Tuesday, January 18, 2011


What's lost in translation and what remains

By Edward Copeland
While I generally frown on remakes of good movies, I give adaptations of films made in another country more slack. Often, the results still don't turn out well, but Let Me In does a fairly good job at Americanizing the great Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In.

The foreign-to-American translation can have decidedly mixed results, even in cases where the same filmmaker does both versions and it seems especially true for thrillers or films with suspense elements. George Sluizer directed the truly haunting film The Vanishing in The Netherlands with one of the all-time great endings, but then had his own remake ruined by Hollywood meddling that wouldn't allow for that bleak finish and made an American version whose only positive element was a wonderfully eccentric performance by Jeff Bridges.

The case proved stranger with Michael Haneke's Funny Games, which I liked in its original German version. When Haneke basically did almost a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake of Funny Games in English, suddenly everything seemed forced and absurd and it even caused me to reassess my views of the original.

Then other times both turn out nearly equal in quality (and I know I'll get grief for this) as in the case of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs which was remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. Even though I'd seen Infernal Affairs not long before The Departed, when Scorsese's film used the same twists I was surprised despite the fact they weren't new to me.

Matt Reeves' Let Me In sticks very closely to Tomas Alfredson's 2008 film. I still prefer the original for its higher level of creepiness and more success at building the odd friendship between the bullied boy and the vampire girl who lives next door. However, Reeves' version does have a lot going for it.

In particular, I thought Let Me In displays a marvelous look courtesy of cinematographer Greig Fraser, who keeps much of the film bathed in a cool bluish hue. Reeves also creates some nice sequences, particularly when the man (the always good Richard Jenkins) who finds victims for Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) to feed on has a particular sloppy kill.

I thought the choice to set Let Me In in the 1980s for no apparent reason was odd, but I liked that they were subtle how they introduce that by merely having a small TV showing Ronald Reagan giving a speech. I suspect they picked that period mainly for the use of many of its pop hits, especially Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You" in the scene I referred to above.

While the use of the songs add to the film the same cannot be said for Michael Giacchino's score, which at times seems to be trying to overpower the movie in much the same way Abby tries to overtake victims when forced to do it herself.

One small performance worth noting is Dylan Minnette as the main bully terrorizing Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) at school. He's so different from his part as Holly Hunter's nephew on TV's Saving Grace, I'll be curious to see where his career goes next, though he and Owen's other classmates look a lot older than Smit-McPhee to be in his grade.

Moretz, who was so great as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's wise-for-her-years sister in (500) Days of Summer, does a fine job as the vampire torn between her feelings of friendship toward the boy next door and her needs as a creature of the night.

Smit-McPhee, who was the best part of The Road, has some nice moments as the victimized boy ignored by his mom, but he and Moretz lack the chemistry of the young actors in Let the Right One In that made that film so compelling and touching as well as scary.

Overall, Let Me In works, especially I imagine for those unfamiliar with the original.

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I saw the remake first, the original second, and finally read the book. Of the films, I actually prefer the remake.

Many side characters were cut or minimized, making for a leaner narrative. Focusing on fewer characters allows each one to have more development, and we become closer to Abby and Owen as a result.

Moving the alcoholism from the distant father to the mother he actually lives with works because it takes the warmth away from his refuge at home. Reducing the father's scene in the original to a mere phone call in this version further isolates Owen, playing up his alienation. Truly, Owen has no one else but Abby.

Let Me In tends more towards close-ups, giving it a more psychological feel.

Remake is also a great deal gorier. This forces us to take such a young person seriously as a threat. Despite their friendship, there was always a looming terror that Abby might hurt Owen.
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