"Nattevagten" (1994)/ "Nightwatch" (1997)
Synopsis: A law student takes a job as a night watchman at a morgue to help make ends meet, only to become the prime suspect in a series of serial killings.
Why The Remake? A big hit at home in Denmark and on the festival circuit (it played Critic's Week at Cannes in 1994), the original "Nightwatch," or "Nattevagten" in Danish, was an obvious choice for a U.S. redo; a slick, atmospheric genre piece helmed by a new filmmaker who clearly had some serious chops. As such, Bob Weinstein snapped up remake rights for his Dimension Films (burying the original film in the U.S. in the process, as was his wont), and hired Steven Soderbergh (then in the pre-"Out Of Sight" lull of his career) to work on the script with Bornedal.
Similarities/Differences: As far as this kind of remake goes, there isn't a world of difference between the two films. The Danish original is a little less refined—the giallo-ish tone can dip into campiness and unintentional humor in places, and there's an unpleasant strain of misogyny which is mostly removed by the U.S. version. The latter, meanwhile, adds a few quirks, perhaps thanks to Soderbergh's work, and is glossier in places. But the plot plays out much the same, with set-pieces replicated from the original and some shots repeating. The haircut of lead Ewan McGregor (in his first American role after breaking out with "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting") even mimics that of the main character in the original. It didn't seem to be a particularly happy experience: Bornedal later reflected to Filmmaker Magazine, "Bob and Harvey were tough bosses... it’s easier for me to move in Scandinavian waters: from idea to actually filming the story, it’s not a very long road. I have the feeling that in Hollywood, you need to have endless discussions before you come to some sort of reality at the end of the tunnel."
Which Is Better & Why: "Nattevagten" and "Nightwatch" are very much of a piece: if you don't like one, you're unlikely to particularly enjoy the other. And again, they're mostly close enough that watching both is a fairly redundant exercise. That said, there are different pleasures to be found in the performances: the original has an entertaining chance to see very, very young versions of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (the Kingslayer from "Game Of Thrones") and Sofie Grabol (the lead in the original Danish version of "The Killing"), while the remake has a nicely ambivalent turn from Josh Brolin, and a totally gonzo one from Nick Nolte, who barely bothers to conceal the twist involving his cop character. Ultimately, if you can get past the icky sexism, we'd probably go for the original, which is a purer and scarier experience, but the other is reasonably entertaining too."Nightwatch" (1994) [C+], "Nightwatch" (1997) [C+]
"13 Tzameti" (2005)/"13" (2010)
Synopsis: A down on his luck young man, in an effort to provide for his financially struggling family, unwittingly becomes a player in a high-stakes underground Russian Roulette tournament.
Why the Remake? Hollywood knows a high concept when it sees it, and the chance to remake the gritty, low-budget, French language original, which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, into a high-profile English-language film packed with scarcely-above-cameo roles for a plethora of hard-man-type action stars was clearly irresistible. From Babluani’s perspective, we have to take into account that “13 Tzameti” was his first feature, and while he completed another French-language film in the meantime ("L’Heritage"), the chance to crossover to the U.S. with such a massive cast and inflated budget must have been all too alluring.
Similarities/Differences? The meat and potatoes of the films are often identical, shot-for-shot, especially once we’re in the games themselves. However, for the remake Babluani ditched the original’s black and white for color and also added in more backstory, both for our main character, (Sam Riley in the remake, who has a father in hospital, a sister with a child and mother who’s being forced to sell the family house to pay hospital bills, as opposed to the more quickly sketched mother and brother in the original), and for some of his competitors. So we get mini-prequel scenes between Jason Statham and Ray Winstone, for example, who play the gambler/mentally unstable brother team in the remake, outlining past history that is only alluded to by a few lines of dialogue in the original. Similarly Mickey Rourke’s character in the remake gets a whole subplot about being a convict sold into the game by a corrupt prison warden, whose “minder,” acting powerhouse Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson he may or may not have successfully recruited as an ally.
Which is Better & Why? In what’s not even close to a photo finish, the original takes the ribbon by miles. The spartan, pared-back minimalist feel of it adds greatly to its tone of gritty foreboding and then downright queasy nastiness, and the unknown faces (the lead is played, and very sympathetically by the director’s brother Georges Babluani) mean it’s about 5000% more unpredictable as to what’s going to happen, who’s going to buy it and when. In the remake, it feels like the stars get offed, or not, in the exact reverse order of the size of their paycheck and their level of recognisability, where others (Michael Shannon, Alexander Skarsgard, Ben Gazzara, Gaby Hoffmann) seem to have been cast in whatever roles were left over, just because they could be. But less forgivable, perhaps are the things that the director, here gifted a second bite at the cherry and far greater resources, chooses to keep the same: the creakiness of the staging of the “games” themselves, in the original film is easy to excuse, but there would have been time and money to have made those scenes clearer and more dramatic (if not necessarily more graphic) in the remake. Instead this, of all places, is where Babluani goes nearly shot-for-shot, meaning it’s as unclear as the first time who pulled the trigger first, who died and how many are left. Other areas that had an opportunity for expansion but aren’t given it are things like the lead character’s progressive psychological change from round to round; in the original the enigmatic, spartan feel makes absences like this feel deliberate, but the remake's more bloated approach makes us really notice the areas that are still sketchily drawn. And the ending, too, in the original works ok (though still, we’d argue, is kind of a weak dismount for such a taut film till then), but in the remake it feels especially anticlimactic as it comes at the end of a film that thinks its much broader in scope."13 Tzameti" [B], "13" [D]
"A Story Of Floating Weeds" (1934)/ "Floating Weeds" (1959)
Synopsis: A traveling actor returns to the seaside town where he has an illegitimate son, only for his current mistress to engineer an affair between the son and another member of the theatre company.
