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Hollywood and Vine in Downtown TV Land
by William Bartlet

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At least they had a cool looking poster. I think...

At least they had a cool looking poster. I think...
With the success of GET SMART a few weeks back, a thought occurred to me that some in Hollywood may actually understand the concept of translating television programs to the big screen for our entertainment. Last year it happened with TRANSFORMERS (although I reserve the right to bicker about some of the characters being butchered by non-fan Michael Bay, but that's for another day.) SEX AND THE CITY managed to break out this year alongside GET SMART. There has even been rumors that FRIENDS could be the next small screen superstar to become big screen blockbuster.

With all of that in mind, I sat down to begin writing this week's column. I started doing the research, and it came to me that while there are some pretty good adaptations from television to movies lurking around out there, I would have a much easier time wrangling in the bad ones. So, that is what I did.

Now, before I continue I must confess a few quirks about my writing. I do like to make out lists. I have done that in every facet of my writing career. It is fun to break things down into lists and go from there. It is a beautiful thing which makes writing a column like this a little bit easier. In fact, my first piece on here might have been a lot better had I done it in this format. I know I would not have had to type "MPAA" over, and over, and over again.

I do not rank my lists. I think that it is foolish for anyone to try and make a top 50, top 25, top 100, top whatever. It is ridiculous. Opinions vary so much that even if everyone can agree on a movie, show, or song being bad it is impossible for everyone to agree just how bad it is. Same with the good stuff.

This is neither a complete list nor a ranked list of the worst television-to-movie transfers of all time. It is simply a compilation, in alphabetical order no less, of a series of television shows (sometimes not even good television shows) that became (in my view) bad movies.

There are others out there. In fact, there are some I had to debate putting on the list but removed to make room for other titles that I thought would be more entertaining to look into.

In essence; this is a bunch of random movies that I have gripes with that just happen to be inspired by television shows. Perhaps I should have written that sentence as an introduction rather than the previous six paragraphs.

Even in the 1960s this type of show seemed very improbable. It was an era where the Vietnam War was tearing the country apart, continual assassinations of public figures ruled the headlines at a rate akin to the body count in a slasher flick, and overall morale for Americans was in the toilet. As a result, much of the entertainment industry had become more gritty, jaded, and overall darker. That is why a show about a man and a woman (him with three sons and her with three daughters) meeting after previous marriages, getting hooked up, and then coexisting as though they were one big happy family seems incomprehensible. Yet, it happened, and it became a hit.

To this day it maintains cult status for anyone that either grew up watching the original run or grew up watching the countless repeats on superstations around the country. Even those who have never watched the show can not help but be able to at least hum the theme song when they hear the first few bars. (Here's a story, of a lovely lady...) Betcha got it stuck in your head now, dontcha?

The series' popularity brought about a spin off in the late 70s (The Brady Bunch Hour) and then two reunion movies that resulted in big ratings during the 1980s. These movies actually caused another series spin off (The Bradys) in the 1990s.

So is it possible for a series to have popularity in four separate decades and not get picked up by Hollywood? Well, no. Because Hollywood has never been able to leave well enough alone.

In 1995 THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE was released with all new actors filling the roles of the Brady family, and because there is no way on Earth the premise of the original show could be a movie by itself (even though YOURS, MINE, AND OURS seemed to handle the concept decently well while blatantly ripping off CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN), the 1995 film took the Brady family of the 1970s (complete with style, fashion, and sensibility) and placed them in 1995's California. Oh what laughs were to be found. Oh no, that's actually crickets chirping. They sound so similar (to a person wearing a miracle ear and forgot to replace the batteries.)

Now, I believe there is some correlation between this film's success (and subsequent sequel; A VERY BRADY SEQUEL in 1996) and my fear that the world was on the verge of ending in the mid-1990s. Then again it might have just been all the talk of Y2K and the millennium junk. One or the other. No matter what I think, the movie did become a hit so there is something to be said for dumb luck and folks liking their "wink wink, nod nod" humor. Actually, no it has to be the whole approaching the new millennium thing. It is the only explanation.

Steve Irwin garnered a reputation around the world for being a crazed animal lover that would do just about anything to not only save animals but also entertain crowds in doing so. As his adventurous nickname would imply, that was mostly wrapped around Irwin wrestling crocodiles in an attempt to capture them or move them to a new enclosure.

