Lost in Translation continues its look at fanworks with “Kenobi: A Star Wars Fan Film”, directed by Jason Satterlund, story by Rob Harmon, and screenplay by James Costa & Jason Satterlund and Rob Harmon. This production had some money behind it, not only for effects but for location shots. Have a watch; it’s only seventeen minutes.
The short takes place a few years after Revenge of the Sith on Tattooine. Obi-Wan is in transition from being Ewan MacGregor to being Alec Guiness. The seventeen minutes packs a lot of information, all through body language of the leads. Knowledge of the movies both before and after the fan film adds to the depth. The costumes and hairstyles match what has been seen in Star Wars. Costa as Ben has the looks to show that Obi-Wan is aging.
I mentioned above that the production had some money behind it. The creators ran an IndieGoGo campaign. As a result, the creators were able to do some filming in Morocco to capture the right sort of desert needed; in the movies, the Lars farmstead was filmed in Tunisia to the further east. The music was performed by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra, who have appeared in a number of movies and video games. And to sweeten the pot, the creators got James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to portray Captain Leegus. The funding also allowed for drone shots and 3D printing of props.
The effort put into the fan film pays off. Keeping a young Luke safe means sacrifice for Obi-Wan, one that he isn’t sure he can make when the film starts. The mood is maintained through the actors, through the camera angles, and through the music, with tension being underlaid until everything explodes into action. Pacing matters in a shorter work, and the pacing in “Kenobi” never lags.
“Kenobi” demonstrates what is possible with today’s technological infrastructure. It’s not just having blockbuster quality video camers at consumer-friendly prices. It’s the social networks that come along with Internet-as-a-utility. IndieGoGo allows creators to have fans directly fund works, with word of mouth spread through the likes of Twitter and Facebook, and the final result on YouTube. Even twenty years ago, this would not be as easy to do. Today, the infrastructure that allows creative types and audiences to meet allows for fan works not considered in the past.
Still looking at fan adaptations this week. It turns out, animated Star Trek fan works are a thing, along with fan podcast series. Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Curt Danhausen’s memorial to James Doohan, “The Quintain” and how he used Filmmation’s art style and approach to animation to be a one-man studio. This week’s review, Star Trek: The Paradise Makers, looks at what a team can do.
The Paradise Maker is a two-part series from Sagittarii Productions, with special effects by Tommorrows Magic. The feature runs over two hours, all animated. It took the team four years to complete. Animation styles include rotoscoping and chroma-key to add in architecture and iconic Star Trek gadgets.
The feature uses a known idea from Star Trek: TOS, that of Star Fleet officers going rogue. There have been a few in Kirk’s time who have ignored orders and gone their own way, including Commodore Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”, Garth of Izar (“Whom Gods Destroy”), Commander Spock (“The Menagerie”), and even James T. Kirk himself (Star Trek: The Motion Picture among other events). Dr. Xiang LI’s self-aggrandizing fits in.
The animation style fits in with the Filmmation series while being a little more fluid. The aquashuttle comes from the animated series, though not lifted directly. The use of chroma-key allows for using real settings and architectural photos and film to save time. Even then, the small team still needed four years. The regular cast of characters are recognizable in appearance. Lost in Translation has mentioned before on how difficult it is to portray Spock, so props to Jay Prichard for tackling the role and trying to balance cold logic with hidden human emotion.
The Paradise Makers fits in the first season of Star Trek, with Dr. Mark Piper (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) retiring and new Ship’s Surgeon Dr. Leonard McCoy reporting for duty. The Enterprise and the Bowfin appear as expected, with the animated series having influence for stylization and requirements for animation. Animation also allows for sets that the live action series didn’t detail, such as ground installations on airless worlds, something The Paradise Makers shows early in Part 1. There’s always a tradeoff; more time needed but fewer restrictions save those imposed by the setting.
The plot would fit in with the original Star Trek. The feature is a morality play on what happens when ambition is not tempered. Dr. Xiang Li risks the lives of the planet and of the crew of the Enterprise all to become a god. Even Garth of Izar at least waited until he became a captain before playing god. However, as Arthur C. Clarke puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” something Star Trek touches on repeatedly.
The Paradise Makers was put together by fans of the original Star Trek. Ideas that appeared in the original and the animated series appear, with nods to the progression of today’s technology. The feature has core elements of Star Trek from the superficial – the gadgets, the sounds, the music – to the building blocks, including the message wrapped up in a captivating story. The Paradise Makers also shows what a team can do to put together a feature, even if it takes them four years to complete.
