COMMENTARY | Any story, no matter how long it may be, can be told on television now. With HBO and Netflix, a long novel with multiple characters can be told over the span of several weeks. On Netflix, a 12-hour story can be streamed to your laptop in mere seconds
Why hasn’t HBO or Netflix considered a dead on, racy re-imagining of “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe’s bestselling novel about politics, ambition, racism, and greed in 1980s New York City? Depending on whose cast in the lead roles, the social class, hit-and-run tale could get enormous ratings. The story could be serialized on television or streaming media like it was in Rolling Stone.
“Vanities” is one of my favorite novels, and when I finally watched the 1990 film version on DVD, it didn’t even seem like the same story Wolfe had written. The film took all of the novels best scenes and left out some of the most essential moments that gave the story its depth and authenticity. With a miniseries, HBO or Netflix could put everything in that made the novel brilliant.
Brian De Palma’s version of “Vanities” tried to cram way too much story and characters into two hours. Wolfe’s novel is almost 700 pages long. Some of the best characters in the novel were left out of De Palma’s film. The movie didn’t capture the satire of 1980s power and journalism like Wolfe’s novel fiercely did. Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, who are usually terrific, were badly miscast.
Sherman McCoy was not a likable character in the novel. The film tried too hard to make the audience sympathetic toward Sherman. And casting Hanks as Sherman, the most likable actor in Hollywood in 1990, and today, was a catastrophic mistake.
With Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey starring in “True Detective,” and Kevin Spacey starring in “House of Cards,” its likely A-list talent would line up to star in a new adaptation, especially if the script and director are right.
For the main leads: Michael Shannon would make a great Sherman McCoy; Eddie Murphy, with a few added pounds, could be Reverend Reginald Bacon; and Steve Coogan would be perfect for the boozy journalist Peter Fallow. Fallow should be British, like he was in the novel.
If only DePalma could’ve cast John Cleese in the role of Fallow for his 1990 film, it might’ve salvaged what was a dreadful picture.
Note: I’ve written pieces for Yahoo! Voices and Yahoo! Sports for two years.