12 Movies That Should Have Been Directed by Christopher Nolan9
By Steven Novak
12 Movies That Should Have Been Directed by Christopher Nolan
If anyone is giving away awards for director of the decade, I have to think Christopher Nolan is going to be pretty high on the list of candidates. With the addition of his latest film, Inception, he’s taken the concept of trippy, mind-bending, alternate realities to new levels… literally. Sadly, he’s only one man. Luckily, if you’re searching for more twisted worlds to explore, there are a lot of filmmakers out there creating worlds you can jump into, including the broken reality of Detective Paul Grunning in KoldCast TV’s dramatic thriller series Fissure. If some had their way, however, Nolan would have a say in every alternate reality that scrambles your brain. All said, in honor of his twisted, brilliant mind, we’ve compiled a list of 12, somewhat decent yet ultimately flawed, alternate reality inspired films we would have loved to see Christopher Nolan direct – and hopefully improve.
Fissure, Episode 1: The Call
1. Strange Days
Released in 1995 and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Strange Days is a high concept piece that, believe it or not, is actually rumored to be one of the inspirations for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The story is about an ex-cop, played by Ralph Fiennes, that deals in data-discs containing recorded memories and emotions. He stumbles onto one with the memory of the murder of a prostitute, and then all hell breaks loose. While Strange Days isn’t the worst thing ever made, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that it could have been a whole heck of a lot better in the hands of someone like Nolan.
2. In The Mouth of Madness
I love John Carpenter – the man is a legend. I love In The Mouth of Madness as well, and because of that I don’t so much wish Nolan could have made the original film, as much as I would love to see him remake it now. Also released in 1995 (guess it was just a mind-trip flick sort of year), In The Mouth of Madness stars Sam Neil as a private investigator that is sent to look for a missing author by the name of Sutter Cane. On the way, he runs over a weird dude on a bike, encounters an axe-wielding old lady serial killer, and things pretty much go bonkers-crazy from there.
3. Altered States
Based on the novel of the same name by famed playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, 1980’s Ken Russell-directed Altered States featured William Hurt in his screen debut as a professor of abnormal psychology who believes our “other states of consciousness are as real as the waking ones.” He begins experimenting with a sensory-deprivation tank and things quickly go from weird to what-the-hell-am-I-watching weird. Although visually the film hasn’t held up that well over the years, at its heart are interesting concepts, ones that might have shined a bit brighter in the hands of another director – like Christopher Nolan.
Released in 1984 and directed by Joseph Ruben, Dreamscape is an awkward, mistake-laden little flick with a lot of good intentions and a fairly decent idea hidden somewhere underneath. A really young looking Dennis Quaid plays a down-on-his-luck psychic that’s blackmailed into joining a project allowing him to link his mind with others and project himself into their subconscious during REM sleep. Sound familiar? Soon enough a plot to kill the president is revealed and Quaid must then use his “dream powers” to stop it. Oh – there’s also a big, goofy looking half-man, half-snake. This thing has Nolan written all over it – minus the snake-man of course.
5. The Lawnmower Man
Directed by Brett Leonard, 1992’s The Lawnmower Man was based on a short story of the same name by Stephen King. While there are some decent core concepts at work here, there’s also more craziness than you can shake a crazy stick at, and the film has not stood the test of time well. In fact, it’s almost a joke how terrible the effects look now. A frizzy haired Jeff Fahey stars as a dim-witted “lawnmower man” that ends up as the pawn in the intelligence experiments of a “Virtual Space Industries” employee played by Pierce Brosnan. As Jeff gets smarter, Jeff gets more dangerous, and as Jeff gets more dangerous, the wackiness is ramped up.
Bug is a weird little flick released in 2006, and directed by William Friedkin (who also gave us The Exorcist). Ashley Judd plays a depressed waitress that befriends an ex-soldier who is not only a bit of a weirdo but also has trouble telling the real world from fantasy. It’s undeniable that all the right ingredients are present for a great mind-bender/thriller, but at the same time the story is so uneven it’s distracting. Bug is the weird kid in the back of class that bangs his head against his desk and eats all of his glue. You can’t help but watch, but you aren’t entirely sure why. Bug needs some direction. It needs some Nolan.
