It is almost like when one of the children in a school class gets sick. In a matter of days, if not hours, every child in the class is sick. And when a film enjoys some vestige of success, sequels, remakes, or spin-offs follow like stench follows shit. People who do not understand the nature of the film and media businesses will moan endlessly about the reasons for this, but when you get down to it, it really is astonishingly simple. Hollywood does not remake films because they want to improve or even repeat the good points of a film, be it an old classic or a foreign hit. No, the real reason the film studios in Hollywood remake any film is because they want to remake the money that the film they are remaking made. The cut-throat nature of the entertainment industry means that a studio literally lives from hit to hit, not the quality of the hits, nor the magnitude of them. I have already made reference to the subject of how profits are not made in the cinema, but rather on home video or television licensing. This is a major part of the reason why the unregulated market that is the American film market does not produce any innovative, interesting, or unusual material. If you do want a film that meets any of these criteria, you generally have to go to foreign markets.
Although most of the films I see in a given year or watch regularly are American, or at least made in a country where English is the primary language, I do occasionally like to partake of films from certain nations. The Dutch and German film industries, for example, are known to produce films that reflect reality in a way that will often turn one’s stomach. Japan has a propensity to produce films and television that will either make one wonder where they can get the illegal substances that inspired the show in question, or believe the makers need a change in medication.
The concept of Dai-Nihonjin, the title of which has been roughly translated as Big Man Japan in English-speaking markets, is one that could have only come out of Japan. In it, we are given a look into the life of a Japanese superhero who is able to metamorphose into a thirty-metre tall giant and do battle with monsters of similar size. What may surprise readers is that the film turned out to be a bit of a hit, enough so that people in the American film industry have started vague whisperings about both a sequel and a remake, with both currently having a vague release date in 2014 if the IMDB’s information is anything to go by. How much of the original concept this remake retains is going to be a good question, given how uniquely Japanese the concept is.
It is also impossible to watch either Basic Instinct or De Vierde Man without one reminding the beholder of the other. The latter predates the former by about ten years, but aside from the sex of the author character and the level of surrealism in the overall storytelling, the stories being told are quite alike. Whether Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had seen De Vierde Man before writing Basic Instinct is up for debate, especially since nobody involved with either film has said anything about the matter that I have been able to find. But the incredible similarities between the two films and the ease with which foreign films could be obtained in America at the time does make one wonder.
Sometimes, Hollywood remakes of foreign films are far more blatant. A good example is the 1990 film Nikita, as directed by Luc Besson. There are numerous aspects of this film that I am not enamoured with. Whenever Anne Parillaud is called upon to raise her voice, for example, the result is akin to watching Bill Nighy in Underworld. Parillaud was not exactly a newcomer when Nikita was being made, either, which only cements the theory that Besson instructed her to overact these lines in this manner. The same theory goes for Nighy‘s performance in Underworld, in case you were wondering. Nighy is a veteran actor who had been working for more than a quarter of a century at the time Underworld was released, which means that either he was pulling the mother of all pranks on the director, or the director had specifically asked him to spit out every line like it was making him ill. But I digress. The point here is that when John Badham, Robert Getchell, and Alexandra Seros were hired to direct and write (respectively) a remake titled Point Of No Return, they might as well have just stood on their heads during the production, as the differences between the two films are so minute as to make them identical. But there is a significant difference, and it is in the details.
I have not seen Anne Parillaud in a film other than La Femme Nikita, so I am not going to comment on her specific qualities in acting. What I will comment on is that through the film, the character Nikita goes through several noticeable changes in appearance that coincide with how she changes as a person. In the first phase of the film, she is a strung-out junkie who has fallen through the cracks and been forgotten by the society she lives in. Her appearance reflects this. In the middle section of the film, she has learned to do the government’s dirty work and look sophisticated whilst doing it, a sort of James Bond type. Her appearance in that part of the film reflects this, too. She does not change a great deal in the final part of the film, but the important point here is that Parillaud really looks the part of an addict in the first portion of the film. In Point Of No Return, the arc is exactly the same, but no effort is made whatsoever to make Bridget Fonda look her part. She looks like Bridget Fonda the moderately famous actress from go to woah. And it must be noted that this is not Bridget Fonda‘s fault. Although there is plenty of room for variation in this, an actor who wants to work at a similar level of billing in the near future will generally do whatever the hell a director wants them to do. There may be some negotiation and compromise involved, but actors who are not being used as a marketing device by the studio will generally do what they are instructed. So whilst some actors deserve blame and plenty of it for their performances, Point Of No Return is not such an occasion.
The 2011 production of The Thing is probably one of the most cynical recyclings of an old script that Hollywood has thus far come up with. Although the remake attempts to frame itself as a “prequel”, the only things that differentiate itself from the 1982 film are all ill-advised to say the least. The 1982 is an excellent example of how to frighten an audience using what they imagine rather than explicitly showing them things. All that is explicitly shown is the necessary amount to either gobsmack an audience or push that imagination in the right direction. The remake not only shows far too much, but also dampens things from the original. In the original, one of the first clues we get that things are not quite right is the sight of a pair of mangled, twisted bodies that have been burned up so thoroughly that only the expression on two stretched-together faces even betrays that it once was Human. In the remake, we are shown how these two mangled bodies came to be the way they are, and it is a story told very badly. Not only are the visuals less than convincing, the phrasing of the scene itself makes the merging seem more than just done for the sake of tying the remake to the original.
With these things in mind, I am sure many are probably asking how they can convince Hollywood to put more original ideas into production. Unfortunately, with an unregulated, cut-throat market, no actions that are undertaken by the consumer can really have any effect. The market is entirely driven by creative accounting and tax write-offs, not by sales or creativity. If you want to see a world where remakes only happen once in a while as was the case before the 1980s, you need to change the economic landscape to promote new ideas rather than the recycling of old ones.
On every level, the people born in the last four decades have inherited the worst of both worlds. Our so-called creative industries reflect this sad fact.
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