The 2013 series pilot for The Saint finally makes it’s way to digital release this week. But how was it?
Fans of Simon Templar, the eponymous Saint, have been waiting a long time for The Robin Hood of Modern Crime to come back to the small screen. A 1997 movie with Val Kilmer – which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t The Saint – was the most recent chance we’ve had to seeing Leslie Charteris’ world-famous crime fighter in action.
But in 2013, all that was set to change – when a series pilot for a new Saint adventure was filmed, starring British heartthrob Adam Rayner, and gorgeous Buffy alumni Eliza Dushku as his on-again, off-again love interest Patricia Holm. For a moment there, it looked like Simon Templar would ride again – and they even pulled in former small-screen Saints Ian Ogilvy and Roger Moore to star in the pilot.
Sadly, no network picked up the show – and for years the pilot languished in obscurity, until it was picked up, dusted off, and edited into a TV movie with the addition of some newly-filmed segments in Bucharest (which we reported on here.) Yesterday, that movie finally became available on a variety of pay-per-view outlets including iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.
So… How was it?
Well, as a life-long fan of The Saint, I was there with popcorn in hand to watch the TV movie… and it wasn’t bad.
I know that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement – but while there was a lot of good to it, I can also understand why maybe no network decided to run with it.
The whole adventure is filmed in a very cable-friendly format – think NCIS, or Prison Break, or any of a dozen other shows running on Fox or the CW at the moment. It was crisply edited, bright and shiny, and had that industry standard ‘look’ that is friendly for long format series on American television – and that’s fine, but I think probably worked against the concept of the series at the end of the day.
Adam Rayner is a charming Saint.
It just simply wasn’t unique enough – especially with so much reliance on computers and hacking and other genre tropes. To the casual observer, it would be easy to lose The Saint in among a dozen other new series released every autumn – the majority of which disappear off our screens after a single season.
That being said, Adam Rayner was incredibly charismatic as Simon Templar, and brought just the right amount of charm, humor and class to the role. His chemistry with the gorgeous Eliza Dushku was a little forced, but Adam’s definitely got the chops to be a lead in a series like this and it’s a little sad that he didn’t get the chance to with The Saint.
So, newcomers to The Saint might have have found the pilot enjoyable, but not particularly memorable. But what about fans of the character?
One of the complaints about the 1997 movie starring Val Kilmer was that they tried to give too much back story to Simon Templar – a character who is, by his very definition, supposed to be mysterious. Ironically, the TV series doubled down on this mistake – introducing flashback segments in which we met Simon’s parents, and discovered how he came to become The Saint. There’s a backstory involving the Knights Templar and a sinister group called The Brotherhood and it planted a lot of seeds for what we can only assume would have been series-long plot threads had the pilot been picked up.
We could have done without the poor-little-rich-boy backstory.
Fans of The Saint would have have also picked up on a lot of nods to the history of The Saint – with characters like Arnold Valcross, Detective Fernack and Rayt Marius lending their names to largely unrelated characters on the show. Just like doubling-down on the Saint’s backstory, I feel this was a mistake because these characters could have been much more interesting if they’d been allowed to follow the path of their progenitors. Valcross and Fernack, for example, drove the narrative of The Saint in New York, which is one of the signature Saint stories, and worthy of a TV movie of its own.
And I think that generally sums up why The Saint didn’t quite work. It gave a lot of nods to Simon Templar’s literary origins, without ever embracing them – a mistake we’ve seen time and time again in TV pilots and movie flops. I feel like The Saint was ‘designed by committee’ and a lot of the good stuff – the stuff that was rooted in Simon Templar’s real history as a character – was overshadowed by tropes and cliches that are rampant in the bland movies and TV shows that Hollywood executives churn out every year.
And it’s a mistake they should have seen coming. Sticking close to the source material is a winning formula and for decades movie executives have failed because they refused to do that.
Just look at Ryan Reynold’s faithful adaptation of Deadpool, as compared to the executive-driven flop that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Despite having a fraction of the budget, the loyal-to-the-comics version made more at the box office in its first week than X-Men Origins made ever.
In a similar vein – remember how Steven Spielberg wanted to relocate Hogwarts to America, but JK Rowling turned down his offer? When they made a true-to-the-books movie series, the Harry Potter films became some of the most iconic of all time – proving that Rowling made the right decision.
The fact is, Simon Templar is an iconic character with a rich heritage to pull from – so movie producers have to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. They don’t need to invent a back story for him. They don’t need to mimic 24 or any of the other paint-by-numbers cable TV shows. They need to embrace what’s unique about the character, instead of trying to make him to conform to an increasingly unsuccessful ‘formula’ for television. They need to find a guy who knows the history The Saint inside and out – better than any other man alive – and let him lead the journey towards introducing Simon Templar to a new generation of potential fans.
That being said, though – the TV movie isn’t bad. It’s fast-paced, entertaining, and if you’ve got five bucks to blow I definitely recommend watching it. Adam Rayner might have only had a brief shot to play The Saint, but he does a good job of it – and even if it wasn’t perfect, I loved being able to see my favorite fictional character of all time back in action.