The look at fan adaptations continues with T7 Production’s “Darth Maul: Apprentice”, a Star Wars fan film. T7 is a pair of German filmmakers whose goal is to bring Hollywood-level of production quality to German movie making.
“Darth Maul: Apprentice” features Maul as he makes the transistion from apprentice to Sith and Darth Sidious’ right-hand being. The final test, four Jedi Knights and a Padawan. The fan film doesn’t contradict Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It gives an insight on how Sidious trains his minions.
T7’s goal is front and centre in the film. The choreography is top notch. The fight ebbs and flows providing the characters and the audience a chance to breathe and to ramp up the tension. The camera angles build the scene up, giving the audience a good idea of what’s happening and what is around.
The fan film is heavy on action, but uses the action to develop Maul, showing him becoming Sith. The Jedi are fodder, there for him to hate. The one moment where he makes the key decision is done without word, just facial expression, adding to Maul’s mystique. In The Phantom Menace, Maul runs on hate; here, he’s just getting fueled up.
The music by Vincent Lee adds to the action, adding crescendo where needed and fading to keep the tension. Before the final battle, the music takes cues from Westerns as two gunslingers face off before drawing their guns. The music is something that would be expected from The Mandalorian.
“Darth Maul: Apprentice” shows what a small team can do with today’s video equipment with a bit of effort. While T7 is using high end, today’s dedicated video equipment can produce professional quality works. Even today’s smartphones can take videos that only bulky, expensive professional equipment could do just decades ago. For the amateur and the budding professional, video creation is within reasonable budgets. Drones can take shots that once could only be done by helicopters, with more finesse available given the skill of the drone pilot. Today’s filmmakers have an edge previous generations didn’t have – the silicon chip – allowing for skilled amateurs to create works that would have made professionals in the past jealous.
Continuing the look at fan works today with a Star Trek animated fan film, “The Quintain” by Curt Danhauser, part of his continuation of the animated series. Have a watch; it’s only twenty-three minutes long.
Lost in Translation has reviewed Filmation’s animated Star Trek, a series that is and isn’t considered canon, depending on the episode and how the studio feels any given day. “Yesteryear” is accepted as being part of Spock’s past, but other episodes haven’t been that embraced. For an animated series in theory aimed at a younger audience, the series touched on adult themes, turning the series into a continuation of the original Trek and an introduction into the franchise for pre-teens. The Filmation budget meant reuse of animated scenes and actions, to save time and money, but the restrictions allowed the production team to determine what was important for the episode.
With “The Quintain”, Danhauser wanted to do something for the 100th birthday of James Doohan, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott on the original Trek and the voice of a number of characters on the animated series, including Lieutenant Arex, the Guardian of Forever, Koloth, Korax, and Kor. Danhauser goes further, playing all but three voices in “The Quintain”. The episode brings in a few elements from the movies, including Scotty’s nephew, Peter Preston, who appears in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, adding some more depth to the relationship between the two.
Danhauser mimics the Filmation style well in the episode. The character designs, even for the new characters, would fit into an episode of the animated Trek. Danhauser uses animation to expand the diversity of the cast, adding more Federation species on to the Enterprise, something a live action budget would be hard-pressed to do. For a one-person studio, the Filmation style is an asset, providing a way to keep the animation under control.
“The Quintain” has character moments, action moments, and a satisfying twist. Danhauser caught the essence of Star Trek, live action or animated. The efforts and work as a one-person studio pays off in an entertaining episode that is almost indistinguishable from Star Trek: The Animated Series.
/Lost in Translation/ is going to take it easier the next few weeks starting today after submerging into Prohibition and Chicago of the eaerly 30s. Fan adaptations will be on the menu for the next few weeks. This week, a look a Kadir Deniz‘ “KITT vs KARR” series. A quick reminder about the approach Lost in Translation takes with fan works – the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Fan works are good for learning storytelling and film techniques without the pressure to produce something for sale.
The series that Deniz is adapting, Knight Rider aired originally from 1982 to 1986, was created by Glen A. Larson, and starred David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight and William Daniels as the voice of KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand. KITT is an artificially intelligent vehicle, aiding Michael as he works for the Foundation for Law and Government, bringing justice to people who are often above the law. KARR, the Knight Automotive Roving Robot, voiced by Peter Cullen, was FLAG’s prototype, an early design put aside in favour of KITT. The difference between the two is that KARR was programmed for self-preservation while KITT’s programming placed the life of his passengers and the people around him above his own. KARR was introduced in the first season episode, “Trust Never Rusts”, and thanks to fan interest, returned in the season three episode, “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.”.
