Dick Tracy Special (2008) — The bizarre ‘sequel’ you never knew existed

“I will say that, physically, the man looks surprisingly like me. I mean, surprisingly. But how similar we are to one another, that’s a horse of another color.”

Justin’s rating: “Wait there was no sequel!” you say. Trust me, friends, read on…

Justin’s review: This review is going to be couched in a whole lot of backstory, so pour yourself a hot cup of something to keep you awake, and head on back here. Got it? Good.

In 1990, Disney poured a considerable amount of money into making Dick Tracy, a modern version of the famous ’30s comic strip series featuring the titular crime fighter (played by Warren Beatty). It was absolutely gorgeous on the eyes, filmed in primary colors, and is notable for its rogue gallery of gangsters all done up in crazy makeup and prosthetics. It did fine but wasn’t the smash success that Disney hoped it would be for the purpose of kickstarting a franchise. Thus, Dick Tracy ended up a one-and-done revival.

However, Dick Tracy was a huge passion project for Beatty, who also directed, produced, and used his megastar status to get his way. It should also be mentioned that Beatty had outright purchased the film and TV rights to Dick Tracy in 1985 (which Disney optioned for the film), so he stood to benefit greatly from any additional Dick Tracy projects. However, the original owners of the rights, Tribune Media Services, wanted them back and started a legal battle with Beatty from 2002 to 2009, at which point Tribune went bankrupt and Beatty won.

Before the bankruptcy happened, Tribune tried to get a Dick Tracy TV series off the ground (figuring a court victory would secure the rights to legitimize the project). Countering that, Warren Beatty hired his own film crew in 2008 to make a 30-minute interview — with Leonard Maltin, no less — starring himself as Dick Tracy as a way to “reassert and reaffirm” his claims to the character (Tribune said that Beatty had a “use it or lose it” clause, which explains a lot). The whole thing aired just once as a half-hour special on TCM.

So if you ever wanted to see an actor in his late ’60s put on a banana yellow trenchcoat and hat, sit at a table with a noted film critic, and jaw about himself from the perspective of a movie character… the Dick Tracy Special is there for you. I guess if you consider the ownership of rights and the reuse of the character by the same actor, it can well be considered a sequel. A lame one, but a sequel even so.

It’s really odd. Beatty, as Dick Tracy, is apparently a completely different Dick Tracy from the movie, I guess? He also says he’s 107 years old and really dislikes Warren Beatty and the 1990 film. It’s meta in a way that makes almost no sense, making me wonder if I just watched a 68-year-old man ramble through an improv segment.

The special also does a good job giving us a history of the comic strip and its central character, which I actually found to be the most fascinating section. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t trying to be anything it wasn’t.

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