Yabba Dabba Don't

Discounting this tender gesture, Fred is a classic bullying muscleboy, Barney the prototypical fey submissive. While the film stops just short of showing the two of them in bed together, it frankly and openly explores the searing, barely sublimated passion they share. When they're not shoulder to shoulder, cruising in Fred's car, they're wrapping their bare biceps around each other or trading good-natured barbs. To pay Fred back for his loan, Barney sacrifices his own career at the quarry. Their love is tested as Fred's status and income rise while Barney's fall. The boys' relationship takes a nasty turn; tragically, they do not reconcile their differences until the movie's climactic dual lynching scene in which both men boldly and defiantly declare their love for each other in the face of a hostile crowd of repressed closet cases led by noted scene stealer Richard Moll (Bull from TV's Night Court).

Sexual ambiguity plagues butch Betty and dainty Wilma's friendship, as well. Casting Rosie O'Donnell as Betty was another brassy move on Spielrock's part. The cartoon Betty was shapely, alluring, and more than a little prissy. You never believed her as the wife of a workaday clod like Barney; she was way too sexy for him. That mismatch sapped the TV series of much of its credibility. Someone like O'Donnell is much more realistic. But when the Rubbles and the Flintstones use the flimsy pretext of economic necessity as an excuse to cohabitate, Wilma inexplicably decides to assert herself, at one point even hiring a personal trainer to mold those girlie curves into sinew. It's a subtle transformation that shifts the balance of power in the whole two-family dynamic. And Elizabeth Taylor as Wilma's obnoxious mother invokes the acid two-couple verbal sparring of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Director Levant is to be commended for both his ingenuity and his restraint in rendering this shattering metamorphosis.

Sharply drawn interpersonal dynamics are just the tip of the Flintstones iceberg. Realizing he could never top the dramatic impact of the lifelike mechanical dinosaurs he utilized in Jurassic Park, Spielrock here wisely backs off and lets Jim Henson's Creature Shop shoulder some of the special-effects burden. This imbues The Flintstones with a Muppet Movie feel kids will love and provides some much-needed relief from the tense psychosexual fireworks. It should minimize the limiting Jurassic Park comparisons, too. The story line featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an evil executive who sets Fred up for a fall is a magnificent treatise on the perils of capitalism and the nobility of the proletariat that Karl Marx would have been proud to claim as his own. And the subplot where Halle Berry foolishly conspires with MacLachlan (only to have him betray her in the end) is a blistering attack on both racism and sexism in the workplace. Finally, as a meticulous reenactment of a watershed epoch in the history of man's evolution, The Flintstones is an invaluable historical document.

All in all it's a dazzling work, the most scintillating adaption of cartoon characters to the screen since Howard the Duck. To paraphrase President Clinton's evaluation of Spielrock's previous offering, I urge every American to see this film.

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