Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: The best and worst TV show adaptations

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In an era where films adapted from toys, board games and even ice blocks are commonplace, basing a movie on an old TV show almost feels quaint.

This week sees the release of a film based on the 1987-91 drama series 21 Jump St.

Although the movie is much more of a comedy than the series and only really borrows the central conceit, we should probably steel ourselves for another barrage of TV show adaptations, as the film opened extremely well over the weekend in America and a sequel script has already been commissioned.

I enjoyed the 21 Jump St movie - it's got some nifty ideas, an endearingly scuzzy charm and a better laugh-rate that of most comedies I've seen recently.

It's not the best TV show adaptation I've seen, but it's far from the worst.

Skipping over the gargantuan pile of '70s British movies based on sitcoms like Are You Being Served? and George and Mildred, the modern trend for movies adapted from TV shows can be traced back to one somewhat forgotten film: 1987's Dragnet, starring Tom Hanks and Dan Ackroyd.

Based on the legendary 1951-59 American cop drama of the same name, Dragnet set the tone for many of the TV show adaptations that followed in that it ironically poked fun at the most memorable aspects of the show while adopting a more contemporary genre - in this case, the buddy-action comedy.

It didn't set the box office alight, but its high-concept embracing of a fondly remembered TV show set the ball rolling on a pop culture nostalgia-fueled trend that shows little signs of slowing.

So what are the best TV show adaptations? I have a soft spot for the Mission: Impossible series, which reached new heights with the recent fourth entry, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. The first three films are all fantastic action thrillers in their own right - even the often-derided Mission: Impossible II.

The films' faithfulness to the original series came under question when the first entry was released and the character of Jim Phelps (Jon Voight in the movie, but played by Peter Graves in both the '60s and '80s versions of the show) turned out to be the bad guy.

But overall, I consider these the top films of their genre in the modern era, besting both Bourne and Bond.

1993's The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford (remember when he was in good movies?) is another stellar update of a much loved TV show, and holds up as one of the best action thrillers of the '90s. US Marshalls, a 1998 spin-off focusing on Tommy Lee Jones' character, was pants.

Brian De Palma's 1987 film of The Untouchables was both a critical and commerical success, and its Oscar glory helped spur interest in further TV show adaptations.

Michael Mann's quickly forgotten 2006 film of his own series Miami Vice is an underrated exercise in stylistic cool that deserves another look.

Josie and the Pussycats (2001), based on the Archie-related cartoon series, is a surprisingly savage satire of marketing and consumer culture, and is pretty darn hilarious. But hardly anyone has seen it. Check it out!

Not enough people know that 1987's The Naked Gun was based on a short-lived 1982 TV show called Police Squad! (it's well worth seeking out), and repeats many of the gags from the six-episodes-and-gone show, which also starred Leslie Nielsen.

But the movie is much more of a natural extension of the series than a nostalgia-derived stand-alone movie.

Like Joss Whedon's 2005 film Serenity or 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture movie, last year's The Inbetweeners Movie, based on the beloved British comedy series, leads on directly from the end of the show that inspired it.

The Inbetweeners Movie also sticks amusingly close to the aforementioned British proclivity toward making movies out of sitcoms, typically which feature the cast going on a beach holiday (See also Kevin and Perry Go Large, Holiday On The Buses, Mr Bean's Holiday and Porridge).

The two cinematically-released movies based on The Addams Family (released in 1991 and 1993) garnered some mileage out of a tongue-in-cheek approach, as did the two movies inspired by The Brady Bunch (1995 and 1996).

An attempt to take a similarly ironic approach with 2009's Land of the Lost yielded uneven results, but the film is better than its megaflop reputations suggests.

The 2010 film of The A-Team had some impressive action, but wasn't particularly memorable.

But what about the real stinkers? The Mod Squad, a TV show that many people felt saw as an influence on 21 Jump Street, got a little-seen movie adaptation in 1999 starring Claire Danes and Giovanni Ribisi. It is terrible.

Aeon Flux was a game-changing, mind-blowing MTV cartoon in the '90s that was turned into a dire live action 2005 film starring Charlize Theron. Disowned by creator Peter Chung, the film represents one of the biggest lost opportunities in sci-fi cinema.

The 1998 movie of Lost In Space is giant pile of bad special effects and nonsensical plotting. The Saint (1997) starring Val Kilmer, attempted to pull off a Mission: Impossible, but failed miserably.

The trend reached its nadir with 1999's Wild Wild West, an embarrassingly overblown remounting of a little remembered '60s show which was bold enough to include a 'The' in the title. Hollywood studios are afraid of the word 'The'.

The first X-Files movie was okay, but the recent one was awful.

Any recitation of bad TV-to-film adaptations would be incomplete without mentioning Charlie's Angels, The Flintstones, Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, Inspector Gadget, Get Smart, Sgt Bilko (based on The Phil Silvers Show), both Scooby Doo movies and Yogi Bear. And Bean. And Sex and the City. And Sex and the City 2. I could go on.

Most of these films failed to justify their existence, but the degree to which brand-awareness now drives studio filmmaking ensures we will never be without films based on TV shows.

What are you favourite movies based on TV shows? Which ones do you hate? Who's up for an unironic Macgyver movie? Did anyone out there see the George & Mildred movie at the cinema? Comment below!

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