I doubt many of us thought the 1973 movie Westworld would make a complex, intricate, profound TV series. After all, there was already a series based on the film, in 1980, which failed almost immediately. Theme park robots become self-aware and rebel against their human creators. It's basically Jurassic Park. How intriguing could a TV version be?
Creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy showed us. And now we'll have to wait more than a year to see what's next for Ford, Dolores, Maeve, and the rest of the gang.
That got me to thinking. Are there other dystopian films of the 1970s that could be re-engineered into a dark, addictive TV series? I think so. Here are my ideas. Network executives, you know where to find me...
The Movie: In 2022, the world is over-populated, suffering from climate change and pollution, with high poverty and unemployment. New York City is bursting with 40 million people. Police detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) investigates the death of a wealthy businessman and uncovers a shocking secret about the company that supplies "ration crackers" to the starving populace.
The Series: This film is dark. The disparity between rich and poor, the assisted-suicide centers, the cruel riot police that pick up protesters with garbage-truck like machines... it all makes a viewer in 2016 very uncomfortable. Thus, Soylent Green would be a great setting for a series. Even without the mystery of the title product, there could be a lot of interesting storylines as both rich and poor struggle for every last resource before society collapses—or battle to keep civilization intact. The police are the last defense against anarchy, which makes their investigations and moral choices all the more important.
The Movie: This overlooked 1973 film is a touching look at environmentalism. In the near future, all plant life on Earth has been destroyed. Entire forests full of specimens are kept in giant domes on space freighters until they can "one day return to grace our foul Earth." When the orders are given to end the mission and destroy the domes, one freighter's botanist (Bruce Dern) uses his robot assistants to mutiny and protect the last of the planet's forests.
The Series: I think the premise of the film could make for a cool series: What is life like aboard these giant starships, far from Earth, maintaining the world's last plant life? The movie shows a clash between the "hippie" botanist and the "grunt" freighter crew, which could be interesting. The robot characters are fun as well. Once the order is given to destroy the domes, what happens? Even if the domes can be saved, Earth doesn't seem to want them. What's the long-term plan? Perhaps the crews of different freighters have their own ideas about which orders to follow. This could lead to combat, espionage, revolt, and other compelling storylines.
The Movie: The premise is simple. In the 23rd century, everyone lives a life of leisure and pleasure. Until they turn 30. At which point they're killed. The 1976 film follows an enforcer (Michael York), called a "Sandman," who eliminates people on their 30th birthday... and then flees as he approaches the deadline himself. Curiously the age was upped from 21, in the book, to 30 presumably to accommodate the stars.
The Series: There actually was a short-lived series based on the movie, in which Logan and his companion Jessica flee their home city and travel post-apocalyptic America looking for the mythical land of Sanctuary. Once outside their domed city, they encounter strange societies, robots, and even aliens who have landed on Earth undetected. All this sounds good to me. Each stop on Logan's quest allows for commentary on the modern world, much the way The Walking Dead does. (Speaking of which, isn't that show basically a TV version of the 1971 movie The Omega Man?). Played for drama, thrills, even horror, I think a Logan's Run series could last a long time on modern TV.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Movie: An electrician in Indiana (Richard Dreyfuss) has his life turned upside down when he and his town encounter alien spacecraft... and eventually alien life. A parallel storyline follows an organization dedicated to hosting and communicating with the visitors. When the aliens make their official arrival, the electrician is there—and is welcomed aboard.
The Series: Creepy, unexplained goings-on can make for great TV, whether it's The X-Files or Stranger Things. The miniseries Taken (produced by Close Encounters director Steven Spielberg) dealt with the alien-abduction phenomenon, and now we have the comedy version in People of Earth. The themes are profound: What's it like to be abducted by aliens? What if no one believes you? What if you aren't sure of it yourself? And if the aliens are real...what do they want? What are they waiting for? What can anyone do about it? I think a series focused on chills and mystery could make Close Encounters feel very relevant and compelling.