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As with any remake, Flatliners had to be updated for a modern audience when it was put into the hands of director Niels Arden Oplev for re-adaptation. Not only was it required to enhance the visual look of the story (VFX have improved a lot since 1990), and take into account how the world has changed societally, but it also had to update the narrative to make sense for a modern audience. Weirdly, it turns out that part of this process was altering the explanation for why the main characters who experience death would be haunted by living people, as apparently test audiences just couldn't comprehend it. Oplev recently told me,
We had a lot of discussions about what we could possibly lift and use as inspiration. It was great inspiration. And we had lots of discussions about what worked back then, and would that work today. One of the elements that gave us the most trouble was that back in the day nobody asked a question about why they were haunted by someone who was still alive. Whereas the audience today was like, 'They're haunted by someone who is still alive?!' So that thing has become a 'rule.'
The domestic press day for Flatliners was held in Los Angeles this past weekend, and in addition to interviewing three of the movie's stars on-camera, I also had a nice extended sit down with Niels Arden Oplev to talk about his new film. During our conversation I asked how Joel Schumacher's original was used as reference -- acknowledging that most young audiences haven't seen it -- and in his response the director noted that there was a weird comprehension problem that emerged at some point in the last 27 years.
For those unfamiliar with the plot of Flatliners, the story centers on a group of medical students (Ellen Page, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Diego Luna, and Kiersey Clemons) who begin to partake in dangerous medical experiments in the hopes of learning what it is that really happens after death. After purposefully being killed and then revived, they each begin to experience amazing side-effects that improve their lives... but it's not all positive. Being dead also has the effect of making the brain enhance the memory of the worst thing you've ever done, and before long the protagonists find themselves haunted by their personal demons.
Obviously the confused response that Flatliners got from test audiences means that this was an issue that cropped up during post-production -- but it fortunately didn't wind up being a catastrophic issue for the thriller thanks to planned reshoots. Taking the criticism into consideration, Niels Arden Oplev used the extra on-set time to try and work in explanation for why it is that the main characters are not just haunted by traditional "ghosts" of dead people, and noted that it all became tied into the "Flatlining is like a drug" metaphor that the film establishes. Said Oplev,
That's why it became kind of paramount for us to explain that it might all happen inside their head. It might all be like a drug-y kind of thing; hallucinations. Because if you are hallucinating, then you could be haunted by someone who is actually not dead! So that was a major point, because some of the audience was confused about that. I don't think they are anymore, because we did some re-edits to explain. 'Wait a minute, we never said that this was real!'
Flatliners arrives in theaters this Friday, September 29th, and we have plenty more about the film coming your way here on CinemaBlend. Be sure to be on the lookout for not only more from my interview with Niels Arden Oplev, but also our review and my alluded-to conversation with Ellen Page, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons. Stay tuned!