Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Parlez Vous Foreign?

The release of The Next Three Days continues the current Hollywood trend of films “remade for the English language”. In recent years major studios have started to churn out remakes at an alarming rate with the turnaround times between the original and duplicate becoming increasingly efficient with as little as 18 months now separating the two. But why remake films in the English language? Last year’s Let Me In suggested that they may simply be an elaborate and rather expensive lesson in directing by numbers. With some scenes replicated shot for shot, there seemed to be little reason for it other than the fact the actors were speaking English. Unlike the critically lauded Swedish original, Let The Right One In, the remake received lacklustre reviews. Financially it produced a poor box-office return which suggests the argument that remakes appeal to a broader audience appears to be a limited one.

Many remakes seem to garner greater critical praise in their original format and perhaps this is down to how foreign language films are perceived. Commonly shunned from the multiplexes, foreign films find themselves forcefully positioned into the all together different demographic of independent cinemas. Within the confines of the “art-house” atmosphere, foreign cinema is assigned an almost inherent sense of artistic credibility. Audiences and critics can, on occasion, be wrong footed by the surroundings and subtitles which allow flaws to be overlooked in a desire to appear cine-literate. However there must be more than egos and hipster sensibilities that create the divide between praised original and panned copy.

Certain aspects of a film are easier to digest when removed from the Hollywood framework. Audiences are less inclined to question the motivation or abilities of the protagonist and the actions of other characters in response. This is particularly evident in the French original of The Next Three Days – Pour Elle (English title: Anything For Her). In the original the lead is played by Vincent Lindon, a well known face in French media, but relatively unknown to the rest of the world. It is entirely plausible therefore to see him as an everyday man struggling to come to terms with the incarceration of his wife and his desire to break her out of prison. His journey into the underworld is made convincing and more thrilling by us believing entirely that he is far from a typical action hero. The choice of Russell Crowe as the lead in the remake is therefore problematic. The question of whether an ordinary man could break the woman he loves out of prison that was the driving force behind the original fails to exist in the remake. That is because the ordinary man happens to be both Robin Hood and a Gladiator – and thus a prison break should be a walk in the park.

The financial implications for Hollywood studios must also be considered for the spate of remakes. Unlike original productions that require developing an idea worthy of the screen, films that are “remade for the English language” are an attractive get-rich-quick scheme for studios. They do not require an original concept or numerous hours of script writing, revising and editing. The blueprint is already there and the drawings still pinned to the storyboard. It is simply a case of inserting a credible director, cast and crew then wait for the money to roll in. Vanilla Sky made a return of over $200m from a budget of just under $70m whilst The Departed made over $290m from a budget of $90m. Japanese horror has provided a veritable goldmine for studios with The Ring making $249m from a budget of $45m and The Grudge taking $187m from an original $10m budget. With the yard stick of success usually being to double the budget then it is fair to say these films performed exceedingly well financially. But the stunted returns of recent remakes such as Let Me In (scraping a $2m profit) and The Next Three Days ($11m profit) suggests the scheme might have been rumbled by a cinema going public increasingly happy to broaden their cinematic horizons in the search for celluloid joy. Hollywood must now consider more carefully what and how it chooses to regurgitate foreign cinema in the future.


  1. Hey,

    I'm quoting your article over at my blog in a similar discussion. I hope you don't mind. It will go live on Wednesday 24th Feb 11.


  2. Hey,

    Not at all, glad you enjoyed it. Look forward to seeing the post.