It is too easy for a critic to groan about the wave of Hollywood remakes of foreign language films. Although the trend is driven by market considerations, it is not a new phenomenon, and the results are not always bad.
Fritz Lang's classic Scarlet Street (1945), for example, was an ingenious Americanisation of Jean Renoir's La Chienne (1931). It was undoubtedly slicker and less ambiguous than its model, but Lang's retelling of this eternal triangle tale had its own integrity.
Besides, the cinema is awash with remakes, homages and sequels of every sort. So why not remake films from other countries? Gore Verbinski's The Ring however, is a terribly weak version of Hideo Nakata's Ring (1998).
In most superficial details, it is the same film. An urban myth comes shockingly to life when people start dying a week after they watch a surreal videotape. Rachel (Naomi Watts) begins investigating the phenomenon with the aid of her ex-partner Noah (Martin Henderson). Her life and that of their son, Aidan (David Dorfman), is at risk.
Verbinski (Mousehunt, 1997) carefully and sometimes lovingly recycles the original's dread-filled incidents involving everyday, low-tech appliances like telephones and VCRs. He brings an MTV sensibility to the many flashes of nightmarish imagery. The only real addition by screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, 1999) is a horse that dies a gruesome and spectacular death.
But what is missing is the meaning of the story. The original Ring is about the fury of a dead child in a world of generalised dysfunction. This remake turns the relationship between mother and father into a far less troubled case, while it seems almost serenely indifferent to the possible fate of their child. The entire backstory involving a tragedy in a small community is handled blandly.
The Ring is an efficient but completely redundant exercise. Because it creates nothing of its own, it can only leave the viewer wondering what commercial film culture would be like if Hollywood bothered to properly distribute films with subtitles, rather than buying up the rights to pillage them.
MORE Verbinski: The Mexican
© Adrian Martin November 2002