Richard Matheson deserves his status as one of the biggest names in genre history, a phenomenal writer who would be a legend if only for his work on “The Twilight Zone,” where he helped define the series as much as Rod Serling did. He wrote some of the very best original films for television, like Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” and “The Night Stalker” and the wildly effective “Trilogy Of Terror.” His novels have been adapted to the screen by him as well as other writers, and it seems like every few years, someone takes a new crack at “I Am Legend,” one of his most widely-read works.
Adapting one of his own books was what got Matheson into movies in the first place. He turned his novel The Shrinking Man into a script, and Jack Arnold turned that script into “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” one of the great science-fiction films of the ’50s. There is a powerful sadness to Matheson’s story, something that is a big part of his entire body of work. He finds the melancholy in these high concepts he creates, and that’s one of the reasons I think his work pierces in a way that many genre films don’t. Check out his “Somewhere In Time” for a great example of that. Just a few years ago, one of his short stories was the inspiration for “Real Steel.”
Both of his sons have gone on to writing careers of their own. Chris Matheson co-wrote “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” for example, and Richard Christian Matheson wrote several episodes of “Masters Of Horror” as well as the cult ’80s comedy “Three O’Clock High.” With his dad, he co-wrote a script called “Face-Off” that ended up becoming the film “Loose Cannons.” They’ve written together on and off over the years, and now it looks like things are coming full-circle as they have just set a deal to write a new version of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” at MGM.
Normally, I’d be irritated by the news, but two things complicate the reaction. First, Matheson and Matheson are writing the script together, which automatically validates whatever new approach they’re considering. If anyone has the right to play around with the idea and reconfigure it, it’s the original author, and I’m curious to see what the 87 year old version of Matheson wants to do with his story. In today’s story about the film at the Hollywood Reporter, they indicate that they will keep the tone of the original. If so, it’s a fairly bleak take on what would happen if you just kept shrinking, unabated. The first film was, as many of the science-fiction and horror films of the decade were, a piece that tapped into the paranoia of the atomic age. The Mathesons will evidently bring in newer tech ideas for the new film, like nanotechnology, and they’re describing it as “an existential action movie.” I can’t imagine that means they’ll jettison character and mood in favor of action, but rather that the film will make the very act of survival in a world where you don’t fit into a very visceral struggle.
The other reason I’m not immediately worried is because they’ve threatened to remake this film before. In fact, it feels like Imagine and Universal have been working to make this one happen for decades now, as long as I’ve been living in Los Angeles. I’m just glad they’re not going to be going the comedy route, as that was the plan for quite a while.
Whatever happens with this one, I’m just curious to see how they’re going to handle the material, because the original film holds a very special place in the science-fiction canon.