What is it that has triggered our love for Scandinavian storytelling in particular and of Hollywood’s interest in remaking already critically acclaimed foreign language films? Crime fiction and world cinema expert Barry Forshaw agrees Hollywood has ran out of ideas and that is why they are turning to Europe and beyond for storeis to tell. He attributes the surge in popularity in Hollywood for remaking Scandinavian films is down to the amazing success of Scandinavian crime fiction and film, with writers like Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo finding success globally and as a result, Hollywood is trying to plunder them.
So what are unique qualities that set Scandinavian crime fiction apart from their English and American counterparts? Why do Nordic influences captivate us and exert such a powerful influence over our imagination? Forshaw suggests it’s because people do like a particular Scandinavian flavour, the majority of their crime fiction is dark, serious, concerned with death and stark landscapes but that’s what makes it intriguing. It’s also largely down to social commitment which has become a distinguishing badge of Scandinavian story telling. In short, the Scandinavian touch can be labelled contemporary crime fiction with a social conscience and a Nordic setting. This special trade mark has become a certain kind of realism, a concern for the development of society combined with conscience-stricken middle aged male police investigators and strongly positioned police women and private detectives insisting on the right to combine private and public affairs.
Writers like Stieg Larsson, for Girl With The Dragon Tattoo came along and showed that everything was kind of strangely corrupt at all levels, from corruption in the police to corruption in the security services and in the Government. It made audiences realise that Scandinavia wasn’t this perfect society as had been perceived but they were just like the rest of us when it came to corruption, power and their distrust for politicians, the police and the Government. However their fiction is different enough so that it is all still perceived slightly exotic, as Scandinavia is so very different from Britain with their amazing landscapes and culture to give audiences a heady mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar.
One thing is for certain; Europe and particularly here in Britain, we have an insatiable appetite for Scandinavian crime fiction here compared to the rest of the world. Forshaw agrees, claiming that the Danes and the Swedes are surprised at the level of success their TV shows like Hillander, Borgen and The Killing are having here in Britain. “The British are certainly the cheerleaders for this”, he states, “and the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught on yet!”
The fact that the acclaimed Danish crime thriller series The Killing, which has been such a hit in the UK but couldn’t be shown in America highlights this more than anything. This is down to US audiences dislike of having to watch films and TV shows with subtitles, therefore encouraging producers and film-makers to remake English language versions.
Another example of this is the recent success (and remake) of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s critically acclaimed Swedish hit, Let the Right One In which again demonstrates Hollywood’s necessity for remaking already acclaimed works. The fact that the remake, Let Me In was successful in its own way showcases both the dangers and possibilities of this, but as Forshaw confirms, people still prefer the original. It’s again a similar story for Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, as although the David Fincher remake has been successful, it has still not done as well as was expected. Fincher did choose to remake the Swedish hit film in Sweden, allowing audiences to still feel a semblance of the gritty, dark, atmospheric scenes which are quintessentially Scandinavian in origin allowing the film to replicate some of the authentic feel of the original. However this again begs the question, was such a remake ever really needed when the original first film in the series grossed over 4 million worldwide and was a critical success?
Martin Scorsese has recently been lined up to direct an English language version of another of Jo Nesbo’s novels, The Snowman to be released in 2013, and there is already talk of a Hollywood remake for Headhunters, which again has already sparked debate as to whether such a remake is necessary given that the original is already the most successful Norwegian film ever made. Forshaw does point out that Hollywood should tread carefully because it is very difficult to get it right as what we like about these types of films are the novelty that people are speaking a different language, but it isn’t just about the narrative, characters or the stories. He says it comes down to essentially the authentic feel of those films which make them what they are and why audiences love them.
So what can we expect in the future? Forshaw comments that this is a question he is asked most often; What’s after Sweden? What’s after Denmark? Is there another culture that is going to be the next big thing? However, he agrees it seems to be just the Scandinavians for now. “There is no sign of movement in any other country, either in the films or the fiction that can match the sheer juggernaut of Scandinavian fiction, they are the world conquerors and will continue to be for the moment.”
Just look at the success of the author Stieg Larsson and now Jo Nesbo, who is big everywhere also. Globally Nesbo’s books are apparently selling every 26 seconds, meaning he is on the way to potentially becoming the next big break through Scandinavian writer after Larsson. Hollywood are already hot on his heels with talk of two of his books been given the US makeover and surely more will be to follow.
Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters is released in UK cinema’s from April 6th, you can read our review here.
Barry Forshaw’s is author of Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, available in the UK now