As though the well of creativity were really going dry, Hollywood scours for sources of inspiration like a 1849 California gold miner desperately hoping that sparkly stuff isn’t pyrite. Also, it seems logical that if something is successful in one medium, then the thing could be successful if adapted to a new medium. Books, comics, and television shows (and now already existing movies) are a common source of inspiration for movies (for better or for worse). But sometimes the sources are, well, really weird, like board games and amusement park rides. Any movie has the potential to be awful, and adaptations in particular can be tricky. One the one hand, the source material is probably familiar to audiences and already has a following. On the other hand, the source material is probably familiar to audiences and already has a following. Maybe trying to adapt board games and amusement park rides isn’t so far-fetched – expectations are already going to be low. But sometimes the adaptations aren’t actually that bad.
So here, in no particular order, are a few movies that I enjoy that were adapted from source material with questionable adaptation value.
1) George of the Jungle – adaptation of television shows is certainly not uncommon. There was a period, though, when Hollywood executives apparently stumbled on the Boomerang network after a night of heavy drinking and ruining careers and thought, “Hey, look, we can make a movie out of this. Do we own this Hanna-Barbera?” Hence, a series of pretty terrible movies like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right (and ones that truly make me sad). But this one was actually not too bad. The plot is a Tarzan rip-off meets a rich heiress and after some comic hijinks involved her self-centered fiance and Bulk and Skull, they fall in love and get married. George also smashes into a lot of trees. The movie is saved by not taking itself too seriously, a narrator who clearly doesn’t believe in a fourth wall, and John Cleese’s dry wit as the ape named Ape. In this case of adaptation, “George just lucky I guess.”
2) Wayne’s World – at some point, Hollywood executives decided that attempting to adapt 22 minute television shows into 90 minute movies was perhaps too much work, and instead starting to look at six minute comedy sketches for inspiration. Movies based on Saturday Night Live skits have a long and storied history. Most are bad. I mean, really bad. I mean, really, really, seriously, who-thought-this-was-a-good-idea bad. But this one, which is based off of fairly well-established characters in the SNL universe, wasn’t that terrible. Wayne and Garth end up cluelessly opposed to a TV station trying to buy out their cable access show and try to save it. Wayne gets a girlfriend and Garth is, well, weird. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that saves the movie from being perfectly awful.
3) The Blues Brothers – speaking of SNL skits, the trend start way back with this gem of insane cinema. Jake and Elwood Blues didn’t even have much character in the skits; they had a look, an attitude, and they sang. What made them tick? Who knows. But who cares. The plot, such as it is, is that the Blues brothers are trying to save their childhood orphanage from being closed down due to overdue taxes and decide the best way to do this is put their blues band back together and raise the money. Fabulous musical numbers and cameos from some of the greatest musicians of all time, plus some of the most amazing car chases ever put to film, make this simple plot into one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve ever seen.
4) Clue – I really don’t know how Hollywood executives made the decision to turn board games into movies. Okay, well, Wall Street is really a great live-action adaptation of Monopoly, but it’s not marketed as such, so it doesn’t count. This one was made a little while ago before someone decided Battleship should be a generic alien invasion flick based on a grid. I’m not saying this movie is great, but it’s actually pretty enjoyable. The murder mystery is pretty convoluted, but somehow it works. Tim Curry is amazing, as always, and the movie is extremely quotable and no one is taking it very seriously.
5) Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – and here one would think board games would be the bottom of the barrel for inspiration. But some Hollywood executive apparently got back from Disneyland and said, “I really loved that Pirates ride. Wouldn’t it make an awesome movie?” And apparently some other executives came back with, “That’s genius!” Nothing about this movie should have worked. Produced by a guy who loves explosions, starring Johnny Depp (okay, not so bad) doing his best Keith Richards impression (and that’s where it goes bad again), and a plot made up whole cloth to include a few nods to the ride. This thing should have gone down like the Titantic (the boat, I mean, not the movie). And yet somehow it didn’t. It was silly and fun and had great zombies and humor and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I saw it near opening weekend and I exited the theater wishing I had a buckle to swash and some treasure to find.
So the moral of the story, such as it is, is that sometimes even a blind squirrel will find a nut. That said, the squirrel would have better luck if looked for nuts around trees instead of parking lots (metaphorically speaking). On the other hand, I’d probably go see a big-screen adaptation of “Plants vs Zombies.”