Friday, January 13, 2012

Is It a Remake when it's a Book??

With the new release of Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, many people are calling it a remake. But is it really? When the source material is a book, can it be called a remake? I suppose you could even say the movie is a remake of the book. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the current one in the spotlight, but with the up in coming The Great Gatsby, should we even call these remakes but rather a different viewpoint of a story that was written on paper first?
A really popular book that has constantly been made and made again into different films is the Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol. A simple story written by Charles Dickens, and it has been adapted into film over 20 times, and there have been even more television adaptions. The most recent big screen adaptation was Disney's animated A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey in 2009. It made millions at the box office. Speaking of Disney, other examples of this case are classic fairy tales like Alice in Wonderland or more recently Snow White. In some cases it's true that some people complain when they see a new trailer for Snow White and the Huntsmen or Mirror, Mirror play in front of their film, but not so many complain and say "I can't stand remakes." No, more than often the complaints are "get new source material."


It's easy to call a movie like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a remake, because there was a Swedish film that came out last year; And these people who are flocking to see the American version had no idea that they could just as easily watch it streaming from their Netflix account...six months ago. Strong fans of the Swedish film are outraged, and maybe they have a good reason to be. I recently did a report over the international film industry in Hollywood, and it is an issue that is close to my heart. Last night during the Critics' Choice Awards, before announcing the best foreign film, the girl stated that everyone should go out and see these movies. But how can they? The only one from my understanding that wasn't restricted to LA and NY was The Skin I Live In, and do you see that movie coming to your local college town Cinemark anytime soon? I didn't think so. I was outraged by her comment. She, like many others in Hollywood, are not familiar with the scarceness of these films in everyday cinema. So when Sweden's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out last year, why would anyone have known about it? I was only lucky enough to see it in theaters with my mom because I live in Austin, an up in coming movie city thanks to SXSW and Austin Film Festival. In the end, no one was given a chance to see the Swedish version, or even given a chance to know it existed, so when a big Hollywood version comes out, can we really be mad that all these people went rushing to see their favorite book as a movie? I certainly cannot blame them.

Another looming question is, are remakes even a bad thing? I certainly know I used to throw fits when I saw my favorite foreign film being remade into Hollywood "garbage." I was the one who complained when I found out best picture The Departed was a Hong Kong drama called Infernal Affairs prior to its remake. Furthermore, for a point in time I was even disappointed that the great Scorsese had done so many remakes (did you know Taxi Driver is a remake of the western The Searchers?). I later came to the realization that Scorsese is a genius when it comes to the adaptation and remake. He brings remaking films into a whole other art form. He's brilliant. This is why no one complains when he remakes a film.

However, not all remakes come off as smoothly or as artistic as Scorsese's. An example being the remake of one of my favorite Korean films, A Tale of Two Sisters. When I saw the trailer for the movie The Uninvited I knew right away that it was a remake of the former. I was angry it was being remade, I was repulsed. But did that stop me from seeing it? No, not in the least. I went and I saw and I...didn't hate it. I wasn't about to go out and buy the DVD and re-watch it over and over, but it wasn't terrible. And yes, there are some bad remakes in the world, like The Eye (a remake of Gin Gwai), but more than not, these remakes lead people to watching the originals. So, are remakes that bad?? Sure, they are Hollywood at its worst, exploiting other cinema for money, but maybe this sort of exploitation isn't as bad as we think. I mean, a little remake called Fright Night was in my top 10 of 2011. People just like the same stories. If you've ever seen an Asian TV drama, you'd know they have a fondness for dressing up women as men and having other men fall in love with them. Sounds sort of like Shakespeare's The Twelfth Night, doesn't it? And we all know he wasn't original.

So back to the original question, is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a remake? I say no, it's not a remake. A remake, by my definition, is taking an original movie and doing it over. Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not the same as the Swedish version by any means. It has vastly different actors/actresses, stylized very differently, and focuses on different aspects of the original book. The two are not the same by any standard. If it is a remake, then it is one of the book. It is by no means a remake of the Swedish film (which is a better adaptation in my mind either way).

What are your thoughts? :)

1 comment:

  1. I've never had a problem with remakes/adaptations. Like you said, when they are well done, they usually encourage the viewer to look for the source material. And if they are poorly done, I don't think they really decrease the chances of anyone checking the original out -- odds are they weren't planning to anyway.

    The one thing remakes/adaptations can do is color the way you experience the source material once you get to it. I'd imagine the experience of reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo changes if you read it after watching the Swedish movie as opposed to after watching the American version (or if you read it without having seen either). Which is why I like to wait a while before experiencing different versions of the same story.

    But, in short, I agree with you.

    (and thanks to Netflix and other online distribution models, it's a lot easier to access foreign films these days . . . not that I think that's what the presenter at the CCA meant)