Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Subtitles aren't for everyone: Rec vs Quarantine

I've posted about my love for REC before. And Quarantine is almost the exact same movie. It is very close to a shot for shot remake, and where it deviates, it does so in a way that understands the first movie. There's the addition of a new zombie attack scene, and a more upsetting interaction with the people who are quarantining them inside the building, but these are scenes that would have fit seamlessly into the original. It's an interesting idea, when someone remakes something like this, but doesn't try to re-imagine it so much as more fully imagine it. I still prefer Rec, but I think this is almost entirely because I saw it first. The characters in the remake are just as great, and the suspense is done just as well in most places, sometimes I felt like they lost the power of a scene, but then there would be a scene that I felt they made better and more creepy. 

In an earlier post I gave two examples of remakes I liked, Muppet Christmas Carol, and Dawn of the Dead. These were both re-imaginings more than remakes. And if you had asked me a week ago what I thought contributed to a successful remake, I would have almost certainly said, "a new vision of the story." But Quarantine is a very successful remake, not a re-imagining at all. If you liked REC you will like Quarantine. They are the same movie. 

It does bring new things to the table, though. It translates the movie and the context, bringing the story to a market that might not have seen it otherwise because of the language barrier/subtitles. It's easy to dismiss this sort of thing when subtitles aren't an issue for you, but for a lot of people they are a problem. And, while some of my favourite movies are subtitled foreign films (Devil's Backbone, Mother, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) there are some problems with it that are hard to ignore. Mother, for instance, is a beautiful and haunting film, not least because of a strange and almost dreamlike final scene. But when I was reading interviews with the director, he pointed out that this scene makes more literal sense if you knew that it is actually something that happens, busloads of korean ladies dancing together. It's a part of the culture that seemed almost impressionistic to me because I just didn't know. 

Subtitles can't translate the culture of a film with the words. They also struggle sometimes with timing, and it creates a disconnect when you're reading what is said, and seeing the acting, but never at exactly the same time. These problems are hardly enough to keep me from seeking out foreign films. But I watch a lot of movies, and my appetite is pretty wide-ranging. A person with less movie watching time, and so much to choose from, can't be faulted for discounting subtitled films if she thinks she'll get more out of films in her own language. There's already more than she'll ever be able to watch in her lifetime anyway. So, yes, Quarantine is almost the exact same film as Rec, but I think it's valuable nonetheless.


  1. For me these types of remakes are hardly ever as good as the originals, but then, from my point of view they are not being translated from a foreign culture to my culture, but from a foreign culture to another foreign culture.

    I'm British and although American culture is very familiar to us (as we get so many US films and TV shows) it is not the same as ours and, because our exposure to US culture is mainly through TV and film, setting a film in the US can instantly make it seem less real.

    I remember my first visit to the US, the first thing I noticed was that everyone was speaking like they were in a movie (because of the US accent) and wandering around New York recognising buildings and feeling like I was in a movie set.

  2. For me, the biggest problem with foreign-language horror movies (less so action movies and other films) is that for some reason, having to read subtitles makes it less scary. I really don't know why that is.

    (J-Horror also suffers from some cultural translation issues. Some things just don't come across so well to Western viewers. Doesn't make the films any less brilliant...just hard to understand without someone to explain it to you.)

  3. This doesn't always work and you need to have the right mindset, but sometimes I like watching a foreign movie *without* subtitles, in the original language. Pan's Labyrinth and Ringu are really good examples of this.

  4. @Spudman: I know what you mean. Especially about the US seeming like a movie. My first trip to NY, I stumbled across the NY Public Library and all of a sudden I was in GHOSTBUSTERS. When I was in Scotland for the first time, everyone talked like characters I'd only encountered in movies. I thought they were fucking with me!

    @Dartigen: See, I can still find these very scary. Shutter has some really freaky scenes. And I got really into REC as well.

    @Harleypig: My friend Sheryl and I used to watch Will & Grace in spanish for fun, and because it didn't affect the quality of the experience much not understanding exactly what they were saying.