With the dismal critical response to M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" from just about all corners, the fans of the original animated series are now bracing for crushing disappointment. As someone who's seen an awful lot of good source material chewed up and mangled by the Hollywood movie machine over the years, I feel their pain. I peeked in on a few online fan discussions that were already trying to put the movie behind them. There have been rumors of a new animated series from the creators of the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" cartoon and a few optimists still holding out hope for a sequel - directed by someone other than Shyamalan. But the word I'm hearing the most often is "reboot." The fans want a do-over, a second chance, like those afforded to "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Punisher."
The fact that this is even an option speaks to the franchise-fixated nature of commercial filmmaking these days. The entertainment news is currently trumpeting the casting of Andrew Garfield as the next "Spider-Man," though I'll bet if the audience had their druthers, they'd just as soon stick with the old one. Announcements for reboots and resurrections of of 80s children's franchises keep popping up like daisies. The latest one involves the return of Pee Wee Herman. It's not that I begrudge Paul Reubens the paycheck, but this is getting ridiculous. Sadly, in the rush to cash in on nostalgia and the past successes of older favorites, rarely do we see reboots for film franchises that could actually use them. "Airbender" is not likely to see a reboot any time soon because the stigma of failure is so strongly associated with it right now, and that's a shame. The source material is wonderful, and the right director could have turned it into something special. The same is true of many other would-be franchises that got off on the wrong foot.
So here's a short list of six more failed film adaptations that I think deserve a second try:
"The Black Cauldron" - Any Disney geek worth their mouse ears will remember the horror stories associated with the production of this misbegotten 1985 feature, which bears the distinction of being Disney's first PG animated film. A dingy, gloomy creation that looks like the result of a drunken barfight between Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth, "Cauldron" received mixed critical response and its box office failure almost sank Disney animation for good. However Lloyd Alexander's "Prydain Chronicles" fantasy series, which the movie was based on, remains a perennial children's classic with no shortage of fans. One of the few fantasy series that got better with each successive book, the final installment of the five-volume saga won the Newberry Medal in 1969. Disney reportedly still holds the rights to "Prydain," and if they'd like a good replacement for the "Narnia" series, they couldn't find better material.
"Doom" - I could fill this list with wretched video game adaptations, but I think the one that wasted the biggest chance at success was the 2005 film version of "Doom." The classic first person shooter couldn't have a simpler premise. A soldier on Mars fights demonic monsters unleashed by a science experiment gone bad. He has a lot of neat weaponry, including the hallowed BFG 9000. The monsters vary from unpleasant little pink hobgoblins to the marvelous meatball-shaped cacodemons. I have no idea how so much potential for fun, pulpy, 80s-style, overkill mayhem turned into such a dull, depressing exercise in cinema tedium. It didn't even have any meatball demons. And yet the original video game retains a place of honor in every gamer's heart, and should someone try to take another stab at the franchise, there shouldn't be any trouble attracting an audience.
"Aeon Flux" - I didn't find this adaptation nearly as bad as the critics made it out to be, and I'm an honest-to-goodness fan of the '90s MTV animated series, created by Peter Chung. However, Karyn Kusama's transplantation of the sexy sci-fi cartoon rebel, played by Charlize Theron, into a blander live action universe didn't connect with mainstream audiences. For all the superhero films that have gotten second chances, the subgenre of superheroine films seems to have been abandoned after a string of failures like "Catwoman" and "Ultraviolet." It's a shame, because there are never enough good female characters on the silver screen. Aeon is one of my favorites, a force of violent anarchy and disruption in a universe run by a neurotic megalomaniac. I'd love to see her get a second chance, but a little less Enya and a little more Lady Gaga this time out.
"Wild Wild West" - Have we all heard Kevin Smith's story about producer Jon Peters and the giant mechanical spider yet? The premise of the original "Wild Wild West" television show was simple, lighthearted, and fun: a buddy comedy set in the Old West, where a pair of government agents use improbable period gadgets to fight baddies and save the day. The film version fell victim to executive meddling, a nonsensical script, and an onslaught of mindless special-effects sequences. Hollywood clearly has not learned its lesson, since their latest attempt at a steampunk Western, "Jonah Hex," is apparently equally vile and overwrought. And yet, there's no reason why a successful adaptation couldn't be made. The first director attached to "Wild Wild West" was Richard Donner, who parted ways with the production to helm the far better "Maverick" in 1994, also based on a 60s TV western.
"The Seeker" - It was a crushing experience to follow the development of the film adaptation of Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising," as Walden Media systematically revealed that it had excised just about everything that made the books distinctive in the months leading up to the film's release in 2007. Why such very British source material, steeped in Welsh and English mythology, had to have its lead character rewritten into an American teenager, I will never understand. The five-book series, which like "Prydain" also won Newberry Honors, was one of the progenitors of "Harry Potter," yet the film version was so generic, it was accused of aping J.K. Rowling. I doubt anyone would have any issues with a filmmaker more well-versed in the material giving "The Dark is Rising" another shot, as "The Seeker" not only dumped the original title, but rendered the story completely unrecognizable.
"The Spirit" - Will Eisner's landmark 1940s crime comic is much beloved by many in the industry, and a film version was on many a fanboy's list of dream projects. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time to let Frank Miller, who was enjoying the success of film adaptations based on his "Sin City" and "300" comics, make his directorial debut with the feature. After all, Miller is an avowed "Spirit" fan, whose work is heavily influenced by Eisner. In retrospect, maybe the film's backers should have taken a good, hard, look at Miller's recent comics output, which was getting increasingly indulgent by the time Hollywood came to call. The less said about how miserably the Miller "Spirit" turned out the better, but suffice it to say that this is one of those films that everyone seems eager to forget ever existed. Hopefully, the title will go back on the fanboy lists of dream projects, instead of being the victim of Miller's very, very short film career.