After nearly four years of development hell, several scripts and casting rumors galore, it's just about time--as the theme songs goes--to meet the Flintstones.
In the Amblin Entertainment big-screen version of the modern Stone Age family cartoon, John Goodman is apparently a lock to play the lead role of Fred Flintstone, the man who propels his car with his feet. Contract negotiations with the "Roseanne" star are said to be in the final stages.
"John has been attached to this project for the last 3 1/2 years," says a source close to the production, which is tentatively scheduled to begin shooting in April and will be distributed by Universal. "He's been the first choice from the very beginning."
For the role of second banana Barney Rubble, Fred's loyal next-door neighbor, Rick Moranis is said to be ready to sign on the dotted line. But then things get a bit cloudy.
This past week, there were rumors that Geena Davis was poised to accept the part of Wilma, Fred's level-headed wife, alarming some in town who had projects in the works for the actress, one of the most castable and coveted female stars of the moment (with Sharon Stone).
But production company heads, rest assured: Davis will not be tackling Wilma. According to sources close to the "Flintstones," director Brian Levant ("Beethoven") is considering other actresses for the role. Among the names being batted about to play the prehistoric good wife: Catherine O'Hara and Faith Ford ("Murphy Brown").
Among the finalists for the part of Betty Rubble, Barney's wife and Wilma's pal: Rosie O'Donnell and Tracey Ullman. O'Donnell is said to be very interested in the role.
Casting somewhat bankable established stars such as Goodman, Moranis and the above actresses in movies based on television shows is part of a continuing trend.
Paramount's signing of Anjelica Huston as Morticia in "The Addams Family" is said to have helped the cause. Widely regarded as "a class act," as one producer put it, Huston made it "socially acceptable" for serious actors to accept parts in TV fare translated for the silver screen.
The studios love the big names because they act as box-office insurance and give the projects industry clout. And the roles are extremely lucrative for actors: They usually get points in such TV-show-to-movie productions, and they can clean up financially during contract negotiations for the almost-guaranteed sequels.
Several A-list stars are apparently looking for their own tent-pole franchise based on television shows. Among the more interesting star-heavy movie remakes of TV shows reportedly in the works: Harrison Ford as "The Fugitive," Geena Davis as hepcat supersleuth "Honey West" and Mel Gibson as "The Saint."
Some stars, it should be noted, do pass up television adaptations. Kathleen Turner, sources say, was offered the part of serial killer/nanny Debbie in the "Addams Family" sequel, due this Thanksgiving. After deliberation, she passed and the role has gone to Joan Cusack.
"The Flintstones" is one of those projects that has been in the inflatable stages for years. Countless "what if?" scenarios have been tossed about, and five movie scripts written.
"We wanted to preserve the identity of the piece and yet make it original, and that's not always easy to do," says producer Kathleen Kennedy. "In the end, we have found that the hardest thing of all was keeping it simple."
In the new and hopefully final script for "The Flintstones" movie due this week by Gary Ross ("Big," "Dave"), the story is a relatively easy one to follow.
Among the highlights: Fred is kicked upstairs into management after years of toiling in his rock quarry factory job. Fellow quarry worker Barney hits the rocks as Fred ascends, and he and Betty move in with the Flintstones. Madness and comedy follows, with children Bam-Bam and Pebbles caught in the middle.
The production process for turning these lightweight television shows into movies is deceptively complicated. "The problem with all these movies," says one source, "is that you have to blow them up and that takes time and money. They have to be huge, much bigger than the TV shows they are based on, because audiences have that expectation. If they are going to pay $7.50 for something they can watch in reruns, they want it to be spectacular entertainment."
Although Goodman is clearly the star of "The Flintstones," the show may in the end be stolen by family dinosaur Dino; in a movie loaded with expensive special effects, Dino will prove to be the most challenging. Jim Henson Studios is said to be crafting Dino's image, which will be unlike the dinosaurs in Universal's other creature movie, "Jurassic Park." Dino will probably be more pastel and cuddly (get ready for the stuffed animals, and surely a marketing tie-in).
"The Flintstones," while originally envisioned as a big Christmas movie for '93, will not meet that date. Not wanting to rush things, the studio will probably release the movie in the summer of '94, at which time "yabba dabba doo" should firmly be in place as the nation's catch phrase of choice.