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VULTURE DROPPINGS OF THE WEEK: TV Shows Adapted for the Big Screen

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Its Friday! Which means it’s time once again for a weekly video round-up of my favorite pop culture atrocities, misfires and entertaining trainwrecks. This week’s theme: TV Shows Adapted for the Big Screen.

Let’s face it, most TV shows are basically filler content to pad out commercials for stuff like Sham Wow and Cialis (which may or may not cause restless legs syndrome). It’s a medium made for multi-tasking. You can keep up-to-speed with the plot of most shows even while you’re eating Chinese takeout and filling out tax returns with NPR in the background. And for every show like A&E’s Mad Men, there are ten versions of The Biggest Loser and The George Lopez Show.

So why do Hollywood Studios insist on adapting so many of these shows into feature films? Sure, it saves them the time of coming up with new material, but, more often than not, TV ideas just don’t translate well to the big screen. What works for thirty minutes on the boob tube might very well be wretched if stretched to two hours and shown in a multiplex, as the following entries demonstrate…

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1. ‘DRAGNET’ (1987)

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Dragnet had it’s start in radio and TV, before making its big screen debut in 1987.  The groundbreaking television series was created by Jack Webb and became known for its baritone narration, gritty storylines and an ominous four note theme song. It was an instant hit when it debuted in 1951 and lasted for eight seasons. When it came time to create the movie version, screenwriters Alan Zweibel (of SNL fame), Tom Mankiewicz (who also directed) and Dan Aykroyd (who also starred) decided to toss out the show’s dramatic elements and replace it with zany comedy. They also modernized it and came up with a goofy sidekick role for Tom Hanks.

dragnetWhat resulted is a parody that’s torn between capturing the original show and being hip. This is evident in the movie’s opening sequence. We hear Aykroyd describing Los Angeles in that famous baritone narration. He goes on to detail the sentencing of a menacing criminal whose mug shot is flashed before our eyes. Then the title credits begin with a hip-hop reimagining of the Dragnet theme, complete with cheesy spoken word sound bites of the tag line “Just the facts”. This worked for Batman, but Dragnet, not so much. Upon its initial release, the movie was a modest success financially, but it has since failed to stick around in the annals of pop culture. Variety called Dragnet:

more innocuous than inventive.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Posted below is the original show’s theme song, the movie’s trailer, a scene from it, and the official “City of Crime” music video. It must be noted that this song actually sold well as a single and the video received lots of airplay on MTV the summer Dragnet was released. Never heard of it? That’s okay. You’re not the only one.

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2. ‘MR. MAGOO’ (1997)

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Disney’s live action version of Mr. Magoo, starring Leslie Neilsen in the title role, is one of the stupidest adaptations to ever grace the silver screen. The character was created by UPA animation studios in the MR MAGOO CAR COLOR CROPlate 1940s, appearing in various shorts and television specials, as well as his very own series in the 1960s. However, by the time of the movie’s release in 1997, Mr. Magoo had pretty much disappeared from view. In the cartoon, Magoo is depicted as a cantankerous, blind old man, always causing a commotion because of his stubborn refusal to admit his problem with sight. The movie stays faithful to this joke. Unfortunately, faithful means having scenes of Neilsen driving recklessly, mistaking the decorations on a woman’s hat for hors d’oeuvres and then mistaking a sarcophagus for a phone booth.

Mr. Magoo boasts the tagline, “The eighth blunder of the world,” which, coincidentally enough, describes the movie perfectly. It was directed by mr_magooStanley Tong, who also directed most of Jackie Chan‘s early Hong Kong action movies. You can see why he was chosen for the job, as producers must have thought that his signature action sequences could add a little excitement to the Magoo slapstick. It didn’t. Instead, the movie prematurely ended Tong’s career in Hollywood. To date, it’s the only English language film he’s directed.

Mr. Magoo also has the grand distinction of having received a rating of 0% from Rotten Tomatoes. The Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert perhaps said it best in his review:

Mr. Magoo is transcendentally bad. It soars above ordinary badness as the eagle outreaches the fly. There is not a laugh in it. Not one. I counted. I wonder if there could have been any laughs in it. Perhaps this project was simply a bad idea from the beginning, and no script, no director, no actor could have saved it.

True that. Posted below is an excerpt of the classic cartoon as well as the movie’s maniacal, “throw everything at the wall” trailer.

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3. BEWITCHED (2005)

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Bewitched is a beloved sitcom that has found its proper home in syndication heaven. It was originally broadcast on ABC from 1964 to 1972. The plot is as follows: A witch (Elizabeth Montgomery) tries to lead a normal life by marrying a mortal (Dick York and later Dick Sargent) and funny things happen along the way. Simple, right? A supernatural sitcom with lots of charm and good chemistry between the leads. It’s easy to see why producers wanted to make it into a movie. Audiences already knew and loved the characters and they would surely fork over some dough to see it in the theater. So plans were set into place. According to IMDb, the Bewitched movie was going to be a traditional adaptation produced by Paramount Pictures and directed by veteran actor Ted Bessell. He died unexpectedly during pre-production in 1996, however, and the screenplay ended up traveling into the hands of several different writers before the idea was axed altogether.

bewitchedFast forward a few years. Columbia Pictures bought the rights and hired the Ephron sisters (Nora and Delia) to bring it to life. They had done so well with such gems as When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail that their involvement must have seemed like a sure bet. Fast forward to 2005. Bewitched opened in theaters across the country and enchanted nobody. It got horrible reviews and only grossed $62M, $20M less than its estimated budget. Turns out the Ephron sisters over-thought the whole TV adaptation thing. Their intellectual minds could not bear to stick to such a simple story. The result is a meta-comedy about a witch in real life who auditions for the role of the witch on a remake of the series Bewitched. Clever. Too bad the plot is so ludicrous and lame that you can’t take it seriously from the first second. And Too bad Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrel have no chemistry together. Maybe the producers should have just let sleeping ideas lie… especially their over-use of the iconic nose twitches.

Posted below is the original show’s theme song, the movie’s trailer and two scenes from it. In one of them (also seen prominently in the trailer), Kidman uses her magical powers to humiliate Ferrel on the set by making him cry out with weird, indecipherable noises. The only problem is that this same joke was already used in Bruce Almighty to better effect. It’s sad when a movie’s biggest comedic set piece is a blatant ripoff.

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