Why The Remake: Short answer: the original film was a silent, and Ozu wanted to remake it in sound. Long answer: 1934's "A Story Of Floating Weeds" was one of Ozu's most successful films, and the director talked frequently of remaking it over the years (it wasn't uncommon for him to do so: the year after the "Floating Weeds" re-do, his "Late Autumn" adapted 1949's "Late Spring," for instance, while "I Was Born But…" came back as "Good Morning"). His opportunity to do so came when Daiei Studios asked him to make a film for them in 1959. Ozu was contracted to make a film a year for Shochiku Studios, but had already completed "Good Morning" in the spring, so if he worked quickly, he could squeeze another one in: hence, deciding to recycle earlier material, and rework "A Story Of Floating Weeds" into "Floating Weeds." The director said at the time "Many years ago I made a silent version of this film. Now I wanted to make it again up in the snow country of Hokuriku [the earlier version was located in Kamisuwa, central Japan], so I wrote this new script with Noda [Kogo Noda, his co-scriptwriter]…but that year there wasn’t much snow, so I couldn’t use the locations I had in mind in Takado and Sado.” For the record, even the original was something of a remake: Ozu had been inspired by George Fitzmaurice's 1928 silent "The Barker," a film about a traveling carnival starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr that had been a big hit in Japan.
Similarities/Differences: The obvious aside—the remake has sound and color, and gorgeous color at that—the two films have much in common. The script and story is mostly unchanged, Ozu's technique was already refined when he made the original film, and compositions recur in both versions. The film even opens and closes in remarkably similar fashion. There are aesthetic differences—the original, shot in Kamisuwa, is rain-drenched, the remake set in a heatwave in Shijima. But as is fitting for one of cinema's most subtle masters, the real differences come in the details: the latter film, made only four years before Ozu passed away, is the film of a director near the end of his career, more at peace with the world, and even more accepting of the flaws and transgressions of his characters than the ever-humanist filmmaker had been before. The remake is a less melodramatic film, in some ways, less heavy in tone—not that the original was necessarily hard going, but the difference is noticeable when watched back-to-back. And the tonal lightness of the latter film is amplified by a breezy, alomst "French seaside" score.
Which Is Better & Why: That's a tough one. Both are inexpressibly beautiful films, and despite the similarities, make lovely companion pieces to each other (forget a single class, you could teach a whole film school module on the two movies together, unlike some of the straight-up replications on this list). We would perhaps argue that there are a couple of performances in the remake that don't quite blend with the ensemble. But really, it's hard to separate them (not least because Criterion re-issued them together). And who would want to? “A Story Of Floating Weeds” [A], “Floating Weeds” [A]
There are plenty of other high- and low-profile directors who've revisited their own work, (both high- and lowbrow) that we haven't included here, but it's a feature we'll probably run a part II of sometime, so we'll hopefully be able to discuss them then. In the meantime, if you want to search out other precedents, John Ford has at least one remake to his name ("Marked Men"/"Three Godfathers"), and Howard Hawks could appear once more if you consider "Rio Bravo," "El Dorado" and "Rio Lobo" revised versions of each other. The Pang Brothers came to the U.S. to make the terrible "Bangkok Dangerous" out of their original and also terrible "Bangkok Dangerous"; Roger Vadim singularly failed to do for Rebecca de Mornay in "And God Created Woman" what he had done for Brigitte Bardot, and mankind, in the original; Alan Clarke remade his TV "Scum" into the film "Scum" just a couple of years later, retaining Ray Winstone; Leo McCarey started a trend by making "Love Affair" (1939) into "An Affair to Remember" which would then be remade into the Warren Beatty "Love Affair"; Cecil B. De Mille directed a total of twenty 'Commandments'; William Wyler reverted to the original play's name "The Children's Hour" for his remake of "These Three"; and Raoul Walsh transformed "High Sierra" into "Colorado Territory." Tod Browning remade himself not once but twice, and James Whale, along with lesser-known figures like John Franklin, John Farrow and George Marshall also rifled their back catalogues for inspiration. French directors Francis Veber and Jean Marie Poire helmed English-language remakes of their films, while John Woo went in the opposite direction to most, remaking "Once a Thief" into a TV movie.
And that's not even to mention those directors, like Tim Burton, George Lucas and Destin Cretton who made their own shorts into full-length films, but that's probably a whole different feature...
--Jessica Kiang, Oli Lyttelton and Rodrigo Perez