Somewhere along the line, American cable networks picked up on this individual and began showing his exploits in a show called THE CROCODILE HUNTER. The problem is that it aired on multiple networks and Irwin had an amazing collection of video that aired in other programs and specials besides his titular show. Thus, it is impossible to narrow them down to just one network or single show. In fact, the first time I saw the dude, Steve Irwin was going around the world in an attempt to pick up and handle the ten most venomous snakes on Earth. He succeeded and I was fascinated beyond compare.

Thus, Mr. Irwin's film was less inspired by a television show, but more from a character based on a real life person who was actually the same as the character he portrayed on television. I hope that made sense.

A lot of other people got fascinated by this guy, and in doing so Irwin became a pop culture phenomenon that never seemed to use up his fifteen minutes of fame. Even when he died from a freak meeting with a sting ray, Irwin seemed like an actual celebrity who had lost his life rather than someone from ten years ago that made us laugh a few times and then was out of site out of mind. You know, like when they cover the death of a former child star or someone from a sit-com in the 1970s whose claim to fame ever after had been infomercials at four in the
I spy a bad movie.

I spy a bad movie.
morning or a drug bust gone horribly wrong.

So with such a popularity pull behind him, and the fact that Irwin seemed like the character of Crocodile Dundee come to life, it was a no brainer that movie producers were seeing dollar signs in their eyes. Too bad nobody stopped to inform them that Irwin's death defying animal wrangling adventures were only guaranteed money when you knew they were actually death defying.

In 2002, CROCODILE HUNTER: COLLISION COURSE was released by MGM starring Steve Irwin as himself in an adventure to rescue a crocodile that swallowed a piece of government equipment before a couple of FBI agents get to the croc first.

Of course, the plot meant nothing because everyone wanted to see Irwin do nothing but wrangle crocodiles and play with cobras. In fact, a two hour documentary of Irwin doing nothing but that would have probably made twice as much as the $33 mil that COLLISION COURSE took in. Again, folks did not care about some fictional (and idiotic) plot about satellite beacons and bumbling FBI agents. Especially not when Steve Irwin's real life seemed so much more like a movie. That's another problem with Hollywood, no matter how amazing real life seems these guys always think they can make it better. Like when your soup needs a pinch of salt, and the waiter dumps a cup of paprika in the bowl.

Sometimes a movie can do just about everything right and still come up as a clunker. The original FLINTSTONES television show aired on the ABC television network from 1960 through 1966, and was beyond novel. It was an animated primetime series, something that was unheard of at the time, about a prehistoric family that had modern amenities thanks to some stone age ingenuity. People fell in love with the show's premise, and because it was a cartoon it had carte blanch to do what it needed to in order to achieve comedic effect. A writer could throw Fred Flintstone off a cliff and not have to worry about anything more than the action being drawn.

It is that kind of charm that only cartoons can produce. That is why, in 1994, the FLINTSTONES coming to life on the big screen ended up being less than charming.

In a rare case of Hollywood leaving well enough alone, the FLINTSTONES was transported to live action with little being adjusted. A few characters were introduced, but none were removed either. The storyline was about the same as one that could be found in any number of FLINTSTONES episodes. The producers even managed to find four living versions of the primary characters; John Goodman (Fred Flintstone), Rick Moranis (Barney Rubble), Elizabeth Perkins (Wilma Flintstone), and Rosie O'Donnell (Betty Rubble) all seemed to be cut from the same mold that saw Christopher Reeve be born to play the part of Superman. Well, that maybe a bit extreme (especially in O'Donnel's case), but they were, for all intents and purposes, three dimensional copies of their FLINTSTONES counterparts (once wardrobe and makeup did their jobs anyway.) The movie even gave everyone a reason to ogle Halle Berry without feeling that guilty. One cannot say the same for SWORDFISH, but I digress.

The only thing the film could not do was bring back the child like fancy that an animated series could muster. John Goodman sliding down the back of a dinosaur or Elizabeth Perkins vacuuming with a miniature woolly mammoth just come across as dumb rather than cute without that little bit of pixie dust known as animation (with a pinch of imagination thrown in.)

I think the best equation for this could be the difference between Mickey Mouse on screen and Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Mickey Mouse on screen is cool because he is a giant rat with ears that make the roof of the Georgia Dome look small in comparison and he can talk to boot. That Mickey Mouse is cool. Mickey Mouse running around at Disneyland is just some teenager needing the money and willing to remove his dignity to do so. Not unlike most exotic dancers. This Mickey Mouse is only novel for two things: being supported by a billion dollar company (yet making minimum wage) and not hurling in his face mask when the fourth little kid hauls off and hits him south of the mouse ears. That version of Mickey Mouse is the exact opposite of cool.

