Alex Forrest is about to rise up out of the bath again. In another example of old movies being reborn as TV shows, Fox has commissioned a series based on Fatal Attraction, the 1987 thriller starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.
Details about the reboot are currently sketchy, although Deadline went out on a limb when it broke the news by reporting that it “understands the reimagining will explore how a married man’s indiscretion comes back to haunt him”.
The movie, directed by Adrian Lyne of 9 ½ Weeks and Flashdance fame, centred on Dan (Douglas), a married Manhattan lawyer who, following a passionate two-day fling with Alex (Close), tries to cut her out of his life but finds she won’t let go. Alex’s increasingly irrational and ultimately murderous revenge on Dan’s family made Fatal Attraction a popular, much talked-about and influential hit.
Cross-pollination between TV and film is increasingly common, for a number of reasons. First, there is the marketing headstart offered by a known brand: nobody needs to be told what the basic premise of this new thing on telly is, viewers will be interested to see what’s been done with a familiar story, and articles like this are written about what the new version might be like.
Launching a new TV drama is a brutally unforgiving business: just as film studios are leaning more and more on reboots, franchises and sequels, TV companies are interested in anything that lowers the risk of floating a new show. And perhaps TV and film are at the point popular music reached some time ago, where all the big ideas have already been done. A series about a guy who hugely regrets having an affair would make people say: “Oh, you mean like in Fatal Attraction?” You might as well just remake Fatal Attraction.
In this case, there’s an even more prosaic reason behind the reboot: it’s to be broadcast on Fox but is made by the recently re-animated TV arm of Paramount, the studio that made the film. Squeezing more and more cash out of proven assets is a big part of running a 21st-century entertainment company.
Often a TV version of a film is about redeeming a flop (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and/or recognising that there was more to the idea than could be covered in 90 minutes (Friday Night Lights). One recent success, Fargo, managed to please fans of the film by replicating its visual style and dramatic tone, while doing plenty that was new.
It’s hard to imagine how Fatal Attraction, a movie built on a simple idea and hinging on two famous narrative climaxes, could fulfil any of those aims and sustain a series. But the big question with any remake – how will they alter the story? – should have plenty of juice in it, because Fatal Attraction is already surrounded by a lively discourse about how the plot could have developed differently. The film had a less explosive, more tragic original ending that was junked following a test screening, to the dismay of Glenn Close, Adrian Lyne and screenwriter James Dearden. The executives who ordered the change were proved right, as far as they were concerned, by the film’s huge box-office takings – $320m worldwide – but Close has since disowned the movie’s portrayal of her character’s mental illness, while last year Dearden wrote a stage version with a different ending, blaming Paramount for having repeatedly rewritten his script, and now restoring Alex as “a sad, tragic, lonely woman, holding down a tough job in an unforgiving city”.
The movie became a phenomenon because it was seen to capture something about 1980s society, but it did so almost entirely negatively: there’s the implication that Dan’s adultery is only a problem because of the high likelihood that any woman one has an affair with will turn out to be a frighteningly unstable “bunny-boiler” – a theme revisited, controversially but successfully, by Gone Girl in cinemas last year. Fatal Attraction’s Alex was also, specifically, a single, working woman, a demographic seen as a threat to the traditional family at the time. Audiences enjoyed seeing her marmalised by Anne Archer as Beth, the placid, dutiful but ultimately fiercely protective wife.
Would a new version move on from all that, or would it trot gleefully back to the basic misogyny and blithe mental-health stigmatisation of the 80s? TV has recently given us The Affair, a vastly more nuanced portrayal of infidelity with no “bunny-boilers”, no blameless characters and no blood spattered across bathroom tiles. We now look to TV to tell stories about (relatively) ordinary people’s lives and indiscretions, because it has the screentime to do so more thoroughly and intelligently, leaving movies to focus on spectacle.
The fact that the new FA is an “event” series airing on wham-bam mainstream network Fox, whose president of entertainment David Madden oversaw the original movie, suggests it’s probably not going to be a subtle exploration of shifting, imperfect adult relationships; that said, the showrunners are Maria and Andre Jacquemetton, who broke through by writing and producing on Mad Men – a hire that suggests the secret of reviving Fatal Attraction could be to make it more like sophisticated modern TV and less like … Fatal Attraction.