It Was Better When It Was In The Original Language

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View From Behind The Meter

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I just viewed the French version of “La Femme Nikita” last night for the second time after more than twenty years. It was released in 1990 by Gaumont Films and I was reminded of how Hollywood’s version couldn’t compare to the storyline or character generated by the Luc Besson version. The American version was called “Assassin”, or “Point of No Return”. It was directed by John Badham and starred Brigitte Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Bancroft, and Harvey Keitel. The two movies are very similar in plot, but I have always felt that the original Besson version was considerably more earthy, more raw, and the character of Nikita much more complex. I’m not sure why Hollywood remakes foreign films. I suppose it’s because American producers believe that audiences in this country can’t stand sub-titles. I have never had problems with sub-titles and have even watched American films in Thailand with Thai sound track and English sub-titles. Now that’s a kick in the head.

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In retrospect the plot itself spawned the American remake in 1993 and a television series in 1997 which went for 96 episodes, so it sold well in this country. The film was the eighth best selling film in France for that year and I saw it in 1991 and was really swept away by Anne Paillaud’s performance. Brigitte Fonda’s performance was certainly good but the complexity of Nikita’s character suffered, and her psychotic behavior was not nearly as effective as the French performance.

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Time and again, the U.S. version of a foreign film is only a shadow of the gritty realities of the people that populate these foreign films. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” immediately comes to mind. The foreign version was far superior in my mind. Daniel Craig is a fine, very competent actor, but in the American film, he just didn’t work for me. I have to say I read the book, and Daniel just was not that character. I saw the three part series generated by several Swedish Production Companies, and was enthralled. My wife and I watched the series in three consecutive nights, and felt a true let-down when the three night experience ended. It was such an engrossing story, and the character of Lisbeth Salander was one of the most enigmatic that I’ve seen in recent years. Noomi Repace was described by one critic as “the diminutive, flat-chested, chain-smoking, tattoo adorned, anti-social, bisexual, genius computer hacker,” has become “one of the most compelling portrayals in recent popular fiction.” The American remake was slick, clean, and well made, but nowhere near the captivating engrossment of the Swedish version. Here again, the foreign version was head and shoulders above the American version.

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These are not the only American remakes that make no sense to me. “The Wicker Man,” and “City of Angels,” are two films that Nicholas Cage was involved with that I’m sorry to say… Since these two have come out, Mr. Cage has come down a few pegs in my book. The topper this year was the continuing saga of the Godzilla remakes. There were 28 Godzilla spinoffs produced from 1954 through 2004 and six made in America, the 1998 and 2013 being the most notable, if that is a term that could be applied here. I find that amazing. In all that time I’ve never been able to completely sit though one. To me they defy all the elements of fine film making in that they have shoddy special effects, poor sound, terrible acting, and absolutely unbelievable story line but they breed like rabbits. The co-stars have even sillier names and by co-stars I mean co-star monsters. Names like Mothra, Shockirus, Titanosaurus, Battra, and who can forget Destoroyah, all have found there way into this limitless spinoff genre that seems to have no end. There is a new one set to come out in 2016 by the same group the produced the 2014 version. The computer graphic capability is like a drink to an alcoholic when it comes to Godzilla remakes…one just can’t resist one more.

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Even the great Fellini can’t escape remakes as the movie starring Daniel Day Lewis proved. “Nine” is a remake of “8 ½” and I really don’t understand the penchant of Hollywood’s need to remake a classic. Are we destined to copy great films of foreign directors forever into the future just because we as Americans are required to read subtitles and have a reputation for disdaining the process? So far I have never seen a remake of a foreign film that I thought was better made. What I’m concerned about is the possibility of an American remake of all of Ingmar Bergman’s great films. I can just imagine what “Virgin Spring” would be like. Here’s the plot line…Antonio’s 14 year old daughter is attacked, raped and murdered by black gang members in Griffith Park and Antonio’s angry response when finding her clothing at a yard sale is a drive by shooting in Watts…end of story. There would of course be no sub-titles and it could be titled “Las Virgins Revenge.” Heaven help us!
Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

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