'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.': Can the retro TV adaptation find an audience?

Movie adaptations of TV shows often bring the stories to the big screen with a twist, but 'U.N.C.L.E.' sets its narrative in the time period in which it originally aired, the 1960s. Is this a good or bad idea for the summer movie season?

Daniel Smith/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' stars Henry Cavill (l.) and Alicia Vikander (r.).

The film adaptation of the 1960s spy series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” arrives in theaters on Aug. 14 and stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as American and Soviet agents.

“U.N.C.L.E.” (it stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, the agency for which its leads work) is based on the 1960s TV series of the same name. In the film, American Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) must join forces to save the world.

The movie also stars Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina,” “Lincoln” actor Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant.

The film is the second adaptation of a 1960s TV series to arrive at the box office in recent weeks – the fifth film in the “Mission: Impossible” series, which is based on the TV show of the same name, debuted on July 31.

How do studios try to make older TV shows like this relevant to present-day audiences? Some, like “Mission” or the movie version of “Get Smart,” update it to the present day. Others like “21” and “22 Jump Street” keep the basic idea of the show but put new characters at the center and poke fun at the original TV program – the “Jump Street” films are most definitely comedies.   

Other movie adaptations of TV shows have also tried to make the film version of the story demonstrably different from the TV program, but this can have mixed results. It worked for the “21 Jump Street” series but wasn’t as successful with, for example, a movie version of the 1960s TV show “Bewitched.” A high-concept story in which the story took place during the present day and the sitcom was being remade, but stars a woman who is actually a witch, didn’t go over with audiences.

“U.N.C.L.E.” embraces a somewhat unusual strategy in that it’s a period piece, since the film takes place during the 1960s. Whether this setting – somewhat unusual for the summer, where current hits like “Jurassic World, “Inside Out,” and “Mission” mostly take place during our own time in history – draws in audiences who want something different or keeps viewers away remains to be seen.

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