Universal Pictures' take on "The Flintstones"--the world's best known modern Stone Age family--may be hitting bedrock, if people who have seen early screenings of the picture have anything to say about it.
They accuse the studio and producer Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment of skewing the dinosaur fable to an audience too young (10 and under) to relate to the characters, of building a movie on a script that seems to have been written by committee, and of riddling the whole thing with jokes that don't work.
"I think you could sum this picture up in two words: young and stupid," says one Universal source who saw the film. "The studio is banking on adults loving it, but guess what? Adults aren't that stupid--I think."
A Universal executive pinned the problem to the movie's being one long sight gag and having too many cooks in the kitchen. "This is no great script--but then what do you expect when you've got 32 writers contributing to it? Hell, they had eight writers and the director reworking the final draft.
"And by the way, this is the new thing in Hollywood. Throw every writer you know at a script and if each one of them can come up with three or four jokes then you may get enough gags and it will hit. Let's face it. That's what works on TV and this is just live-action TV . . . minus the action."
Even John Goodman, who stars as Fred Flintstone, concedes that the plot is a little thin. "But we are talking about the Flintstones."
But not everyone is dissing the film. "I've seen this picture and the criticisms simply are not true. It may be skewed toward younger audiences, but believe me, people at least 35 and up who grew up on 'The Flintstones' are going to want to see it," says entertainment attorney David Colden, who represents director Brian Levant. "It is visually wonderful, with such marvelous set-pieces, dinosaur animatronics, a great use of color and costume, that as an adult you just go along for the ride."
Universal studio head Tom Pollock couldn't agree more. "Look, I'm sure there are people who don't think it works. It does. This is for family audiences, but the strength of the movie is not so much that it has a PG rating; it has visual effects that you've never seen before."
Supporters are quick to note that McDonald's certainly believes enough in the May 27 release to launch Flintstones Happy Meals and collector glasses. In fact, critics and fans alike expect that Universal will see a merchandising windfall.
Goodman is also probably hoping for a feature-film breakthrough, since despite his star turn on the top-rated series "Roseanne," his film career has never quite taken off. His recent roles in flips like "Born Yesterday," "Matinee" and "The Babe" haven't helped matters.
"Goodman is a great guy and a talented character actor, but let's face it: Add up the budgets of those pictures where he's the star and you're looking at about $200 million flushed down the drain. Let's hope this breaks the Goodman curse," says one source close to the production.
Goodman doesn't blame anybody or anything. "I'm sorry people feel that way," says Goodman, with a nervous laugh. "You know, when I do a role I go into (it) and once my job is done I try not to think about it. I'm disappointed like everyone else that 'Babe' went into the toilet because everybody thought it would do well."
He says he was "a little apprehensive about taking the role. It was kind of ordained on me by Spielberg" when Spielberg approached him about playing Fred five years ago. "I never knew it was going to happen, because it was off and on so many times until they came up with a script they liked. I think it works; I hope so."
Asked why the apprehension about the part, Goodman retorts: "Because it's just what I thought would happen--I hear 'Yabba-dabba-doo' every time I walk down the street."
That is music to Pollock's ears: "John Goodman is a great Fred Flintstone and a talented actor. There is no Goodman curse--but even if there was, John doesn't carry this one, Fred Flintstone does."*