High Road from Khartoum was a classic larger-than-life adventure tale, one of the great Paramount Technicolor epics from the 50’s. Richard Burton and Rock Hudson had headlined a star-studded cast as British refugees fleeing the Seige of Khartoum during the Mahdist Uprising. It was really nothing more than an elaborate adaptation of Mason’s The Four Feathers with modifications to keep from paying royalties and rewritten to appeal to a postwar audience, but the film had influenced countless others with aspects of the final charge scene in particular appropriated by everything from Zulu to Star Wars.

And Collstein wanted a new adaptation on his desk by Monday. In the old days they might have called it a “remake” or a “re-imagining,” but he called it a “reboot,” that detestable buzzword that implied sweeping away decades of cinematic history was as easy as turning over an old Presario.

I glanced wearily over the producers’ notes. They insisted that the time frame be updated to the present day, that the suicidal charge be modified into a triumphant victory, that the two-dozen pursuers be upgraded to a massive (CGI) army. The Richard Burton character, a retired Army captain, was to be rewritten as a wisecracking photojournalist so the role could be played by a popular rapper who’d lobbied for the part. I was required to work at least of his songs into the film in a diagetic manner. The Rock Hudson part, perhaps appropriately, was to be female and written for the latest pretty young thing to come out of Australia (covering her native accent, of course). There was also a detailed combat requirement: three major firefights, two airstrikes, and a body count of at least 100. I was given leave to use the “f-word” exactly once to guarantee a PG-13.

“There isn’t enough coffee in the world,” I sighed.


“Here’s the pitches we’ve got in fast-track right now,” Scuttler said. “All high-concept, all drawing on aspects of IP’s which test off the chart and are in the public domain along with proven crowd-pleasing updates fresh off the presses.”

Leighton looked at the sheaf of papers spread across his desk. “So all I need to do is choose one and write a script?”

“That’s right,” Scuttler said. “It might have to go to a doctor, of course, but you get screen credit and a paycheck and we get a nice juicy literary name attached to the script. Like Faulkner and The Big Sleep, though if you come up with a murder mystery it should probably be within the context of an intergalactic war or something.”

Leighton had a momentary and horrifying vision of his name, computer-animated, whooshing by a viewer wearing 3D glasses. “Pitch them, then,” he signed.

“Shakespeare’s Hamlet with biotechnology!” crowed Scuttler. “Biotech is hot and ask Disney, Shakespeare ripoffs never get old.”

“They never get old, they just fade away until a second-grader wonders why old Bill cribbed from the Lion King,” Leighton thought.

“Coleridge Rime of the Ancient Mariner re-imagined in a post-apocalyptic setting with faster-than-light travel instead of ships! We think the albatross around the neck could be some kind of squid alien.”

“There may be a sucker born every minute, but most don’t wind up around your neck,” Leighton said to himself. He nodded as if interested.

“Stevenson’s Treasure Island as a disaster pic!” Scuttler continued. “The treasure is the key to stopping the earth’s tectonic places from sinking.”