The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director lashes out at US remake
Neils Arden Oplev criticises casting of American actor in lead role of Lisbeth Salander in American version of Swedish film
The director of the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has questioned the need for the upcoming American remake, reigniting a long-running war of words over Hollywood raiding foreign language films to repackage them for a global audience.
With an English-language version in the works, to be directed by The Social Network’s David Fincher, film-maker Niels Arden Oplev expressed anger at plans to cast an American actor in the lead role of Lisbeth Salander, drawing unflattering comparisons with the Hollywood adaptation of the French film La Femme Nikita, which was poorly received when remade as The Assassin, starring Bridget Fonda in the 1990s.
He told the Word & Film website: “Even in Hollywood there seems to be a kind of anger about the remake; like, ‘Why would they remake something when they can just go see the original?’
“It’s like, what do you want to see – the French version of La Femme Nikita or the American one? You can hope that Fincher does a better job”.
Oplev’s film, released in 2009, was the first of three films based on Stieg Larsson‘s best-selling Millennium crime novels, and remains the all-time homegrown box-office smash in Scandinavia, taking over $16m there. It was released a year later, in March 2010, in the UK and US, and performed respectably, grossing £1.5m and $10.1m respectively.
But the figures fall well short of what producers could expect if they had a major blockbuster on their hands: by comparison, The Bourne Identity, the first in the Bourne series, took more than $120m in the US alone.
Oplev’s complaint could equally well apply to Let Me In, the newly released Hollywood remake of Let the Right One In, another Swedish breakout film.
Tomas Alfredson’s tender 2008 vampire film was a multi-award-winning addition to a popular horror genre, and appeared ripe for remake in the wake of the Twilight films, Buffy and the Underworld series.
But audiences are shunning the American remake. Despite reasonably strong reviews for Let Me In, the film debuted this weekend with £488,000 from 363 screens. That compared with Let The Right One In which made £224,000 from just 68 screens back in April 2009 – it eventually made £1.1m at the UK box office. Pundits suggest remakes tend to do better when the original film was relatively obscure, something that could not be levelled at either Swedish film.
But however critically garlanded a film is, if an English-speaking audience has to read subtitles, it will automatically reduce the film’s chances at the box office, and confine it to the status of art film, whatever its content.
Jason Wood, director of programming for the independent cinemas Curzon, says he chose not to release Let Me In in his cinemas as he felt Alfredson’s original was simply too good. “People who had seen Let the Right One In would have compared it unfavourably. They would have seen it almost as sacrilege.”
Wood points to the remake of Michael Haneke’s thriller Funny Games, in which the celebrated Austrian director essentially reproduced his own film with an American cast, including Naomi Watts. “Haneke said he wanted it to have a greater reach, but if anything it put people off. Audiences for foreign language films tend to feel a sense of exclusivity, like they are in a club. I can see why that happens, but we need to change that if we can: we need to get younger people to be open to them.”
Another option is to add an English-language dubbed soundtrack to foreign made films, in the manner that regularly happens in Spain and Italy: but Wood is equally sceptical of its chances. Audience snobbery means it will most likely alienate the small but loyal fans of art cinema, who expect to hear the actors’ real voices, even if they can’t understand what they’re saying. “The whole idea of a foreign film is to show us something unique about another country, so to dub it with English-speaking actors betrays the whole point. Audiences in this country tend to be aghast.”
In the original version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo the film’s lead was played by Swedish actor Noomi Rapace, and Oplev complained of the “Sony PR machine” trying to push her out of the limelight.
“Noomi has captured this part and it should always be all her,” he said. “That’s her legacy in a way I can’t see anyone competing with. I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar,” he said.
Rapace has not been entirely cold-shouldered by Hollywood – she has been given a role in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes sequel, alongside Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Stephen Fry. Rooney Mara, whom Fincher cast in a small but important part in The Social Network, has been given the role instead. She will star alongside James Bond actor Daniel Craig.
The assumption is, of course, that a Hollywood remake is always going to be inferior to the original. While it is obviously premature to make a call on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and the jury is still out on Let Me In, the remake is as old as cinema itself, and works both ways. The Magnificent Seven was a great remake of a great Japanese film, The Seven Samurai, while The Beat That My Heart Skipped is a superb French remake of a cult American gangster film, James Toback’s Fingers.
The Hollywood version of The Ring is generally held to be the equal of the creepy Japanese original, Ringu, while James Cameron’s True Lies was an expensive but clunky version of a throwaway French film, La Totale!, which never even received a release in the US. The furore over remakes may suggest that Hollywood is bereft of original ideas; but recycling already-proven material has always been the film industry’s way: whether reconfiguring already-successful books, plays and – latterly – video games, or simply freshening up its own product. The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart, for example, was a remake of a 1931 film, which itself was based on Dashiell Hammett’s celebrated novel of a year before.
Brilliant remakes … and terrible turkeys
Some that worked …
Down and Out in Beverly Hills A remake of Jean Renoir’s 1932 classic Boudu Saved from Drowning. Nick Nolte shines as a tramp who nearly drowns in Richard Dreyfuss’s swimming pool in LA’s plushest district, and who then forges a bond with the wealthy family he’s ensconced with. Its success relies on director Paul Mazursky’s precise and insightful observation of American class-consciousness.
Twelve Monkeys Less a remake of than an “inspired by”. La Jetée, by avant-gardist Chris Marker, was a 1962 existential short essay composed entirely of static images. In Terry Gilliam’s hands, it became a highly wrought dystopian time-travel thriller, with Bruce Willis, below, as a convict sent back to the 1990s to try and forestall a planet-wide bioterror attack.
Insomnia The cinematic ancestor of Wallander and Lisbeth Salander, the 1997 Norwegian original had Stellan Skarsgård as a sleep-deprived detective investigating a murder in the nightless far north. The 2002 Hollywood remake, reset in Alaska, gave a meaty role to Al Pacino, but more importantly heralded Christopher Nolan’s entry to the Hollywood A-list.
And some that didn’t …
The Vanishing In 1988, this Dutch thriller electrified audiences with its pitch-perfect merging of ordinariness and sheer torture. The original’s director, George Sluizer, was hired to remake his own film with Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock and it all went horribly wrong. Roger Ebert called it “a textbook exercise in the trashing of a nearly perfect film”.
Swept Away Madonna and then-husband Guy Ritchie invited universal ridicule when they released a remake of Lina Wertmuller’s mid-70s parable of male-female relationships under bourgeois capitalism. Suffice to say, the critics were not kind. But it didn’t put Madonna off making movies. Her short film Filth and Wisdom drew brickbats at the Berlin film festival, and now pencils are being sharpened in anticipation of WE, her biopic of Wallis Simpson.
Vanilla Sky Chilean director Alejandro Amenábar put Penélope Cruz to good use in this intricate thriller about a man who is disfigured in a car crash. Tom Cruise bought the remake rights and hired his Jerry Maguire buddy Cameron Crowe to direct. But it didn’t work – the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called it “cumbersome and bombastic”. It may have triggered Cruise’s long, slow fall from grace.