x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

When is it a good idea to adapt successful TV series for the big screen?

Good television is not always material for a watchable film.

Ben East looks at when it's a good idea - and how often it's a bad one - to adapt successful television series for the big screen

For fans who religiously tune in to their favourite television series every week, the big-screen film adaptation initially appears to be the exciting and logical next step, a veritable seal of approval from Hollywood. After all, who wouldn't want to luxuriate in feature-length storylines free of advert breaks, backed by bigger budgets and smarter special effects?

Well, quite a lot of people, actually. Late last month, news surfaced of Dr Who and Battlestar Galactica movies, and the reaction from fans on messageboards was somewhat less than enthusiastic. In the case of Dr Who, it wasn't difficult to see why. Even though David Yates - who directed the last four Harry Potter movies - seemed to be the perfect choice to helm the adventures of the very British Time Lord, it was his warning to the US entertainment magazine Variety that really caused consternation.

"It needs quite a radical transformation to take it into the bigger arena," he said.

It seems the movie adaptation will have very little connection with the much-loved TV series, which enjoyed a hugely successful revival under the stewardship of Russell T Davies in 2005. "Russell T Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch," said Yates.

Not only does that sound suspiciously like there may be a "reboot" of the story, but it also means there's likely to be two Doctor Whos kicking around in 2013, the film inevitably diluting the impact of a new series. Confusing stuff - although not as odd as the film of the British political satire The Thick of It. In the Loop used many of the same actors as the television series, but most were in different roles. Weird.

And the lesson of The Simpsons Movie is that even when the best writers - or actually the same writers - are employed for the film adaptation, it doesn't necessarily follow that the transition will be seamless. The whole charm of the Springfield-set cartoon is that it's a speedy 30 minutes of scabrously funny family antics. A feature film requires a completely different sense of pacing - and The Simpsons Movie didn't quite know whether it was a long episode or a proper film. In the end, it was neither.

Still, at least the director David Silverman's effort was largely true to the television series loved by millions. The Battlestar Galactica movie in development already seems fatally flawed - because rather than draw on the incredibly successful 2004 series, which mixed sci-fi adventuring with political drama and psychological suspense, Bryan Singer's planned movie adaptation will apparently take us right back to the original 1978 show from Glen Larson. There was a reason that series only lasted one season: it was complete rubbish.

Only the most nostalgic and myopic of Battlestar fans could possibly suggest that this is the right way for the adaptation to proceed. And the criticism of movie tie-ins is that they cynically trade off a willing and ready-made fanbase before riding roughshod over mythology that has been carefully constructed over a number of years. In short, they don't add anything to the series, they simply take away. Which is why Ron Howard's words on the cast and producer's motivation for a potential Arrested Development film were so refreshing.

"It sounds a little bit corny," Howard told E! Online last week, "but... they really feel like they want to respect what the fans are saying."

Let's hope it doesn't end in disappointment. But we won't hold our breath. The successful adaptations are rare; David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me distilled the brilliantly bizarre television series into something far more coherent and is now considered one of the director's masterpieces - although at the time it was panned. JJ Abrams's Star Trek movie was generally well received, too - not least because the writing and production team were big enough fans of the original series not to mess with the mythology too much. It also helped, of course, that there was no current television series with which to confuse it.

But when the likes of Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men are suggesting that television series are the "new" movies anyway, it's advisable for Hollywood to stay away from adapting them. It's the length and detail of an episodic television series that make them so engrossing, and film can never match that. Unless, of course, you fancy sitting through 12 hours of a Battlestar Galactica prequel in the cinema, and we don't exactly recommend that.

 

artslife@thenational.ae