In the first episode of Deniz’ series, KARR is portrayed as he appeared in the latter half of “K.I.T.T. vs K.A.R.R.” The music and dialogue are pulled from existing episodes. Deniz, though, created the storyline for the series of videos. The camera angles used are a mix and include classic angles from the TV series to new angles possible thanks to being CG animated. The only real hints that the series is CG animation are how Michael moves and how the trailer breaks apart. KITT and KARR are spot on, and Michael is wearing his classic ensemble from the series.
There’s a nod to the 2008 Knight Rider series with the black Mustang Shelby, the car that portrayed KITT in the remake series. Again, the episode is all CG animation. The cinematography is based on the original series, but expands, allowing Deniz to make the episode his while still being a fan work. KITT’s abilities are all ones that have appeared in the series, even the skiing.
The latest episode available. KARR’s plot continues and he has help from someone with a grudge against Michael. There’s still classic camera angles as seen in the original series, almost indistinguishable. The problem seen with the tractor-trailer as KITT turbo boosts through in the first episode is more cleaned up this time around. The chase reflects the series; KITT’s shell could withstand bullets, but missiles were to be avoided. The final twist, Airwolf, comes from the Donald Bellisario created series, Airwolf, starring Jan Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke and Earnest Borgnine as Dominic Santini. Hawke had a deal with Archangel, played by Kent McCord; the Firm would get Airwolf back if Archangel could recover String’s brother Saint-John, a POW in Viet Nam. Airwolf, as it appears in the third episode, is a perfect replica of the model used in the TV series. Even how it appears up from behind the cliff rings true; Hawke and Santini often came from below the line of sight in the helicopter. The end theme of the third episode blends the the themes of both Knight Rider and Airwolf, which caps a note perfect episode.
Deniz’ series isn’t complete. He’s working on it as he can, but he has released some test footage for future entries on his YouTube channel. He has captured the feel of the original series and has created a work that fits with the tone of the series while telling his own story.
So far, Lost in Translation has introduced the Prohibition era and the Untouchables and has looked at the TV series starring Robert Stack and the 1987 film with Kevin Costner. To wrap up, there’s one more TV series about Eliot Ness and his team of Untouchable Prohibition agents, the 1993 series with Tom Amandes as Eliot Ness, John Rhys-Davies as Prohibition Agent Michael Malone, and William Forsythe as Al Capone.
The 1993 The Untouchables series was produced during the height of syndication, where independent channels could choose packages of shows to fill in gaps in programming. While these shows didn’t have the ratings that network series had, they did have an audience with a few syndicated series becoming cult hits. At the same time, it is possible for a show to get lost in the shuffle or not hit all markets. Still, The Untouchables ran two seasons.
The pilot episodes present both Ness and Capone as they grew up, contrasting their childhoods and teen years. Capone got involved in criminal activity at a young age while Ness worked on oratory, boxing, and getting himself ready for a possible political career. As adults, Ness convinces his brother-in-law to sponsor him to be a Prohibition Agent while Capone moves up the rungs to become Johnny Torrio’s right hand man and, later, successor in the South Side Gang. The two men’s paths will cross.
The rest of the series gets into the details of the battle between Ness and Capone. Other elements of the time make appearances, from organized labour and the organized crime’s attempts to get a hook into it to internal strife within Capone’s mob. The series also contrasts Ness and Capone, showing their differences and showing where they are similar. Ness is very much a family man, one who is devoted to his wife and daughter. Capone cares for his son, but while he does love his wife, his treatment of her makes her wonder.
Like the 1959 series and the 1987 film, the 1993 series goes back to the autobiography Ness wrote with Oscar Fraley. The ’93 series also pulls from The Last of the Untouchables by former Untouchable Paul Robsky with Fraley. The 1993 series also dramatizes events, building off historical events to tell a crime story. Unlike the 1959 series, the latest version of The Untouchables keeps Capone and stays linear. There’s no sense of the episode being a news reel. Instead, it is the continuing battle between law & order and organized crime for control of Chicago.
The 1993 series pulls from the previous incarnations and from the books written by Ness and Robsky to bring everything into one continuity. Television has an advantage that film does not – time. As long as a TV series is allowed to continue, the production can delve into details that need to be glossed over for film. Movies may have the budget to pull off a scene like the Stairway Shootout in the 1987 film. TV allows for getting closer to the characters, seeing what makes them tick, and seeing what can throw them off. The 1993 series gets into the lives of Ness and Capone, making them more human than the portrayals from the movie. Both men have flaws. And it’s these flaws that create drama.
