So, yeah, Sony Picture Animation – the visionary genius group behind The Smurfs live-action/CGI film from last year – has decided to make a feature film of Manimal. Like for serious. Do you remember Manimal? Few do. It’s the short-lived 1983 TV series about a doctor who could turn into any animal. Due to the budget of the show, however, he usually only turned into a hawk or a panther. The show lasted eight episodes.
As William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I commented on the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast: “Huh?” Really, Hollywood? Did you run out of board games to make into movies? Is Manimal really where we’re going with the already-way-way-played-out remake trend? The answer is, evidently, a resounding “yes.” Manimal, man. Manimal: The Movie. Seriously, I never thought I’d see the day. But then, I never thought I’d see a CGI Scooby-Doo, a blaxploitation The Honeymooners, a world wherein there are two films called Halloween II, a big-budget movie version of the Transformers, a remake of Arthur, a remake of Fame, a remake of The Hitcher, a remake of When a Stranger Calls, a feature film of Astro Boy, a feature film of Speed Racer, a prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and two different versions of both the Hulk and Spider-Man within a decade. Of course, in my mind, all bets were off when Space Jam came out in 1996. That was the end for me. I was convinced, at that moment, that Hollywood would do anything. Even make a Battleship movie.
I’m not going to whine about this trend. The whining is over. My philosophy is a bit more relaxed by now. If I want it to stop, I simply have to resist seeing any of these films. Vote with your dollar. When Rubik’s Cube: The Movie is released as an Avengers-like mythic tie-in with Candy Land and Hungry Hungry Hippos (as it inevitably will be), you can choose not to see it, not to talk about it, to ignore it. You can stop it. But for now, Hollywood’s shame needle has been ripped off and buried out in a field along with all the good unmade screenplays that studios constantly pass up in order to make that feature film version of The Lorax.
And, so long as that’s true, let’s liven it up a little. Even though many of the popular TV shows and movies have already been optioned for film or remake treatment, why my mind is diseased with many, many more cheap, unknown TV shows, not unlike Manimal, that are ripe for A-list studio feature film treatment. Seriously, I didn’t have cable TV growing up, so I became (perhaps unfortunately) familiar with a lot of obscure network TV. Hollywood, if you’re listening, we need film versions of the following TV shows, pronto:
I already mentioned this on the show. To elucidate: M.A.N.T.I.S. ran from 1994 to 1995, was created by Sam Raimi and Sam Hamm (the screenwriter of the 1989 Batman film), and aired rather unfortunately on Friday nights at 7pm, a terrible time for kids’ action shows. The show followed a paraplegic doctor named Miles Hawkins (no doubt an allusion to the real-life wheelchair-bound astral physicist Prof. Hawking) played by Carl Lumbly, who, with the help of a buddy played by Roger Rees, invented a special metal exoskeleton that not only allowed him to walk, but gave him super strength. Like Batman, the death of someone close to him activated his justice gland, and he became a night-dwelling superhero named MANTIS (Mechanically Augmented Neuro-Transmitter Interception System). He had a flying car, and special darts that could paralyze bad guys. If superheroes are so hot right now, and Marvel is actually going ahead with their plans on Thor sequels and obscure stuff like Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d say a legit big-budget feature version of M.A.N.T.I.S. is totally doable. I mean, it can’t be any sillier than Ant-Man, right?
The Man from Atlantis
The Warner Archive recently added this obscure 1977 TV show to its roster of print-on-demand DVDs. In it, the inimitable Patrick Duffy plays the last survivor of Atlantis, and uses his water-based powers to solve crimes. He had gills, so could breathe underwater, and, yes, even had webbed fingers. The show lasted 17 episodes. We all know it’s but a matter of time before more popular underwater superheroes like Aquaman and The Sub-Mariner get their own feature films, but I think Hollywood still has trepidations about the popularity of water heroes, and the expense of all that water CGI (think of films like Titanic and Waterworld and how much they notoriously cost). I would encourage Hollywood to test the waters, so to speak, with a lesser-known, but still established character like Mark Harris, The Man from Atlantis. You can expand the show! Make him more alien! Explore the myth of Atlantis more fully! Involve a great James Bond-like underwater conspiracy to hide nuclear bombs! The U.S. deliberately sank Atlantis! The possibilities are endless! And it’s a show everyone knows! No they don’t!
