Parlez-Vous Foreign?

March 17, 2011

The Next Three DaysIt struck me immediately after seeing a trailer for The Next Three Days (2010) that it was remarkably similar to a movie released in cinemas almost 18 months earlier. A bit of quick research after arriving home confirmed suspicions that this film is one of an increasing number of “English language remakes”.

But why remake films in the English (American) language? Last year’s Let Me In (2010) 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. The film itself produced only a moderate box office return, which would suggest the argument that it appeals to a broader audience seems to be a limited one. After all surely the kind of person who would be interested in watching a film like Let Me In would not be averse to reading subtitles?

Many of these films seem to garner greater critical praise in their original format and perhaps this is down to how we perceive foreign language films. The mere fact they are not in our mother tongue seem to give them some sort of intrinsic artistic credibility and give us an air of pomposity when praising them. On occasion we are guilty of finding ourselves blind to the flaws due to a desire to appear cine-literate. However there must be more than egos and hipster sensibilities that create the divide between original and lacklustre copy. 

Anything For HerIt seems easier to digest certain aspects of story when they are removed from our own culture. We are less inclined to question the motivation of the protagonist or the actions of other characters in response. This is evident with Pour Elle (English title: Anything For Her) the film upon which Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days is based. In the original the lead is played by Vincent Lindon, a well known face in French celebrity realms, 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. His journey into the underworld is made convincing and more thrilling by us believing entirely that he is far from an action hero. Now who did Hollywood decide would fit into this role of the average fella? Russell Crowe. Maximus Decimus Miridius himself – commander of the Armies of the North. It is hard to imagine him struggling with the simple task of breaking someone out of prison after he made such easy work of all those gladiators. It is difficult to replicate the authenticity of the original with a lead who just months before was seen tearing up Nottingham with arrows and horses.

Unlike original productions that require developing an idea worthy of the screen, films that are “remade for the English language” are a get-rich-quick scheme for studios. They do not require countless man hours to come up with an original or workable concept. The blueprint is already there, the drawings still blue-tacked to the storyboard and the script half written. It is simply a case of inserting a credible director, cast and crew then wait for the money to roll in. Vanilla Sky (2001) made a return of over $200m from a budget of just under $70m whilst The Departed (2006) made over $290m from a budget of $90m. With the yard stick of success usually being to double the budget then it is fair to say both films performed exceedingly well financially. But the stunted returns made by Let Me In (scraping a $2m profit) and The Next Three Days ($11m profit) suggests the scam might have been rumbled by a cinema going public increasingly happy to broaden their cinematic horizons in the search for celluloid joy.

This year sees David Fincher’s release of the first in his version of the Millenium trilogy and after the success of the Swedish versions; the world waits with bated breath to see if this regurgitation is worthwhile.

Larry McCloskey is a writer for The Big Screen as well as a contributing author to A&E Playground.

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