Theme of the summer
Instrumental to making a movie
By Todd Leopold
(CNN) -- Let's face it: Anything can be source material for a movie.
"Casablanca," recently released in a special two-disc DVD set, was based on a minor play called "Everybody Comes to Rick's." A whole string of films from the past 10 years, from "The Brady Bunch Movie" to "The Beverly Hillbillies" to "Charlie's Angels," have been drawn from old TV shows.
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," a 1981 film with Kristy McNichol, Dennis Quaid and Mark Hamill, was based on a particularly melodramatic song, as was "Ode to Billy Joe" (1976).
Now there's "S.W.A.T." -- the first movie based on an instrumental TV theme song.
If "S.W.A.T." were based on the TV series, it wouldn't have much to work with. The original show ran for less than 18 months on ABC and was better known for being excessively violent (for its time, the mid-1970s) than for sharply delineated characters or particularly noteworthy plots.
So why do we remember it? And why would Hollywood want to make a movie of something with virtually no name recognition or life in reruns?
Well, there was that great theme song -- all gutsy bass line, charged-up horn section and classic funk touches. A studio group called Rhythm Heritage took the instrumental to No. 1 in 1976, one of the few TV theme instrumentals to top the charts.
So there you have it. A movie not just based on a TV show or a song, but a TV theme song with no lyrics. Talk about your blank slates. Perfect for a summer movie.
"S.W.A.T." is in our sights, this week in Eye on Entertainment.
The nice thing about blank slates is, well, they're blank. Anything goes.
In the case of "S.W.A.T.," that means that some of the character names match those in the TV series -- Samuel L. Jackson plays Steve Forrest's character, Lt. Dan "Hondo" Harrelson, and Colin Farrell plays Robert Urich's Jim Street -- but the story can be constructed from whole cloth.
So what do the screenwriters come up with? A drug kingpin who tries to break from custody by offering -- on television, on pretty much every station -- $100 million to someone who can free him. Then there's a plane that lands on a city bridge. And a limousine that hits the plane. And a few explosions and chase scenes.
The movie is earning praise from some critics, particularly for its early scenes. Before all the firepower, there's the assembling of the squad, its training, its personality conflicts and a final pulling-together to save a city in crisis. Much of this is handled well -- though, one critic notes, not as well as on most current TV crime shows.
• The latest remake of "Freaky Friday" -- the Mary Rodgers book that already has been done theatrically (1976, with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris) and as a TV movie (1995, with Gaby Hoffman and Shelley Long) -- is now in theaters. This one stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
• Ismail Merchant and James Ivory -- Merchant-Ivory, as they're better known -- switch from costume drama ("Howards End," "Jefferson in Paris") to contemporary comedy with "Le Divorce." Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts star as two sisters who try to cope with a broad range of relationships.
On the tube
• Tracey Ullman returns to the small screen with a new HBO special, "Tracey Ullman in The Trailer Tales," which pairs her with guest stars ranging from Debbie Reynolds and Rose Marie to M. Emmet Walsh and Cheech Marin. 8 p.m. EDT Saturday, HBO.
• He's known for dishing it out, but can he take it? Actor and comedian Denis Leary is the man in the hot seat for "The Comedy Central Roast of Denis Leary." Colin Quinn, Gina Gershon and Joe Montegna are among those pouring on the lighter fluid. 10 p.m. EDT Sunday, Comedy Central.
• A new Pat Benatar album, "Go" (Bel Chiasso), is due out Tuesday.
• If there's a conspiracy to foment world chaos and a guy named Ryan trying to stop it, it must be a Tom Clancy book. Sure enough, Clancy's newest, "The Teeth of the Tiger" (Putnam), pits drug kingpins and terrorists against a shadowy intelligence office called "the Campus," featuring none other than presidential son Jack Ryan Jr. (Presumably, the old man is too wrapped up in White House stuff to stop the bad guys.) Due Monday.