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Published on November 5th, 2010 | by JJ


Mars Needs Culture! #1: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Let it be? Or not to let it be. That is the question. Is it nobler in the eyes of the studios to let their past classics gather dust, or to take arms against the sea of bad buzz and by opposing them, remake their films?

Hollywood is remaking films left and right. But what I want to ask today, is why not? Now I can hear the cries of some: “Hollywood has just run out of ideas!” or “Why won’t they stop raping my childhood?” I would like to point out that Hollywood has been doing this all along.

Now before I go too much further, I would like to mention that my background in theater colors my view. The idea of doing a play just once with only one cast is nonsensical in this environment. Can you imagine a world where Hamlet was performed in the 1600’s and then gone forever? This would prevent legendary actors such as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and even recently David Tennant from having a go at the ol’ Dane.

I say this because film, like stage, is a medium of collaboration. Although we consider it the director’s medium, he would get nowhere without someone running the camera, the lights, holding the mics, etc. The main difference is that film captures images that linger, whereas stage is only remembered by the people who experience it in the theater.

By this logic, if a stage play can survive many different people putting their stamp upon it, then why can’t a film? Perhaps different directors and different actors can actually change a story enough to give it a worthwhile second chance? Not only do I say yes, but a perfect example has been done recently.

In 2008, a fantastic Swedish vampire film called Let The Right One In was made. I was lucky enough to live in a city that plays small foreign films at the theater and saw it then. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see the vampire film, a genre I thought rather tired at this point, revitalized in a way I never saw coming.

The rest of this article will contain some spoilers. You have been warned.

Let The Right One In tells the story of Oskar and Eli. Oskar is a young boy who is soft, hounded by bullies, and harboring great anger he is impotent to vent. When he meets Eli, the new girl in his apartment building, he hopes for the friend he has been longing for.

The film that follows is not only a new viewpoint on the vampire tale, but one of the sweetest commentaries on first love I have ever witnessed. I cannot recommend this film enough.

When it was announced that the American director Matt Reeves was going to remake the film under the title Let Me In, I, like many others, proclaimed it a waste of celluloid (or whatever it is they shoot on these days). The first film was beautiful, moody, cold, slightly washed out, and I could see no reason for another person to try to do it again. I felt it just came down to the American hatred of reading subtitles. I can honestly say, while my disgust in those who refuse to read subtitles is still in place, I was quite wrong about the film I witnessed.

What Matt Reeves gave us was not a soulless retelling of a story we already knew. He did what the best stage directors do, he looked at the bones of the previous movie, and saw how he could make the story his own. Reeves manages to keep the color palette and feel of the film similar, however, he takes command of the medium and gives us one as powerful as the original.

Where the Swedish film makes the young attraction a bit of brightness in a rather dark world, Reeves uses this same attraction to add a level of bleakness that the original was lacking. In both films Eli, or Abby as the American film calls her, arrives in Oskar, or Owen’s life with an adult. As Eli’s secret unfolds, you realize that the man she lives with is not a father figure, but rather a Renfield type who cares for her during the day and makes sure she can feed. The Swedish film makes this character, known only as “The Father,” a fool, someone to be scolded and removed to advance the plot. Reeves reimagines this character, first by casting the amazing Richard Jenkins in the role, and second, by letting the actors develop a much more dynamic relationship. The Father, thus, becomes someone who is much more tragic. This changes the relationship between Eli and Oskar as we realize the love that is present in both films becomes the bond that will never let him live a life of his own. Although you may be happy for his new found freedom, the American film makes you fully aware of the price he paid, in opposition to the Swedish film which feels like a fully happy ending.

As I left the theater after having watched Let Me In, I wasn’t sure how to think about what I had witnessed. On one hand, I could admit that I liked it and risk being thought of as another American who won’t “read a film”, or I could lie, keep my film snobbery in tact and say the stereotypical “the original was better.” I decided on neither. The fact is I consider both not only great films, but possibly modern classics.

With this in mind I ask you, if musicians can cover songs, if stage actors can revive a play, hell, if a different writer can put his own stamp on a long running comic book, then please tell me why we can’t just calm down and accept the simple fact that a remade film just might be something wonderful?

– JJ

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