Written by Luke Flood
As an ode to the tear-inducingly hilarious cinematic release of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, I give you my personal favourite small to big screen triumphs, as well as a collection of those that didn’t work quite so well. The art of adapting a well-loved television show into a critically and commercially successful film is a complex one. The filmmakers need to preserve what makes the TV version special without alienating those that might not be familiar with it, while also making the film appropriately cinematic without losing the programme’s raison d’être. Coogan and co have managed it brilliantly with Partridge, and many others have been equally successful, while some missed the mark painfully:
1. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992).
When David Lynch and Mark Frost teamed up to bring Twin Peaks to the world in 1990, no one could have predicted what a hit it was to become, and how could they? Telling a story that was part Lynchian horror story, part soap opera, featuring cookie cutter characters (the greedy, self-absorbed business man, the moody biker kid) mingling with those that must have been cooked up in a dream (giants, midgets and log ladies), the show became a cult phenomenon. So when Lynch (with Frost a notable absentee) released Fire Walk With Me after the show’s cancellation, fans were hoping for answers and closure to the series’ shocking climax. In typical David Lynch fashion, he went against the grain and produced a surreal, bewildering psychodrama that focuses more on the darker elements of the TV show rather than its beloved wit and charm. Critics mauled it, Cannes booed it and it became a footnote in Lynch’s career. But it’s a film made with verve and skill and that knows exactly what it wants to be. Fearless in its direction and ambition, Fire Walk With Me represents everything I would want out of a TV adaptation.
There’s no denying that comedies are easier to steer to Hollywood glory than more dramatic TV shows, but South Park’s only big screen outing to date is, for me, the pick of the bunch. Taking the TV show’s beloved and hugely successful format to the big screen could have been a breeze for its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Rather than phone it in, however, they chose to turn everything up to 11 and create a foul-mouthed, over-the-top, musical extravaganza. The key to the film’s success lies in the way it doesn’t just send up musicals, but pays loving homage to them. The undoubted highlight is the La Resistance medley, wonderfully paying tribute to Les Miserables while bringing us to the film’s dénouement. For those who think South Park is just a collection of gross-out humour and hooded adolescent murder, the film acts as a reminder that Parker and Stone are capable of some of the most hilarious and cutting satire around.
Cult sci-fi this time. Joss Whedon (of continuous small and big screen glory) brings his criminally cancelled Firefly to the cinema and captures everything that made the TV series so adored. Whedon takes his rag-tag bunch of planet-hoppers, throws some weighty drama at them, and keeps that trademark snappy dialogue that makes all of his TV work so engaging. If the film was guilty of anything, it was not quite managing to market itself to those not already familiar with either Whedon or the show itself (it didn’t even make its $38 million back at the box office). But if you’re a fan of anything Joss Whedon has made, of Star Wars, Star Trek or just great movies, I guarantee you that Serenity will not disappoint.
Okay, so I’m cheating slightly here. Wayne’s World came off the back of a sketch on American weekly comedyathon Saturday Night Live. It is, however, one of the most quotable, joyful and ridiculous comedies of the 90s and a constant (and these days, necessary) reminder of the natural comic talent of Mike Myers. Wayne’s World follows the escapades of the titular metalhead Wayne and his gloriously timid best friend Garth as they present their own public access TV show from Wayne’s basement. The comedy is easy-going and asinine, but the film is laced with a love for its subject matter and, more importantly, its characters. Wayne’s World went on to become a huge hit at the box office and spawned a more-than-decent sequel, but the original still stands up as the ultimate testament to the importance of party time.
It’s amazing to think that Sacha Baron-Cohen’s Borat started off as a minor character on “Da Ali G Show”. Cohen made an appalling movie based on the latter character before having the wherewithal to bring his incredibly offensive Kazakhstani TV presenter to cinemas. The film’s masterstroke is in sending Borat to America to learn about “cultural diversity”. Cohen uses Borat as a medium for the real American citizens in the film to channel their own ignorance and bigotry. The results are genuinely hilarious. Baron-Cohen sends up the peculiarities of American culture perfectly while using Borat as a representation of the way many of us look at people from Central Asian countries. Also, what could be funnier than releasing a chicken in a subway train?
1. THE AVENGERS (1998).
This 1998 version of the much loved English TV show of the same name is an example of how to get an adaptation wrong on every single level. The film obliterates the subtlety of the original characters’ relationship, ignores and misunderstands the charm and wit that made the television series appealing to its audience in the first place and, after appalling test screenings, Joel Schumacher and co ripped 30 minutes of content out, leaving the film making little sense as well as little money. One of the most memorable critical and commercial bombs of all time, its stars are probably only still working because they were far, far better than this to begin with.
I hold this particular film in such low regard because as I was watching it I felt as if the filmmakers were trying to erase the happy memories of my childhood scene by scene. I loved Thunderbirds as a kid and although it may have dated incredibly, I still remember it fondly as being a charming and quirky show made with care and love. The film doesn’t only represent a lack of respect for its origins with its hammy acting and tacky screenplay, but a complete lack of common sense to boot. Like the recent adaptation of The Lone Ranger, Thunderbirds was a big-budget film based on a series very few remembered and that was no longer culturally relevant. To make matters worse they aimed the film at an age group too young to have ever seen or cared about the TV show in the first place. The result was a commercial disaster, with the film barely making back half of its production costs.
Another live-action adaptation of a much loved animated series. The Flintstones’ saving grace is John Goodman, who is game throughout and must be the only human being on Earth who could play Fred Flintstone without coming across like a raving lunatic. Apart from Goodman, the film is a moronic, plodding escapade telling a hopelessly cliché story and doing so in a manner that insults both the audience and the original cartoon. A low point for all involved.
I know a lot of defenders of Michael Bay’s take on the successful toy franchise that became a classic 80s cartoon. Their main claim is that the film delivers what they expected it to: enormous robots fighting other enormous robots. That’s what they paid for and that’s what they got. I’d claim that if you set your expectations that low, a ball on a piece of string will entertain you for two hours. I hope we haven’t reached a point where as long as a film is about what the marketing tells you it’s about, we all leave the cinema happy. Transformers is over-long to the point of criminality, mildly mysogynistic, heavily idiotic and, worst of all, boring. I concede that the special effects are outstandingly well done, but what’s that old saying about excrement and polish..?
It pains me to include this in this half of the list — it honestly does. The Simpsons are responsible for some of my happiest TV memories of all time. I’ve laughed and cried at 200 or so episodes and those episodes can still make me beam with joy after seeing them literally dozens of times. The Simpsons Movie, though, represents the decline in the laughs, heart and overall quality of The Simpsons to the point that I just can’t stomach it anymore. Yes, we all laughed at Spiderpig, but when we’re sat at home and looking to spend 90 minutes laughing our heads off, how many of us ever turn to The Simpsons Movie to provide them? There are episodes of The Simpsons lightyears above the quality of the film, and what’s worse, there are plenty of comedy films that are equally as superior. The Simpsons Movie might not be as poor as the four films mentioned above, but in terms of the difference between the TV show at its best and the film at its worst, The Simpsons Movie is one of the worst offenders on this list.
So there you have it. Are there any glaring omissions in there? Want to disagree with my inclusions? Leave a comment below!