One of the biggest questions that has surrounded director Niels Arden Oplev's Flatliners is the question of whether it's a sequel or a remake. After all, the movie's ensemble does include Kiefer Sutherland, who played the lead, Nelson, in Joel Schumacher's original 1990 film. Now that it's coming out, however, we can confirm that the thriller is a remake -- as Sutherland plays a character with no established connections to the other role -- but Oplev recently told me that an early cut did have a scene that linked the two stories together. Said the filmmaker,
So there's actually a scene that I lifted out - that there was no room for at the end of the film - where Kiefer tells them a really weird story about death. And it will appear on the extra material on the DVD, and for the older audience that's going to be quite a clue. It's a two minute monologue and a story about a famous doctor whose godfather is death. And they're just sitting there, 'What the fuck is he talking about?!' But for the young audience it was totally confusing; whereas for the older audience they were like, 'A ha!' So we could not please both sides.
Pleasing older audiences versus younger audiences is always a conundrum that crops up when a new movie is handling material that is a few decades old, and it's an issue that ultimately requires decisive decision making on behalf of a filmmaker. In the case of Niels Arden Oplev, who I spoke with last weekend during the Flatliners Los Angeles press day, he had to choose whether he would be willing to confuse a significant cross-section of the audience by including a nice nod to fans of the original film, and at the end of it all he decided it was not worth the sacrifice.
In the original Flatliners, Kiefer Sutherland had the part that Ellen Page basically plays in the new movie. He is a hot-shot and gifted medical student who becomes fascinated with the idea of what comes after death, and teams up with some friends and colleagues for some terrifying experimentation involving killing and resurrecting each other. His character in the 2017 film is a professor who doesn't have the same name as in the original (instead of Nelson Wright his lab coat says Dr. Barry Wolfson), but perhaps the deleted scene suggests that he's using a fake name to try and hide his Flatlining past.
We'll have to wait for the Blu-ray/DVD to discover the full implications of Kiefer Sutherland's role in the new Flatliners, but Niels Arden Oplev did note in our interview that he was very happy to have his presence on set. The new movie may not be a full-on sequel, but the director obviously did position the actor's presence to be a key nod to what came before:
Kiefer's role is very cool as their professor, and for the older audience that remembers the old film, they're like, 'What does he know, what does he not know?' For me it's mostly an element of paying an homage to the old film, saying that we acknowledge our inheritance. We are standing on shoulders. We are reinterpreting something that was done before. But also, we had to acknowledge for the younger audience, under 25, they have no clue about the old film and that Kiefer had a role in it, because they don't know the older film!