Remakes get a bad rap for some legitimate reasons. From the sheer creative laziness involved to the unfortunate reality that such a high percentage of them are far from good, the mere announcement of one is enough to trigger disappointment. That response is often heightened when the original film is not only fantastic, but in a foreign language too. Why? Because people shouldn’t be so afraid to read some damn subtitles.
Of course it’s worth noting that for every ten worthless remakes there’s often one really good film that finds new fans and just maybe becomes a classic in its own right. Think The Thing, The Fly, The Departed, The Ring, The True Grit…
So when Summit picked up the rights to the Norwegian thriller Headhunters last year some of us chose to be optimistic about the news. Was a remake necessary? Hell no, but with Mark Wahlberg interested in starring and Sacha Gervasi attached to direct it looked to be heading in the right direction. The original film, like the Jo Nesbo novel it’s adapted from, is a fast-moving and deft mix of suspense and black comedy that feels like a darker After Hours with its abrupt timeline and series of unfortunate events occurring throughout the lead character’s arc. It’s a quick tale by necessity of the plot, so of course the feature remake has been scrapped in favor of stretching it beyond necessity and recognition into a TV series for HBO.
I can’t prove it, but I have to think this is somehow Peter Jackson’s fault.
The story follows Roger, a corporate headhunter who lives the high life, lavishes his beautiful model wife with anything she desires, and gives the outward impression that his career is booming. The truth is that he’s actually subsidizing his extravagant lifestyle through art thefts and forgeries in an effort to keep his wife in love with him. When she introduces him to an old friend of hers, a ruggedly handsome and immediately threatening old friend, she also shares that the man is in possession of a very expensive painting. Roger plans his next heist accordingly, but he soon discovers a truth that shakes the foundations of his carefully structured life to the point that he just might not have a life at all for very much longer.
Per Deadline, rights to the novel moved to Lionsgate after they acquired Summit last year, and for whatever reason they’ve come to rest at LG’s Television division. Wahlberg and Gervasi are out, and True Blood executive producer Alexander Woo has stepped in as producer and writer. He’s written twelve episodes of HBO’s increasingly ridiculous vampire series as well as a handful of eps for some short-lived shows.
No other talent has been announced yet (although Nikolaj Coster-Waldau starred in the original film and is already under contract with HBO on Game of Thrones), and Woo seems like a nice enough guy, but while I could see the bright side of adapting the novel (or remaking the film) into a Hollywood feature, the idea of elongating this story into a series is imbecilic. Worse, it makes me wonder if the people handling the project now have even watched the original film.
This isn’t a character designed to have a series of adventures or engage in a story with an indefinite end time. Nesbo’s book is barely 300 pages, and the film clocks in at 100 minutes. Roger’s story starts at the beginning and ends at the ending with no room for filler in between. That should seem obvious, but while some stories occur over a long period of time this one is simply a matter of days. The story of Headhunters is in those few days. What comes before would seem mundane on its own, and what comes after even moreso.
I’m avoiding specifics for obvious reasons (spoilers!), but the point is that if Roger’s story moves beyond the confines of the book/movie then it really isn’t Roger’s story anymore. Imagine if Stephen King’s Carrie was turned into a TV series. (They actually tried this in 2002 but stopped short with just a TV movie adaptation.) It doesn’t work because Carrie’s story is what happens between her period and prom night. Imagine an adaptation of Peter Benchley’s Jaws that just follows Chief Brody around for several months before the shark even appears. (Okay, fine, I’d watch that one if Roy Scheider returned from the dead to play Brody.) Or how about a series based on James Grady’s Three Days of the Condor that spent its first season on the days leading up to the days before those three days.
Roger’s story in Headhunters is triggered by the attempted theft of the other guy’s painting, and from that point forward it moves like lightning to the very end. A TV series can’t capture that and would instead be forced to fill time with, well, filler.
So my advice that Lionsgate will ignore? Cancel this incredibly stupid plan, and maybe adapt Nesbo’s detective novels featuring Harry Hole instead. He’s published ten of them already. Hole is an ongoing character without a specific defining moment or story meaning just like Dexter Morgan, Father Dowling, and the fine doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital he’s tailor made for a TV series adaptation.