Happy Independence Day! There are many reasons to celebrate America. And then, there's our tendency to borrow other people's stuff. Sometimes when Americans remake foreign properties, it turns out okay, like Let Me In. But often... not. Here are the dozen worst attempts to remake foreign TV shows and films.
Note: Some of these actually got made, while others just got as far as concept art or whatever. In all of these cases, though, there's at least something for us to look at and shake our heads, sadly. Why, America, why?
1) Red Dwarf
Red Dwarf is a beloved British Science Fiction comedy that has run, on and off, for more than 20 years. Ten years into the show's run, someone at NBC decided that an American remake would be a great idea. They were wrong. There were some bad decisions: Picking an all-white cast in place of a famously multi-racial one was something that even the castmembers found disappointing. Another problem was that the main character, Lister, normally seen as an endearing slob, was written as a clean-cut character instead. Thank goodness this remake didn't get past the pilot stage.
2) The Tomorrow People
The 1970s British show about teens with psychic powers looks incredibly goofy now, but had a certain spark to it back in the day. Sadly, the remake that just aired on the CW captured the goofiness, but not so much the spark. The plots became more and more convoluted, and the simple premise of "evil organization hunts mutants" got tangled up in itself. This made us glad the U.S. remake of Misfits appears to be DOA.
3) Life on Mars
Sexier and with more star power, the well-financed remake of this U.K. show was going to be a sure hit. Unfortunately, the U.S. version couldn't sustain the elegance of the British show's premise (a present-day cop gets hit on the head and wakes up in 1973) over a full 22-episode season. Worse yet, Harvey Keitel became a cuddly version of Gene Hunt, with none of Philip Glenister's rough edges. And don't get us started on that ending.
This remake is the Schrödinger's cat of movies. It seems to be forever in a state of uncertainty. As recently as February 2014, there were rumors that it was still going ahead, even though directors keep exiting the project. The remake is to take place in "New Manhattan," and the film will basically Westernize a work of Japanese perfection. George Takei came out against casting non-Asians in this movie, saying that it would offend both Asians and fans of the original. And while some of the concept art looks pretty, it still leaves us feeling as though we dodged a bullet.
5) Doctor Who
Okay, so the made-for-Americans TV movie with Paul McGann was not the Doctor's first foray into Americanization. Back in the 1980s a Doctor Who cartoon was being produced for CBS by the Canadian company Nelvana, the makers of Care Bears and the animated bits of the Star Wars Holiday Special. Not much is known about it, except that K-9 would have hovered, and the Doctor's companion would have been the first black (albeit animated) companion in Doctor Who history. There's now tons of artwork floating around from this abortive show, in which the Doctor looks like a cross between Tom Baker and Egon from The Real Ghostbusters.
6) Dragonball: Evolution
Dragonball is a much loved manga series and an even more popular anime. So obviously any Hollywood adaptation of the series would be careful to do it justice. Right? Nope! Goku is play by Justin Chatwin, because white Americans need heroes that look like them. Or at least that's what the studio thought. Meanwhile, James Marsters can barely move inside his Lord Piccolo costume, and the whole plot is dumbed down to squish into a 90 minute movie.
No, not the recent Gareth Edwards film, the 1998 Roland Emmerich version. This movie is just a big stupid mess. If you look back at the original Godzilla films, you will see movies that were both full of menace and heart — and more importantly something to say about the horrors of nuclear war. But all this 1998 film did was sell cups for Taco Bell. Godzilla 1998 was everything that is wrong with summer blockbusters of the mid-to-late '90s. It relied heavily on product placement and big names, as the studio banked on the name recognition of "Godzilla," without giving the audience much substance in return. It was a box office hit but a failure with the critics. Luckily, the new remake heads in the right direction.
Quarantine was an okay movie. It had a few good scares, but that was about all it was good for. Rec, the original Spanish version, on the other hand had a realness and a terrifyingly claustrophobic ambiance to it that the remake just didn't (or couldn't) replicate. On top of that, American audiences, according the studios, need their leads to not only be white, but also famous. So instead of nuanced performances by actors who cared more about staying true to the character (like the relative unknowns in Rec), we got Jennifer Carpenter, who rode the world's longest and most manic emotional roller coaster throughout the film. The American version also chose to ignore any sort or religious undertones, in favor of the more straight-forward super strain of rabies which took away pretty much all of the subtext and mystery surrounding the sickness that envelopes the building the poor characters are trapped in.
9) Vanilla Sky
The Spanish original Open Your Eyes is a well-written and perfectly-acted movie, that is both haunting and thought provoking. The U.S. remake, starring Tom Cruise, on the other hand, is a very pretty movie. Unfortunately, the Cameron Crowe-directed remake is mercurial at best, and downright confusing at its worst. Both pretty much tell the same story — but the original manages a invoke feelings, where the remake simply invokes WTFs.
10) The I.T. Crowd
This one was in the bag. NBC had ordered up an entire season of this U.S. remake of the British show about a company's tech-support department. Thank goodness, it got pulled at the last moment so Joel McHale could go on to star in another geek-flavored sitcom. The unaired pilot is pretty much a shot-for-shot remake of the U.K pilot. Which didn't quite translate too well — if you watch the pilot it's downright cringe inducing. One can't help but miss Chris O'Dowd's affable everyman when compared to the sarcasm-laced snipes of McHale. Who was way better off playing Jeff Winger.
While this list could be only made up of American remakes of J-Horror films, this one might be the worst. Over-the-top acting, zero nuance, and cheap shocks were some of the many shortcomings of this remake. The Japanese version, Kairo, follows a group of university students who are looking into a mysterious webcam. The webcam, which promises the ability to talk to dead people, is somehow connected to a series of suicides. The American version is basically about a haunted wifi signal. This might be slightly more exciting than a haunted toaster oven, but not much.
12) Cowboy Bebop
This movie has been long simmering with not much news, outside of Keanu Reeves being temporarily attached to the role of Spike. (He said that he is way too old for the part now, plus the script as he saw it would cost half a billion dollars.) Hopefully the studios will learn and dial down the 'splosions and ramp up the story telling. Director of the anime Bebop Shinichirō Watanabe told Comic Book Movie last year, "There is a project underway in America for a live-action version of Cowboy Bebop. But the details are a secret do I'm afraid I can't talk about that... Cowboy Bebop was influenced a lot by American film so I'm interested to see how America will turn that into a live-action movie. I hope they'll be able to keep the feeling of the animated Cowboy Bebop." Or better yet, maybe it'll just stay in development.