Tom Amandes’ Eliot Ness is charming, competent, a square jawed hero with simple needs, closer to Costner’s portrayal than Stack’s. The depth the series provides to him helps set up Ness as charismatic; the audience can see that he is a leader. That’s not to say that Stack’s Ness wasn’t; the nature of storytelling with the original kept the focus on Ness’ investigations and on the gangsters instead of Ness’ personal life.
The choice to include the private side of Ness is what makes the 1993 The Untouchables its own work, separate from but building on top of what came before. As a result, the series takes a slower approach to getting Capone, including small wins along the way. The series also shows what a TV show can do in contrast to movies; the audience can get closer to the characters and discover why they behave as they do.
I had some bad news this past week that threw me off kilter. My apologies. The next The Untouchables review will be next week.
Last week, Lost in Translation looked at the 1959 TV series with Robert Stack. The series took liberties, but presented the episodes with a feel like a newsreel. Stack played Eliot Ness as a straight edge cop and head of a squad as dedicated to law enforcement as he was. The series did acknowledge that they took ideas from Ness’ autobiography, The Untouchables, co-written by Oscar Fraley.
In 1987, about thirty years after the series, give or take, David Mamet wrote and Brian De Palma directed an new adaptation of the autobiography. The film, also called The Untouchables starred Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, Robert De Niro as Al Capone, Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone, Andy Garcia as George Stone/Giuseppe Petri, Charles Martin Smith as Oscar Wallace, and Billy Drago as Frank Nitti. Connery won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Malone, and the film was nominated for three others, Best Original Score, written by Ennio Morricone, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design.
The film focuses on the Untouchables’ pursuit of Al Capone. Ness’ first outing in Chicago goes as it did historically, a lot of notice and no whiskey; Capone’s men had been tipped off by someone on the Chicago Police Department. Despite the headlines, Ness pushes on. He gathers a core group of men he can trust – former beat cop Malone, rookie cop Stone, and IRS accountant Wallace, who was assigned to help Ness with an eye on nailing Capone for tax evasion.
The point of view remains on Ness and his men for the bulk of the film. Capone is is kept removed from the day to day operations of his mob, making it difficult to pin him on any crime. The mob boss does keep his own men in line, with force if needed. The choice is be loyal to Capone or die. Ness, however, earned the loyalty of the Untouchables. The difference between the mobsters and the law enforcement agents is wide. Capone has an expensive home, has staff who will serve the finest dinner on silver plates and wine in crystal glasses. Ness has a simple house, crammed in between two similar houses, a wife and child, simple furnishings. When Ness goes out with his team, they go to a cheap diner.
Ness’ investigation includes a raid on a smuggling convoy along the Canadian border with the RCMP’s assistance, where he manages to arrest Capone’s bookkeeper. With some persuasion, the bookkeeper helps Wallace to decode the ledgers. Capone doesn’t take the news well. Nitti is sent to make sure the bookkeeper doesn’t testify, resulting in both the bookkeeper and Wallace dead. Capone ups the ante by having Malone killed as well.
Undaunted, Ness continues the fight. In his dying breath, Malone tells Ness about Capone’s other bookkeeper being sent out of town by rail later that night. Malone and Stone stake out the railway station, leading to one of the tensest scenes in cinema history. The clip below doesn’t show the tension building as Ness watches people arriving and trying to figure out who could be part of Capone’s gang. The shootout is the release of that tension.
With the bookkeeper, Ness is able to build a case for tax evasion against Capone. Despite an attempt at jury tampering, Capone is found guilty, is fined $50 000 and is given 11 years in prison.
The movie takes a few liberties. Some were needed because of the nature of the medium. Ness had ten men initially, all under thirty and idealistic. It’s harder to corrupt a young man full of idealism than an experienced man who has seen how the world works. The TV series could bring in different members through the use of a rotating cast of supporting actors. A film doesn’t have that luxury, so Ness has just Malone, Wallace, and Stone. Frank Nitti didn’t die during Capone’s trial from a fall from a building; Nitti took over Capone’s mob when Capone went to prison and died by his own hand in 1943. However, the film did keep the focus on Ness’ investigation of Capone.
While some of the historical facts were loose, visual details were accurate. Chicago landmarks were used, and the fashion of the era for men and women, for high class and for working class, was accurate. Visually, the film is lush. The 1959 TV series didn’t have the luxury of colour, so couldn’t be anywhere near as lush. The advantage of movies is budget, and The Untouchables made the most of this advantage.
