Remaking a foreign language film for an English speaking American audience can be quiet a feat. In fact, it probably should never be done as the success rate of good remakes is fairly low. Also, there are a number of issues which are created by remaking a foreign language film. Which movie do I watch first? Should I hold the remake up to the standard for the original? Of course we can not overlook the fact of a remake flopping at the box office. Then we must ask, why did you even waste money remaking it when you could have released the foreign version?
While I am sure there are more than a few good remakes floating around, there is one I would like to focus on: The Departed, which is a remake of the Cantonese film Infernal Affairs. I have never been a huge fan of the American version, but it remains a very good film. The Cantonese film has a great cast (led by Tony Leung. If you have not seen any of his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai yet, you should probably get on that) and the American version does justice by bringing in some big name players. While this is a reason the film worked so well for American audiences, it is not the only one.
Martin Scorsese. I am a much bigger fan of his early work, but none can deny the skill he has. Scorsese's directing along with a great script and a backpack full of great actors leads to a very good box office performance, a number of oscars, and much praise. One final reason this film was so regarded, was the fact it did not spit in the face of the original film. Many remakes, especially American remakes of foreign films, completely disregard the original movie and consider it inferior because it is foreign. The Departed did not do this in any way and it is all of these reasons combined which made The Departed so successful.
On the other hand, one of the worst remakes of all time, is Godzilla. This film seemingly trashes everything there is to love about the original Gojira and it's subsequent films. As a child, I can remember watching the original movies on Sci-Fi every week. So as a 10 year old kid, when I found out Godzilla was coming out, you could imagine how excited I was. Then Roland Emmerich stepped all over my heart and said "No fun for you." Not only was Godzilla not enjoyable as a movie, the remake left out some of the items which made the monster famous. Most notable of these was his atomic fire breath. Of course they kept the cheesy acting in place. The problem is the American Godzilla did not seem to be going for the cheesy look.
So here are two remakes on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Of course there are similarities such as big name actors, a good budget, and high profile directors. However, it is the differences between these films which make it clear why some American remakes fail and some do not. The first is the respect of the source material. Secondly has to do with the profile of the original film in America. While I am sure there was a contingent of film lovers who had seen Infernal Affairs, the profile of that film was raised greatly in America by the success of The Departed. On the other hand, the original Godzilla has probably been seen by a large percentage of the American population, so remaking it was probably a bad idea when you consider none of the highest profiting foreign films in the USA have been remade.
Of course once could say I am looking for too much from Godzilla and should just accept it for what it is. On this idea I say "blech". If I am supposed to look at a movie as separate from it's original, than why did you not come up with an original idea? Remakes will always be linked to their original and deservedly so ... especially when you have the guts to remake a great film. Do we watch The Magnificent Seven and go "I must remove the fact this movie is a remake of The Seven Samurai from my brain for me to truly enjoy this film". No, we don't. We watch it and go "Good job John Sturges for paying respect to the original and making an excellent film".
I begin to wonder if maybe I could go back and watch Godzilla first before the original Japanese version and if my opinion of the movie would have been any better. This is a question I cannot answer because of my belief that one should always watch the original of any film before they tackle the remake. No matter what any person wishes it could be like, the original foreign film will always be first and always be linked to the American remake wether for good or bad.
I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised an hour north in Appleton, Wisconsin, a small metro area of about 250K people. Being raised in an area with a small town feel, yet a number of niche groups around, movies became a large part of my life. I started college in the fall of 2006 - attempting first a Journalism degree, then a Radio/TV/Film degree. Three years later, seven majors later, and $12,000 dollars in debt, I decided to drop out of school and pursued truck driving. A year and a half later, I deliver pizzas for a living and quietly work on a number of manuscripts I hope to have published one day (and I've never been happier).