Original vs. Remake: The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon Sotilas) 1955 vs. 1985
The Unknown Soldier (Tuntematon Sotilas) is unquestionably the greatest movie in Finnish history, based on arguably one of the most important Finnish novels of all time, written by Väinö Linna. But as celebrated as the film is, many recognised how it strayed from its source material and suffered from various incongruities. In an effort to fix some of the problems with the 1955 Edvin Laine version, director-producer Rauni Mollberg directed a new version of the movie in 1985 with the full endorsement of author Väinö Linna.
Time to see which movie is superior…
Both movies follow the principle narrative of the novel. A machine gun platoon traverses into Soviet Union during the Continuation War (1941-1944), unprepared for real combat. The cast features the jovial but simple-minded Hietanen, the wise-cracking Vanhala, the cynical left-wing sympathiser Lahtinen, the psychopathic Lehto, the calm and down-to-earth Colonel Koskela, the cowardly Riitaoja and the overtly strict Lieutenant (later Captain) Lammio.
Later, the troop is joined by the older veteran Rokka who becomes a thorn on Lammio’s side due to his unwillingness to follow military discipline – but who is also by far the best of all the soldiers. Many of the lead characters die in the process of the story, some more heroically than others. The movies’ finale is sombre, with the Finns forced to retreat after their failed campaign into Soviet Russia at the end of the war.
Because most of the major scenes in both films are based directly on Linna’s novel, I’m only going to focus on general differences…
Original: The cast is mostly formed from established SF-Film actors in their 30s and 40s which makes the cast more unified age-wise. There isn’t a huge difference in age between the main character NCOs, the older officers and the veteran Rokka.
Remake: The cast mostly consists of unknown and amateur actors of the day (a few of them are now famous) who were more close age-wise to the characters in the novel. There’s a more pronounced age-difference between the main characters and the older officers and the aging Rokka.
Original: The movie features considerably more dialogue from the novel which is somewhat cleaned up. Some of the dialogue is very contemporary and would now be considered somewhat outdated.
Remake: The movie uses a lot of the same key dialogue but with some differences, either in direct reference to the original film or possibly more compliant with Linna’s original version of the novel (The War Novel a.k.a. Sotaromaani). There is a lot more swearing and the dialogue is considerably shortened in some scenes. Some of the outdated phrases and references from the original have also been dropped.
Original: The film has a full musical score and utilizes original compositions. Also, Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia and Ivan Larionov’s Kalinka are recurring leitmotif’s throughout the movie.
Remake: A full-musical score was composed but removed on Mollberg’s insistence. As a result, the only time music is heard is when it’s a part of the scene. Kalinka appears in the movie, both played on record and sung by the characters.
Original: Russian soldiers are almost never seen directly in this film. Only tanks, aeroplanes and gun-nozzles are seen most of the time. The only times the Russians are seen is when Rokka shoots down a group of them during winter and when they first try to infiltrate the Finnish trenches. They are also heard spouting demoralising propaganda at the Finnish soldiers from their trenches.
Remake: There are a lot more scenes of the main characters interacting and trying to capture Russian soldiers. They’re also seen either retreating or chasing the Finns in large numbers during battle scenes.
How is it Better?
Original: The acting is much better with the characters being much more pronounced and easier to tell apart from each other. The characters also have a lot more dialogue which shows more of their character. The music and pacing feels natural and the movie uses montage transitions to move to major scenes more fluently.
Remake: The battle scenes are a lot more realistic and gritty, thanks to the use of handheld cameras and better pyrotechnics. The actors’ performances are more down-to-earth and this makes certain dialogue scenes better.
How is it Worse?
Original: Some of the actors play their parts over-the-top and some of the jokes and references may feel outdated. Although the film utilizes real stock news footage from the Continuation War mostly well, some of the footage runs too fast and feels artificial. In some of the battle scenes there are no nozzle-flashes on the guns.
Remake: Some of the actor-performances feel really dull and uninspired. The lack of music makes the opening feel really long. The shaky camera makes a few scenes difficult to follow and scenes also cut away at odd places, often after the camera has moved out of focus. A lot of key character death-scenes feel very anti-climactic.
Final Verdict – Which One is Better?
Original: Although the remake is much truer to the novel, the Original is just a better movie. It’s competently edited, scored and acted. Even with its occasionally dated dialogue and primitive pyrotechnics, the movie doesn’t trivialize the novel and actually handles the gruesomeness and death-toll of the war with a lot of class. It also feels dramatically more satisfactory since its able to focus on the individual main-characters and give them all closure.
However, I do recommend also seeing the 1985 version simply because it’s so well-done.