Like the 1959 series, the 1987 film lets drama outweigh historical accuracy in a few areas. However, the strength of the cast, the writing, and the filming lets audiences ignore differences until well after the film is over. The Untouchables is a crime drama, a war between law & order and criminal enterprise, and is well worth viewing even if it isn’t 100% accurate.
Next week, Tom Amandes as Eliot Ness.
Three weeks ago, Lost in Translation took a brief examination of the history surrounding Prohibition, Al Capone and the organized crime that built into empires thanks to bootlegging, and the Bureau of Prohibition agents known as “The Untouchables” led by Eliot Ness. From 1921 until 1933, a war between gangs and Federal agents waged, with the only real way to shut down the gangsters being charges of tax evasion brought against them by the IRS. Always pays your taxes. The IRS doesn’t mess around.
Ness, with Oscar Fraley, wrote an autobiography called The Untouchables which was optioned by Desilu productions. The pilot episode of The Untouchables series, “The Scarface Mob”, starred Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, Neville Brand as Al Capone, and Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti and was narrated by Walter Winchell. The two-part pilot covered Ness’ campaign to take down Capone, taking out breweries and distilleries and showing some of the problems The Untouchables had thanks to local police and political corruption.
With Capone dealt with in the pilot, the rest of the series focused on Ness taking on other mobsters. Frank Nitti (still played by Bruce Gordon), Waxey Gordon, Ma Barker, Dutch Schulz, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, “Bugs” Moran, “Lucky” Luciano, the Purple Gang, and many others had their stories fictionalized for the series. Ness wasn’t involved in the investigation and arrest in most of the mobsters. The New York City-based gangsters, like Schulz and Luciano, were targeted by Assistant District Attorney Thomes Dewey.
The episodes did show the difference between The Untouchables and the mobsters they faced. While the gangsters were living the high life, getting tailored suits, eating the best food, and driving the best cars in the most expensive locations, Ness and his men had to make do with regular suits and whatever food they could afford, and whatever vehicle the Bureau supplied while on a case. Even when it comes to weapons, the gangsters have semi-automatic pistols while The Untouchables only have .38 revolvers. Both sides, though, have access to the classic Tommy gun.
With Walter Winchell narrating, each episode took on the feel of a newsreel, preserving the feel of the era and allowing the show to have episodes from different parts of the 30s, pre- and post-Prohibition. The episodes unfold out as morality plays, with the moral being “Crime does not pay.” Given the era, though, crime may not have paid, but it did allow gangsters to rent happiness. Still, on The Untouchables, mobsters wound up either in prison or dead, no matter how much money they gained.
The series’ main problem is that it used up Capone in the pilot. Today, taking down Capone would be the focus of at least a season if not the series. With Capone serving time during the years the 1959 series covered, writers on the series had to use other mobsters. Fortunately, Prohibition had created a number of colourful gangsters. Ness, however, didn’t interact with many of them. Historical accuracy, at least in this frame, was loose. The goal of the series, though, was to tell good crime drama stories that kept viewers coming back week after week, something that happened over four seasons and 117 episodes.
Next week, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness.
It’s taking longer than expected to get through the 1959 The Untouchable series. At thirty episodes per season and fifty minutes her episodes, it’s a lot of Robert Stack to watch. I should have something ready next week for the series. Today, though, I want to go back to something I touched upon in April, an eternity ago.
Back in April, Lost in Translation discussed creativity during the pandemic. People are coming together by staying apart to create performances. Redditors came together to perform a full orchestral version of ABBA’s “Mamma Mia“, recording separately and then engineered together. But a new form of music has come out as well. Described by the Guardian as the pandemic’s musical genre, Bardcore came out of nowhere and has spread through YouTube. Also known as “Medieval Style”, Bardcore takes modern music and takes it back a thousand years or so.
Most of Bardcore is instrumental, using older instruments or their electronic equivalent to their replace modern counterparts. There have been a few songs that have had lyrics included, translating the ideas to the medieval era. A good example is Hildegard von Blingin’s version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, keeping to the meaning of the song while using fanciful lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place a thousand years ago.
However, for some, that’s too easy. There have been people who have taken the extra step of using the correct language. The_miracle_aligner used Old English for his version of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks“, then switched to Old French for his version of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun“. Not satisfied, he then went to Classical Latin for his version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Not all Bardcore is based on rock or country music. There are some classical songs, music from film scores. music from video games, something for everyone. Not everyone song will be a favourite, but there’s enough to pick and choose from. Relive the Black Plague during the current plague!