This weekend sees the release of Flatliners, a film which up to a point during its production was positioned as a remake of the 1990 thriller of the same name. But is it really?…
As of today, the official answer to that is “no” for one specific reason: Kiefer Sutherland – who starred in the Joel Schumacher original and was originally assumed to be making an unconnected cameo – has since been revealed to be playing the exact same character this time around, making 2017’s Flatliners officially a sequel, not a remake. That said, with the focus of the action on an entirely new group of would-be science revolutionaries including Ellen Page and Diego Luna, the plot still in essence seems to be functioning as a remake of the original film.
What does this have to do with our Friday Five?! Well, it got us to thinking about some of the best scifi remakes in the past and exactly why they were great – usually because they brought something fresh or new to the table versus previous versions, instead of being too faithful. Remains to be seen where Flatliners 2017 goes, but here are some of the best examples of remakes gone right…
Okay, we’re starting with one which on a technicality is less a remake than it is a reboot; both Dredd and the earlier 1995 film adaptation starring Sylvester Stallone are based on the the same comic series, 2000 AD’s groundbreaking Judge Dredd. What makes Dredd so special is that it finally delivered on fans’ expectations of a gritty, hard-edged version of the comic’s sociopolitical themes and hard-boiled action. (Where Stallone’s version was…. well, pretty goofy.) Bonuses: Two empowered female leads in Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey (one good, one very very bad), and Karl Urban’s pretty flawless Dredd who, true to the comic, never takes his mask off once!
12 Monkeys (1995)
Second week in a row that we give some love to the great Terry Gilliam, and 12 Monkeys in the context of this film trend is kind of unique. It is definitely a remake, but it’s more than that; it’s a fully-realized feature adaptation of La jetée, the experimental 1962 Chris Marker film that is told through a series of still photographs. And it really soars in creating its own world and the terms of its Moebius-strip of a plot, being true to Marker’s inspiration while layering in additional context of environmental disaster as man’s downfall, etc. That cast is terrific, too; Brad Pitt’s loopy supporting turn gets the most recall, but it’s really Bruce Willis’s understated lead who makes the impact of that ending land so hard. (It’s a resilient plot, so much so that Syfy managed to concoct a pretty great series out of it too!)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
And now we dip into arguably the top tier of scifi remakes, a holy grail of A+ films that notably adapt and improve upon a very specific subgenre: The 1950’s scifi B-movie. First up is Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which updates the 1953 original to late 1970’s San Francisco. The plot is basically the same – a plant-based alien life form invades our planet and begins killing and cloning humans, stripping them of their emotions and free will – but what Kaufman does is ramp up the quiet horror and the rampant paranoia to such levels that it’s almost unbearable, with a cast (Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum… Leonard Nimoy!) who get you to invest deeply in the nightmare. Oh, and there’s that dog with a dude’s head on it. THAT’S freaking terrifying.
The Thing (1982)
You know, we just now realized that this is the third time in recent days that John Carpenter’s 1982 remake is getting ink on this blog, but guess what?… it fully deserves it! To expand upon what we’ve already said, the remake element of updating 1951’s The Thing From Another World really shines in the seeds of mistrust it sews between the twelve men trapped in an Antarctic outpost with this monstrosity. Some of them are friends, some of them dislike each other… Kurt Russell’s protagonist doesn’t really like anyone and would rather drink Scotch and play computer chess in peace. But they’ve got to survive, so they’ve got to learn to trust each other, which is opposite of what a shapeshifting alien who could look like any of them encourages. A+ drama, on top of the scares.
The Fly (1986)
While all of these B-movie updates are outstanding, yours truly would have to rate David Cronenberg’s 1986 masterpiece as the best of them all. For a start, its predecessor is the corniest of the bunch; The Fly of 1958 undoubtedly freaked out audiences in its day but it hasn’t aged well, though Vincent Price (in a supporting role) is always a treat. The tale of a scientist whose great invention goes horribly wrong (“My teleporter turned into a gene splicer. A very good one, too…”) proved a perfect match for Cronenberg’s unique brand of body horror, and the physicality of Seth Brundle’s awful transformation is some of Jeff Goldblum’s finest work. What truly elevates this Fly, however, is that in the end it’s ultimately a tragic love story of nigh-Shakespearean proportions; the socially awkward scientist finally makes a lasting connection with a woman (the supreme Geena Davis) who gets him, only to spectacularly fall to pieces (literally) as the invention that brought them together destroys him. You’re grossed out… but you’re also crying a little, amirite?!
Which of these remakes is your fave, and are there any others that you think step up the game? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #LootRemakes!