Being a film nerd, I think the strangest bit of culture shock I went through in college was when a professor was about to show the class Cinema Paradiso. Before pressing play she asked how many people had ever seen a movie with subtitles before. I was stunned. First, that such a question could be asked of a class of college students, and then once more when I looked around and saw that, out of forty or so people, only about four of us raised our hands.
That was years ago, but I always look to that moment when I hear someone say, “Why do They have to remake foreign movies? Can’t They just release it with subtitles and be done with it?” No, They can’t, not if They want to make the kinds of profits that attract people to Hollywood in the first place. There just isn’t the market drive to make movies with subtitles smash hits on a regular basis. So studios buy the rights to a film and they simply remake it in English. Sometimes a considerable amount of the movie will be changed for the better, other times it will look like some exec just ran the original script through a translator, but as a general rule, American remakes tend to be inferior.
I don’t know if Paramount’s Dinner for Schmucks, a remake of the 1998 French Film The Dinner Game, will lose all the charm of its source material, but I am hoping it doesn’t join the list below of the Worst American Remakes of Foreign Films.
Remake: The Vanishing, directed by George Sluizer, 1993
Original: The Vanishing (Netherlands), directed by George Sluizer, 1988
Considering that George Sluizer directed both the original Vanishing and its remake, the latter being the worse of the two should typify how Americanizing something can suck out its soul. The original film is absolutely terrifying. It’s a powerful and captivating story of a boyfriend who starts receiving letters from the person who abducted his girlfriend years earlier. Even though the remake has the exact same set-up, it’s just not nearly as effective in the end.
The original Vanishing does not pull any punches with its characters and goes out on a truly harrowing note. The remake, however, loses its nerve in the final act and goes out on a typical Hollywood ending best described as unconvincing bullshit.
Remake: Death at a Funeral, directed by Neil LaBute, 2010
Original: Death at a Funeral (UK), directed by Frank Oz, 2007
Death at a Funeral is perhaps the most frustrating kind of remake Hollywood can produce. Not only is the original film, which is about a funeral that spirals out of control, a riot entirely on its own, but it’s already in English! This isn’t a case of producers doubting an audience’s desire to read subtitles, this is a case of producers saying, “Hey, that script was funny. Give it to us.”
The only thing that separates Oz’s film from LaBute’s is that the latter’s is stocked almost entirely with black actors. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to make a movie a more urban crowd can enjoy; however, the casting of each individual role is just wrong. If they had kept the same actors and just shuffled the roles it would have made a drastic difference, particularly if Chris Rock, who does not do subtle, emotion-driven material well at all, had been instead played by Columbus Short. But as it stands, the whole thing is painfully artificial and loses all of the spontaneity and heart the original had.
Remake: Pulse, directed by Jim Sonzero, 2006
Original: Pulse (Japan), directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001
Pulse is a strange remake scenario. Not only is the remake, which stars Kristin Bell, Ian Somerhalder and Christina Milian, worse than the original film, but the original film actually isn’t that good to begin with. I know that it is a favorite amongst J-Horror fans and I’ll happily concede that a few of its ghostly scares are unnerving, but the script as a whole is just one big mess. There are large stretches of the story that are just dull and lifeless, which is why Jim Sonzero’s remake is even more disappointing.
Had the original been a better film, Pulse might not be on this list. By clinging so faithfully to already disappointing source material (to the point where Sonzero’s film actually reuses some of the original’s footage), the Americanization missed out on an opportunity to actually make it better. But even putting the script aside, Sonzero’s film is just a total eyesore. The whole movie looks like it was filmed in a drainage sewer. The only good thing that came of Pulse is that it gave Forgetting Sarah Marshall an opportunity to make fun of the “Oh, no, technology is killing people” movie that its titular actress made when trying to jump from television to the big screen (poor Kristen Bell, she deserves better).
Remake: Taxi, directed by Tim Story, 2004
Original: Taxi (France), directed by Gerard Pires, 1998
Both versions of Taxi have a pretty limited story that exists entirely to set up a bunch of car chase gags (a police officer who can’t drive has to hire a taxi cab driver to take him everywhere), but the main difference between the two is that the original, Luc Besson-produced film does not make you want to hit yourself in the cranium with the nearest blunt object. The biggest problem with the American version is that Jimmy Fallon is just absolutely miserable as the driving-challenged police officer. Nothing he ever says or does is funny and he just looks goofy and out of his element on the big screen, particularly next to Queen Latifiah (who, to her credit, is actually one of the few enjoyable things about Taxi).
A poor leading man could be forgiven, however, if the actual car chase gags were worthwhile, but they’re not. They lack the style and, despite the implied high speeds, energy that make the French film a fun little ride. But that’s to be expected from Tim Story, the director of the two Fantastic Four movies and one of the few people to make big-budget, post-Spider-Man superhero movies boring.
Remake: Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich, 1998
Original: Godzilla (Japan), directed by Ishiro Honda, 1954
The original Godzilla films may seem a bit silly to modern audiences (or at least modern by 1998’s standards) given their penchant for practical effects and men walking around in giant lizard suits, but the reason they’re so beloved is because there’s a palpable passion to those movies. It may just be a man in a suit, but there’s a real reverence and fear for what he represents to the Japanese people. Hollywood’s version has none of that. It’s a silly, toothless family adventure movie that isn’t actually all that adventurous.
I realize that it may seem strange to call one movie about a giant lizard that destroys a city stupid while not calling another film about a giant lizard that destroys a city stupid, but that’s just the difference between Ishiro Honda and Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla films. Emmerich’s is just stupid, there’s not a brain cell in it. It’s willfully ignorant of every ingredient that made Godzilla such a cinematic staple and perfectly embodies Hollywood’s lust for opulence and spectacle over everything else.