Fantasy Island and Fantasy Island (1998)

Fantasy Island (1978-1984)
Fantasy Island (1998-1999)
Type: Revival
Group: 6

   Fantasy Island was a television icon. I don't know one person who doesn't have a memory of Herve Villechaize as Tattoo ringing that tower bell and screaming "De plane! De plane!" But I suppose there is at least one person out there going, "Huh? Da plane?" So lets recap.

   Fantasy Island was a staple of Saturday night television. Every Saturday on ABC you would get The Love Boat at nine pm followed by Fantasy Island at ten. Every week, a plane load of guest would arrive on the island which was run by the mysterious but amiable Mr. Roarke, played by the super cool Ricardo Montalban. Fantasy Island was a magical island where any fantasy was possible. Tattoo, Mr. Roarke's pint sized assistant, would see the plane and ring the alert bell yelling, "DE PLANE DE..." well, you get the idea. Tattoo and Mr. Roarke, both in matching immaculate white suits, would go down to the dock where the sea plane would land and they would greet the guests. Roarke would happily tell the staff, "Smiles everyone! Smiles!' Then as each guest disembarked Tattoo would say something like, "Oooh! Who is dat boss! She is fine!" Then Mr. Roarke would lay out the background for that guest and their fantasy.

   "She may look fine Tattoo, but she is far from it," he might say, "That is Miss Betty Betty Fo Fenny. She has been blind since birth."

   "What is her fantasy boss?"

   "She wants to be able to see, Tattoo. For one weekend she wants to see. That... and she wants to go back in time and KILL HITLER!"

   Well that's a little exaggerated but it does demonstrate the wide range there could be in the fantasies: everything from finding love to supernatural adventures. There would be two or three groups of guests per week each with a story. Once the preliminary guest intros were done, Mr. Roarke would toast the guests saying, "Hello everyone I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island!"

   Mr. Roarke would then get each story going and then fade into the background, only coming back into the story when needed. Usually it would be when a guest's fantasy wasn't going exactly as he might have planned. By the end of the show the guests would have had some sort of life altering experience - confronting the personal demons they had set out to or maybe finding out what they wished for wasn't all it was cracked up to be. With a thank you to Mr. Roarke, they would get back on the plane and depart.

   In 1998, fourteen years after the original Fantasy Island left the air, Barry Sonnenfeld brought a new version of Fantasy Island to television. Sonnenfeld had already reinvented TV's The Adams Family into a feature film and he hoped to do a similar facelift on Fantasy Island.

   He gave the audience more of what the original show hadn't. Right off the bat, on the old show you always had to wonder who the hell was booking these trips to Fantasy Island? What travel agent handled this and how did they keep the waiting list from becoming a mile long? On the new Fantasy Island, we were shown who booked the guests. Each show started at a mysterious rundown travel agency staffed by an older man and woman. The people who needed a fantasy would always accidentally find themselves there. Having booked the unsuspecting soul's trip, the woman, Clia, would put the paperwork into an old fashioned pneumatic tube that would suck the request away and deliver it directly to Mr. Roarke.

   Like I said, on the old Fantasy Island, Mr. Roarke and his staff served mainly as background players, there mainly to move the story along. The new version fleshed out the characters and gave them plots of their own. On the original show, Mr. Roarke's fantastic abilities were mainly implied. On the new show we saw him use his abilities directly, changing the look of a house and its yard with the snap of his fingers. While all Tattoo ever had to do was basically say, "What's his fantasy boss?" the new staff had mini-plots, like trying to get rid of the all the islands refuse. No small task on Fantasy Island. The trash could include a warehouse of elaborate props from past fantasies.

   The show was also much darker than the original. As a nice visual joke to show the change, when we first meet Mr. Roarke, now played by Malcolm McDowell, he is looking through his closet for something to wear. He flips through a billion identical white suits just like Roarke used to wear and then shoves them all aside and picks the only other suit in the closet - a black one!

   This Roarke was no smiling friendly host. Nope. Roarke now had a dark edge. On the old show, Tattoo worked for Roarke but was also clearly his friend, as were Tattoo's replacements Julie (Roarke's niece) and Lawrence (a portly butler). But the staff on the updated series were clearly not buddies with Roarke. It was made clear they were on the island working off some sort of spiritual debt. Was Fantasy Island their purgatory where they worked off their sins to get into heaven? If so, what did that make their boss Mr. Roarke? It should also be noted that one of these helpers, Ariel, was a shape-shifter who could assume any guise that might be needed to help in a fantasy.

   On the surface these new changes to the old show sounded good: seeing the travel agency the fantasies were booked at, giving a darker edge to the show, seeing more of what went on with the staff on the island. There was just one problem. All that extra stuff ended up eating into the time available to actually show the guests living out their fantasies and that is the most important part of the show. The changes put so much extra emphasis on the elements of the show that were intended to help move the stories along that those elements ended up eclipsing the fantasies themselves. Sure the audience got a more fleshed out version of Roarke, his staff and their world but they also got shorter, simpler, less fleshed out fantasies and guests. You wouldn't put a crappy painting in a beautiful elaborate frame would you? Your first priority would be on making sure you got a good painting. The quality of the frame would be a secondary concern. You'd get the best you could with what you had left after buying the painting. The new Fantasy Island made the mistake of creating the most amazing frame in the world and then putting it around scenes of stick figure characters drawn with crayons.

   This miscalculation took its toll. After much hype and anticip...ation, the new Fantasy Island hit the aired and was quickly cancelled by mid season.

Other Fantasy Island Crossover Links
Fantasy Island and The Love Boat

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