Not to mention the fact that a movie such as the FLINTSTONES is marketed towards children, and anyone would be hard pressed to get children to sit down and enjoy the FLINTSTONES without having any of the beautiful imagination that animation warms up in their minds.

So even with everything seemingly done right, the producers missed a big step somewhere along the lines and forgot what it was like to watch a cartoon rather than real life.

Of course if there was any doubt left in any mind whether or not the FLINTSTONES belongs on a list of good shows turned bad movies, then look no further than the sequel VIVA ROCK VEGAS. The less said about that horrendously bad idea the better.

The I SPY television series of the 1960s, which starred Robert Cup and Bill Cosby, was actually a really cool idea mixed in with a couple of great actors and made for awesome entertainment. The plot centered around Culp playing the part of international tennis star Kelly Robinson and Cosby as his trainer Alexander Scott. In actuality, this was just a cover for their day job as secret agents going around the world busting up terrorist organizations and crime kingpins.

I SPY broke new ground for television in the day by not only putting race on the back burner (Cosby was seen as an equal to white co-star Culp, and the fact that Cosby was black was never put into storylines at all) but also for shipping the stars all over the world to bring exotic locations into the mix for the show. Even modern day, major budget shows are rare to achieve this feat.

Stranger yet, especially with Cosby being a comic by trade, was the fact that I SPY was more serious in tone than many other secret agent shows of the time. Often I SPY was the only series on the air that did not give little wink winks to the camera while the characters delivered dialogue that found their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. In essence, I SPY was a drama and action flick and rarely--if ever--ventured into the waters of comedic exploits. It was exactly what television needed to create the perfect take off of the 007 franchise.

If all of this is true, then why on Earth was none of that to be found in the 2002 remake starring Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy?

The film version of I SPY reverses the roles of Cosby and Culp. In this case, the athletic Robinson is played by Eddie Murphy (though Robinson is no longer a tennis player, but is instead a world famous and cocky professional boxer) while Owen Wilson took the part of
The Flintstones: the way they were meant to be.

The Flintstones: the way they were meant to be.
Alexander (in this case Alex) Scott who is no longer a cool secret agent but rather a tight laced, high strung spy. I will not go into detail, but does anyone see just a hint of stereotyping or perhaps even reverse racism there?

The film did just about everything that I SPY, the series, refused to do. The entire movie was played completely tongue in cheek with the action and adventure being a secondary backdrop to the comic "stylings" of Murphy and Wilson.

Neither character came across as cool or smooth. Alex Scott was uptight and shown off as a man under stress while Kelly Robinson was a borish and brash superstar. The producers did not bother with subtly either. In the original series, the two stars would be apt to deliver comedy through one liners or jokes towards one another. In this case...well I can not finish that sentence because I have yet to find comedy in the 2002 version of I SPY. I will be sure to come up with a predicate just as soon as I am able to locate one.

I SPY became one of the biggest flops of 2002. Could the script have been saved had the writers and producers stuck more to the source material of the 1960s? Perhaps, but then again that might have meant theater audiences would have to endure Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson as two 1960s secret agents living in the 1990s. Wait, that might have worked. I think someone tried that. My memory is a little hazy. Austin something or other. Oh well, I am sure I will think of it later.

A group of secret agents, perhaps the biggest and best secret agents in the spy game, were called in for missions that were seemingly, well...impossible. These missions were so dangerous that a running gimmick on the show was for the messenger delivering the mission to let it be known that should anything go wrong, the government would suddenly forget these spies ever existed.

The show, running seven years before being revived in 1988 for another two years of spy goodness, was incredibly popular throughout its original broadcast lineage. Everything from the "this message will self destruct" voiceover at the beginning, to the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE theme, and even the graphic of a fuse being lit and running over the opening credits have become ingrained in American pop culture.

With Hollywood continually looking for easy made movies, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was a lock to one day find itself getting a makeover for the big screen. That happened in 1996 when seemingly any movie released during the months of May through July could do no wrong. Throw in Tom Cruise and a jacked up version of the original theme song, and there was no way this could not be a hit. It was a hit. Such a big hit that it has pumped out two sequels already, and could put out more yet.

So if it was a hit, and if it is popular enough for two sequels, why did MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE find its way onto my list of good shows with bad movies? Well, it's because of one minor quibble. Jim Phelps, originally played by Peter Graves, was always known as THE man when it came to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. He was so much a part of the MI legacy that the first movie wrote him in as a pivotal character. (FAIR WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD, READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVE YET TO WATCH THE MOVIES. YES I KNOW THAT NOBODY HERE HAS NOT YET WATCHED THE MOVIES, BUT I HAVE TO PUT A SPOILER WARNING UP JUST TO BE FAIR!)