Like In The Mouth of Madness, EXistenZ is another addition to our little list that I actually, really like. Canadian born David Cronenberg has made a career out of releasing trippy mind-altering movies. When he’s at his absolute best, we get films like Videodrome (which outshines even Inception), and of course Naked Lunch. When he’s at his not-so-best, we get EXistenZ. The film takes place in a “near future” where game consoles have become squirming blobs of bio-mass that people now “port” into. When the greatest game designer in the world is almost murdered, Jude Law comes to the rescue, and before you know it the lines between reality and illusion no longer exist. Like I said, despite its flaws, I actually like EXistenZ and don’t wish it had been made by someone else as much as I wish it be remade – maybe a bit more focused this time – and without odd capital letters in the title.
8. S. Darko
Donnie Darko was the ultimate alternate reality mind-trip flick – or pretty close to it anyway. It’s sequel, S. Darko, was barely a brain fart. Released in 2009 and directed by Chris Fisher, the film picks up where the first one left off. We follow Donnie’s younger sister Samantha as she takes to the road with a pal in hopes of realizing the dream of becoming professional dancers. A water pump blows up and suddenly they’re stranded in a crappy little town in the middle of nowhere. Soon afterward a bunch of weird stuff happens. The entire movie is a mess, and it’s honestly a bit of a pimp slap across the cheek of Richard Kelly’s original. It deserved a better script and a better director. It deserved Christopher Nolan.
9. The Cell
Released in 2000, Tarsem’s The Cell is undoubtedly a breathtaking film visually – no one in their right mind could argue that. The problem is – that’s all it is. Jennifer Lopez stars as an expert in the treatment of coma patients that’s come up with a virtual reality device that allows her to enter their minds. In order to discover the location of a serial killer’s victim, J-Lo, of all people, enters his mind where an endless array of confusing, beautiful dangers await. There are some good ideas here – and some bad ones (like the casting of Jennifer Lopez as a scientist for example). In the hands of another director, The Cell could have been something monumentally special.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is arguably the worst in the series. Okay, maybe it’s not even arguable – it just is. It is also, possibly the most mind-trippy. Set five years after the first film, Freddy Kruger starts popping up in the nightmares of a whiney teen named Jesse. This time though, he’s not just looking to kill another random kid. Nope, he wants to use Jesse as a host and enter the real world. There’s also an S&M-loving gym coach that gets stripped down and whipped in the boys shower. The less said about that the better. Sure, Christopher Nolan doesn’t really do “horror” flicks, but what if he did? He likes dreams, he likes weirdness and you get them both in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
11. The Thirteenth Floor
Loosely based on a 1964 novel by Daniel F. Galouye, The Thirteenth Floor is a mostly problematic, overly glossy film from 1999 that was directed by Josef Rusnak. The story is about the murdered inventor of a newly completed virtual reality simulation of 1937 Los Angeles. The murdered inventor’s protégé, played by Craig Bierko, becomes the primary suspect and treks into the simulation to try and prove his innocence. There are a lot of solid ideas at work here and the biggest problem comes ultimately in the execution. The Thirteenth Floor is an absolutely perfect example of a movie that could have been a lot better in the hands of someone with a bit more talent and flair.
12. Return To Oz
The Wizard of Oz is one of the greatest alternate reality classics ever made. It’s semi-sequel Return to Oz – eh, not so much. Released in 1985, Return to Oz was directed by Walter Murch, and picks up six months after the original’s conclusion. Dorothy can’t stop dreaming about her previous adventures, so her parents ship her off to a doctor specializing in electro-shock therapy. (Seems a bit harsh.) Soon enough, she’s back in Oz where she discovers the Yellow Brick Road is in shambles, the Emerald City in ruins, and her old friends turned to stone. It’s at this point things get really, really weird – the kind of weird that gives you nightmares – the kind of weird that results in pee pants. I don’t hate Return to Oz, in fact, I sort of like it. How cool would it be to see Nolan tackle material like this though?
Fissure, Episode 2: The House
Fissure, Episode 3: The Body
Steven Novak is a writer, illustrator, graphic designer and admitted lifelong nerd with an embarrassingly large DVD collection. He is currently working and living in the Southern California desert. His most recent fantasy/action adventure novel, “Forts: Fathers and Sons,” is available everywhere books are sold.