Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Remaking Death at a Funeral

Too Soon?

I had originally meant to do an article about Frank Oz's 2007 comedy Death at a Funeral on my Overlooked Movies blog. It was a nice simple British farce that had the potential to be the sleeper hit of it's year, but never got the promotional push it needed. Simple premise. The patriarch of a slightly dysfunctional British family passes away. A funeral is held. Antics ensue.

Then I found out they had remade it. Let me restate that. The movie only came out in 2007, and there's a remake.

As much crap as people give studios over remakes, there are admittedly valid reasons for doing it: the movie is old, obscure, foreign or a director wants to re-interpret the original. It takes the right combination of these factors for a remake to work, but a movie being old is usually an important one. Audiences don't mind revisiting the same stories, just as long as the original isn't still fresh in their minds.

Foreign films get a bit more leeway. Sometimes the premise of a movie could be good, but it's so filled with local cultural references that American audiences wouldn't understand them. Or, since foreign movies tend to have a stigma as being "art house" movies, it's sometimes better to remake the movie and market it to a wider audience if a movie's premise is too mainstream to be considered "arty".

It's why there probably would probably be an uproar if a movie like Amelie were to be remade today. It may be almost a decade old, but it still resonates with the art house crowd. At the same time probably nobody raised a fuss when the Spanish horror film [Rec] was remade as Quarantine less than a year after the original's release, because it's the sort of lowbrow horror movie that doesn't work as well mired in subtitles.

While Death at a Funeral is technically a foreign movie, it was still in English. Not only that, but it was made to cater to as wild an audience as possible. Despite being a British movie, none of the actors' accents are too hard to understand for Americans, and there aren't any references that you have to be a BBC America aficionado to get. Hell they even cast American actor Alan Tudyk in a role.

Everybody loves Alan Tudyk.

It's not like the British version was an amateur production either. There might be a weak argument for remaking it so soon if the original was in some way unpolished, but Death at a Funeral was every bit a professional production as any Hollywood movie.

If anything, doing a remake so quickly after the original is like telling the cast and crew, "Good job, but we're going to hire some more famous people to do it better than you did." Actually, there's one exception. They did cast the Peter Dinklage in both films as the father's secret midget lover. So either the producers of the American version really liked his performance in the original or there's only one short person in Hollywood.

There is no reason for remaking an English language movie this soon. It took them 12 years to turn the comedy The Dinner Game into the upcoming film Dinner for Schmucks, and the original was in French. They could have just translated the dialogue directly and pushed it out a year after the original's release, but it got the intermediary time it deserved.

I really hope that the instant remake doesn't catch on as a new trend in Hollywood. The Onion once joked that a bigger budget remake of Mr. & Mrs. Smith was in the works just a year after it's release. Now I can't help but wonder if producers have their eyes on remaking American indie films. Does it really seem that far fetched anymore that some producer might be thinking about making Whip It again, except this time with Miley Cyrus in the lead role?

Some movies need more time to find their audiences than others; a fact that studios seem to overlook in their apparent rush to get two good weeks out of a movie in theaters before it's forgotten until it resurfaces on home video. If this formula was used in the past we probably wouldn't have heard of movies like Shawshank Redemption, a movie that famously didn't become the classic it is today until well after its DVD release. Instead of remaking movies, maybe Hollywood should work on fostering audience the movies that have already been made after they've been released on DVD.

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