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Steven Spielberg Fans Rejoice: ‘Amazing Stories’ is Coming Back While Amblin Finds an ‘Unexplained Phenomenon”

The director’s involvement in two new projects confirms his astronomical influence on movies and TV.
By  · Published on October 11th, 2017

The director’s involvement in two new projects confirms his astronomical influence on movies and TV.

The existence of Spielbergian throwbacks like Stranger Things attest to Steven Spielberg‘s monster impact on modern culture, while their success proves our insatiable appetite for his particular brand of supernatural story-telling. If you’re a fan of Stranger Things and Spielberg classics like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist (which he wrote), then, two new announcements this week should make you very happy.

The first, from Deadline, concerns Unexplained Phenomenon, a feature film from Amblin Partners, a content creation company co-founded by Spielberg. The movie, which will be directed by Power Rangers helmer Dean Israelite, is said to be “tonally similar” to E.T. and Poltergeist, situating it well within Spielberg fans’ realm of interest.

Supposedly inspired by true events, the family-friendly supernatural film will follow an unsuspecting family who accidentally come upon a strange object that has the power to turn their lives upside down. They bring in an expert to advise them on how best to handle the curious item, but it’s the expert’s teenage daughter who seems most able to puzzle out the power — and motives — of the mysterious object.

Joining director Israelite behind the camera are screenwriting partners Jason Pagan and Andrew Deutschman, who also collaborated with Israelite on his 2015 feature debut, the teen-geared sci-fi thriller Project Almanac.

The aforementioned writing duo seem to have a good grounding in penning supernatural scripts — they also worked together on Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension — although they don’t have a family adventure to their name yet. If they manage to pull off the shift in target audience, there could be off-shoots in the works: Variety is reporting that producers Alex Heineman and Andrew Rona will be keen to make Unexplained Phenomenon the basis for a supernaturally-themed multi-film franchise if the film proves successful.

The second announcement that links Spielberg to the otherworldly relates to a deal between Amblin, Apple, and Universal TV to reboot Spielberg’s 1980s anthology series Amazing Stories. Bryan Fuller (showrunner for Hannibal and American Gods) is set to executive produce the 10-part remake, as are two of Amblin’s own, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank.

Originally comprised of a whopping 45 episodes, Amazing Stories ran for two seasons on NBC and was a family-friendly, Twilight Zone-esque show that featured a new tale each episode. These were usually 25 minutes long, and varied in tone — some were darker than others — but were always supernaturally-themed, in keeping with creator Spielberg’s passion.

“The Sitter,” for example, is decidedly lighter fare aimed at young audiences, with Mabel King playing a babysitter who uses voodoo to keep her mischievous young wards in check. Martin Scorsese’s TV directorial debut, “Mirror, Mirror,” on the other hand, has the power to spook even its grown-up viewers — it features a Freddy Krueger-esque man in the mirror (Tim Robbins under heavy makeup) who incessantly haunts an arrogant horror novelist played by Sam Waterston.

Amazing Stories was full of the type of creative diversity anthology series usually enjoy, since the one-off nature of its episodes meant names like Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Robert Zemeckis, and Tobe Hooper were able to commit to directing single installments of the series. The show also gave several now-famous directors a leg-up; Brad Bird earned his first directing credit on an animated episode titled “Family Dog,” which was later spun off as its own series.

On the subject of spin-offs, it’s interesting to note that the movie *batteries not included was another story intended for the show, but Spielberg ultimately decided to give it the feature-length treatment instead (perhaps the series reboot can spin-off more movie franchises?).

For some reason, Amazing Stories didn’t find success with viewers when it aired between 1985 and 1987. It was critically recognized and won five Emmy Awards out of a total 12 nominations, though, so its lukewarm audience response can’t be blamed on a complete lack of quality content. Now, 30 years later, Apple execs seem to think Amazing Stories deserves a second chance and are willing to make it one of the first recipients of their $1 billion fund for original content.

It’s hard to argue with their logic. Spooky anthology series are very en vogue at the moment — Black Mirror and American Horror Story are well into multiple series — so what better time is there to give Spielberg’s neglected show a second chance? Pop culture has been experiencing something of a redux of the ‘80s in the last few years, too, so if this reboot throws back to the style of the original, the stars could align to give Amazing Stories the success it missed out on three decades ago.

Apple has had a somewhat rocky start to its foray into the world of original content, however, so it might be a while yet until this reboot finds its way to our screens. Before the company hired two former Sony TV execs to head up its new video programming division this summer, faults were beginning to show in the tech giant’s strategy to become a powerhouse of original content. A 16-episode order of a Carpool Karaoke spinoff from The Late, Late Show with James Corden was delivered four months late, while Vital Signs, a semi-autobiographical drama series starring Dr. Dre has yet to materialize, despite Dre’s co-star Ian McShane floating an August release date earlier this year.

Assuming that Apple has revised their strategy well enough so that Amazing Stories does eventually air, it would mark the first serious step the tech giant is taking to realize its TV ambitions. With the existence of the aforementioned two projects, plus a reality competition show titled Planet of the Apps, Amazing Stories wouldn’t technically be Apple’s first original content series, but it does suggest the company is really devoted to becoming a major player in original content now.

(It’s worth noting that Apple also had plans for a biopic series on Elvis Presley with The Weinstein Company, but these have just been scrapped in the light of sexual assault allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein.)

Apple’s Carpool Karaoke spin-off is just that — a spin-off — and could arguably be described as a viral ploy for subscribers rather than a real push to give Apple the edge in the streaming wars. The dropped Elvis biopic, which will likely be developed elsewhere now, wasn’t exactly an adventurous move into the world of original content, either, given Apple’s obvious links to the music world. Vital Signs and Planet of the Apps could more accurately be described as promotional vehicles for Apple Music and Apple’s App Store, too, so they also seem more like half-hearted gestures at establishing Apple’s position as a giant of original content than committed maneuvers.

Amazing Stories, on the other hand, doesn’t offer Apple similar self-marketing opportunities. It’s also a scripted series that will probably be developed entirely out of house and by established TV talents like Fuller. Given the middling reception the show received in the ‘80s, it remains something of a gamble for Apple, but its hot themes arguably make it the perfect first move for a tech giant that finally looks ready to seriously commit to its creative ambitions.

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Farah Cheded is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects. Outside of FSR, she can be found having epiphanies about Martin Scorsese movies here and reviewing Columbo episodes here.