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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CRY U.N.C.L.E. AGAIN

CRY U.N.C.L.E. AGAIN

I’ve written before about the profound influence The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show has had on my life – specifically in my choice of careers as both an L.A.P.D. cop (had to work somewhere with initials) and as a writer.  Currently, we are a little more than two weeks away from the August 14th premiere of a rebooted, reimagined, major Warner Bros. feature film based on the original television series, which first aired on NBC fifty years ago.

The film is not a remake, so I am not going to spend more than a paragraph on the segment of fans of the original series who have curmudgeonly decided, sight unseen, that the new movie is a travesty and an insult to the memories of their childhood. They are upset because the film is not a carbon copy of the original series, does not (most probably) include the original U.N.C.L.E. theme music, and stars current actors who are not clones of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum (the original stars of the series). To those fans I can only say, “Get a life.”

Personally, I can’t wait to see (on an IMAX screen opening night) what director Guy Ritchie has done with the original material. From the looks of the thrilling (yes, thrilling) extended trailer released at the recent – packed – U.N.C.L.E. panel at Comic-Con, Ritchie and stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have captured lightening in a bottle. Those things that set the original series apart from other spy shows and Bond imitators are all in place – the sixties cold war setting, the light touch of humor, and the actual characters (as opposed to just the names) of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (respectively Cavill and Hammer). 

Sight unseen, I’m stoked. But let’s back up a sentence or two. Did I say a packed Comic-Con U.N.C.L.E. panel? There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but it’s an excellent measure of how U.N.C.L.E. has once again captured the public imagination. I’m more used to mentioning The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and receiving blank stares from the current generation – “Dude, you must be really old. I have no idea what you are talking about.” I dare not mention the first season was in black and white.

Suddenly all that has changed and U.N.C.L.E. is back on the radar. Almost every pop culture and entertainment magazine has featured extended, positive coverage of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film. Young, popular, YouTube bloggers are doing retrospectives on the series to bring everyone up to date while expressing anticipation for the new film. There are billboard ads and U.N.C.L.E. one-sheets pasted and posted everywhere. There are press parties in Rome, premiere parties in England, and the stars of the film are on red carpets everywhere promoting the film as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and every other form of social networking large or small. Heck, there is even new U.N.C.L.E. merchandising – the first in forever – in the form of branded plastic soda cups from Carl’s Jr. And don’t even look at the prices the original U.N.C.L.E. toys, games, guns, gum cards, books and comics are garnering on e-Bay.

For me, the biggest indication the movie is going to play strong, is Warner Bros. decision to move the film from its original release date in January 2015 – the traditional dumping spot for films the studios think are going to tank – to a prime August spot at the end of the blockbuster season. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. even scared the studio behind that other successful ‘60s series reboot, Mission Impossible, into moving the release date of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation forward to two weeks earlier than the U.N.C.L.E. release. Now, that’s a great sign those in the know are taking The Man From U.N.C.L.E. seriously.

For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted this isn’t the first Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film release. During the height of the original show’s popularity there were eight U.N.C.L.E. feature films released. Six simply comprised two-part episodes of the actual show edited together with added footage to spice things up (One Spy Too Many, One of Our Spies Is Missing, The Spy in the Green Hat, The Karate Killers, The Helicopter Spies and How to Steal the World). The two other films, I believed, were expanded versions of original episodes release to international markets (To Trap A Spy and The Spy With My Face). 

These cobbled together movies made a lot of money both domestically and overseas for the U.N.C.L.E. franchise and added immeasurably to the world-wide tidal wave of U.N.C.L.E. fever. In 1983, there was even a made-for-TV movie, Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. ~ The Fifteen Years Later Affair, complete with the original actors. However, this new U.N.C.L.E. film is the first truly big screen adaptation of the material. 

I really liked what new U.N.C.L.E. director Guy Ritchie did with the venerable character of Sherlock Holmes in the two films starring Robert Downey Jr. Again they were not remakes, but reimaginings, bringing Holmes to a whole new generation of fans and paving the way for the popular current television series Sherlock and Elementary. I’m expecting no less from Ritchie’s take on U.N.C.L.E.

Am I setting myself up for disappointment? The curmudgeons certainly think so as they point again and again to previous disasterous attempts to bring popular television series from the same era to the big screen. I agree the movies based on I Spy, The Wild Wild West, Starsky & Hutch, and The Avengers (the real Avengers not those costumed clowns) were pretty much unwatchable. But Mission Impossible has won through and my money is on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. doing the same.

If not, I’ve had a blast enjoying the build-up and have delighted in seeing a new wave of potential U.N.C.L.E. fans cresting at just the right time.

Open Channel D …

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