Last week I did a little dumpster diving on the Hollywood backlot and pulled out a collection of vomit-inducing big screen adaptations that failed miserably to live up to the TV series that inspired them. The putrid stench of their incompetence still clings to the walls at FOX, Warner Bros., and Universal. No amount of Lysol can combat these odious bombs.
Out with the bad; in with the good. Once in a great while, Tinseltown gets it right. The small screen to big screen transition — when placed in the hands of skilled practitioners — can be quite smooth. The following list of successes is the exact reason why TV series are such popular fodder for movie producers. Without further adieu, let’s frolic in a jasmine-scented meadow and drink from the cool refreshing waters of a babbling brook. It’s time to inhale some cinema goodness.
Here are ten sterling examples of films that upheld the honor of their television brothers:
10) Miami Vice (2006) – Seventeen years after Crockett and Tubbs put away their guns, Writer/Director Michael Mann gave the series he executive produced a treatment on film. The neon glitz and glamour of South Florida is beautifully captured in hi-def video. This movie is all about atmosphere and that’s where it shines: fast cars, fast boats, and fast women. I’m certain I’ll catch flack for liking it, but I’m cool with that.
9) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – The pizza-loving quartet of humanoid turtles with fists and feet of fury looks better than ever on the big screen. Based on the hit animated ’80s series, the live-action version keeps the “stoner” dialogue intact, but adds a darker, more sinister tone to the proceedings. Not just for kids, TMNT is an entertaining cult classic.
8) Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996) – Before MTV completely sold-out, they allowed Mike Judge to unleash his dimwitted slackers, Beavis and Butt-Head, onto society. Judge’s movie adaptation put a capper on the adventures of the head-banging, foul-mouthed duo. Their beloved TV gets stolen. A gut-busting journey ensues. Uhh… it like, doesn’t suck, or something.
7) The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) – The series was beyond ridiculous. So is the movie. It’s the same naïve, milquetoast Brady clan from the ’60s plopped into 1990s culture. We get Johnny Bravo and we get “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” The plot has something to do with overdue property taxes, but it hardly matters. They didn’t screw with the original characters, which is why it works. Gary Cole’s Mike Brady is spot on.
6) South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) – I can’t believe this came out ten years ago. I’m getting old. I don’t even like the show, but this movie is an absolute riot. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone ratchet up the raunch for their multiplex masterpiece. “Asses of Fire,” war with Canada and intercourse between Satan and Saddam Hussein are just a few of the highlights.
5) The Untouchables (1987) – Sean Connery nabbed an Oscar for his role in this crime saga that — for better or worse — put Kevin Costner on the celebrity map. Director Brian De Palma borrows liberally from Hitchcock to tell the story of Eliot Ness and his team of incorruptible federal agents. Robert De Niro hams it up playing Al Capone. Watched it again recently; it holds up pretty well.
4) The X Files (1998) – One of my favorite TV series translated wonderfully to film thanks to creator Chris Carter’s detailed and revealing screenplay. “The Truth Was Out There” and Mulder and Scully finally found it, sort of. The X Files had the luxury of hitting the big screen while the series was still on the air, making it a perfect complement to a truly groundbreaking sci-fi show.
3) The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) – Most people don’t recall the six episodes of Police Squad in 1982. That’s because no one saw them. Thanks to Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker — the geniuses behind Airplane! — the movie version took slapstick sight comedy to a new level. Unfortunately, the box office success of The Naked Gun franchise unleashed a vicious cycle of awful clones and parodies that continue today.
2) The Fugitive (1993) – Harrison Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble: falsely accused of murdering his wife, on the run from the law, and in search of the one-armed man. The cat and mouse plot is high on action and suspense. This is one of the more faithful adaptations to grace theaters. It received seven deserved Oscar nominations, with Tommy Lee Jones taking home gold as Marshal Sam Gerard.
1) Serenity (2005) – FOX botched the handling of Firefly back in 2002. I’m still pissed about that. Thankfully, creator Joss Whedon was able to tie-up the loose ends of his brilliant but unappreciated sci-fi series with this stellar movie. The origin of the “Reavers” and a truly menacing villain make Serenity one of the best science fiction films I’ve ever seen. Check that. It’s just a damn great movie period.
I feel so much better after writing this list. Good movies always improve my mood. I’m sure there will be some dissension regarding my selections, but that’s to be expected. So tell me, what’s your favorite movie adaptation?