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Damn Remakes.

Nicola Bierton.

Remakes - the ageless thorn in my side. I have to constantly ask myself, why remake a classic film that has stood the test of time or is already near perfection? This isn't a rant about all the endless remakes Hollywood is churning out these days, but it is about what makes a good or bad remake.

I'm going to start with a particularly bad remake, just to get it over and done with, like ripping a plaster off a wound. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) was ripe with socio-political worries and historical meaning, whereas the Keanu Reeves 2008 edition of the film was increasingly flimsy. The story remained the same, but all meaning was lost and the audience's ability to relate to the actors chosen for the roles waned. I don't know about you but I can't connect to any character Keanu Reeves plays, remake or not.

The idea that a remake can be more popular is a classic misconception. Some remakes are popular, like the remake of Footloose. Alright, it wasn't a smash hit but the audience who saw the original went to see what the new kids were like and younger audiences loved it due to the phenomenon of singing and dancing films a la High School Musical. But what I'm getting at here, from a filmmaker and film academic's point of view, is the loss of the social, political and historical contexts that give the original film all its meaning - something that is essentially lost when transcribed for today's dumbed-down audience.

The same goes for so-called 'reboots'. They are remakes no matter what people think. Take Spiderman, which is due out sometime within the year. They are remaking the first 'Tobey Maguire Spiderman' film and putting a small spin on it, focussing more on Peter Parker getting the girl, even though (no doubt) a rescue of said girl will be involved before he even gets to kiss her. Is a reboot really necessary within the boundaries we call cinema? The Spiderman trilogy ended badly, because Hollywood spent so much time believing that another film equalled more money, even with less creativity or a thinly spread storyline. So leave people with the fond memories of the first one and just leave it be. But that, again, is my opinion, not the written rule.

Now, to what makes a good remake and what makes a bad remake, in regards to the box office hits and personal opinion. For Hollywood, a good remake is defined by whether the box office takings exceed or at least meet the budget that the film was made for. I know that statement is flimsy, but Hollywood works on the basis of capitalism, ergo the more money they make through ticket sales, the more likely other films will get the remake stamp of approval. I believe that to make a good remake you need to keep in mind the social, political and historical points that the original makes, but twist it to more modern events that are still in people's memories. For instance, television drama The Pacific was practically a remake of Band of Brothers, but with a different aspect of war and different characters. However, they kept the same themes running throughout that audiences could relate to and understand. I'm not saying that a remake has to be a shot-by-shot reshoot of the film, but the reason they become remakes is to update the morals and messages within the film.

To conclude, I have to address remakes that make me shudder.

The Chronicles of Narnia: the original was a heartfelt masterpiece that has stood the test of time, but the remake? It was gross, forgettable and lost all meaning that was written into the books.

As a final word: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - an amazing Swedish film that embedded itself deep in my heart right from the moment I read the books, through to watching Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, and then I find out America remakes it via David Fincher...



'What is hidden in the snow, comes forth in the thaw', reads one of the taglines of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as remade by David Fincher.

Yet, the particular process of thawing which the sharp-edged narrative invites us to engage with relies entirely on culture. By this, I mean both the very specific culture depicted (Swedish) and that which informs our own perception. Fundamentally, this could be enough to condemn Fincher's film to failure - as an English-language remake unavoidably creates another filter between the subject matter and the viewer - but I propose that there is more at play here.

The 2009 film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel preserves the original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, which literally translates as Men Who Hate Women. Simplistic as it may sound, these four words together form the backbone of what would otherwise be a mere detective story. The weight they carry is historic (something that the investigation in the intricate plot illustrates by going back a couple of generations in a privileged, traditional family) and their consequence is smeared on the faces of nearly all the women involved, as they alternately embody resignation, resentment and retribution.

A great face encasing an even better performance has to be the first aspect of comparison between the original and this recently released remake.

The incredible bone structure of Noomi Rapace is only matched by her unforgettable screen presence and, perhaps, surpassed by her intense performance as Lisbeth Salander. She conquers every scene she's in by being utterly believable as someone living in the margins of society - something that American actress Rooney Mara doesn't altogether lack, but that is clearly not allowed to develop due to the remake's rushed exposition and uneven shifts of emphasis.

This being a Hollywood film, abiding to its tedious star-system, a lot more attention is given to its 'bigger' male actor Daniel Craig - which, in turn, results in the aforementioned emphasis being disproportionately directed at his character, Mikael Blomkvist. A strange by-product of this is the change from a growing fascination that Blomqvist had with Salander in the original film to an undeveloped infatuation that they want us to believe she now has with him in the remake.

Craig and Mara actually deliver very strong performances, but there's nothing they can do if Steven Zaillian's script chooses to justify Salander's departure at the end with jealousy, when a major strength of the original was the coherence of actions in terms of her fear of connecting emotionally.

It is very clear that such a shift comes from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, which traditionally seeks to either justify or romanticise. In addition to this, there's also Zaillian and Fincher's almost certain need to make Salander's character more likeable and less cold, which again derives from having been filtered through a mainstream approach.

That said, the film remains considerably uncompromising in some respects. The brutal sexual abuse that Salander endures at some point is made longer, more stylised and powerful, but the general gasp of horror amidst the audience that surrounded me didn't come until the scene in which a cat gets mutilated.

So what are the strengths of this remake? I went into the screening keeping as much of an open-mind as possible. My viewing was preceded by months of mild anticipation, which began with the impressive black and white promotional film posters and was followed by 30 minutes of the three-hour soundtrack by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross, which was made available online.

On that note, the film opens with a cover version of Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' - a collaboration between Reznor and Karen O, which plays over the most stylised credits you'll see for some time. Karen O had previously composed the soundtrack for Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are (2009), an example of a film made by the right filmmaker.

This was partly my hope when learning that David Fincher was directing this remake. The original Swedish film was made compelling mostly through acting and plot. It was the strongest of a frankly weak trilogy, but still lacked in visual treatment and attention to detail, something that Fincher is more than apt to deliver. He's the guy who gave us Se7en (1995) and Fight Club (1999), after all. And, despite the embarrassment that was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), he also showed mainstream audiences that a pretty uninteresting story can be told in a highly cinematic manner with The Social Network.

So in many respects, the film looks and feels right in tone. Scenes become more effective with Fincher's knowledge of where to position the camera. The angles and compositions are chosen with such care and precision that they manage to convey tension, suspense and discomfort far more efficiently than the original film.

Still, any original claims of authenticity - when, for instance, choosing to shoot on location in Sweden and giving most of the actors Swedish accents - were rapidly proved farcical as my viewing of the film progressed. There was a permanent conflict between my suspension of disbelief and an artificiality that required extra grit (for lack of a better word).

I left the screening with that sour aftertaste of an unnecessary waste of resources and talent that 99.9% of remakes will always give you.



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