Peter Graves was asked to reprise his role as Jim Phelps, and even agreed at first. This was simple enough. It would be a call back to the original series while at the same time letting the movie play out in action packed style with Tom Cruise getting to be the face of the film. Yet, the producers had something else in mind.

"Let's kill off Jim Phelps, and before we do that, let's make him a bad guy." I'm not sure if the producers actually said it that way, but there had to have been an exchange like that at some point in production meetings leading up to the start of the film.

When Graves found out what would happen to his beloved character he backed out of the project, and protested the idea behind it. Instead, veteran actor Jon Voight was brought in to take on the role of Jim Phelps, and more than a few MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE fans balked at the premise. Who wants to bet that Phelps' axing was done to make sure Tom Cruise looked like the only hero in the film? Ten to one says Cruise, the producers, or both thought that Graves' return might overshadow the main role of Cruise's character.

When I finally got around to watching the film a decade later (so sue me, a movie being sold on one scene where Tom Cruise is hung above a white floor like a marionette does not make me want to see a movie) I was decently impressed, but at the same time felt let down overall. It was stylish and action packed, but felt like an anti-climax when Phelps turned out to be the double agent.

So yes, it was a successful film. Yes, it is just as iconic as the source material it came from. Yes, many people probably liked the film more than the series. However, for me and a few other MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE fans, the movie did something unforgivable with the character of Jim Phelps. Not to mention the ludicrous motorcycle duel from the second one that had many a physics buff laughing in hysterically.

Some might declare this a stretch to fill up space on my column. I assure you that is not the case. There are many movies that could make this list that are being left on the editing room floor (but may make a future sequel list with a similar premise on a week that I am out of ideas and am just going through the motions with some retread of an old article...not that I would do that mind you.) READY TO RUMBLE makes the list because it was just that bad.

Wrestling was reaching popularity points it had never seen before throughout the 1990s. To help cash in on this new found old fad while also promoting their product to an all new audience, World Championship Wrestling came up with the concept of READY TO RUMBLE. A movie that would be nothing more than ninety minutes of glossy advertising for their television shows and pay-per-view events while making them a little gratis on the side.

The problems that READY TO RUMBLE brought to the table were too many to mention in a single column, and perhaps even a text numbering that which would be found in ten Holy Bibles might not be enough to list this film's black marks.

The movie openly mocks its own fans by portraying them as either dumb hicks or trailer trash. Sometimes it did both. Now, I may not know all there is to know about wrestling or movies but I do know when a movie is being marketed to a niche audience (in this case wrestling fans) that it is not a good idea to poke fun, in a less than fun manner, at that
I had a caption thought up, but I'm too busy humming the theme to type it.

I had a caption thought up, but I'm too busy humming the theme to type it.
very audience. It would be as if PASSION OF THE CHRIST ended up being two hours of Mel Gibson attacking Christianity. I'll bet you thought there was a joke of another sort coming, but no. I am above that sort of thing.

READY TO RUMBLE incorporated actual wrestlers into the mix yet tried to have the fans buy into Oliver Platt, a purposely out of shape Oliver Platt, as the wrestling world's biggest star. Now even the most sheltered and well protected person could look at Oliver Platt and realize this is not the man to be playing the part of a superstar pro wrestler. Most people think of wrestlers and then immediately think of muscular beings like that of Hulk Hogan or cool athletic types such as Dwayne "I swear you call me the Rock one more time and I rip your lungs out" Johnson. They do not think of semi-overweight men who are being portrayed as drunken hicks.

Perhaps the movie's biggest problem was attempting to write a storyline around the idea of wrestling being fake while at the same time selling the audiences on the idea that everything happening to the primary hero of the story being real. At times real life pro wrestlers would chastise the two key characters in the film for not realizing pro wrestling is fake yet still trying to get over the idea that these wrestlers really did want to fight the hero of the story in a wrestling match. Yet, if it is all fake do they really want to fight him or just "fight" him? It is like that old paradox "The man that tells nothing but the truth says that he is a liar."

READY TO RUMBLE managed to garner only $12 mil at the box office which proved the movie wrong right away. Wrestling fans are not dumb hicks. They are, however, good at picking out movies that suck.

James Garner and Robert Conrad played the part of two gun slinging law enforcers in a technologically advanced version of the Western United States during the post Civil War era. The show was conceived as an attempt to create a hybrid of the slowly dying western genre that had been prevalent on television for over a decade and the exploding secret agent genre that was burgeoning in the late 60s. Such an outlandish premise seemed all but impossible, yet it worked.

