It’s typically annoying when a film franchise is immediately rebooted, but it’s doubtful any of you have even seen either 2007’s “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island” or the 2009 sequel, “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Terror Castle.” Supposedly Disney released the first film theatrically in the U.S., but I don’t recall that ever happening. They seem primarily set up at Buena Vista International for German-speaking audiences (though they were filmed in English), because the young adult mystery novels they’re based on have remained more popular in Europe than in America. Kind of like “Tintin” but with material originating here.
Focused on the adventures of a trio of teenage sleuths, Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, the “Three Investigators” books were my “Harry Potter,” my “Twilight,” my crack cocaine, for the better part of my preteen years, and I’ve always wanted them made into great blockbuster films. Instead they were adapted into films I have no interest in seeing based on the trailers and reviews I’ve seen, and this is really too bad. And not just for me. For any studio (and any movie fan) interested in an enteratining new family film franchise, Robert Arthur’s detective series has such great potential. It could be like “The Goonies,” “Harry Potter,” “Indiana Jones,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Hugo” wrapped up into one wonderful youth phenomenon, if done correctly.
First, though, the rights to Alfred Hitchcock as a character must be reinstated. Back when I was reading these stories (43 of which were published between 1964 and 1987), the filmmaker was integral to the franchise and many of the plots (he may have even contributed bits — some countries actually credited him as the author). They were known as “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” books then. But at some point Hitch’s estate took his likeness out of the series and has continued to be in disagreement with Random House about legal matters associated with the property. It could be acceptable to feature a modern filmmaker who could play himself on screen in cameos, but I’m unaware of anyone fitting to the role as Hitch did.
There’s also the potential for a Hitchcock type, and then the setting could remain in the past, where it works best, and some actor could play an obvious lookalike fill-in without upsetting the director’s estate (in the books he’s been replaced by a character named Hector Sebastian). But I prefer the original concept, even if there’s already two Hitchcock movies in the works right now (one will star Anthony Hopkins and is about the making of “Psycho”; the other has Toby Jones and is about the making of “The Birds”). I’m sure Martin Scorsese would love to do for Hitchcock what he’s just done for Georges Melies with “Hugo.” He’s already made two incredibly respectable homages to the guy (“Shutter Island” and “Key to Reserva”). And not only do the books involve Hitchcock, they often have to do with haunted film sets and other cinema-related mysteries.
I thought about the series this week while watching the new “Sherlock Holmes” sequel and wondering if there’s room for another big budget detective franchise that also hits the YA film market currently feeling a void in the wake of the “Harry Potter” finale and soon to be left even worse once “Breaking Dawn Part 2” passes through. There must be some other “Three Investigators” fans out there who’d like to see something better done with the characters. And if there isn’t, Random House should work on buildnig a new fanbas, without trying to modernize the stories or make them “hip” for today’s reader.