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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005 01:37 am

When TV goes Hollywood

Many mediocre TV series are making it to the big screen — enough already!

The Dukes of Hazzard brings yet another mediocre television series to the big screen, and there is no end in sight for the trend. Pop quiz: what was the first television show adapted into a movie? If you guessed Star Trek you are way off. If your answer is Batman you are still off by one decade. Only three years after its 1951 TV debut Jack Webb produced and directed a film version of Dragnet, long before the cop show was considered camp. The next decade did bring a small flurry of sitcom adaptations, beginning with McHale’s Navy (1964) and McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force (1965), and followed by Munster Go Home (1966) and, of course, Batman (1966).

The modern trend of big-budget adaptations did begin with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). This is the Star Trek hated by Trekkies (they hate that name, too), but I think it is the best of the movies. Director Robert Wise broke free of the confines of the TV show to create a more majestic film, but the subsequent films were made to please the core audience. The most highly regarded adaptation is still The Fugitive (1993) with Harrison Ford in the David Janssen role. The film works best when it sticks close to the series, in which Ford is an innocent man accused of murdering his wife. He manages to escape custody, and with a U.S. marshal (Tommy Lee Jones) in pursuit he searches for the one-armed man who actually committed the murder. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough and the filmmakers felt the need to tack on a lame twist ending.

The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) employed the most interesting concept by actually using its series as the object for ridicule. The filmmakers understood that the Brady Family had no logical place in the ’90s, so they transformed them into society’s outcasts who have no idea how they are perceived. They became The Munsters without the makeup. Spoofing the original series, however, didn’t work for Starsky and Hutch (2004). The result is just a dumb comedy with few laughs and none of the cleverness that distinguished The Brady Bunch Movie.

The one to watch for this year is the science-fiction adventure Serenity (a September theatrical release), which is based on the prematurely canceled Fox series Firefly. A cult following was beginning to develop, but Fox was too impatient. The TV show is out on DVD, and any video store that doesn’t stock it is missing the boat. Speaking of missing the boat, why hasn’t The Rat Patrol been turned into a movie?

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Aug. 23): A Lot Like Love, Beauty Shop, and The Ring Two.

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