This is not a review of the film Funny Games. I repeat: this is not a review of the film. In fact, it’s not a review of either film.
For those of you who are not familiar with this film, this is a 1997 Austrian film by a director named Michael Haneke. A family, Georg, Anna, their son Georgie and their dog, arrive at a lake house and immediately encounter two young men, Paul and Peter, who enter their house. At first they appear to just want some eggs, but soon the family finds themselves entrapped in the house with Paul and Peter forcing them to play sadistic games. The two men even leave a bet for the family: by 9:00 in the morning, they’ll be dead.
So as you can tell, this sounds like a “home invasion” movie with one or two psychopaths. Well, it is, but with a very interesting twist. The two psychos seem to be in control of the film (you’ll see, it’s cleverly done), blurring and questioning the line between fiction and reality and giving a film a sense of self-awareness. It plays with the audiences expectations and takes interesting and unexpected twists and turns from the sub-genre and from horror or thriller films. It wasn’t a horror film at all, according to Haneke. He made a message about the violence in the media, by making a film so violent like this, and exploring the entertainment quality of the film. The film that doesn’t glorify violence at all. These aren’t funny games at all. Only Paul and Peter are enjoying themselves. That’s the whole point of the film. I’m not gonna spoil the ending or any of the twists, so go check it out… either the 1997 version or the 2007 remake… the American remake… by the same guy.
Turns out that Haneke, directing again, made a U.S. version of the film. That might not sound like such a bad thing. After all, Hitchcock remade his British film The Man Who Knew Too Much years later for American audiences, and let’s not forget the Ten Commandments (1956) a remake of the director’s previous Ten Commandments (1923). Often a director would motivate himself to remake one of his works because of something he wanted to improve on or something he wanted to add. Maybe they’re just perfectionists and want to include something more to it. After all, it’s their own work. They can do whatever they want with it. So what’s the deal with this remake? What if I told you that the new version were an exact remake? And when I mean exact, I don’t just mean scene-by-scene, I mean shot-by-shot-by-shot! Nearly identical. Check out on YouTube a bit of side-by-side comparison so that you can see what I mean. The dialogue, the camera angles, all that stuff! The only difference is that the new version’s set in America and they speak English.
I actually saw this film in one of my media lectures in my uni to think about the violence in our entertainment. Before watching the film, we were informed that the one we were watching was a shot-by-shot remake. Really, it wouldn’t have made a difference if we had seen the old or new version. So if it’s essentially the same thing, AND by the same director, why should he do this at all? Why not just have the Austrian version with subtitles? I thought it was an interesting case study. The thing that kept going through my mind as I watched the film were two things. First, “THIS MOVIE’S SO GOOD!” Second, “it actually kinda makes sense to remake this film.” People complain over and over again about the American remakes. Often remaking a foreign film into an American version loses its cultural value. Maybe there was a message that came across from, say, a Japanese film, and the message was lost in translation when transformed into an American film. It NEEDED to be a Japanese film from a Japanese director so that the message could come across, like the remake of the Japanese film Shall We Dance? Either that, or changing it to a different language won’t change the message at all and will add absolutely nothing to it. The thing is that for an Austrian film it has a message addressing all of the violence in entertainment, so it’s quite a universal issue. Probably because the entertainment business is the strongest in America, and we see most of the entertainment come from America, this message probably becomes relevant to the kind of entertainment we’re shown in America. Maybe with the remake Haneke wanted to address American audiences specifically. The message doesn’t change, but the message actually gets slightly enforced just for being changed to American. As Paul (in the U.S. version) looks at the camera, he’s not just looking at an audience: he’s looking at an American audience. This film is self-considered to be the anti-Tarantino of films, so I thought it was a really neat touch to cast Tim Roth as the father of the family. In Reservoir Dogs and in Pulp Fiction, he’s the one holding a gun, so a nice switch of roles makes the film push the message across for audiences even more.
But if I forgive the film so much as a remake, why don’t I forgive the fact that it added nothing to the exact shots, other than the fact that there were different actors? Kinda like the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho? Well, the new Psycho added absolutely nothing new to the original. WHATSOEVER. As for the American Funny Games, the scenes in the old version were probably kept intact because they were already good in the first place. The only difference is the culture, and it actually makes sense to remake it because its enforcing the message to a specific audience. Again, the message in the Austrian version was universal, BUT was addressing American entertainment specifically.
I am not looking forward to the American remake of Oldboy. Sure, the message of revenge is a universal theme, and it doesn’t really make a difference if it were a Korean or Chinese or Japanese film, but making it American will add nothing new at all. It’s just for the sake of the audience’s entertainment, and there’s no particular message that applies to anybody specifically. UNLESS they add something new to the story, but that depends. It’s not that nobody can understand foreign films, but Haneke’s point about violence in entertainment can come across a bit more to the people watching these films in America. Heck, the title card in the remake isn’t exactly Funny Games: It’s Funny Games U.S., so the film’s probably aware that it’s the same film as the other, except in a different language. These films are the same, except that the new version’s targeted at a specific audience, and is VERY aware of that.
This is a rare case for remakes for me: the best thing I can compare these films to is with a black iPhone and a white iPhone. Most will prefer the black, but some will appreciate the white one. The phones are made by the same company and the function is exactly the same. So it really bugs me that the critics this film bad simply for being a remake or a reenactment. Are they gonna criticise the white iPhone for its colour? But to be fair, if they do make an American remake, with or without changes, it depends on a lot of factors, such as why they’re remaking it for American audiences, whether they change the message or add something new. This film is fuelled on the message itself. The film itself doesn’t really change, but it’s to who it comes across to that slightly changes, simply by the change in culture. Art is a form of communication. Messages might change to whom you’re speaking to. So is Funny Games U.S. a pointless remake after all? To me, in this rare case, not really. Here, the element which was added simply by changing the culture was irony, and that is what makes this film work.
I do recommend Funny Games (unless you can’t handle violence really well), but as to which one to watch, just watch either. If you want to watch the original Austrian film, check it out. If you want to watch the American remake, check it out. Flip a coin if you have to. Watch both if you wanna. They’re pretty much the same thing, except with the fact to who the film’s speaking to. HECK, it doesn’t even matter which one came first! They’re the same, but with different colours.