The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer
Often hailed as one of the worst TV shows of all time, 1998’s The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (pronounce the “P”) ran for a mere nine episodes before being consigned to the scrap heap. Reviews were so bad for the show, the network that ran it could only advertise by pushing the most scathing reviews, hoping for a bout of reverse psychology. The tasteless premise was this: Desmond Pfeiffer (Chi McBride), the butler of Abraham Lincoln, was actually the genius in the White House, and was the one who was secretly feeding all of the brilliant speeches and policies of the 16th president to him. Lincoln, by contrast, was a fumbling horny boob who couldn’t put a sentence together. I saw one episode of this show. It was dumb and tasteless. Which makes it perfect for the movies, right? In the wake of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the recent trend of inserting zombies in classic literature and historical events, why not take a little steam out of this Lincoln guy? The film, however, would only work if it, like Anonymous, took its premise totally seriously, and behaved as an actual exposé of Lincoln’s “incorrect” legacy.
Most people of a certain age watched this show, which ran for four whole seasons. It was about a bland, white suburban family who lived with a homemade life-like robot named Vicki (Tiffany Brissette), and the wacky shenanigans that ensued from keeping the robot secret from neighbors, very much like ALF or Sigmund & The Sea Monsters. Vicki, as some drunken confessions have revealed, was a lust object for many people. A cute sitcom may not work in today’s ultra-pumped four-quadrant marketing environment, so the only obvious choice is to take the show and HYPERCHARGE IT! It takes place in the present, and Vicki is now an upgraded adult robot, programmed for high-octane assassinations and hot loving. The story can follow her reunification with the family that helped raise her, and perhaps the discovery that Ted (Dick Christie) is the one indirectly responsible for the evil robot army that has been growing underground for the last 20 years. Harriett (Emily Schulman) has been stalking Vicki for years in a quest that is half vengeful vendetta, and half Sapphic attraction. A highlight of the film, like the show, would have to be Vicki’s various robot abilities, so she’ll have to kick ass, yes, but also shoot coffee with her fingertips, turn her head into a lawn sprinkler, or keep funny things in her chest cavity, accessible through her breast panel. You know you’d watch it.
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
Few might remember this one, but it was very exciting for certain boys, and took the notion of TV/Toy tie-ins to new heights. The premise of this 1987 one-season wonder was very much like The Terminator or The Matrix: in a dystopian future, machines (led by Lord Dread and Blastarr) have taken over the Earth, enslaving some people, and storing others in a TRON-like computer system as a prison. A be-helmeted hero (played by Tim Dunigan) was the leader of a resistance force who was hellbent on rescuing the human race. Their central foes were half-human cyborgs called “Biodreads.” The show was cheap, had dumb dialogue, and one glance at the costumes may have many young audiences giggling. The brilliant part of the film, though, was its actual interactivity with the Captain Power toys. If you had a Captain Power pistol or action figure, it would react to lights in the show, and the viewer could take hits and dole out damage to the characters on the screen. Much like a video game. Imagine the same tie-in idea given the modern technology. Kids could use their smart phones to scan the screen, looking for bad guys. They could receive extra instructions from the Captain himself. Perhaps a digital print could be made that would show more damage to the bad guy depending on how many kids “shot” at it with their Captain Power app. And, given the cool dystopian premise, it might also actually make for an awesome, awesome movie.
Hollywood, if you move ahead with any of these, I’ll expect a check.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
When we complain about movie remakes – and we complain a lot, don’t we? – the arguments tend to stem from the fact that the movies and TV series being “reimagined” for young audiences tend to have been done right the first time. Otherwise, the source material wouldn’t have the name-brand recognition that makes it valuable enough to repurpose. Total Recall didn’t need a remake. The original film works great to this day. The same goes for The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still or Arthur, to name just a few recent remakes that paled in comparison to the original.
