Over the last decade, Robert Zemeckis’ steadfast determination to push the boundaries of motion capture technology has kept him from dabbling in the arena of live-action filmmaking. Disney may have pulled the plug on his long-gestating Yellow Submarine remake, but Zemeckis isn’t ready to give up on that project just yet. In the meantime, he’s been contemplating a return to a more traditional style of production.
The latest film that Zemeckis is said to be circling is Replay – a thriller involving time travel that’s based on Ken Grimwood’s bestselling novel. Unlike the director’s Back to the Future trilogy, Replay would center around a far more tragic set of circumstances – the novel tells the story of 43-year-old Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack in 1988 and then wakes up as his 18-year-old self in 1963. He begins to live his life over again, but with the aid of all the memories he’s retained from the next 25 years.
Despite all of his efforts to improve his cardiac health, Winston still dies of a heart attack in 1988 and is again sent back to 1963 – this time arriving a few hours later than his previous “replay”. Winston finds himself trapped in a time loop – always dying in 1988 and always beginning the cycle over again from a later date. He eventually accepts that he can’t prevent his own death and begins to explore other reasons why he might be stuck in this limbo. After meeting a woman who’s experiencing the same phenomenon, things really start to get interesting.
The concept of a time loop has been explored often in science fiction, though Grimwood’s award-winning novel (which is considered a precursor to the popular Harold Ramis comedy Groundhog Day) arguably does more with the premise than most. A previous attempt to bring Replay to the big screen had Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts attached to star, but that version never materialized. Disney picked up the project and offered directorial duties to Ben Affleck, but he decided to helm the political thriller Argo instead. Replay is now set up at Warner Bros. with Roberts’ former agent Ellen Goldsmith-Thomas on board as a producer.
Earlier this month, Zemeckis was reportedly eyeing the film Flight – a drama written by John Gatins (Real Steel) with Denzel Washington attached to star. Washington has evidently been somewhat non-committal, however, so it looks like there’s a good chance that Replay will go before cameras first.
Zemeckis is also producing an adaptation of Chuck Sambuchino’s faux survival guide How to Survive a Gnome Attack and there was some speculation that he might decide to direct that film as well. The idea of Zemeckis returning to a live-action/animation hybrid à la Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an amusing one, but if Replay moves forward the chances of that would be pretty slim.
Many people never really warmed up to the style of films like Beowulf or A Christmas Carol – so even though it seems like a pretty safe bet that Zemeckis will continue to refine the motion capture process over the course of his career, it’s not a bad thing that he seems to be putting that on the back burner for the time being. Those who grew up watching his movies and will no doubt be excited to see projects like Replay finally taking shape after all these years.