VOD film review: The Flintstones (1994)
Mark Harrison | On 06, Mar 2020
Director: Brian Levant
Cast: John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, Rosie O’Donnell, Kyle McLachlan, and Halle Berry
Watch The Flintstones online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Released in 1994, the year after Jurassic Park, the Steven Spielberg-produced live-action version of The Flintstones is the sort of film that begs for a hard cut to that one shot of Ian Malcolm every few minutes. Just like the characters in that other dino-movie, it’s like the filmmakers spent so much time thinking about whether they could revive this kitschy cartoon for a 1990s audience… well, you know the rest.
Bookended by live-action recreations of the opening and closing title sequences, the film revolves around Fred (John Goodman) getting a major promotion at Slate And Co after Barney (Rick Moranis) tampers with the results of an aptitude test. Little does the lunk-headed Fred realise that he’s being set up as the fall guy by his boss, Cliff Vandercave (Kyle McLachlan), and his secretary Miss Stone (Halle Berry), who plot to embezzle money from the company through a bogus corporate streamlining initiative.
If nothing else, the film looks the part. Wherever you stand on this massive baby-boomer folly, there’s no arguing that the art direction and production design are incredibly, almost uncannily, faithful to the animated series. Whether it’s Rosanna Norton’s costumes or the Jim Henson creature effects that bring the Flintstones’ prehistoric pets and appliances to life, the film is a visual treat for any fan.
While we’re on the optics, the casting is pretty spot-on too. In the ultimate back-handed compliment, Goodman was famously anointed as the ideal Fred Flintstone by Spielberg himself, during a table-read for his 1989 wartime romance Always (the actor has since said he didn’t look forward to the role but enjoyed making the movie), while Moranis brings a chinless charm to Barney Rubble. Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell are reasonably suited to their cartoon counterparts, Wilma and Betty, too.
The reverence for the series’ cartoonish middle-class milieu makes sense, but the film falters in trying to wring an anti-capitalism satire out of such a naked cash-in. By 1994, The Simpsons had already inherited (and significantly improved upon) the type of sitcom storytelling on which The Flintstones originally relied. Even without the ludicrous extension of a feature-length plot, there’s an absurd amount of legwork required to steer this mad vehicle between nostalgic story beats and Berry doing her One Million Years B.C. thing and back. It’s a film that seems designed to pacify adults of a certain age with mother-in-law gags and cleavage in the same way that the most cynical family movies bombard children with colours and noise.
With three credited writers (Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein, and Steven E. de Souza) and a rumoured 36 more uncredited scribes fresh from the writers’ rooms of Family Ties, Night Court, and Happy Days, the sitcom-on-steroids screenplay is at once underwritten and overwritten. Where quirks of performance and design raise several chuckles, the comedy is utterly fossilised on the page.
All of this was reflected in reviews at the time, but typically, the film turned out to be a huge hit anyway, returning more than $340m in box office receipts on a $40m budget. The 2000 sequel, Viva Rock Vegas – which sits mercifully outside of this column’s remit – actually has a marginally better script and story, but none of the first film’s other benefits. That film cost twice as much, made less than a third as much as the box office, and is every bit as bad as its reputation suggests, but it’s even worse for preserving so few of the design or casting decisions from this one, bar recruiting original series voice artists Harvey Korman and Mel Blanc for small roles.
There’s no denying that 1994’s The Flintstones is fun to look at, but it’s an utter slog to actually watch. It’s such a cynically commercial effort that money oozes out of every facet, from Barney and Betty’s adoption subplot to the clankingly mechanical finale, set on location at an unrealised Hot Wheels playset. If you did enjoy the film as a kid, fair enough, but if you’re thinking of revisiting it to see how it holds up, yabba dabba don’t.
The Flintstones is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.