But remakes are not inherently “bad.” There are way too many great remakes out there to claim that as an axiom. There’s a damned good reason to remake a movie now and again. One of the best reasons is when the original has either aged badly or wasn’t that good in the first place. The movie remake – if you can call it that – of the short-lived, cheesy television series “Manimal” is a pretty silly story if you think about it, but for once there aren’t throngs of existing fans either complaining or praying that Hollywood “gets it right.” If Sony Pictures Animation pulls off a movie that’s even halfway competent, they can chock it up as a win.
Remakes of low-quality, or at least unpopular source material may lack the name-brand recognition that makes them easy to market to audiences, but they also have ideas – sometimes even great ideas – that audiences aren’t necessarily familiar with to the point of contempt. “Manimal” was about a superhero who turns into animals to solve crimes. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever, and since the original is at best an obscure pop culture punchline, the writers actually have freedom to make any changes necessary to make it work better this time, as opposed to dealing with characters and plotlines so well established that telling them differently in any way risks screwing up the entire film.
So Hollywood, if this is the route you’re taking, I applaud you. Let’s remake more crap. Nobody will complain, and you might end up looking pretty heroic if you make “Captain N: The Game Master” kick ass somehow. If you’re looking for more suggestions of bad or at least little known, culty television series to adapt, then look no further. Witney had some great suggestions. Now it’s time for a few of my own.
Heil Honey I’m Home!
When I first heard about this television series I thought it was a lie, or at best a “Family Guy” sketch that got blown out of proportion. But sure enough, a sitcom about Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun and their wacky Jewish neighbors wasn’t just written, it was successfully pitched to an actual television network, produced and actually aired on national television, in the United Kingdom, for one whole episode. But the funniest thing about the “Heil Honey I’m Home!” is that it was actually really funny. It sounds horrifically offensive, and I suppose it is, but it’s also alarmingly self-aware of its sitcom artifice and the way it can make almost any behavior seem innocuous. It would have felt right at home on Adult Swim. Maybe it was a decade or two ahead of its time, maybe it’s just a horrifying idea no matter how you slice it, but in today’s age of extreme subversive comedy (have you seen what Sacha Baron Cohen gets away with?), you can almost imagine Will Ferrell or Steve Carell doing something pretty hilarious with it.
Dead at 21
One of the first original dramatic series produced by MTV back in 1994, Dead at 21 is a largely-forgotten chase thriller that starred Jack Noseworthy (Barb Wire) as a 20-year-old genius who discovers that he was the subject of a scientific experiment at birth, and that the microchips implanted in his brain will kill him on his 21st birthday. The series was reasonably competent despite its low budget, but the concept has real legs, playing into the seemingly ubiquitous youthful paranoia that life ends, in this case literally, at adulthood. It’s Philip K. Dick for the Hunger Games crowd, and it could be a pretty cool thriller with the right director at the helm.
There are more crappy animated series than I think we’d care to count, but if any studio is looking for a franchise to compete with Transformers… well, “Robotech” would be the way to go, since it was legitimately awesome, but on the crappy front they could do a lot worse than “Dinosaucers.” Humanoid dinosaur aliens land on Earth and turn our planet into their private war zone, just like Transformers, except they’re all dinosaurs. That's all there was to it, really. Kind of a bad series, but the action figures alone could recoup the budget of the movie, and with enough verve and just a little wit, the movie itself could be a neat little popcorn adventure for the kiddies.
Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills
There were more “Power Rangers” rip-offs than I think anyone would care to count, and despite series like “Big Bad Beetleborgs” stinking up the airwaves, “Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills” was easily the worst. Low production values, worse acting than usual (which is saying something) and a concept that tells pre-teens that tattoos are both cool and thoroughly appropriate for their age bracket? It just screams out for an ironic comedy treatment, lampooning the conventions of the genre with just enough of a special effects budget to make the giant monster fights actually look kind of cool. Treat it like those Scooby Doo movies but with a more consistent tone and bring that brief pop culture phenomenon kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.