Love the film lose the subtitles
"I know a guy in Hollywood who's on a kick to do a remake of 'Ride the High Country,' and he wants me to be in it," actor Robert Duvall said recently.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Duvall would be perfect as the aging hero of Sam Peckinpah's classic Western, played by Joel McCrea in the 1962 original but Duvall doesn't want to do it.
"I hear that's a pretty good movie," he said with a smile at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. "So why set yourself up to compete with that? Even when an old movie isn't pretty good, [producers] sometimes give a nod to [a remake] over a new idea. Why do they do that?"
Duvall's question is a good one, and the answers aren't hard to find. Prominent among them is that new ideas don't grow on trees, even in Tinseltown's well-funded greenhouses. The vast storehouse of old Hollywood pictures and, increasingly, overseas productions is a treasure trove of stories and characters that might pay dramatic dividends if they're recycled with enough skill.
There's always a guy in Hollywood on a kick to remake something, it seems. What's different this fall is that much of the source material originally came with subtitles.
Borrowing from European and Asian pictures allows US producers to cash in on other people's ideas and peddle a product that seems new to viewers who don't keep up with international cinema.
This worked for the filmmakers who turned France's "La Totale" and "Trois Hommes et un Couffin" into America's "True Lies" and "Three Men and a Baby," and Hollywood sees no reason why it shouldn't work today.
A current example is "Swept Away," (opening today) with director Guy Ritchie working new variations on Lina Wertmuller's comedy about a wealthy woman and an impudent sailor stranded together on a faraway island. Madonna takes the part that Mariangela Melato played in 1964, and Adriano Giannini fills the role played by Giancarlo Giannini, his father. It's not surprising that the fiercely political overtones of Wertmuller's serious-minded satire aren't very prominent in 2002, when socialism is hardly on a roll.
But remaking a foreign film requires more than just a good English-Italian or English-Japanese dictionary, since different cultures often have very different ways of looking at the world.
Take one of this fall's most prominent remakes, coming out next month. The original "Solaris" took important cues from a centuries-old tradition of profoundly introspective Russian art, for instance. Will the Hollywood version, directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose "Ocean's 11" is one of the most popular remakes of recent years, do the same? Or will it find a distinctively American equivalent?
The original "Solaris," directed by Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972, is based on Stanislaw Lem's brilliant novel about space explorers who undergo strange psychological ordeals while investigating a planet that's actually a living, thinking entity.
It's hard to imagine an effort to reproduce the 1972 film, since it gains some of its idiosyncratic power from revisions Mr. Tarkovsky made to accommodate the ideological whims of Soviet movie censors. But if Mr. Soderbergh sees his project less as a remake of Tarkovsky's movie than a fresh adaptation of Lem's book, he could be on a very productive track.
Another current film, "Welcome to Collinwood," also comes from a foreign source: Italian filmmaker Mario Monicelli's beloved 1958 comedy "Big Deal on Madonna Street," about a bungled heist. Coming early next year is "The Good Thief," adapted from the 1955 French thriller "Bob le Flambeur" by Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game"). And based on one of Japan's all-time biggest hits, we're getting "The Ring," a horror film about a deadly videocassette, which bows Oct. 18.
International remakes work the other way around, too, with overseas filmmakers tapping into American sources. Italian actor-director Roberto Benigni's version of "Pinocchio," coming this Christmas, is based on the evergreen Carlo Collodi folk tale but it also qualifies as a remake of the 1940 Walt Disney animation, one of that studio's most inventive and popular creations.
Looking back at the history of remakes, it's clear that the prestige of this category hasn't always been as low as some moviegoers assume. Indeed, some of the world's greatest filmmakers have remade their own picture. Alfred Hitchcock made a British version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" in 1934, for instance, and a Hollywood version in 1956. Howard Hawks turned his 1941 comedy "Ball of Fire" into the 1948 musical "A Song Is Born."