The new Flatliners may have been billed as a sequel, but the lackluster flop ended up being little more than a remake. That’s because, even though original Flatliners star Kiefer Sutherland promised he was reprising his character, there wasn’t anything tying him, or much else, to the previous flick. Actually, let me rephrase that: There could’ve been something that connected the two films, but the scene was deleted because it was for old people.
In the new Flatliners, Sutherland plays the lead doctor of the hospital whose sole purpose seems to be to yell at people. He goes by Dr. Barry Wolfson, rather than Nelson like in the original film. Sutherland revealed last year that he was playing the same character who’d taken on a new name after the events of the first film. However as the film sits now, there’s no way to prove that, because the character doesn’t do anything to suggest he’s actually Nelson.
But it looks like the movie was originally a bit more overt about Dr. Wolfson’s actual identity. In an interview with Collider, Flatliners director Niels Arden Oplev revealed that he changed the ending of the film to remove a two-minute scene where Sutherland not-so-subtly lectured some of the protagonists about this totally famous and awesome medical doctor “that had death as a godfather.” While the scene doesn’t sound like a full-on confession, it does heavily imply that Sutherland’s two characters are one and the same.
He kinda ends up saying you, “You can’t cheat death, and believe me, I know.” Which… “Trust me, I know.” Which was a scene that the older audience liked. Because, it was like, “Oh, he is, he has changed his name but he is Nelson from the old film.”
Given that Sutherland has promoted Flatliners as a sequel, and modern “requels” are all about winks and nods to the audience’s nostalgia, why get rid of the only thing that tied the two films together? Arden Oplev said it was because only older audiences seemed to get the reference, that younger audiences were confused by it. And when push came to shove, the director thought it was more important to prioritize a younger demographic over one that already had an established fandom for the franchise and concept.
The younger audience didn’t understand diddly-squat of that scene. They were like, “Why… What the hell is this guy talking about?” So in the end, it slowed down the ending and I just decided that the younger audience, the new generation of “Flatliners” is mainly who this film is for. And the older audience who can remember the old film, they would you know who Kiefer’s character is, maybe. It’s ambiguous but they’ll think that he is him anyhow and then that’s where it’ll have to live. But it still is a pretty great scene.
The most flattering interpretation is that he wanted to make a self-contained film that didn’t stand on the original. But then the question is why have Sutherland in it at all? This feels like a bad decision among a string of bad decisions that resulted in a terrible movie. Flatliners could’ve been an interesting continuation of a campy yet promising premise, using the mistakes of the previous generation to inform the mistakes of the current one. Make Sutherland a world-weary mentor, a recovering flatlining addict who’s the face of what the protagonists could become. But instead, it became just another lifeless remake, and the only thing with a pulse was killed off behind the scenes.