I was sitting down to brunch (yes, brunch) with a couple of bespectacled, and therefore knowledgeable, friends recently when the talk turned to film. “Have you seen the ‘remake’ of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’?” one of them asked. “Yes,” I replied, “and it was bloody fantastic.” Gasp. “Nick, my dear boy, surely you understand film nerd etiquette. You never admit to liking a remake better than the original, especially if the original had subtitles.” Well, I’m sorry, Status Quo. I’m sorry, Normal Jean. I’m sorry, Mr. I-Watch-Films-Not-Movies, but while many remakes are unimaginative, cynical exercises in moneymaking (or “whores’ movies”, as William Goldman might put it), there are numerous examples where the new shines brighter than the old. Here they are:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev) vs The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
While the Swedish version is an excellent film with fantastic performances, Fincher’s take on Steig Larsson’s ink-stained heroine is better-paced, more visually attractive and more exciting. But the ending wasn’t as good. A close call. Oh, and what a great teaser trailer!
Abres Los Ojos (Alejandro Amenabar) vs Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe)
I have to be careful here because there are a lot of ‘Vanilla Sky’ haters. However, I find that is the case with most Cameron Crowe films (except ‘Almost Famous’, which is universally loved). I love most of Crowe’s work and found his version of Amenabar’s film more enjoyable than the original. It is different enough to the original to keep it interesting but the concept is the same. Penelope Cruz plays the same character in both films and although she is more attractive when speaking Spanish, I found it easy to develop a crush on both of her. Another thing that makes Crowe’s film stand out is his trademark excellent use of music throughout the film. The ‘Vanilla Sky’ soundtrack stands out as one of my favourites.
Infernal Affairs (Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak) vs The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
This is another controversial choice, especially among my Hong Kong friends. I maintain that both films are great, but upon repeated viewing of both of them, I must take my hat off to Scorsese’s gritty American version. Like Fincher’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’, he keeps all the elements of the original and tinkers with the ending. It works even better here and anything that has been added actually enhances the film (especially Dignam, the foul-mouthed Mark Wahlberg character).
Ringu (Hideo Nakata) vs The Ring (Gore Verbinski)
Hmmm… I can’t remember much about either of them. I have tried to block them out as horror films give me nightmares. I just needed one more because my list was looking a bit weak.
These four examples are all that I could find. Unfortunately, this is one of those pieces where I started with a premise and in the process of trying to prove it right, I found it to be wrong. While the above examples are, in my opinion, excellent remakes, they are the exception and not the rule. Most remakes are, by far, inferior products. Damn. I will be quiet now and never bring it up again. I guess glasses do make you smarter.