Adaptations & The Hollywood Remake
Hollywood’s capitalistic nature encourages studios and producers to guarantee box-office success, choosing “safe bets” and leaving the really original and ambitious projects exclusively to a select few directors firmly established within the industry, such as James Cameron and Christopher Nolan. In an attempt to ensure profit popular novels are often adapted and already popular foreign films from world cinema may be remade in English.
Guardian film journalist Charles Gant, who specialises on the financial side of cinema, sums up Hollywood’s mentality saying, “The problem is that because these films are so expensive Hollywood has become risk averse. They’re placing these big financial bets and they really want to be confident and limit their risks as much as possible. The main way they do this by having what they call established elements, or existing material. So by using familiar comic book characters, or do a remake, or base it on young adult fiction such as Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games they are limiting their risk. For me that is less interesting.”
When adapting a novel for the screen it’s important for the director to portray their own interpretation of the story. It’s essential for them to make their mark on the project in order to produce a credible original film; otherwise they simply act as puppets to the prose. Aware of this, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum brought personal flourishes to the narrative, confessing that some sequences were ‘invented on set’ and revealing that ‘the film is very different from the book’. For example, ‘in the book, his wife is actually in on it.’ With this, Headhunters (the film) becomes a fantastically unique picture, the alterations made for the adaptation provide a much more beneficial conclusion. Tyldum was rewarded for these decisions as his film dutifully broke Norwegian box-office records as it became the country’s highest grossing film of all time.
Due to the financial success of the film and the fantastic quality of the story it comes as no shock to learn that Summit Entertain acquired the rights to an English language version of Headhunters. You only have to look at Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher and Niels Arden Opley’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to see how ruthless Hollywood has become in terms of remaking films. While many remakes often disappoint, it’s not out of the question for them to better the original. The recent remake of Judge Dredd, was far superior to the Stallone version. Writer Alex Garland returned to the original source material, the 2000AD comic series, to create a much more true Dredd film experience. In this regard it’s important to find a distinction between it being a remake, or another adaptation in its own right. Tyldum supports this thought and recognises more potential for Jo Nesbo’s novel Headhunters as he explains ‘they bought the rights to the book – not for the movie’.
With Brazilian director José Padilha being brought in to take reigns on a remake of RoboCop and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn in charge of an upcoming Logan’s Run reboot it appears Hollywood are recognising the talent on offer around the globe, scouting foreign directors to remake these American cult classics.
Nicolas Winding Refn has experience with Hollywood, with his recent neo-noir thriller, Drive; an adaptation of American author James Sallis’ book of the same name. Refn’s interpretation of Sallis’ piece of crime fiction is a dramatically altered account. Much of the story was changed in the six years it took to transform the words to picture and the end result is far more satisfactory. The scale of the variations between the book and film brings into question of how loosely adapted can a film be from its source before being considered a purely original piece of work? However, rather unusually, the improved product by Refn rubs off in Sallis’ sequel to the book, Driven, which takes clear inspiration from the movie’s style and tone. Drive’s stylish aesthetic and pace creates an oneiric quality, evoking a self-reflective thought process of filmic & non-filmic ideas. Sallis attempts to replicate this atmosphere in Driven, with Driver’s anthropological and voyeuristic nature working to introduce some social and political commentaries in the text.
While it’s important and often most successful when the filmmaker pays close attention to the original source, it’s equally important for the director to stamp his own mark on the work. Unfortunately, a cultural faux pas towards subtitles within a large portion of American and British audiences ensures that they miss out on some terrific pieces of work. Though most remakes appear unnecessary, I believe it’s important to approach each film as an individual piece of work and a degree of optimism.
Charles Gant quotes come courtesy of Lee Curtis from his article Charles Gant on Hollywood, marketing and contemporary journalism