Thinking inside the box: how film reboots work as TV series

We take a look at the mixed fortunes of recent attempts to reboot well-known movies on the small screen.
Zane Holtz and DJ Catrona in From Dusk till Dawn. Courtesy Netflix
Zane Holtz and DJ Catrona in From Dusk till Dawn. Courtesy Netflix

Lethal Weapon makes the leap from the big screen to small tomorrow – but there’s nothing new about turning successful movies into TV shows.

The results, however, have been variable, to say the least. For every gem such as M*A*S*H, there seem to be a dozen turkeys – Ferris ­Bueller’s Day Off, anyone? – that rarely last more than a season and often tarnish the memory of a much-loved movie. Why do broadcasters do it? What is the upside?

If you choose a blockbuster franchise, there is a ready-made built-in audience – but it is an audience already invested in an existing version of the story you want to retell, one that is easily upset and likely to loudly protest when favourite actors are replaced, or the rebooted story doesn’t match their expectations.

Opt instead to adapt a less well-known film that few people saw and, well, if they did not watch the film, why would they watch the TV show?

Perhaps the biggest challenge when developing a TV adaptation of a movie – even now in this “golden age of television”, when big name stars are increasingly happy to swap the big screen for the small screen – is how to approach the source material.

Purists might argue that a TV adaptation should essentially retell the story, perhaps from a slightly different perspective, and with extra background and depth than could be fitted into a two-hour movie.

It’s a perfectly valid approach, and one that can work well, as seen in 2014 in season one of From Dusk Till Dawn, which essentially retold the plot of the 1996 movie.

But therein lies the problem – once you have retold the original story, what do you do if the TV show is a hit and season two is ­ordered? From Dusk Till Dawn had a simple solution – evolve into a sequel and go off in whatever direction it likes. Original creator Robert Rodriguez helped to develop and produce the TV show, which no doubt helped to ease the fears of fans of the movie. Would they have been so amenable to someone else taking liberties with the characters without his involvement?

An alternative approach – as used by FX’s critically acclaimed Fargo – is to go down the “inspired by” route. The TV adaptation takes the 1996 movie’s iconic location, and tosses in a few loose connections to the Coen brothers’ film, but tells new stories set in the same fictional universe, in a similar creative style. Each season takes place in a different era, with a new cast and tells its own story – although the two seasons so far share links with each other and with the film. Judging by the number of awards the show has picked up, including two at this year’s Emmys, it is an approach that seems to work.

A third option is to adapt a film that fans do not consider somehow untouchable. Starzplay’s Ash vs The Evil Dead, for example, is based on Sam Rami’s cult Evil Dead movies. While the films undoubtedly have a hardcore fan base, the narrative basically goes “zombies attack, man kills zombies, lots of gore and laughs”. As long as the gore and laughs are kept in place, audiences should be happy. Also in its favour, though, are the facts that it is a sequel, not a remake, and that original actor Bruce Campbell reprises his iconic title role of Ash. Another interesting example is 12 Monkeys, which takes the basic idea of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 time-travel thriller – a man is sent from the future to prevent the destruction of the world – and uses the extra running time provided by a TV series to greatly expand and develop the potential of the concept, resulting in a surprisingly detailed, complex and thoughtful sci-fi thriller that fully explores the consequences of trying to meddle with time.

It is also worth noting how many successful TV adaptations come from the realms of cult cinema, particularly the sci-fi and ­horror genres, despite the risks of ­upsetting a notoriously loyal and fastidious geek audience. Done well, you have a cult classic on your hands (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example). Mess it up, however, and geeks can be very unforgiving – remember the ­seven-episode TV version of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1992? I didn’t think so.

There’s plenty more TV adaptations of classic films coming soon, including Westworld, The Lost Boys and The Exorcist. Can The Lost Boys match Buffy’s vampy vitality? Will The Exorcist exorcise the demons of TV flop, Damien, which was based on fellow 1970s horror hit The Omen? Will Westworld establish itself as the new sheriff in town? Tune in soon to find out.

Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM


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