK teen drama Skins, and SyFy is getting ready to premiere their version of Being Human. While I’m not a big fan of Skins, the show is entertaining at times, and the US version seems to be nothing more than a shadow of the original. Being Human is one that seems like a terrible idea, especially based on the previews I’ve seen. The three cast members seem too upbeat and cheery for the source material, and it looks as though they’ve filmed it in a brighter lighting, which takes away from the dreary, neo-gothic feel of the original; although if they keep it as dark in tone as its predecessor it will be a welcome alternative to anything seen on The Vampire Diaries.
I suppose in the end, people like me are making too much out of nothing. We can’t stop the remakes from happening, and we definitely don’t have to watch them. But for me, I feel like the repackaging of an already working program is cheating, in a way. I understand that networks want their own programming, and don’t want to have to make room for imported goods. And if the viewing audience in general has no problem with getting lukewarm leftovers, why should I complain? Because someone should. There are some fantastic movies and programs out there that are being missed, and are just as good if not better than a lot of what Hollywood and the television broadcasters want to spoon-feed us. Go out and find those original movies and programs on DVD or on the internet, and give them a chance. You might just surprise yourself, and become a fan of something worth watching.
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