Remakes: Post Podcast Homework

On this week’s podcast, we discussed remakes, good and bad. What we didn’t cover is films that aren’t strictly remakes, but cover the same themes to such a degree that they feel like remakes. Again, these can either be good or bad, or, as in the case I wish to discuss this week, a matter of relative perspective.


The 1996 film Extreme Measures is a medical conspiracy thriller starring Gene Hackman and Hugh Grant. It involves the uncovering of a scheme to deliberately exterminate patients and harvest their organs, selling them on the black market. It is solidly directed and features decent performances. However, when the film was released, I became increasingly frustrated by those who claimed it was “brilliant” and “original”, simply because it recycles themes from an earlier, far, far superior film from 1978 called Coma, my “podcast homework” film of the week.


Directed by Michael Crichton, Coma is one of my all-time favourite films; a nerve-shredding, nail-biting, modern gothic thriller (based on a novel by Robin Cook) that at times tips deliciously into horror, and features a brilliant central performance from Genevieve Bujold. Coma is by far the superior film, because for much of the running time, it is possible that the conspiracy is only happening in the head of our imperilled heroine. By contrast, the very first scene in Extreme Measures tells the viewer the conspiracy is real.


Coma features a smorgasbord of suspicious characters, sinister locations, and suspense set-pieces that would have had Hitchcock weeping with envy. The supporting cast includes an early role from Michael Douglas, as Bujold’s is-he-or-isn’t-he-in-on-it boyfriend. In addition, the progressive script has some interesting observations to make about the gender politics and sexism of the time (sadly still relevant now), and even features some good old fashioned “for the greater good” hand-wringing from its stunningly nasty villain. Oh, and there’s a wonderfully eerie score from the late great Jerry Goldsmith.


The only thing that dates it is a short romantic montage about halfway through that feels very cheesy and 1970s. But even that is then interrupted by a sequence where the wonderfully sinister brutalist architecture of the Jefferson Institute is revealed. What is the Jefferson Institute? Watch the film and find out.


Watch Extreme Measures too, if you like. It’s not a bad film. But for goodness sake watch Coma first.

Samantha Stephen