THE BLOG

Swatting "The Green Hornet"

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

Hollywood is stupid.

I realize this observation doesn't qualify as news, but once in a while this essential truism of showbiz needs to be reiterated, just to wake people up.

Today's exhibit: Seth Rogen in talks to co-write and star in "The Green Hornet."

Now let me state up front that I have been an ardent champion of Mr. Rogen, the unlikely romantic lead of "Knocked Up", ever since his debut as the congenitally sarcastic Ken Miller on "Freaks and Geeks". I am also on the record as being a fan of Mr. Rogen's producer/mentor/Svengali/Henry Higgins/Paul Snider, Judd Apatow. One would be a fool to bet against the collective funny bones of Mr. Rogen, Mr. Apatow and Mr. Rogen's writing partner, Evan Goldberg. My beef is not with them. (Primarily.)

My question is simply this:

Why does ANYONE want to make ANY version of "The Green Hornet"?

The last time this character had a smidgen of cultural relevance was forty years ago. That's almost twice as long as Seth Rogen has been alive.

And even then, the Green Hornet was lame.

High off the Batmobile fumes emitted by their runaway hit, "Batman", ABC brought "The Green Hornet" to the TV screen in the 1966-67 season. Another wealthy playboy/crimefighter with a faithful bemasked sidekick? How could it miss?

My sole exposure to that incarnation of the Green Hornet came via the crossover "Batman" episodes in which Mr. Hornet (Van Williams) and his trusty chauffeur Kato (Bruce Lee - yes, THAT Bruce Lee) paid a visit to fair Gotham City and, in the all-important cliffhanger, were turned into life-sized postage stamps, a process which rendered the one-dimensional Hornet temporarily two-dimensional.

I can hardly recall what skills or gadgets gave the Green Hornet an edge against his enemies. Based on those two episodes, I'd say his primary superpower was dullness. The '60s "Hornet" was exterminated after a single season. If boomers recall anything about the show, it's Bruce Lee, the cool car and the theme song, Al Hirt's jazzy rendering of "The Flight Of The Bumblebee". Notice anything missing from that list? Oh, right: the main friggin' character!

So if the sidekick is more memorable than the ostensible hero, and if Quentin Tarantino has already memorably pilfered the theme song in "Kill Bill, Volume 1", why have people from George Clooney to Kevin Smith been attempting for at least a decade to make a movie about a character unknown to the prime moviegoing audience and barely remembered by their parents?

The simple answers: someone owns the rights and wants to make money off them, and basing a movie on a pre-existing property provides studio decision-makers a safety net.

We are in the midst of perhaps the most pre-sold summer in movie history. Sequels and threequels and fivequels have been tumbling in and out of multiplexes with such frequency that it's easy to lose track of them all. (There was another "Fantastic Four"? Really? Why?) One cannot underestimate the power of a brand name like Harry Potter or Homer Simpson or, dear lord, the Transformers in luring potential moviegoers away from their widescreen TVs and their "World of Warcraft" and their Wiis. But just because a concept already exists as a TV show (or a theme-park ride or a video game), that does not render it automatically superior to an original idea. And name recognition only works if your potential audience actually recognizes the name.

Hollywood power-brokers, are you perpetually destined to relearn the lessons of the '90s? Do you remain trapped in that post-"Fugitive" mindset when every property which had ever flickered across the boob tube was deemed worthy of new cinematic life? How many teenagers in 1994 were camping overnight to be the first to see how "Car 54, Where Are You?" weathered the difficult transition to the big screen? Was anyone of any age really craving modern-dress reinterpretations of "McHale's Navy" and "Sgt. Bilko"? No doubt we narrowly avoided an "F Troop" movie; perhaps a nationwide talent hunt just couldn't find this generation's consummate Agarn.

My favorite example of this insanity is "The Mod Squad" starring Claire Danes, released in 1999 to a target demo which not only had never seen or heard of the original series but had no clue what "mod" meant. If the studio wanted to do a film about young undercover cops, why didn't they just make "21 Jump Street: The Movie"? Because they didn't own the rights to "21 Jump Street", stupid. Whereas dusty film canisters of old "Mod Squad" episodes were probably finding no better use than as backfill for one wing of Aaron Spelling's mansion.

Doing a movie of "The Green Hornet" makes as little sense as doing a movie of "The Shadow". Remember "The Shadow"? Starred Alec Baldwin during his reluctant-leading-man phase as the mysterious adventurer Lamont Cranston from the golden age of radio? Only making "The Green Hornet" with Seth Rogen is more akin to making "The Shadow" with Chris Farley. The initial unlikely juxtaposition may seem funny on first blush, but is it really enough to justify an entire movie built around a character with no discernible fan base? (Ironically, Alec Baldwin is probably now too fat and too funny to play the Shadow.)

Maybe I'll be surprised. Maybe Mr. Rogen and his colleagues have come up with a brilliant take on "The Green Hornet". Maybe Seth Rogen in a green fedora and a trenchcoat is precisely what the world needs right now.

But I'll bet that Seth could have walked into almost any office in Hollywood and said, "I want to play a superhero," and been handed a multi-million-dollar check to create any character he wanted. I would much rather see what kind of superhero character he would conjure up from scratch, one that would take full advantage of his comic persona, than see him shackled to the constraints of a pre-existing character, particularly one as obscure as the Green Hornet.

Perhaps the plan is to throw out all the unnecessary baggage of the Green Hornet mythology and reinvent the character to suit Seth, in which case I must ask again, why be straitjacketed to the Green Hornet at all?

Seth, I'm sure they threw an absurd pile of money your direction. But as Nancy Reagan taught us - back around the time you were born -- sometimes it's okay to just say "No".

Oh, and Seth, if you need someone to accompany you when you walk into those Hollywood offices to pitch your brand-new, custom-tailored, 100% Rogen-ized superhero comedy...

...My schedule is wide open.

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