Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
This weekend, the latest cinematic adaptation of a small screen venture makes its way into cineplexes. Charlie’s Angels is the second cinematic incarnation of the popular 70s action adventure series. In honor of Elizabeth Banks’ second feature film as director and her first adaptation of a popular television mainstay, I want to look at my five favorite television adaptations.
While these may not be the all-time best TV adaptations or everyone’s agreement on the topic, these five films are among my favorites. Here they are in order of release.
Before digging into my favorites, a couple of honorable mentions. The Brady Bunch was an adaptation of a different kind. While most films that adapt from television programs try to keep the tone of the original, this adaptation strayed from that tone by turning the whole thing into a satire of the period in which it’s set by taking the original characters and putting their 60s mentality into a 90s context and the results were hilarious. The other is Serenity, which was based on the Joss Whedon series Firefly, which was unceremoniously cancelled by Fox and has since developed a huge cult following. Serenity largely kept the tone while turning it all into a massive cinematic adventure. It was great fun even if it was mostly more of the same.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
There are two types of potential adaptations of television series. One is with a new cast, which several adaptations have done in recent years. The other is to bring back the original cast. That’s what happened in 1979 when the original stars of Star Trek reunited on the big screen for their first of six outings. While their first attempt was a mediocre beginning, their second film remains the high water mark for the original series cast.
Taking a character introduced in the original series, Jack B. Sowards and Harve Bennett craft a compelling revenge drama wherein Khan (Ricardo Montalban) seeks to destroy Kirk (William Shatner) for exiling him to Ceti Alpha V. Finally realizing that writing a movie like a television episode was the wrong course for the first film, they righted that ship with their second attempt. The results remains a genuinely great science fiction film, not just a great Star Trek film.
The Addams Family (1991)
Charles Addams’ popular comic strip featuring the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky Addams Family was first adapted to television in the form of a brilliant sitcom starring John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, and others. The short-lived series remained popular in syndication before finally finding its way to the big screen in 1991 with a far more famous cast.
Raul Julia takes the role of Gomez Addams with Oscar winner Anjelica Huston at his side as his wife Morticia. Christopher Lloyd, Christian Ricci, and others bring the dynamic and quirky family to the big screen in a sumptuous and richly detailed production (nominated for an Oscar for Costume Design). The film was entertaining throughout and never felt like it was pandering to fans of the series like so many other adaptations do. That it spawned a solid sequel shows just how well this cast works with this material.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
The first film in a long-running franchise adapted from the 1960s TV spy thriller set the tone for what has been one of the most consistently strong television adaptations in history. Introducing new characters that weren’t in the original series, Tom Cruise leads a cast that would expand and improve over time.
The action and adventure of the Brian De Palma original was a nice change of pace from the more regimented and materialistic James Bond series and showed audiences that big screen adaptations don’t have to be literal or direct adaptations of their source material. While other films in the series have been better, this original outing demonstrated just how to make a great adaptation and how to lay the framework for quality productions for decades to come.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
When Captain Kirk and company left the big screen in 1991 with their sixth and final outing, Star Trek: The Next Generation had become one of the most popular syndicated series in history and was entering its fourth year on the air. As that series came to an end in May of 1994, it wouldn’t be gone long, making the leap to the big screen that November. Like the original series cast, the first film for the Next Generation cast proved to be a fun, but inconsequential endeavor. But, like the preceding six-film series, the second film for the Next Generation crew proved to be the high water mark for Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and company.
Taking one of the most menacing threats ever to face the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek‘s utopian future, Picard and his crew must go back in time to stop the Borg from assimilating the planet Earth and stopping first contact with the Vulcans, destroying Federation history with ease. The various themes and events in the film were written by longtime Trek scribes Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Ronald D. Moore and they pop, giving the audience a riveting adventure with ups, downs, betrayals, and more. As this film proved, every adaptation has the potential to be something amazing and can oftentimes become exemplary of the genre itself, much like the preceding television programs were.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
It isn’t often that director Guy Ritchie delivers something more than his stylish action thrillers. Yet, for his adaptation of the 1960s spy thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E., his excessive style worked well with the material, creating an intoxicating and surprisingly engaging competitor for the James Bond crown.
The film was unfortunately a box office failure, which ultimately nipped any franchise prospects the film had in the bud, which is a massive disappointment. Ritchie’s films can hardly be called great, but U.N.C.L.E. brought together a strong cast with Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, and Hugh Grant each delivering amiable performances. While I’m certain this production diverted greatly from the original’s tone, there’s no question that the end result is one of the most entertaining spy films in recent years and it’s lamentable that it wasn’t more popular.