The first nine minutes of the new TV series adaptation of 12 Monkeys has just been released and boy does it ramp up fast! Gilliam’s adaptation (1995) and the Chris Marker short La Jetée (1962) on which it’s based both have a sort of slow burn to their narratives, and considering Gilliam’s was a single feature length film and Marker’s was a mere twenty eight minutes, I fear that the series may be making a misstep by starting so fast considering they have so much time to tell the story – but whatever draws in your audience, I guess. In any case, the upcoming premiere of 12 Monkeys brings to mind a host of other television series adapted from movies – many of which no one has ever heard of (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father?) but some of which were actually quite good, even some turning out to be better than the original film. Considering it seems to be a growing trend, especially within the Marvel universe with shows like Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. and the newly premiered Agent Carter, it might pay to take a look back to where we came from.
While it’s probably more common to find animated TV series adaptations from animated films – such as Disney’s wide range of mediocre series covering the continued adventures of Aladdin or The Little Mermaid – once in a while you find it just makes sense to produce an animated series from a live action film. Movies like Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice are expensive and special effects heavy, making a live action series impractical. However, if all the special effects are simply animated instead, you save a whole lot of money and can market your series to children and adults alike. While the series is adapted from the movie, instead of Beetlejuice being the antagonist he is Lydia Deetz’s otherworldly friend. Aside from that, they still get into all kinds of trouble and travel through the bizarre locals of the Neitherworld together.
The Pink Panther
This is another animated TV series adaptation from a live action movie, and perhaps one of the most classic examples of such. The Pink Panther movies were more about the bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) than they were necessarily about the high profile thief the pink panther. In the animated series, a take-off of the animated opening title sequence from the films, Clouseau plays a huge part but the focus is all on the suave panther outsmarting the oafish detective – sort of like a more stylish and jazzy version of the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. If you were ever a child, chances are you remember catching an episode or two from the series during your Saturday morning cartoon block.
The Dead Zone
This is a TV series adaptation from a movie adapted from a book – or really more likely adapted just from the book with a glance at the film. In either case, The Dead Zone is a classic Stephen King novel about an ordinary man who spends five years in a coma after a car accident and awakens to find he can now tell the future by touching people or objects. What should have been an amazing movie directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken is really more of a bad-movie-night laugh riot. The television series stars Anthony Michael Hall as the psychic Johnny Smith, who struggles with his new powers while working to accept the life that passed him by as he slept. While Walken was just too strange to play the everyman – whose name is Johnny Smith for a reason – Hall fits right into the (handsome) average Joe mold, allowing the audience to more easily relate to his plight.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This is definitely a case where the TV series adaptation was better than the movie. While the original movie was written by Joss Whedon, there was so much lost in the translation from page to screen that Whedon basically ended up disowning the project. The series, however, is magnificent. Not only is it a true ensemble piece, but it also broke barriers, bent rules, and examined delicate life issues in an intelligent and creative way. These issues changed, of course, as the series went on and Buffy and her friends grew up. It is one of the few shows where the target audience grew up with its protagonist and could constantly relate to her increasingly mature problems. And in case you didn’t know where the “musical episode” trend came from – love it or hate it – it came from Buffy.
There are few movie-to-TV series adaptations that essentially maintain their basic tone from big to small screen. While Altman’s movie is ultimately much darker and racier, the overall darkly comedic and humanistic tone carries over to the eleven season series. Granted, what you can do and show in movies is often much different from what you can do on cable television, necessarily making the series a much more family friendly affair than the often overbearingly bleak humor of the film. The characters are much more likable as well, considering they would at least have to be bearable to watch in a long form production.
There is exactly one thing I love about Stargate the movie, and that one thing is James Spader. There is a lot to love, however, about the ten season TV series adaptation Stargate SG-1. Not only does it have a wonderful cast (including MacGyver himself, Richard Dean Anderson), but it infuses the story with a humanity and humor sorely missing from the overblown, sterile film. It’s not just about a science fiction alien war – it’s really about people, the relationships between characters, the joy of exploration, and the battle against ignorance, but without being heavy handed. It’s one of the few science fiction shows that takes place in the present and in our reality, allowing the characters to make all the pop culture geek references that its audience are already thinking – and it’s pretty cool to be involved in their world on that level.