HBO is already hyping its soon-to-launch original series based on the 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld. And now Galaxy Quest, Hollywood’s hilarious 1999 send-up of Star Trek, is slated to become a series. It’s a trend!
Sadly, experience suggests we keep our expectations low for both efforts. Science fiction rarely translates well from the silver screen to the small screen. Case in point: Planet of the Apes. The original 1968 movie was awesome. The TV version was awful.
Most TV adaptations fail because they never move beyond the original premise of the film. A successful transition to a series requires both an engaging plot that travels beyond the starting storyline and engrossing characters who continue to evolve as the tale unwinds. This formula can work, but studios need to pick better material. Here are six films that are strong enough to be made into viable series.
#6 The Thing (1982). This film is a re-imagining, not a remake, of the 1951 original. An alien shows up at a remote arctic ice station, devours the occupants and assumes their shape. This freaks out the remaining survivors who spend the rest of film trying to parse co-workers from gruesome monsters. (A 2011 sequel was a dud, failing to build on the originality of the previous films.) For the series, let the monster go global, and show us how people in different climates and cultures approach the challenge of containing the contagion. And, let’s get some insight into the alien, too. How and why did he come to Earth? And what’s the plan for after he’s eaten everyone?
#5 Forbidden Planet (1956). This film set a high bar for the future of Hollywood science fiction films with gorgeous color, imaginative sets, super cool technology and a strong story. A mission sent to rescue lost colonists on a distant planet discovers the remnants of a forgotten race and the limits of humanity. While the story is futuristic, the sensibilities of the film are straight out of Eisenhower’s America. Picking up with the adventures of the cast and crew, but keeping to the norms of social and cultural transformation from the 1950s to the 1960s, could deliver a super engaging science fiction version of Mad Men worth watching.
#4 A Clockwork Orange (1971). Take a toxic mixture of uncontrolled materialism and dysfunctional socialism, add moral decay — and you’ve got postwar Britain. Project it into a not-too-distant future, and you’ve got the world of A Clockwork Orange. It offers everything the enterprising young man could want: violence and ignorance—and a little Beethoven. This formula could work as a politically incorrect exploration of life in today’s USA. Any number of current social pathologies, if run to their absurd extremes, offer endless material for scriptwriters eager to outrage sponsors and attract fans. There could be a whole season just on the fallout from people who spend their days mimicking Justin Bieber.
#3 Dark City (1998). This atmospheric film—as underrated as it is groundbreaking—tells the story of humans kept captive in a city somewhere in deep, dark space. They think it’s just another day at the office, but an alien race is studying them, reshaping the city, their memories and their lives each night. It’s a massive experiment to find out what makes the human mind tick. The movie ends with humans breaking free of alien enslavement. What then? They’re still in a city in deep, dark space, although one of the humans has now developed alien-like powers. This story could take so many directions, it could keep the scriptwriters busy for a decade.
#2 Serenity (2005). Okay, I’m cheating here. This film about a freebooter spaceship and its adventurers evolved from a cult hit TV series. The movie answers all the questions left unanswered in the show, but the characters are so compelling and this universe so interesting, it would be great if a cable show could just live there for, oh, say, forever.
#1 Idaho Transfer (1973). Here, a secret government project sends some teenagers time-travelling to a post-apocalyptic America. The mission: to figure out what went wrong. Naturally, when they get to the future, everything goes wrong. It’s a film almost no one has seen—and for good reasons. Directed by Peter Fonda, it features amateurish acting, almost inaudible mumbling for dialogue, sluggish pace, and a nearly incomprehensible storyline. But wait, it also delivers an out-of-nowhere ending that has nothing to do with anything else in the movie. No spoiler–watch the film. Despite all its flaws, it’s engaging and imaginative cinema. But most importantly, it leaves the audience wondering: What the hell was that all about–and what happens next? There couldn’t be a better premise for a stoner series.
There you have it: six shovel-ready concepts, ripe for the piloting. So, producers, have at it. I guarantee you’ll have at least one fan.
When not giving Hollywood free advice, James Jay Carafano directs national security and foreign policy studies for The Heritage Foundation.