The show was memorable for action, adventure, incredible stunt and fight work, and even for comedic exchanges between Garner and Conrad. In essence, the WILD WILD WEST was a movie series made for television on a weekly basis.

In 1999, Hollywood decided to take that very concept and turn it into a single movie (perhaps with ideas of a string of sequels and a full fledged franchise in their heads as well) starring Will Smith in James Garner's role as Jim West and Kevin Klein taking on the part of Conrad's Artemis Gordon.

So far so good. After all, Smith was coming off of a couple of action packed movies in INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and MEN IN BLACK (1997) that threw in bits of comedy of comedy with plenty of action; exactly what the original WILD WILD WEST was all about.. Then there was also world class actor Klein who was considered perfect for the role of Gordon. On the series, Robert Conrad had to perform in dozens of disguises. Thus a versatile actor had to be brought in to cover that part. In Klein's defense, he did this to a tee and was excellent even if this movie's bar of excellence was low enough that a toddler could tip toe over it.

There was even a scene where Salma Hayak got to show off her butt in a pair of oversized, trap door pajamas. I mean, this movie had everything.

Everything including a ridiculous amount of slapstick humor. Way too much humor. In fact, the action and adventure the original show became known for seemed to take a backseat or only exist just to give the producers an excuse to do something else awkwardly unfunny and obscenely underwhelming in the name of action pack slapstick (if there is such a thing.) A scene that was, apparently, supposed to be the peak of intensity and action saw Smith and Klein captured by giant, magnetic collars and forced to run around a corn field being chased by huge saw blades. Yet, sure enough there is less action and drama in this sequence than there is a lot of so-so humor as the two men do their best impression of Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello. I will not even get into the flame throwing bra from later on.

Perhaps the biggest problem that effected the movie was that bane of so many television shows-turned movies; tongue in cheek ideology. Apparently modern movie audiences would never buy such a concept as a technologically advanced wild West, and there is no way they would get behind secret agents of that period. Thus, the only way to do such a movie is to turn it into a cliché ridden spoof that only has traces of the original heart and soul of the 1960s series.

That rarely, if ever, works (I do not want to hear arguments about THE BRADY BUNCH because I still refuse to acknowledge that film as a success.) Movie audiences will buy into a guy in blue pajamas and a red cape flying around saving the world. They will buy into a giant bat scaring the begeezus out of criminals throughout a crime ridden city. Movie goers will buy into the idea that terrorists love capturing secret agents and putting them into execution devices rather than just shooting them in the head.

The point is, if a screen writer or director tries hard enough, an audience will buy into whatever concept is presented to them. That's called losing your sense of disbelief. It is the same concept that allows fans to watch HARRY POTTER and not continually wonder how the laws of physics can be broken in such outlandish ways.

Yet, the producers of THE WILD WILD WEST did not understand this concept, and decided to poke fun at the original show through not so casual winks at the audience, while anyone that watched the original WILD WILD WEST (or anyone that enjoyed fun cinema) either yawned or walked out of the theater.

To say the least, the WILD WILD WEST was not Will Smith's biggest summer sensation of all time. However, he can take solace in knowing that the sequel to MEN IN BLACK was actually worse than this film. That, by itself, is an accomplishment of monumental proportions.

However, that is also a rant for another day. I have poured over many a bad or overrated movie to put this week's column together. That is enough for anyone to be ready to call it a day. I hope everyone enjoyed, and perhaps even (dis)agreed, with this look at good television turned into bad cinema. If you have any shows that I skipped over in this list that you would like me to look at in the future, drop me an e-mail and I will be glad to put together another column like this down the line.

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Reel Rantings
Every other Saturday

Reel Rantings is simply what I feel like talking about as far as it pertains to movies and the movie industry. One week it maybe serious, the next comical (or my idea of comical) and the next abstract in design.

Other Columns
Other columns by William Bartlet:

To Tell the Truth: Stories Behind the Movies

MPAA: Four Little Letters; One Giant Pain

William Bartlet
My (pen) name is William Bartlet. I graduated high school in 2000 and briefly "attended" (or got jacked around by) the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) before dropping out to try my hand as a writer. Here I am today still trying, and having a great time doing it. As far as movies are concerned, it can be said that I am a walking clash of styles. I love action adventure movies as much as I do "chick flicks." I cheered during "The Punisher" and cried during "Pretty Woman."

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to William Bartlet by clicking here.

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