Saturday, February 9, 2008

What's in a voice? Knight Rider Then and Now

Before America's Got Talent, Baywatch, and Norm MacDonald made a mockery of David Hasselhoff, he starred in a show called Knight Rider. If you were a boy in the Eighties, you wanted to be Michael Knight, drive the artificially intelligent talking car KITT, fight crime, and look cool. But if you were a girl, you wanted to be with Michael Knight.

Or in my case, you wanted to date the car. Yes, prepubescent that I was, I thought the 'Hoff was devastatingly handsome, but the voice of KITT sent me over the moon. KITT's high-class, slightly nasal Boston Brahmin-accented voice was always chiding, sarcastic, or extremely perturbed by Michael's swaggering, cocky, cowboy behavior. It was a relationship much like Magnum and Higgins of Magnum P.I.--disdainful teasing, but with an undercurrent of affection.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I'd find a repressed, anal-retentive car attractive, but it didn't last long. About a two years into the series, my father ruined my infatuation when he revealed that KITT's was voiced by a pudgy, mustachioed 55-year old actor William Daniels, best known as Dr. Craig on St. Elsewhere, or to anyone under thirty, Mr. Feeney on Boy Meets World.

Now Knight Rider is back with a new cast on February 17. KITT was to have been played by Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development) and a Ford Mustang, but a couple days ago someone finally put two and two together: Will Arnett is the voice for GMC Trucks. KITT will now be voiced by a much older, deeper-throated actor, Val Kilmer (it was cheaper than recasting KITT as a 2008 Yukon).

Hmm, I hope NBC thought about this. That's like replacing Barry Gibb's voice with Barry White. Michael Knight was always putting KITT in its place, and for all his snide remarks, KITT was more like a high-class chauffeur. Val Kilmer is a man, while new younger driver "Mike" barely needs to shave; I think KITT's going to be giving Mike more of a hard time on the new show. So can such a formula work? The last thing a guy wants is a cockblock for a car; no guy wants to be out-machoed by a machine. Then again, that seems to be a trend in the Oughties--on Fox, you've got young John Connor being protected and bossed around by a kick-ass Terminator companion, who happens to be a girl to boot.

As much as I liked the original, I don't plan on watching the new one. The buddy-vehicle formula has never been replicated successfully (Streethawk? Yawn.) and I doubt this remake will fare much better. The best follow-up to the Knight Rider formula was a parody called Heat Vision and Jack. I was stoked to see this in New York's Museum of Television and Radio back in 2000, but now you can see this from your own home on YouTube. It's a gem: produced by Ben Stiller, this unaired pilot starred a little-known actor named Jack Black as a genius astronaut who fought crime and the occasional alien with the help of his motorcycle friend, Heat Vision, voiced by Owen Wilson. For those who have never seen it, please enjoy:

1 comment:

CKL said...

Don't forget the previous reboot attempt, Knight Rider 2000.

Actually, on second thought, we should probably all forget about that. :P

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