You'd be hard-pressed to find another music video as iconic, influential, or beloved as Michael Jackson's Thriller. The fourteen-minute opus was directed by horror maestro John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and has been endlessly spoofed, referenced, and revered.
Written by Rod Temperton and produced by the legendary Quincy Jones, the song "Thriller" was the seventh single released from Jackson's 1982 album of the same name. Nearly every person on this planet knows that bass line, has attempted that dance, and would recognize that red leather jacket anywhere.
With that level of public awareness, it's surprising that plans to turn Thriller into a feature film are only now coming to fruition. Deadline reports that GK Films is currently negotiating for the rights to the project and that Fox 2000, Mandate/Lionsgate, and Summit are involved as well. Evidently the acquisition is expected to come with a hefty price tag, but the budget for the film itself will be under $50 million.
The Hangover screenwriter Jeremy Garelick is set to pen the script and Kenny Ortega, best known for helming Disney's popular High School Musical movies, is attached to direct. Ortega collaborated with Jackson on what would have been his final round of performances - a concert series titled This Is It. After Jackson's death, Ortega turned rehearsal footage from the production into the film Michael Jackson's This Is It.
According to Deadline, the Thriller movie “has to do with the song's folklore, involving Vincent Price and the town he grew up in.” It's an intentionally vague description, but it does seem to suggest that this (fortunately) won't just be a feature length remake of the video.
As for the song's folklore, who really knows what that means? The lyrics to Thriller mention zombies, aliens, demons, and ghouls - so there are a number of directions they could choose to go in. There's not really a narrative through line, but I suppose if Hollywood can adapt board games nothing is off limits.
A Thriller movie sans-Jackson seems like an unusual proposition (the Broadway musical he gave his blessing to made more sense), and I'll be honest - I wasn't that impressed with the brief glimpse we got of Ortega's staging of the song in This Is It.
The music video works so well because it was a groundbreaking combination of pop music and cinema - not because any of the horror elements were particularly revolutionary. In fact, the cinematography, effects, and voice overs seemed to be intentionally kitschy. That was part of its appeal.
A Thriller movie isn't the only Michael Jackson project on the horizon - Deadline also mentions that Cirque du Soleil is planning two live shows based on his music and that Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock are interested in making a film centered around the King of Pop's early years.
I suppose I should reserve judgment until we get more details, but at the moment an Ortega-directed Thriller film seems like one of the more blatant cash-grabs in recent memory. I've never once watched that video and thought to myself, “That was great - I could really use another eighty minutes of this.” But you can decide for yourself. Here's Thriller in its entirety: