David Fincher’s critically acclaimed (and financially successful) The Social Network hit DVD and Blu-ray yesterday, riding a wave of year-end top-10 list placement and Oscar buzz. But, lest we forget in all of the warm goodwill surrounding the picture, that it was far from a sure thing; the notion of “the Facebook movie” was mocked and snarked pretty widely while the film was in production (Will audiences “like” it? Har har).
But “the Facebook movie” had two saving graces. First, the cultural object on which it centered was still in vogue by the time the film hit screens — in fact, it had only grown in popularity. This is key, since the long lead-time of motion picture production (averaging at least a year from conception to delivery) often puts exploitative spin-off films into theaters long after audiences have lost interest in the phenomenon at hand. Second, it was scripted by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, neither of whom were interested in creating a disposable entertainment for a quick buck; when you’ve got real filmmakers in the mix, chances are pretty good that you’re going to get a real movie out of it.
Not every “fad film,” however, has been so lucky. After the jump, a look at a few less fortunate moments when the trivial and the cinema didn’t intersect quite so skillfully.
Matthew Vaughn’s darkly comic superhero movie landed with a thud in spring of 2010, to the surprise of many; some have blamed the film’s R rating, others a misbegotten marketing campaign, others the controversy over the language and violence connected to 11-year-old “Hit Girl.” But we’ve got another theory: the problem was MySpace. The other social networking site was all over Kick-Ass; the titular character solicits super-hero assignments and maintains his huge fan base via his MySpace page, as does friend-turned-villain Red Mist. In the world of Kick-Ass, everybody’s on MySpace; meanwhile, in the real world, MySpace was “pretty much an abandoned shopping mall” (in the words of comic Patton Owalt). This — and the frequent use of Gnarls Barley’s “Crazy” — gives Kick-Ass the uncanny feeling of a movie that’s been sitting in a vault since 2006.
Hey, who could blame Universal Pictures for wanting to get into the Vanilla Ice business? His 1990 album To The Extreme was fastest-selling hip-hop album to date, and his smash “Ice Ice Baby” was the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard pop charts. His film debut as a leading man (he had made a cameo in the immortal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze) was a PG-rated Rebel Without a Cause rip-off, with Ice’s “Johnny” riding his yellow-and-blue motorcycle into a backwards small town and sweeping a local girl off her feet with his smooth talk and rap skillz. (The role of Ice’s ingénue was originally offered to Gwyneth Paltrow, whose father read five pages of the script and advised her to turn it down because it could damage her career. Bruce Paltrow is a soothsayer!) But Ice’s star was already falling when the film went into production in April of 1991; by the time it was rushed into theaters that October, the public had turned cold on Ice (sorry), and it opened in an anemic 14th place.
In the annals of bad ideas, turning a still-airing television show into a feature film, and expecting folks to leave their television to pay for it in a theater, ranks pretty high (The Simpsons Movie notwithstanding). But Chuck Barris’s off-color amateur hour was a bona fide, love-it-or-hate-it junk culture phenomenon, so maybe he wasn’t too off-base in guessing that people might go to the cinema to see all the stuff he couldn’t show them on TV. Trouble was, the show was on its last legs by the time The Gong Show Movie staggered into theaters; NBC had pulled the plug on it back in 1978, and its syndicated run drew to a close in September of 1980, just a few months after its cinematic counterpart was greeted by hostile critics and empty theaters. Of the film version, George Burns quipped “For the first time in 65 years, I wanted to get out of show business.”
As a general rule, it’s probably best to stay away from any film with the title formula The (Insert Fad Here) Movie. But there’s a special place in movie hell for whatever genius thought that a series of spoof trading cards was fertile ground for the cinema. The cards, parodying the then-popular Cabbage Patch Kids (thank God we were spared that movie), were basically one-joke cartoon gross-outs, but the folks behind the film decided to make the movie into a live-action family comedy, with the title characters played by dwarves in terrifying masks. When the film was released in 1987, it was met with the same charges of inappropriateness that had followed the trading cards, and the distributors bowed to parental pressure and pulled its advertising campaign.
The Spice Girls had sold plenty of records when they made their feature film debut with this 1997 stinker, rather obviously designed to ape the breezy tone of A Hard Day’s Night with a splash of the spy-spoofing of the Beatles’ second film, Help. Trouble is, the Spice Girls weren’t the Beatles, and director Bob Spiers was no Richard Lester. Box office was disappointing, critical reception was odious (the leading ladies shared that year’s Worst Actress award at the Golden Rasperries), and less than a year later, Geri Halliwell had left the group, which never regained its pre-Spice World success (on this side of the pond, anyway).
So what’s better than a quickly-made cheapo movie about a second-tier song-and-dance craze? Two quickly-made cheapo movies about same, so frantic to beat each other to the screen that they end up opening on the same day! Lambada, if you’ve forgotten (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t) was a sexed-up Brazilian dance, equal parts merengue, salsa, and dry humping. Two rival filmmakers, attempting to cash in on the dance craze, turned their films out with remarkable speed — The Forbidden Dance, for example, went from script commission to prints-in-theaters in the space of about four months, with two editing crews cutting around the clock. Lambada brought an action before the MPAA title registry to get the “official” title for their epic, though The Forbidden Dance‘s posters got around that business by adding “…is Lambada!” as a post-title tag line. At any rate, it appeared that the filmmakers were the only ones who actually cared about seeing Lambada on the silver screen; they tanked with critics and audiences alike.
What do you think? Did we miss any flashes-in-the-pan that made it to the screen?